First Report on the Wood Stove 2

We’ve used our Regency F1100 wood stove for about six weeks now, long enough to have formed an initial impression of how it works. The news is basically good.

We are using the F1100 to heat our extremely well-insulated 600 sq. ft. apartment. It’s clearly more stove than we need. We could be using it to heat a much larger space or a more poorly insulated space.

What size wood? Anything longer than about 17 inches is balky to get into the stove. We’re going for 15-16 inches long. We started out trying to split everything down to about 3 inches or less in diameter. When Ken Craig from Professional Chimney Services (the company that sold and installed the stove) saw what I was doing, he suggested that I hold out some larger pieces so they would burn longer at night. With this tiny firebox, though, we’ll need to be careful not to overdo it. Right now, I’m going for a mix of little pieces to get the fire started and slightly larger pieces for longer burns.

What wood can you burn? The most important requirement is that the wood be dry and well-seasoned. If it’s wet or green, it doesn’t matter what kind of wood you have, you’re asking for trouble. Everything we’re burning has been split and stacked on pallets for at least a year, and under cover for at least three months. It’s burning great. We’ve burned a little pine just because we were interested to see how well it did. It started quickly and burned clean. I have learned to judge the quality of the fire by the color of the emissions from the chimney. All the wood we’re burning creates slightly visible smoke when it’s catching up. Once it’s burning well, though (typically within about 20 minutes), there’s no visible smoke, just the ripples that show heat coming out of the chimney. This is true for oak, hickory, sweetgum, dogwood and pine. That’s all we’ve tried to burn so far.

How do you start your fire? I started out trying to start fire with the sticks of the firewood on the bottom, then twigs on top of that, then newspaper on top of that. I know it sounds weird, but I saw a video on YouTube indicating that it would work better for a wood stove, so I tried it. Failure. I ended up with nicely burned paper, warm twigs, and cold, unburned firewood.

Next, I tried the way we learned when I was a Boy Scout, with paper on the bottom, then twigs, then firewood on top. It works okay, but the firebox on the F1100 is so tiny that it’s hard to get everything in the firebox at the same time, so I found I was trying to get the kindling going first without any firewood on it, and then adding the big sticks once I had the kindling going. It made for a mess in front of the stove, and it was taking me 20-30 minutes of intermittent work to get a fire going.

So far, what’s working best for us now is to use the little fire starter sticks like this one (costs about $0.13 per fire). I’m open to making my own fire starters with Vaseline and cotton balls like this or with candle wax and cardboard like this, but at $0.13 cents per fire now, I’m not in a huge hurry to change.

We also have a good supply of fat lighter or fatwood from the longleaf pines that grow around the farm. That’s another possibility, although fat lighter kicks out quite a bit of black, sooty smoke when it burns.

I begin by raking all the ashes into the ash drawer, leaving a more or less clean firebox. With the damper all the way open, I place one piece of firewood on the floor of the firebox against the back wall, with the split side facing out. Then I light a single square of the fire starter (it lights easily with a match or cigarette lighter) and lean the fire starter against the firewood piece. Then I place a small round or an irregular piece on the floor of the stove in front of the fire starter, close enough to nurture the heat but far enough away to let air circulate. That makes a platform for me to put another piece on top, split side down, and again, arranged to allow lots of air and flame to circulate. Depending on the size of the pieces, I will have room for 1-3 additional pieces before I close the stove door. The fire is usually going in earnest and the chimney emitting no visible smoke within about 20 minutes.

How long does a fire burn? So far, we’ve not felt any need to add wood one piece at a time the way we did when we had a fireplace. The old “throw a log on the fire” days may be behind us. Instead, we tend to fill up the firebox, close the door, and let it burn all the way down to glowing coals before we add any more wood. I guess if we were working to keep roaring flames going constantly we could do that, but we’ve never really wanted to, because the stove heats up our little apartment so easily.

We don’t store any firewood indoors. We keep the firewood pallet right outside the front door, so when I go outside to get a load, I get 3-5 pieces at one time, bring them in, and put them straight into the stove.

With our mix of oak, hickory, sweetgum, and pine, and with the damper all the way open, a full charge of firewood will burn down to coals within about two hours. About an hour after that, we’re reaching the point where the coals may not be hot enough to start firewood burning. So our window to recharge the stove with a fresh load of firewood lasts about an hour. If we don’t do that and let the fire continue to die down, the stove will stay warm for another 3-4 hours after that.

