Wood Stove Basics and How to Keep It Burning All Night

man putting firewood in a wood stove

When I lived in a van for two years, I saw other van dwellers install a small wood stove in their van’s cabin. I remember thinking how efficient that must have been–an off-grid way to heat up space, without the need for gas or electricity. And it works the same for houses.

In winter, gas and electric bills can make up a huge expense. But wood stoves can help with this. That is, if you can keep it going all night. So, how do you keep a wood stove burning throughout the night? I did some research and distilled it down to a few steps you can quickly follow. Here’s what I found.

  1. Remove old ashes
  2. Stack the wood into a pyramid shape
  3. Pick the right type of log for maximum burn time
  4. Put the biggest log at the back of the stove
  5. Control the air vents
  6. Keep the fire burning safely

These few tips can help keep your wood stove burning all night. Let’s break them down and look at how to implement these steps.

1. Remove Old Ash

If you’re new to wood stoves, the first thing you should do is to remove any old ash. This will give you the space that you need to start a new fire. It will also help keep your wood stove clean. When you’re removing ash, it’s best to wear heat-proof gloves. They’ll protect you from accidentally touching hot coals and burning yourself. It’s also important to make sure that the fire is completely burned out before you start removing it. 

Often times, when the ash turns white, it will be burnt out and won’t be of any value. Because of this, it’s best to remove it from the stove. The easiest way to clean ash is by using a metal dustpan and brush. If you have allergies, you might want to wear a mask, as this can often stir up a lot of particulate matter. Also, since cleaning up ash can get a little messy, placing an old towel or mat in front of the stove will help prevent some extra mess from happening.

Once you’ve got the ashes swept up, put them into a bag or metal box. Be careful as you’re doing this. In some cases, the ashes might not be completely extinguished. For this reason, using a small metal box is the safer method. Some ashes might be hiding hot coals when you put them into the box. If do you see that some coals are still hot, leave them in the woodstove as you can use them to ignite a new fire.

2. Stack the Wood

Before you get your fire started, pushing some of the old coals towards the back will provide a good fuel and help ignite a new fire. The rest of the coals should be pushed towards the front of the stove, which will help preserve the fire’s heat. Avoid leaving a bed of coals along the bottom of the stove as you risk igniting all the wood at once, shortening their burn time. 

When you’re ready to ignite your fire, knowing how to place the wood can make all the difference. The secret is how you stack the wood. The best way to stack wood is to create a pyramid shape.

First, you’ll need to create a base layer of kindling.

When laying out the kindling, form it into a small nest. As you’re doing this, make sure to leave some space between the kindling. This will help the oxygen flow, helping it burn effectively. 

If you have any old coals, you can skip this step. In this case, you can just use some old newspapers or paper and scrunch it up into little balls. When you’re ready to start the fire, place the paper onto the coals. Then steadily blow on the coals, careful not to get ash or embers in your face. The increased airflow will cause the coals to heat and ignite the paper if all goes well.

Next, add the smaller sticks and twigs. Start by placing them over the kindling or paper. Leave a small hole, facing you, so you’ll be able to light the space in-between. Again, leave some space between the sticks for oxygen. Finally, add some bigger pieces. While you won’t be able to add the split logs right away, you can put on some larger sticks. 

When you’re ready, light the kindling. If you’ve stacked it correctly, this should ignite the twigs and sticks. Eventually, this will set the larger pieces on fire. Splitting the logs properly will help keep this process simple and require minimal effort.

At the early stages of the fire, keep an eye on the fire. When the bigger pieces are burning, you might want to try adding a log. It’s important to be patient to not risk depriving the fire of oxygen and suppressing its flame.

3. Choose Your Logs Carefully

WoodHeat Per Cord*Average Burn Time**
Apple200-250 gallons60 days
Birch200-250 gallons60 days
Hickory200-250 gallons60 days
Maple200-250 gallons60 days
Oak200-250 gallons60 days
Cherry150-200 gallons45 days
Douglas Fir150-200 gallons45 days
Elm150-200 gallons45 days
Aspen100-150 gallons30 days
Cedar100-150 gallons30 days
Pine100-150 gallons30 days
Redwood100-150 gallons30 days
Spruce100-150 gallons30 days
*Heat is measured in equivalents of gallons of fuel oil
**Average burn time per cord

The average burn time will depend on many factors such as the outside temperature, condition of your wood stove, and how much you use it. Additionally, the oxygen in-take and the size of the fire will influence the burn-time as well. Most people don’t go through more than two cords in a winter.

