Wood Stove Use and Safety at the End of the Trail

Wood Stove Fire -  Low and Slow is Best

Wood Stove Fire – Low and Slow is Best

A warming fire in a wood stove inside a cabin in the woods after a long day of snowshoeing or x-country skiing is a great way to end the day.  If your wood is dry and seasoned then you won’t need much more than some newspaper to get your fire going.  Ball up some of the newspaper, place kindling on top of the paper, topped off with a few small pieces of wood, and light the paper from back to front on at least two sides.  When the kindling and small pieces of wood begin to burn, and larger pieces to extend the length of the fire.

What you don’t need is a roaring fire.  A wood stove is not like an opened fireplace.  Wood stoves are designed to heat a room indirectly by the fire heating the stove.  It does not take much of a fire to heat up the stove, and because of the dynamics of the stove, larger fires just send heat up the flue, they don’t add to the warmth in the room.  Roaring fires in wood stoves waste wood and add unnecessary carbon the atmosphere.

If your wood is wet or unseasoned, or if you just want to start a fire more easily, then you can use a commercial or homemade fire starter.  Fire sticks and fire paste can be purchased at any outdoor store as well as Wal-Marts and Target stores.  Homemade fire starters can be easily made from cotton balls and Vaseline.



Wax Plug Fire Starter

Wax Plug Fire Starter



My favorite fire starter is a “waxed plug” made my dipping rolled up toilet paper (about the width of two fingers when rolled) with waterproof matches stuck in both ends into melted paraffin wax.  Use a double boiler to melt the wax.  Use tongs to dip the rolled toilet paper with matches sticking out the ends into the melted paraffin wax.  Then place the wax plug on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper.

After they cool you have a very effective fire starter.  I have used wax plugs to start outdoor fires from snow covered downed wood.  You will have no problem starting a fire with a wax plug inside a wood stove, just follow standard fire building procedures (kindling, sticks, and then wood).




Campfire started with wet wood and wax plug

Campfire started with wet wood and wax plug




The fire in the picture to the left was started with one wax plug on a rainy mid-January night from downed branches that had been soaked by the melting snow and rain.






Coleman Fuel AKA White Gas

Coleman Fuel AKA White Gas

What you never want to do is use gasoline of any sort to start a fire in a wood stove.  Many people incorrectly think white gas (commonly known as Coleman fuel) is safe to use to start fires in wood stoves or fireplaces.  White gas is a class IB flammable, the same as gasoline and ethanol.  Its fumes are as dangerous as the liquid itself.  If you are in an enclosed space and can smell white gas you should immediately leave the area.  Do not light a match or engage in any activity that could cause a spark as the fumes could easily ignite and then ignite you.

People who use gas of any sort to start a fire in a wood stove or indoor fireplace are prime candidates for a Darwin Award.  Just this past fall, an Augusta, Maine man suffered serious burns following a fire that started when he used gasoline to start a fire in his wood stove.  38-year-old Michael O’Leary was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland after the blaze. His wife was treated at Maine General in Augusta for smoke inhalation, and the family dog died. Officials said the couple’s ranch-style home sustained heavy smoke and heat damage. Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said homeowners should never use a flammable liquid to start a wood stove fire because the vapors are explosive and cause a fireball.

Apparently there are a sufficient number of idiots out there that it is necessary for Coleman to warn consumers of the obvious hazards of white case on the label of its products:

 * WARNING: Flammable Liquid and Vapor. The Flash Point is <0 degrees F.

* This product is a clear, green, light hydrocarbon liquid.

* It has a solvent petroleum odor. The product floats on water.

* When burned the product produces carbon monoxide and other asphyxiants during combustion.

* Harmful if inhaled and may cause delayed lung injury.

* Aspiration hazard if swallowed – can enter lungs and cause damage.

* Keep away from heat, sparks, and flame.

* Avoid breathing vapor. Use ventilation to keep vapor below exposure limits.

* Avoid contact with eyes, skin and clothing. Material splashed into the eyes will irritate tissues. Gently flush material from eyes with clean water.



Tests on similar material indicate the possibility of the following symptoms: headache, nasal and respiratory irritation, nausea, drowsiness, breathlessness, fatigue, central nervous system depression, convulsions, and loss of consciousness.

If you can’t start a fire in a wood stove or fireplace without resorting to the use of gasoline than you probably should not be playing with matches.  And you would be risking the well-being of yourself, everyone in the structure, the structure itself, and the emergency responders who will risk their lives to save you and the building from your stupidity.

But you don’t have to believe me.

You can believe them:  Stop Gas Fires