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  • The Fine Art of Woodburning

    The Fine Art of Woodburning

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    You’re probably wondering why I chose the title: “The Fine Art of Woodburning”. As in any type of art, there are similar principles. There’s preparation, materials, techniques, maintenance of tools and clean-up. However, successful woodburning relies on many principals that are beyond your control. Clean burning is dependent upon factors such as draft which is in turn dependent upon a variety of variables.

    Draft, in regards to woodburning, is the force of the column of air in the vent/heating system which is driven by the air temperature difference between the inside and the outside air, like the principle of a hot air balloon. For instance, if you tried to start a fire on a 60 degree day and it was 68 in your home, there would be minimal draft (only 8 degrees temperature difference) and this could cause the woodstove/fireplace to smoke into the room. On the other hand, if it’s 20 degrees F outside, and it’s 68 in the room, that’s a 48 degree difference – enough to provide a draft.

    Sometimes, other factors beyond your immediate control can cause drafting problems. If a fireplace is located along the outside wall of a home, it can be cold and hard to start. If a woodstove is vented into a chimney outside your home this can also cause problems starting the fire. However, for woodstoves, there’s an easy solution. A product has been developed to preheat the flue and is as easy as using a remote. Otherwise, there’s always the old standbys that heat up the firebox pretty quickly:

    • Using kindling and a small amount of newspaper in the firebox.
    • Using a wax starter brick that creates minimal smoke.
    • Installing a chimney exhaust fan.
    • Using a hair dryer to pre-warm the flue.

    Whether it is a woodstove or fireplace the damper must be fully open and set correctly for a proper burn. The damper should always be fully opened upon starting the fire, and in the case of fireplaces, it should be left open until the fire is completely out. Once a woodstove heats up and coals are established, it can usually be dampered down to an optimal setting. However, some conditions can affect these settings. If it’s really windy, it may burn with wildly dancing flames and may need dampered down more than usual.

    There needs to be a correct balance of heat, oxygen and fuel to achieve a clean, effective burn. Too much fuel and too little oxygen lower the heat and result in lower appliance and flue temperatures. Never try to achieve a long burn/overnight burn by stuffing a lot of wood in the stove and then dampering it completely down. This causes excessive creosote/tar creosote build-up and could result in major expenses for chimney cleaning or repair.

    One of the best ways to load a woodstove is what my father taught me. Put two medium sized logs in the firebox with about 1 – 2 inches between them. Build over those bottom logs in a criss-cross pattern with smaller logs and then put kindling at the top (I use part of a wax fire starter brick). The kindling or starter at the top help to quickly heat the flue. As the smaller top logs start to burn they drop coals down which in turn ignite the larger logs at the bottom. Leaving the gap between the two bottom logs is crucial to creating the type of oxygen flow and turbulence for an effective burn.

    These are some of the principles behind the fine art of woodburning. This information is second nature to the older generation that grew up heating and cooking with wood. As we move towards more independence from fossil fuels and turn towards renewable resources, this information will become second nature for us to pass down to younger generations.

    Posted by Karen Stickels Lamansky, Author of Design Ideas for Fireplaces, Published by Creative Homeowner Press.

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