The type of logs that you use will have the biggest impact on how long your fire will burn. Because of this, you want to take some time to make sure that you’re collecting the right wood. There are a few things that you should be looking for when it comes to your firewood. 

First, consider the type of wood you’re burning. There are two types, hardwood, and softwood. For best results, stick to using hardwood for your wood stove. The hardwood will burn longer and cleaner than softwoods, meaning it will be hotter and also produce less smoke. 

HardwoodsSoftwoods
BeechJuniper
HickoryCedar
MahoganyPine
MapleRedwood
OakDouglas fir
WalnutSpruce
TeakYew

Some of the most common types of hardwood to use for wood stoves are oak, hickory, and birch. You might also want to consider using maple. Additionally, the wood from fruit trees can be a great source of fuel for your wood stove. Although wood from fruit trees such as apple or cherry can be more expensive and takes longer to ignite, they’ll often last longer and provide a cleaner burn. 

Another important factor to consider is seasoning (or drying) your wood properly before burning it. You’ll need to leave the wood to dry for at least one year before burning.

If it’s still wet, it’ll be much harder to light. Wet wood will also produce more smoke, which can increase the risk of a chimney fire.

Ideally, wood will need to below 20% total moisture content before burning it. After the year is up, you can measure the remaining moisture content of the wood with a wood moisture meter. If you’re not sure where to find one, here’s a wood moisture meter on Amazon that’ll do the job.

What Type of Wood Should You Avoid Burning?

There are a few types of wood that you should avoid burning. First, any wood that has paint or metal in it should be avoided. Also, softwood and greenwood shouldn’t be burnt, as it can release a lot of smoke and creosote.

When considering the type of wood, there are a few types of wood that you might want to avoid. These logs might end up damaging your health or fireplace. First, anything that has paint or other markings on it should be avoided. When these logs are burned, they release potentially harmful chemicals. These chemically when inhaled can do long-term damage to your health and even be carcinogenic.

For this reason, it’s also a good idea to avoid burning driftwood. Often, it will absorb chemicals and salts from the ocean. When burnt, this can result in the release of toxic materials into the air

It’s also important to make sure that there are no metal objects in the wood. This can include objects like nails and screws. When these items get heated up in the fire, they might explode. If an explosion does happen, the wood stove can be damaged and also cause a major safety concern. 

Lastly, it’s a good idea to avoid burning logs that have a high moisture content. These logs will produce a lot of smoke, which might gunk up and block your chimney. Though it might not be a serious issue, you may need to pay more in maintenance costs. 

Why Is Your Wood Burning So Fast?

The main reason why your wood is burning so fast is due to the air vents being opened too far and allowing more oxygen to fuel the fire. In other cases, the wood might be too dry or too small. Identifying the right type, size, and moisture content of the logs will help your fire last longer.

Even if you choose hardwood, there’s a chance that your fire won’t last the night. One of the biggest reasons why your logs burn too quickly is because the air vents are left wide open. This increases the amount of oxygen in the stove, which causes the wood to burn at a faster pace.

Once the fire is going steady, you can close the air vents slowly. It’s important to make sure that you are leaving the chimney vents at least partially open. This ensures that any smoke will be sucked up and out of the room. We’ll review how to do this in the next step. 

It’s also a good idea to inspect the stove at the start of each winter. If there are any broken seals, air might be coming into the fireplace. Additionally, getting the chimney cleaned once a year will help maintain efficient and safe fires. Chimney cleaning and inspections will help prevent them from getting blocked and lower the risk of a chimney fire.

Another common issue as to why wood burns too fast is that’s too dry. Wood that’s bone dry will ignite quickly and allow the fire to spread through the log at a much faster rate. Normally, firewood needs at least some moisture content to slow the burn down to a steady rate.

On the other hand, greenwood normally has much more moisture and produces a lot of smoke, clogging up your chimney.

Because of this, it’s recommended that you aim for logs that have a moisture content between 15-20%. 

Finally, you’ll need to make sure that you’re using the right log size. Often, this will vary depending on the amount of space in your fireplace. It’s important to make sure that you aren’t using anything too small as these pieces will burn faster. It’s better to have two large logs than several smaller ones.

How Do You Make Wood Burn Slower?

To get a slower burning fire, you can clean out the ash daily, stoke the coals, and keep the logs and heat spread out evenly. If there’s an even heat distribution, the logs won’t be overheated in some areas and won’t burn faster than they should.