How clean does the glass stay? Not very clean by itself. The F1100 has an “airwash” system that’s supposed to keep the glass clean. It works, sort of, in the sense that there’s never a heavy buildup of tar and soot on the glass. Amanda and I love to watch the fire burn, though (as I bet almost anyone would), so the little fogginess and some tar that builds up on the glass bugs us. We clean it with glass cleaner and a paper towel, which is easy to do when we clean it every week or so.

Ken Craig at Professional Chimney Services says if the glass isn’t cleaning itself, our fires aren’t hot enough. But we’re burning seasoned wood with the damper wide open, so my guess is that we’re doing all we can do, and the stove just won’t keep the glass completely clean.

How much wood do you burn? First, understand that we’re in central Alabama and that we haven’t had any severely cold weather yet. The coldest temperatures we’ve experienced so far have been high 30s. We’ll probably see some teens overnight later in the winter, so I’ll try to update the blog then. Based on present experience, with our tightly insulated little apartment, I’m guessing we’ll not feel a need to build a fire during most days. We’ll probably build a one-charge fire in the morning to take the chill off, then 2-3 charges in the evening as we’re visiting together. At that rate, we’ll burn an average of one pallet (1/4 cord) each month, or about 1 1/4 cords to get us through the roughly five months of heating season.

How much noise does it make? Almost none. Every now and then a soft creak as the metal heats or the sound of burning wood settling. That’s it.

How about the smell? None. The F1100 has an optional external air intake, and we’re using it. The fire always drafts extremely well, and we never can smell any smoke in the apartment. It might be nice to have just a little, but we’re not complaining.

Do you use any other heat source? Yes we do. We have a heat lamp over Amanda’s side of the bed (she’s more cold-natured than I), a heat lamp in the bathroom, and a heat lamp in the unheated storage room where we do laundry. So far we’ve used the bathroom and laundry lamps sparingly and haven’t used the bed lamp at all. I have my office in the unheated shop adjacent to the apartment, and when I’m working there on a cold morning I light a kerosene heater beside me.

How often do you empty the ash drawer? The ash drawer is tiny, so we’re having to empty it after every 3-4 fires. We’re not burning constantly, so we can just wait until the ashes are cold and throw them out in the woods. If we needed to burn more constantly, we would need to get a steel ash can with a lid (harder to find than you might think).

How messy is it? There’s a little mess to deal with. There’s often a little ash that spills onto the catch-tray below the firebox when we open the firebox door, so we wait for it to cool and sweep it off onto the tile floor below the stove. In addition, I often end up setting wood down in front of the stove and then inserting the wood one piece at a time, so there’s usually a little clutter of splinters and bark fragments on the tile in front of the stove. We keep a broom and attached dustpan right outside the front door and use it to sweep the tile floor below the stove (about three square feet) about twice a day.

What do you like the most, and what do you like the least, about using a wood stove? We love the cozy simplicity of being toasty warm in our home using only the trees that fell in the forest or had to come down anyway, and the fire burning in the stove is beautiful to watch. We definitely would recommend a stove with a glass door you can see through easily.

So far we’ve not been at all inconvenienced by having to start a fire or bring in wood to burn. Perhaps the least pleasant aspect of the wood stove is dealing with the ashes. It’s not difficult, just tedious. It would be nice if the ash drawer had more capacity so we didn’t have to empty it quite as often. Even that, though, is just no big deal. All in all, we find it simple, quiet, effective, and pleasant to use a wood stove as our main heat source.

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2 thoughts on “First Report on the Wood Stove

  • Lee

    January Update.

    There’s just no substitute for having a tight, well-insulated living space. We’ve had some really cold nights now (lows in the teens). Hey’ that’s cold for central Alabama! We’ve also had a couple of cold days with gusty winds. Our wood consumption is a tad higher, primarily because we’re consistently using two charges of wood each morning, but the main change is that we’re now being more careful not to leave the door open when we go outside, even for just a minute or so.

    When it’s really cold in Alabama, it’s also really clear, so we’ve had the full benefit of passive solar heating through our south-facing windows. This, coupled with getting the apartment nice and toasty each morning, has meant that we have not yet felt the need to keep a fire going all day, not even on the coldest, windiest day.

  • Lee

    March Update.

    I was wrong. I told you above that the Regency F1100 won’t keep the glass clean. Apparently I just wasn’t getting the fire hot enough. Last night, for example, I closed the damper down and let the fire ease down over a period of about 3 hours. The ashes were still warm this morning. The glass was cloudy, with brown “tar” looking stains on its right and left edges.

    I built a hot, roaring fire in the stove this morning, and about 90 minutes later the glass is sparkling clean.