Weathering Woodstove Woes

When the wind is wuthering outside, knowing how to fix common woodstove problems will keep you warm and comfortable.

| November/December 2020

Photo by Adobe Stock/Nathaniel Asaro

Woodstoves are among the least expensive forms of home heating, enabling self-sufficiency and comfort that other heat sources don’t provide. They’re not without their share of work, though, both to keep you warm and to keep the stove maintained.

Even the most seasoned woodstove users will run into operation issues now and then; this article can be a refresher course for those folks. For green woodstove users, this summary of four common problems will help you better operate, maintain, and ultimately enjoy your woodstove.

Smoke Without Flame

Wood smoldering in a stove is most often not an issue with the woodstove, but rather an issue with the wood, according to Daniel Ciolkosz, assistant professor and research associate for Penn State Extension. Wood that smolders rather than burns likely hasn’t been properly seasoned.

Wood should be allowed to dry for at least one year after it’s been cut, preferably two years, particularly for hardwoods. Less than 20 percent moisture by weight is ideal for burning. Fresh-cut wood typically has 45 to 50 percent moisture.

“Moisture makes it harder for wood to heat up and properly burn,” Ciolkosz says. You can test moisture content with a moisture meter or by feel. “Once you’ve been doing this awhile, you’ll get a good sense of the wood’s moisture content by knowing the kind of wood it is and how it behaves when fully dry: Oak will still be very heavy compared to pine, but will have checks or cracks in the end grain, and there’s a crisp sound when you knock two pieces together — like musical woodblocks,” says Guillermo Metz, the energy team leader for Cornell Cooperative Extension.

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