How to Build a Fire in a Wood Stove 

My best tips and tricks for heating our home with our wood stove
How to Build a Fire in a Wood Stove: my tried and true method for heating our cabin everything with our wood stove

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a video about my method of building a fire in our wood stove and I was amazed by how many people didn’t know how! I’ve gotten a few more questions along the way since posting it, so I figured sharing my best fire-building tips here on the blog would be a helpful resource that you can revisit as needed! I hope you find these tips invaluable. Leave a comment if you end up using my technique, too.

Before I list out my tips in more detail for building a fire in a wood stove, here’s the video I put together for your reference:

This is the exact method I use to make a fire in our wood stove nearly every day in the winter! Our wood stove heats most of our home and helps us to save money because we don’t have to heat with propane or electricity. I know there is a lot of discourse around the health effects of burning things for heat, but given our home, it’s location, and our budget, a wood stove is perfect for us. Plus you can’t beat the crackling fire sounds and cozy vibes!

SAFETY NOTE: Get a fire extinguisher! Have your chimney cleaned regularly! Properly vent your stove and home! Don’t catch your hair on fire! Wear heatproof gloves if you feel like it! Use seasoned firewood!

My Step-by-Step Technique: How to Build a Fire in a Wood Stove

Step 1

Put two large pieces of split wood at the base in the wood stove with a slight gap in between. I usually use firewood that is at least 4″ diameter and well-cured (meaning that it was cut down 2-3 years ago and dried so that it would burn better).

Step 2:

After that, ball up paper (old newspaper, mail, packing materials, but make sure the paper isn’t coated or glossy) and shove in between the two logs and on top. Some people like to save their dryer link for this purpose, but I personally don’t do this because I don’t like the smell of burning hair that you can get.

Step 3:

Then, overlap three pieces of kindling over the paper. Our kindling is usually 2″ or so in diameter and very dry.

Step 4:

Next, layer on two pieces of larger kindling, about the diameter of your wrist. Once the kindling has caught fire, these will burn and help ramp up the flames.

Step 5:

Next, layer on a very dry medium piece of firewood, making sure to leave room for airflow. Fire needs oxygen to stay light and burn, so airflow is very important.

Step 6:

Light the paper, using my favorite thing ever, the Pocket Bellows to blow air onto flames as needed.

Step 7:

Once the fire is lit, hang around the wood stove, monitoring the fire and poking as needed (and to your heart’s content). Add firewood as needed! Once the bottom large pieces have caught fire and are burning well, I usually start layering pieces on top.

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Additional recommendations for building a fire:

How to prevent a backdraft

When the air outside is significantly colder than inside, your fire could be difficult to light, get smoky and start pouring smoke into your home. This is called a backdraft. To avoid this scenario, I make a cone of scrap paper and light one end of it. Then, I use that to light the paper and kindling that’s in the wood stove. Usually the heat from a larger fire starter source is enough to counteract the backdraft!

How do you arrange the wood in a wood stove?

Once the fire is really going from my method above, I add on two large pieces as a time because I need a nice, hot fire to heat our home. Our wood stove is a custom build from someone local so we load it from the side instead of the front. When I’m adding more wood, I arrange the pieces so that they overlap in the middle. That way some of the wood isn’t directly in the burning embers and will burn slower so you don’t have to check it as often.

Put a kettle of water on the top of the wood stove for humidity

Winter really dries out my skin so all of our stoves have pots and kettles of water on them. It also helps to create humidity that our houseplants love.

How often should I check my fire?

I am very vigilant about how the fire is burning because it’s our primary heat source. I check approximately every 30 minutes or so. We use a heat powered wood stove fan to circulate the warm air (especially when the power is out), too. When that slows down, I know the fire is getting low and needs to be fed.

How do I spread the heat from the fire throughout my home?

Once you’ve created a nice hot fire, it’s time to circulate the hot air. We use a ceiling fan to force the air down and then I set up a tower fan to push the warm air into our bedroom. We call it the fan dance!

How to Build a Fire in a Wood Stove: my tried and true method for heating our cabin everything with our wood stove

I know that starting a fire can be intimidating, but since I’ve had to do it 6 months out of the year I’ve gotten my method down! I also use this technique when starting a bonfire outdoors or a campfire.

So what do you think about my fire building technique? Have you tried this method before? What works best for you? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Photography & styling by Jojotastic.

Behind The Blog

Joanna Hawley-McBride is a Pacific Northwest-based social media strategist, content creator, and former textile designer. Joanna is the founder and editor-in-chief of Jojotastic, a lifestyle blog focused on Joanna’s work-in-progress cabin, finding the best pair of underwear through #UnderwearThesis, and empowering women to explore nature — all in her signature unfiltered style. Her work has been featured in Domino, CNBC, and Eating Well.

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