Tips for Heating with a Wood Stove

It was thirty-five degrees in the little homestead. It was a particularly cold winter and the wood cookstove in the 1890’s kitchen was our only source of heat. Hands freezing, seeing through my breath, I fumbled with the kindling and the wood pieces trying to get a fire going. I always did, but often not without tears and frustration. In our current homestead, we have central heating. We rarely use it though. We put in a nice wood stove. It is compact and unassuming but keeps our home toasty, and even the rooms that are closed stay well above thirty-five degrees! I can now get a fire up and roaring in a few minutes flat. I wanted to share a few tips with you.

Kindling– My granddaughter’s daddy, Bret’s great-grandpa was busy cutting down trees and chopping wood until the park that he lives in said he needed to get rid of all the wood. My cousins and their truck swung by and picked me up and we were off to Denver to get a truckload of wood. Most of it was piled into boxes and was perfect for kindling. Any small twigs, tiny branches, and pine cones make excellent kindling along with newspaper. I admit I do not read the paper but I always pick up the free ones for the wood stove.

  1. I like to put a small, flat piece of wood down over the grates and place four to six crumbled up newspaper pieces just tucked under and around the wood. Crumple the paper well, if it’s loose, it will burn too quickly.

2. I take a long piece of newspaper and wrap up a good fistful of twigs and small branches and place that on top of the flat piece of wood and paper.

Wood– There are two kinds of wood, soft wood and hard wood. Hard wood burns longer and more even. Soft wood burns quickly and is good for starting fires. Cedar would be an example of soft wood and Osage Orange is the hardest wood. Somewhere in between is all you need. We only have cedars on our property so I ordered two full cords (not face cords) of cottonwood. I typically put a piece of wood in an hour.

3. Place one small piece of wood alongside tilted over the bundle of kindling so that there is something to catch and prolong the fire. The kindling will burn fast. Each thing has air between. One needs oxygen to get a fire going. Light the paper in places from back to front.

4. Keep the door closed but not latched. This helps bring in air to get the fire going. About the time you add another log once everything is really going is when you can latch the door. If the flames begin to go out, open the door again. Poke things around a bit if wood is piled to thick to get the fire going. You can always throw in another sheet of newspaper crumbled and stuffed with a poker between the logs. Sometimes that is all you need.

Managing Heat- Close doors to rooms that are not in use. If it gets too hot but you don’t want to let the fire go out, open the bedroom doors. This helps regulate the heat in the house.

Cooking on the Wood stove- Use the top of the wood stove as a burner. If you want higher heat, place pan directly on stove. If you need to lessen the heat, place the pan on a trivet. Cook just as you would on a stove top. Certainly place a tea pot on the stove so you have hot water for tea and coffee at the ready! A pot of beans is always nice as well. I ruined a perfectly good pressure cooker pot by using it to heat water. It was aluminum, apparently, and bent up something awful. Cast iron was made for cooking over fire. Enamelware over cast iron works great as well.

Humidity- Just like central heating (or more so), wood heat dries everything out. Great if you live in a humid climate, but here in Colorado where it is high desert- haven’t seen moisture in weeks- skin gonna fall off- dry, a pot of water atop the stove is necessary. You can even add a few shakes of essential oils into the water for a pleasing aroma.

Ash- Heating and cooking with wood is carbon neutral so long as you order cords of already dead wood or cut up downed trees and branches. It goes full circle. The ash can be added around the base of trees. It will raise the PH of the soil, but may be too alkaline in gardens if used alone so a little goes a long way. You can sprinkle it in fallow fields or in small doses along where you will be starting a garden. The easiest thing to do though is to place it in the compost bin.

A wood stove is an investment, but one that pays itself off in about three years. Less if you don’t have to buy wood. You can often find free wood if you can haul it. Wood heat heats through and through. It is lovely and ambient. It keeps your utility bills low and you will always be able to keep warm and make food and coffee should the power go out. A wood stove is a homestead necessity!

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