Traditional and Modern Style Stoves

Wood Burning Stoves
Questions and Answers, Hints and Tips

Stoves: Wood Burners up to £1,500 | Wood Burners over £1,500 | Multi-fuel up to £1,500 | Multi-fuel over £1,500 | Boiler | DEFRA approved | Inset | Logstore stoves | Outdoor Logstores | Fans | Electric | Gas | Q and A's, hints and Tips

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What is a DEFRA approved stove? Do I need one?

DEFRA sets the rules on where in the UK are "Smoke Control Areas". If you live in one of these areas you can only burn an authorised fuel, these being: anthracite semi-anthracite, gas, and low volatile steam coal OR unauthorised fuels such as wood as long as it is burnt in an exempt appliance such as a DEFRA approved woodburner or multifuel stove. This applies to England, the specific rules can differ according to where you live, Smoke Control Areas are generally found in cities and larger towns use this map to check if you need a DEFRA approved stove in your area.

Such stoves do not allow for long slow burns, such as overnight, as these release more pollutants than a quicker cleaner burn. Burning wood in an unapproved stove in a smoke controlled area can lead to a fine. To receive DEFRA approval requires that a particular model of stove passes the approval test which is expensive and so stoves that could pass DEFRA approval may not necessarily have done so if the manufacturer hasn't p[aid for the test on that particular model.

What is Eco-Design?

A European directive to improve the sustainability and efficiency of a whole range of products, when applied to solid fuel burning stoves it particularly refers to air pollution and particulate emissions. Ecodesign stoves are certified as efficient and clean burning producing few pollutants in the process. Such a stove may or may not be DEFRA approved.

Positioning the stove

This will probably be out of your control to a large degree, but if you do have the choice, a stove that is un-enclosed (as opposed to in a fire-place for instance) will be more efficient as more heat will be transferred to the surroundings of the room. Likewise a stove with a long exposed flue in the room will transfer more heat into the room along the length of the flue than if it were enclosed within a chimney. I worked out the surface area of the flue and box of my stove in the picture to the right.

Wood burns best on a bed of its own ash

The good news is that you don't need to clean your wood burning stove out every day getting rid of yesterdays ashes. Wood leaves relatively little ash and it can stay in the stove to actually aid the fire on subsequent days only needing cleaning out when it gets deep enough to threaten to spill out. It is a bit "fluffy" when cold after building up the previous day, so I stir it up a bit with a kindling stick to settle it down before making the new fire.

This is not the case with smokeless coals which make more ash and need cleaning out daily.

Starting the fire
firelighters + kindling + smaller logs

Life is too short to be minimalist when lighting a fire with screwed-up newspapers so buy a box of firelighters that are used to start kindling which starts smaller logs before using the bigger ones. Smaller logs burn faster and give a good blast of heat to warm the room up before settling down to the slower burn of larger logs. You will soon learn how to do this effectively, I choose a flattish piece of firewood to put the firelighter on then build a small structure around it with kindling with small logs on top of this, air is as important as fuel so make sure there's plenty of big gaps (as big as the spaces taken by the wood) to let it in. Open the stove vents fully when starting the fire, then close them to half-way once it's going.

Use burning newspaper to warm air in the flue and create a draw

Cold air is heavier than warm air, the air in the chimney with an un-lit fire will be colder than the air in your room, so the hot air from the newly-lit fire can find it difficult to push its way out the chimney to start with. This is ironically more so when the temperature outside is closer to that in the room. If it's 10C or more outside I loosely screw up a sheet of newspaper placed on top of the built but un-lit fire, light the firelighter and then the newspaper. The blast of hot air from the quickly burning paper helps push the air up the chimney and get everything going. The colder the outside air the less you need to do this as warmer room air going up the chimney does the same thing when you open the stove door to prepare the fire.

Use wood ash to clean the glass

Fortunately your wood burning stove makes its own ideal cleaning agent to get black marks and tar stains off the front glass, it is abrasive enough to remove the marks but not enough to scratch the glass.