There are plenty of ways that you will be able to make sure that your wood is burning slower. This will ensure that the heat from the fire will last all night.

First, stoke the coals occasionally. In most cases, you’ll just need to do this every few hours. Stoking the coals and the logs will help them to continue to burn slowly and evenly. It will also disperse heat around the stove.

Another way to help wood burn slower is to keep the fireplace clean. Getting the wood stove inspected and cleaned at the start of each winter will help keep it running cleaner and safer. This will help confirm if everything is still in good working condition. However, you’ll also need to complete daily cleaning. 

At the start of each day, consider cleaning out of all the white ash from the night before. The remaining ash after a fire doesn’t serve much purpose, but there are some theories that it can help insulate your fire. For best results, try testing how your fire burns with and without a small layer of ash. Keep in mind that some types of firewood create more ash than others.

Finally, before you go to sleep, take a look at how the wood is burning in the fireplace. In some cases, you might need to add another log before you sleep. This will help the fire have enough fuel to keep it going through the night. 

Following these quick tips will allow you to get the wood to burn slowly while providing more off-grid heat to your home.

4. Place the Larger Logs Towards the Back

Knowing how to stack the wood is an important step, as this will help build a fire that’ll last the whole night. As we discussed, the pyramid model is the best way of starting a fire. Once it’s going, you can start adding the larger logs. These larger logs are the fuel that will sustain the fire through the night. 

The best way to set-up a long-burning fire is by pushing the existing fire or hot coals to the front of the stove. During this stage, it’s easiest if you don’t have a raging fire.

Once you have a steadily and light fire, move the larger log to the back of the stove. You might want to put some smaller pieces between the existing fire and the larger wood to allow for proper ignition. 

By using this structure, your fire will burn with a slow progression. First, the smaller pieces will catch and they’ll hold the flame for a while. Then, the larger log will catch. When done correctly, this will provide a fire that will last for several hours. 

5. Control the Air Vents

By now, you should have the logs set up and a fire burning. However, the amount of oxygen the fire is getting will determine how quickly it will burn. To get something that will last all night, you’ll need to control the airflow. 

When you first add a log, you might want to open the vents. This will allow plenty of oxygen into the fire, helping the log to catch. It’s recommended that you leave the vents like this for around 15 minutes after you add a log.

After you add the logs, close the vent slightly. Leave enough oxygen flow to help the fire continue to burn. By restricting the oxygen, you’ll be able to lower the burn rate. As a result, your wood stove will provide enough heat throughout the night.

Repeat this process every time you add a new log to the fire.

Also, during this process, leave the chimney vent at least partially open. This will help the smoke and chemicals filter out of the stove. If you don’t vent the chimney properly, it can build up in the house and pose a safety hazard.

Can You Leave a Wood Stove Burning With the Door Open?

When using a wood stove, it’s recommended that you close the door when it’s not in use. Keeping the door closed will help keep the heat in and burn the wood slowly and efficiently. It will also reduce the particulate matter in the air from the fire.

Overall, leaving the wood stove door closed is more beneficial than keeping it open. There are a few reasons why it’s a good idea to keep it closed.

First, it will make sure that the wood is burning slowly. When you leave the door open, it adds a lot of oxygen. As a result, the logs will be able to burn freely. You’ll likely end up needing to consistently feed more wood to the fire.

When some people leave the door open, they assume they’re allowing additional heat into their homes. However, this isn’t true. In fact, they might be decreasing the temperature of the stove.

When the door is closed, the stove’s metal enclosure (usually made from cast iron) heats up and stays hot. This is what makes the room hotter. If you leave the door open, it actually helps cool the stove and burn the logs faster. As a result, the heat won’t be dispersed as evenly. 

Another reason why you might want to keep the stove door closed is to protect yourself. When you’re burning wood, it’s common for byproducts like smoke or creosote to be produced. Potentially dangerous chemicals and fumes can be breathed in, which can do long-term damage to your health. 

Lastly, as you’re burning wood, sparks will be a common reaction. When the door is closed, these are isolated to the stove and chimney, which are fireproof. However, when the door is open these sparks can go into your home and quickly catch carpet, wood, and other materials on fire. Even one of these embers has the potential to spark a fire.

6. Keep the Area Safe

When you’re using a wood stove, you must be putting safety first. If not used correctly, it’s possible that a wood stove can be highly destructive. Thankfully, as long as you take a few precautions you should be perfectly safe.

