Wood Burning Stove: How to Burn, Bank, and Relight


A wood burning stove can be a wonderful addition to the home during the winter, but it can be difficult and time consuming to start the fire and to keep it going.

We will discuss how to keep a wood burning stove fire going and how to bank the fire at night so that it can be easily relit in the morning without having to use any fire starting materials.

 

How to Keep a Wood Burning Stove Hot:

Once the fire in a wood burning stove is started,  it is pretty easy to keep it going. See our article on how to make an easy fire starter. Using this tip will get your fire started from scratch, no problem.

But once you have the fire started, the goal is to keep it going and to generate some heat. To keep the fire going, follow the below steps:

1. Let the logs burn down. Always allow the logs to burn down to the coals. The logs do not have to be totally gone, but let them burn through so that the stove consists of mostly glowing coals. This seems counterintuitive, but it works.

2. Rake the coals forward. Turn the flue fully open and open the wood stove door. {note: always fully open the flue before opening the door to prevent smoke from coming out} Use a fireplace shovel or similar tool to pull all of the coals forward as far as possible to the front of the stove.

Wood Burning Stove: rake coals forward

Coals have been raked forward

3. Add new wood.  Add 2-3 logs to the stove behind the coals and shut the stove door. The idea is that the incoming air will hit the coals and the coals will, in turn, light the new wood.

Wood Burning Stove: Add new wood

New wood has been added behind the coals

4. Maximize Heat.

Keep the flue fully open until the wood is on fire. Then, close the flue little by little until you get to the point where the fire is just allowed to keep burning.

Important: the goal is to let in enough oxygen to allow the new wood to burn, but not so much that the fire is raging and sending the heat flaming up the chimney.

bank a fire

Now that the new logs are on fire we’ll cut the flue to 50%

The reason to “damper it down” is because with the flue wide open much of the heat is rushing up the chimney. On our stove I leave the flue at 100% open to get the new logs going, and once they catch, I back the flue down to 50% open, which maximizes the heat produced in the room.

Also, consider making use of the stove blower if you have one. Point of contention: Some people feel that the stove blower, because it runs on electricity, actually uses more energy than it saves. I think each home situation is different. The blower directs the heated air toward the center of the room. It’s a fan. Use it if you think it makes an overall improvement to your environment. Some may find that the heat radiating off of the wood stove is more than enough, and that the blower is just a waste of electricity.

5. Repeat as needed.  Wait for the new logs to burn down to the coals, rake the coals forward, add new wood behind, and repeat the process over and over as needed.

 

Wood burning stove flue fully open

Flue handle on a typical stove when it is 100% open

 

Wood burning stove flue open 50%

Flue handle when it is 50% open. (Fully horizontal would be closed)

 

Using the above method, your wood stove should burn for as long as you want it to. Until, that is, it’s time to go to bed…

 

How to Bank a Wood Stove Fire at Night

At night when it is time to go to bed, there is often a question of what to do with the fire. One really hesitates to put it out because the typical wood stove is hard to relight from scratch, in the freezing cold morning.

Because of our reluctance to let the fire completely die out during the night, some people cram the stove with as much wood as possible and then set the flue to nearly closed. The thinking is that the fire should burn (or at least smoulder) for a long time, and hopefully there will still be hot coals in the morning which could be used to restart the fire.

This method does not work very well. We have tried it. Plus, it is wasteful. Just like you do not want to have the wood burning way too hot and thus have the excess heat escape through the chimney, you also do not want the wood to smoulder, because it is not generating much heat and could be creating unnecessary, dangerous creosote.

The trick instead is to “bank” the fire as described below:

1. Let it burn down. Let the logs in the wood stove burn down to the coals as before.

2. Rake coals to the center. Fully open the flue and use a fireplace shovel or similar tool to rake the coals to the center middle of the stove.

3. Add a little bit of wood. Place 1 or 2 logs on top of the coals.

4. Cover with ash. Time to get crazy. Using the fireplace shovel, cover the log(s) with ashes from your ash bucket.

Our ash bucket is a drawer that is below the stove so this is very easy. If you do not have this, get an ash bucket. There are many great uses for ash including using it in the garden, but more on that in another article).

Make sure to use enough ash that you thoroughly cover all of the wood and all of the coals. The wood stove should be dark once you have finished.

Yes, it is a lot of ash that you are using, and it seems weird to be adding ashes to the stove when you are usually focused on cleaning them out!

wood burning stove with fire banked

Two logs set on top of coals and covered with ash

5. Cut the airflow. Turn the flue down so that it is mostly closed. You will want a little bit of air to get through. The fire is now officially banked!

6. Restart it later. In the morning or whenever you want to relight the fire, open the flue and scoop as much of the ash as you can back into the ash container. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

The logs that were placed on the coals are by now probably gone, and in their place should be a lot of glowing coals.

Back in Business! Rake the coals forward and toss in 2-3 logs behind the coals. Shut the door and in ten minutes or so with the flue fully open, the coals will light the fire.

Reality check: It is true that shoveling in ash at night and then shoveling it back out in the morning can be a little bit of a hassle and a mess, but in my opinion it is a lot easier than having to light the stove from scratch every morning.

With this method, not only will you save your coals for 8-14 hours, but the stove itself will keep warm the whole time.

Overall, the method of raking the coals forward to keep the fire going while awake, and banking a fire and night, is a more efficient way to keep a wood stove running. You will see significant savings in wood use, and heat efficiencies will skyrocket.

If desired, using these methods, one could light the stove one time in November and keep the stove lit until the end of winter without using any additional paper or fire starters! Obviously, one should not leave the home with a lit stove running and we’ll leave things up to adults to determine best practices for safety.

 

Any fire can be banked

Fireplace fires and campfires can also be banked using the same method. Remember to collect the coals in the center of the space, add a minimal amount of wood, and then cover the whole thing with ashes.

In a camp fire setting, if there are not enough ashes, soil can be used.

For those fires that do need to be restarted from scratch, check out our article on how to make our DIY firestarter (link at the top).

Also, see our prefered method of stacking wood using a Holz Hausen round stack (here).


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2 thoughts on “Wood Burning Stove: How to Burn, Bank, and Relight

  • Audrey G. Crabb

    Hi,
    I really admire your post. I love your explaining style at every aspect. I found this post very useful and unique. I am happy that I reached your post!
    Installing a wood burning stove either on its own or as part of a central heating system can be a great way to cut down on fuel bills and carbon emissions. However, the savings that you make will depend on correct usage and maintenance.
    To find the best deals, search internet comparison sites, which will work out what you could be saving and which provider can supply the services you need for the best price.

    Thanks for such an elegant post!! Keep share more!!

    Regards
    Audrey G. Crabb

  • Kyle

    This is by far the most informative article I’ve ever read for convenience and efficiency. So much help. Never knew about it but, “Banking” your fire is the only way to go. Thank you so much.