I wrote a post a while ago about my wood stove. Since then, almost every day my site meter shows that someone has come to my blog after Googling something about wood stoves or over-firing. The other day I was at the store where we bought our stove, and since there had been so much interest here, I asked some questions and learned a few interesting things. I have put together what I have learned over the years of running our stove 24/7 from November through March.
· The one thing I learned last week was that the cast iron in the stove expands over time due to the heat. Parts that come apart now (as they should) may not always slide apart as easily; eventually, they may need to be replaced. Running the stove too hot can expand and warp parts of the stove and do irreparable damage. Over-firing shortens the life of the stove. When the stove top temperature runs too high (700 or higher according to my owner's manual--check your manual to know what is right for yours), the life of the stove is shortened. The joints in the stove can become weakened as well. By the way, this may be one reason not to purchase a used stove since you may not be able to tell how carefully the owners have cared for it simply by looking at it.
· Over-firing may be caused by forgetting to watch the stove after stoking it. I have a timer by the stove that beeps for 90 minutes before it turns itself off. I set it for 10, 20 or 30 minutes, depending upon how close the stove is to the desired temperature. Our manual says it should be up to 450 degrees before turning on the catalytic converter, and I have found that when it gets this high, the fire in our firebox is hot enough to keep itself going. No one is allowed to turn the timer off without resetting it unless the stove has been turned down and the catalytic turned on--and I usually go back to check it again after it has been turned down to be sure that the stove pipe is cooling and that the temperature of the firebox is what it should be. We also have a rule that says we NEVER leave the house without checking the stove first; it MUST be turned down and be in an acceptable temperature range.
· If the stove temperature is always running high, the gaskets may need to be replaced. Poor gaskets allow too much air to be drawn into the firebox, making the stove run warmer than it should. I am told that a good way to test whether your gaskets are tight enough is to do the dollar bill test: close the door on a dollar bill and then try to pull it out. If there is resistance, it is fine; if it slips out easily at any spot, the gasket is not sealing well enough. Your owner's manual should tell you what size gaskets to buy to replace them--we pick them up at the hardware store. We buy gasket glue (often the glue and gaskets are packaged together), and follow the directions. Sometimes the glue instructions tell you to close the doors to "set" the gasket; it is wise to place a piece of aluminum foil over the glued areas--that way, if the glue is not only in the gasket channel, the gasket will not end up being stuck to the wrong part of the stove when you open it. Before changing the gaskets, however, be sure that the latches on the doors are adjusted correctly; a loose latch will not tighten the door properly even with a good gasket.
· There are thermometers that magnetically attach to the top of the stove and thermometers that can be inserted into a hole in the stove pipe; we have both. The temperature guides on these thermometers tell you if the stove is running too cool, normal, or too hot. (By the way, our stove pipe runs very cool once the catalytic is turned on--each stove is different.) Not only can the stove get too hot, but the stove pipe can, too--and the stove pipe can be way too hot even when the firebox is not. If there is a creosote build-up inside the pipe, it can catch on fire. When it does, it throws a lot of sparks and burns HOT, resulting in a chimney fire. Creosote can build up inside the pipe even when the stove is running efficiently, but if you burn green wood or allow the stove to run at low temperatures, it will build up even more rapidly. There are guidelines for installing the stove pipe—you need to protect the ceiling or wall from catching fire as well as the roof, so do insulate as recommended and be sure the top of the pipe is above the roof high enough to withstand a chimney fire without damage to your home. We clean out our chimney with a brush that is made to fit the size of pipe we have, and we do it every fall and a couple of times during the months we are burning. One can avoid calling the fire department by carefully watching the stove and keeping the pipes clean!
· The type of wood you use affects how the stove runs. You do not want to get wood that is over-dried or it will burn too hot and fast. You do not want to use slab wood, because it, too, will burn too hot. I've always been told that hard wood, dried for 12 to 18 months, is the best. Several small logs will burn hotter and faster than a couple of big ones, so you can choose according to you needs. We usually use oak because that is easily available in our area. Know your wood, and be certain you know what your stove manufacturer recommends!
· Always watch that nothing is too close to the stove--our neighbor's house burned down from a pile of wood a child left next to the stove. I watch that rugs, chairs, drying mittens or boots are not allowed to be placed too close to the stove--and I do it religiously before bedtime or when we are leaving the house. If you are installing a wood stove, be sure to place it no closer to walls and furniture than is recommended, and be certain the flooring meets code.
· Running a wood stove is an art; it is a relationship, not a mathematical equation. By stoking it daily over weeks and years, the owner knows how the stove should run when it is working properly.
Follow the owner's manual. Do the repairs and the annual check-ups that are recommended. Please DO NOT take what I write as the answer to YOUR stove--there are all sorts of working parts on the stove that must be watched and cared for, so refer to the owner's manual, the manufacturer's web site, and your stove's salesman to know what needs to be done.
And, it is my recommendation that if you are not the kind of person who will watch the stove carefully all the time, heat with something other than wood!
Hopefully this will help a few of you! Enjoy!