How to Use a Wood Burning Stove

Starting a fire with a wood burning stove

How do you use a wood burning stove? How do you light a fire with one and create an efficient and natural heating system for the whole house?

Starting a fire in a wood burning stove takes patience. You probably won’t be able to get the fire roaring in ten minutes. It might even take you hours, but all good things take time, and patience is a virtue. 

Learning to be patient, though, is only part of the joy of making a fire in a wood stove. It’s a meditative process and a deeply fulfilling activity, because once the embers are ablaze, it can heat your space throughout the night. With minimal maintenance, the same fire can even last several months. 

Like poring over a magazine while sipping coffee or driving the scenic route to take in the colors of the autumn leaves, lighting a wood burning stove fire is a slow-living lifestyle decision. It’s not quick. It’s not easy. It’s often frustrating. It requires your utmost attention and care. However, once you learn how to get your fire going, it’s an extremely rewarding ritual. Wood burning stove fires emit a magical aroma throughout your space and outside that is the idyllic cold-weather scent. And how cool is it that such an old technology can heat an entire space without any assistance from any modern heating systems? It’s a great way to heat your home in a green way.

Let’s jump into the art of making a fire in a wood burning stove.

Step 1

Make sure the damper is fully open. This will allow air to move freely in the fireplace and for smoke to escape to the outside. Make sure your air intake system is on high for extra circulation.

Step 2

Break dry twigs into smaller pieces. Put the twigs in the stove and light to start a micro-fire. You don’t need to use cardboard or paper if the twigs are dry. (Dry twigs will snap when you bend them; if they don’t snap, they’re too wet.)

Keep feeding this fire with the smallest twigs and slivers of wood you can find. Don’t get overeager—at the start, feed the fire with only small pieces of wood. Be sure to keep the door’s stove partially open. You don’t want to close the door until your fire is self-sustainable.

Pro-tip: Blowing on the fire will help it catch faster. The more air that’s circulating, the better!

Step 3

At this point, your fire should be able to burn basic firewood. Once your initial fire with the smallest wood is burning aggressively, you can start adding larger logs. But start with smaller logs and build slowly.

The idea here is build a bed of coals (glowing red embers) before you add any bigger logs. While you can add larger logs, the smaller the logs are, the easier it’ll be to maintain your fire.

Step 4

Now’s the time you’ve been waiting for! If your bed of coals is glowing and your fire is consistently burning, you can add bigger logs and shut the door. Keep an eye on it once you close the door, as you don’t want to lose all your hard work. If the fire seems to be dying with the door closed, repeat steps 2 and 3, and consider adding some more cardboard to the bottom of the fire.

Step 5

Enjoy the benefits of slow living with your amazing fire. When you’re done with the fire, you can dispose of the ashes outside as all the materials you used were natural.


If you are having issues getting your fire started, our YouTube video on lighting a fire in a wood burning stove and keeping it running efficiently goes through the process in real time from start to finish.

Quick Tips

  • We recommend using dry twigs to start the initial small fire. If you can’t find enough dry twigs, you can start with small pieces of wood and match-light charcoal or cardboard to get your initial fire going. It’s ideal if you can avoid using any processed elements, but if necessary, match-light charcoal is your best backup option.
  • Wood that has dried or seasoned for a year is preferable to freshly cut wood.
  • Softwoods such as spruce, pine, or fir are ideal for starting fires, since they burn more quickly; for the same reason, it’s better to use hardwood logs to keep the keep the fire going once it’s started.
  • Shut the damper halfway for about a half-hour after adding hardwood logs; this will prevent your room from getting too smoky and your logs from burning too quickly.
  • When adding logs, first stir the coals at the bottom and rake them toward the stove door.
  • Add one or two logs at a time to keep the fire burning.
  • When adding larger logs for overnight burning, place them close together and parallel to one another to fill the firebox.
  • Remember to periodically empty the ash pan; hot ashes are the main cause of accidental house fires.
  • Be patient.