Wood Smoke – Part 3

Got firewood? Know how to use it? This article is the last in a 3-part series on how to Burn it Smart, brought to you by the Quesnel Air Quality Roundtable. The first article talked about the importance of well seasoned firewood and the second article discussed new woodstove technology. This article will review how to build a fire that produces minimal smoke.

Did you know that residential wood burning is a major contributor to poor air quality in Quesnel? Most of us blame industry and automobiles for “bad air”. The fact is smoke from residential burning is a major contributor to particulate matter in the air we breathe. Particulate matter (also known as pollution, PM10, or PM2.5) are tiny particles 200 times smaller than raindrops. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects. The three necessary ingredients for efficient and environmentally friendly wood heating that minimizes particulate matter are: 1) well-seasoned firewood, 2) a certified woodstove that is properly installed, and 3) good fire-burning techniques. This article will explain the importance of starting and keeping a fire going with minimal smoke.

How to start a fire with little or no smoke:

  • The kindling should ignite quickly to heat up the chimney and create a strong draft. Fast ignition also heats the brick and steel of the firebox quickly, and creates a good environment for even burning of larger wood.
  • Kindling pieces need to be finely split to produce many edges where the fire will first catch.
  • Use cedar, pine and spruce for kindling because they ignite more readily than hardwoods.
  • In preparing to build a fire, remove excess ash from the firebox. Ash should never be allowed to build up to more than 5 cm (2 in.) in thickness.
  •  Next, locate where the main supply of combustion air enters the firebox — that’s where you want the fire to first ignite. Open the air control fully.

The two most useful strategies for building fires that don’t collapse and smother themselves are: the “two parallel logs technique” and the “top-down fire technique”.

Two Parallel Logs

1) Place two split logs parallel to each other in the firebox with a space between.

2) Fill the space with crumpled newspaper and fine kindling and place several larger pieces of kindling crosswise on top.

3) Light the paper.

4) Leave the combustion air inlet open at least until the firebox is full of flames, the surface of the wood is charred black and the edges of the pieces are glowing red.

Top-Down Fire

1) Place two or three standard-sized pieces of wood in the firebox.

2) Add a few pieces of heavy kindling.

3) Add some fine kindling.

4) Roll up single sheets of newspaper, tie a knot in each and place four or five on top of, or in front of, the kindling

5) Light the paper.

6) Leave the combustion air inlet open at least until the firebox is full of flames, the surface of the wood is charred black and the edges of the pieces are glowing red.

If done properly, the top-down strategy can provide two or more hours of effective heating without having to open the door to add wood or adjust the fire.

For those who own small stoves oriented east-west, you may have some trouble using either of these methods. One way to make lighting fires easier in small, east-west stoves is to cut kindling to 20 cm (8 in.) long. A kindling fire of small, crisscrossed pieces should light easily if the wood is dry enough.

For more information about fire building techniques, seasoning firewood, and new woodstove technology please visit AIR QUALITY website, email bces@telus.net or call 250-992-5833.