First, consider investing in some heat-proof gloves. You should wear these whenever you are dealing with the fire or wood stove. Though the coals might not look hot, still have the potential to burn you. Coals can often stay hot for up to 4 days. In some cases, the burns can be so severe that you may require surgery. Stay safe, and keep a set of heat-resistant gloves nearby.

You might also want to make sure that there isn’t anything flammable around the woodstove. This can include candles and matches. Remember that the metal of the wood stove can get very hot. You might also want to put a structure like a hearth gate around the stove. This is essential if you have young children or pets. 

It’s also a good idea to keep a bucket of water and a fire extinguisher in a short distance from the stove at all times. If something goes wrong, you’ll be able to douse the flames before the situation gets too serious. It’s also important to check that your smoke detectors are working properly. Remember to check and replace the batteries as needed.

Lastly, make a habit of regularly wiping the creosote off the glass door of the woodstove. Do this daily to prevent a thick layer from building up. In most cases, you’ll be able to use a damp cloth. If you need to, use some organic cleaners. Avoid any cleaners that have harsh ingredients, as you don’t want to risk the heat spreading the chemicals through the air in your house. 

Can You Leave a Wood Stove Burning Overnight?

If you take proper care of your wood stove, you can leave it burning through the night. When you shut the door, you’re creating a sealed environment, which means smoke and embers won’t present any danger. Inspecting and cleaning the chimney yearly will help reduce the chance of a mishap.

As mentioned earlier, there are some safety considerations that you’ll need to think about when deciding how to use a wood stove. However, as long as you put these precautions in place, you can feel confident leaving it on at night.

The wood stove creates a sealed environment. Smoke and embers won’t be able to escape. This means that you won’t need to monitor it all the time. However, before you go to sleep, you might want to take a few moments to double-check the fireplace. In particular, check the air vents. Doing this will help limit the amount of oxygen the wood gets. This will slow the burn so it lasts all night. Also, check that the door is firmly sealed, so no smoke gets out.

Will a Chimney Fire Burn Itself Out?

chimney fire

In most cases, a chimney fire will be slow and minor and burn itself out. A homeowner might not even know that it happened. However, you should be able to spot the damage that is left behind. If you see the signs that there was a chimney fire, stop using the wood stove and call an inspector.

One of the biggest safety risks when using a wood-burning fireplace or stove is a chimney fire. In most cases, a rogue spark or high temperatures will be enough to set off a chimney fire. Also, a buildup of creosote from firewood can create the opportunity for a chimney fire.

Occasionally, chimney fires can be explosive events. You might hear a whooshing sound, as the flames race through the chimney. It’s also possible for flames to jump out of the top of the chimney.

However, these types of fires are rare. For most people, the fire will be slower. But, they can still be very destructive. It can cause cracking in the chimney flue and introduce dangerous chemicals into your house. It might also increase the chances that embers will get out of the stove and start a larger fire. 

Some of the signs that there has been a chimney fire include broken or cracked tiles in the flue. You might also notice that the cap on the chimney has become discolored or has melted under the high temperatures. If the TV aerial is close to the chimney, you might find that the heat has melted it out of shape. When you spot any of these signs, stop using the wood stove immediately. 

You’ll likely need to call in a professional to help you assess the damage and explore how to move forward. If necessary, they’ll need to replace some parts. Depending on the damage, it might be weeks or months before you’re able to start using the woodstove again.

While this can be a major safety concern, avoiding a chimney fire is straight-forward. The main task you’ll need to do is clean out and inspect the chimney once a year. This will remove the creosote build-up and greatly reduce the risk of a chimney fire.

For more information on wood stove and chimney safety, check out this video by Deco Bliss:

Final Thoughts

A wood stove can be one of the best ways to stay warm during the winter months. To keep the stove burning all night, use thicker logs that have a moisture content of 15-20%. Also, stack them properly to help with the airflow.

Next, check the air vents, making sure that you leave the door closed when using the stove. Before you light the fire, take the time to check that it’s safe by putting flammable objects away, keeping an extinguisher nearby, and following through with yearly inspections. If you put these tips into practice, you should be able to create a warm fire that will last all night long.

Tyler Ziton

After years of fatigue and declining health, Tyler found that good, fresh food was his answer. He learned more about healthy food by obtaining a certification in health coaching, and from there decided to grow his own food and become more self-sufficient. From gardening to learning about living off-grid, homesteading has become a good fit and pairs well with Tyler's odd childhood dream – to one day own a goat. Read more.

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