When the stove is cold, fold a kitchen paper towel into quarters and dampen it under the tap, dip the damp side into the ash, use this to rub the black marks on the inside of the glass in a circular motion. This will loosen the marks but smear the glass all over with grey ash. Once the black marks have been loosened throw this paper towel away and get another clean one, fold and dampen again and this time use it to wipe off the ash. If it's very dirty like mine was in the pictures, you may need to use a couple of pieces of towel + ash to clean it.

Very mucky stove door about to be cleaned.

Fold a kitchen paper towel into quarters and dip in the wood ash.

Wipe in circular motions to scrub off the deposits from the door.

"clean" door but covered in ash,
this one took 2 goes.

Wipe with another damp paper towel and it's all clean again.

Keep your wood dry!

Whether you buy your wood ready cut and dried or cut it yourself, it should be stored out of the rain until you are ready to use it in a woodstore. Damp wood won't light or burn as well as dry wood and produces FAR more smoke and particulate pollution. You also get much more heat from dry wood as it's not wasting energy turning all that soaked-in water into steam.

An open fronted, roofed wood store near to the house is most convenient, you can buy or make one. Mine is 6ft long by 5ft high against the house in a passage where the wind is funneled which helps dry it out, I made it from scrap wood I had and spent about £30 on plastic sheets for the roof. I also have a larger roofed store at the bottom of the garden that holds just over a years supply of wood built onto the side of a shed.

Have a small store in the house to hold wood for a day or two

Have somewhere next to the stove to store wood so you don't have to go outside on a cold dark night to get any. You also want the wood to warm up before you use it to help it light better, and it helps dry it out that bit more before burning. DON'T have wood touching the outside of the stove as it could catch fire but do have it nearby. I have a large wicker basket one side and a rack I made on the other. In the coldest days of winter between them they hold about 3 days worth of fuel which is well over a weeks worth in spring and autumn.

Wood cutting tips

If you have access to a source of timber, cutting it up yourself can save you a load of cash compared to buying it ready cut and split, it's also a good work-out and cheaper than going to the gym! You'll need a chainsaw and a splitting axe or maul, a hand axe will be very useful too.

Things I have learnt:

  • Cut and split the wood as soon as possible after delivery or cutting the tree down, this speeds up the drying process hugely compared to seasoning whole uncut logs.

  • Make sure you have a large enough woodstore for the logs to dry out. This will ideally be south-facing, and be open sided with a over-hanging roof to allow the wind to help dry the logs out while keeping the rain off. Use pallets, paving slabs or similar to keep the logs off the bare earth and dry from beneath.

  • Get a sawhorse, preferably one that holds several logs at the same time, it speeds things up considerably.

  • Use a larger log as a chopping block, preferably a crown piece, the knotty part at the top of the trunk where several branches come out.



Any small pieces of wood that catch light easily and help get the fire going can be used as kindling. If you have no other source, get a hand axe and split larger stove-sized logs up to do this, you don't need many each time and a single log gives enough for 3+ days of starting fires.

If you split your own wood collect up the pieces of bark and smaller pieces that fall off into a porous bag and keep it on top of your wood pile, they make great no-effort kindling when dried out. Likewise if you do any kind of woodworking, have a kindling bin to throw in all those small offcuts you get.

You can buy bags of kindling for what always seems silly prices to me when it is so easy to get otherwise.

Woody things NOT to burn...

  • Any kind of manufactured wood product such as plywood, MDF, particle board etc. these use large amounts of glue which can release toxins when burnt.

  • Painted wood.

  • Treated wood impregnated with preservatives such as from fences, decks, sheds etc. either old or new off-cuts.


Stoves: Wood Burners up to £1,500 | Wood Burners over £1,500 | Multi-fuel up to £1,500 | Multi-fuel over £1,500 | Boiler | DEFRA approved | Inset | Logstore stoves | Outdoor Logstores | Fans | Electric | Gas | Q and A's, hints and Tips

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