If you’ve been keeping up with our Longleaf Breeze adventure, you know that my bride and I, even though we will be living in central Alabama where most winters are mild, have been unusually concerned about staying warm. We’re less worried now.
We have cataloged and described (obsessed over?) each step along the way as we have shopped for and installed our Regency F1100 wood stove, and as we have cut, split, and stacked three full cords of firewood. We really didn’t know for sure that it would all work, however, because Ken Craig at Professional Chimney Services told us we should wait to light the first fire until the outdoor temperature was in the 60s so the chimney would draw better. Last week we had our first cold snap at the farm and finally got our chance.
As the directions from the manufacturer suggested, we left the damper wide open throughout the break-in period to maximize the airflow through the stove. We started very small the first morning. I folded four or five sheets of newspaper diagonally, rolled them up, and then shaped them into knots the way I saw somebody do it on YouTube. Felt kind of silly doing it, so I suspect the next time I need to start a fire, I’ll just wad up the pieces the way I have done all my life. It’s faster and simpler, and it makes me feel more manly.
Everything burned just fine, and rather quickly. One of the keys to the breaking in process is that you need to give the stove a chance to cool all the way down between fires, so that’s all that happened the first day.
The second morning we built a fire with a few thin sticks Amanda had gathered. The other thing I had seen on YouTube was somebody’s idea that the best way to start a fire in a wood stove is to put the logs on the bottom, the kindling on top of them, and then the newspaper on top of them. Their idea is that even though heat always rises, the radiant energy from the flames will have no trouble igniting the fuel below them. If you’ve spent any time starting fires as most of us have, that seems counter-intuitive, and it’s certainly not the way we learned to build a fire in the Boy Scouts. Ken sort of cocked one eyebrow and shrugged his shoulders when I told him I was planning to try this, but I persisted. Turns out that Ken, my instincts, and the Boy Scouts of America still hold true. We watched as the newspaper burned up nicely, leaving the sticks below it nice and warm, but unignited.
Pulled the sticks out and replaced them on the bottom of the firebox with several pieces of wadded up newspaper. No, I didn’t make those cute little knots. Then we just piled the sticks on top of the newspaper and lit it. The whole firebox was burning within 5-10 minutes. That was our first real-life clue about the heat the stove is going to put out. Even though the sum total of the fuel was about 1/2 pound of dry sticks, our little stove put out a good bit of heat that morning, enough to force us to open both doors and a couple of windows to cool the apartment back down to a comfortable level. We also kept an eye on the output of the chimney; no visible smoke once the fire was burning well. Again, per the instructions from the manufacturer, we let the stove cool down thoroughly the rest of the day and overnight.
The third morning, Amanda was visiting with a friend, so I built the fire solo. I had forgotten to bring newspaper, so I used shredded correspondence instead. I selected three small oak pieces from firewood pallet #1 and started them with the help of the shredded paper and 5-6 sticks (paper on the bottom, of course). The fire was hot and high within 10 minutes. At 14 minutes after lighting, there was still visible smoke coming from the chimney, but by 20 minutes after lighting, I could see nothing coming from the chimney except heat.
At about this same time, I began to notice that the stove itself was smoking. I vaguely remembered that Ken had told me this would happen, but it was still a little scary to see it. Fortunately, Professional Chimney Services was open on a Saturday morning, so I called, and Traci reassured me that this was normal. The heat-resistant paint on the stove needs to cure, she said, and when it cures it smokes. Just make sure the room is well ventilated. Don’t you worry, Traci, the apartment was wide open; if it hadn’t been the heat from the stove would have driven me outside for air.
The fire burned for about an hour and 45 minutes while I bush hogged. At this point I was supposed to let the stove cool down, but I couldn’t resist an experiment. Ken and the manufacturer had both said there’s no problem burning pine and sweetgum (both plentiful at Longleaf Breeze) in the Regency, but my brother Dave Gray, who has excellent judgment on many things, was convinced that the pine would smoke too much and that the sweetgum would never ignite. “Don’t mess with it, Lee; it’s just not worth it.” Amanda and I had forged ahead, though, and we added a little pine to pallets 4 and 5 and a little sweetgum to several others.
As I saw those coals cooling in the bottom of the stove, I decided to go for it. I selected two pieces of pine and one of sweetgum, threw them in and shut the door. Chill, Dave Gray. They worked great. All three pieces lit up fine. I did see visible smoke again from the chimney as they were catching up, but within about 20 minutes after I put them on the chimney output was clean.
So with our stove ready to go now and all that firewood stacked and stored, our winter management plan is more or less complete. The only heat we will have other than the wood stove is from three heat lamps, one over the bed, one for the bathroom, and a third to use in the laundry area of the storage room. They use 150 watts apiece and emit no visible light, so one of our punch list items for Scott McGill, our electrician, is to put all three on timers so we won’t be able to leave them on by mistake.
The video runs a little more than seven minutes.