How to light a wood burning stove every time – The upside-down method tweaked!

Last updated on August 31st, 2023

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I remember when I got my first wood-burning stove. I had access to free logs so it was a no-brainer for me, and there is no better feeling than sitting in front of a wood-burning stove. The problem comes when you have to actually light it. It never quite seems as easy to light it as you think it would be, especially when you are lighting it for the first few times and are new to using a wood-burning stove.

My Burnly wood burning stove
My Burnly wood burning stove

I now have a Burley wood-burning stove and it is supposed to be the most efficient wood-burning stove on the market. However, all stoves work in the same way, so this guide will be useful for anyone.

I will get to the upside-down method in a moment and show you step by step, how I light my stove and show you the results by the minute.

My Valliant stove fan and my wood burning stove
My Valliant stove fan and my wood burning stove

If you want to make your wood-burning stove even more efficient, then I advise you to invest in the Valliant stove fan, which I write about here, in my best stove fan review. It distributes the warm air much more evenly around the room and is powered by the heat from your stove. The link does open in a new window so you can carry on reading this guide.

Before lighting your stove

Before lighting the stove, there are a few things you need to know. The first is to only use seasoned or kiln-dried logs. By law, these should have less than 20% moisture in them and this is for good reason. You will never get your fire to burn efficiently if you use firewood that is not seasoned and it is also much more difficult to get the fire started.

I have a separate guide advising on what moisture content a log should be. It also shows you how to know if your logs are seasoned using a moisture meter, as well as without a moisture meter, using what is known as the blow method. I also talk about how to season and store firewood yourself.

You can read my full guide on how to season firewood and test the moisture content here.

If you want to know what moisture meters I recommend, I have reviewed them in this article here.

How to traditionally light a fire in a wood burning stove

So traditionally, the way you light a wood-burning stove is to use kindling to form a fire stack in the shape of a pyramid with either some newspaper or a firelighter in the centre. Once the kindling is burning well this warms the flue and then you can add a large piece of firewood.

The problem with this is that the paper can burn too quickly and not give the kindling time to catch fire. You also need to open the stove to place the log in there, which will then let the heat out that has been built up inside the stove. Overall, a lot of people have issues lighting a stove this traditional way and sometimes have issues getting the main log burning.

This brings me to the upside-down method.

How to light a stove using the upside-down method

Now, this method is a real game-changer. I really don’t know why everyone doesn’t teach this method but I suppose we like traditions. However, this is the only method I use, I have never had an issue lighting a fire and the fire always catches very quickly.

Wood wool firelighters which are probably the best firelighters for lighting a wood burning stove

First, a little word about firelighters. I have found that the best ones are Natural Eco Wood Firelighters that are made from wood wool and wax and I have tested and reviewed the best firefighters here. The stove will light very easily and much better than other alternatives I have tried.

I always leave a layer of ash in the bottom of my wood burning stove as this helps protect the stove and the fire light and burn easier.

Also, I prefer to always leave a couple of inches of ash in the bottom of the stove, this protects the stove but also helps the fire burn better. This is actually recommended by most stove manufacturers too.

Step 1 – Setting the main burning logs

Adding to log to the stove before adding kindling

Firstly, lay two logs/firewood in the centre of the stove (as shown above) and add one firefighter in the centre of the logs. Don’t be tempted to add more than just one firefighter as it’s not needed and you will simply be wasting them.

As the fire burns downwards, it will light these two logs.

Step 2 – Adding the kindling

Stack your kindling as shown above. Lay them in layers but spaced and then layer the next layer in the opposite direction and in the layer in the opposite direction again with the third layer.

Next you stack your kindling as shown in our photo. Place them in rows of three but spaced and then add the next layer in the opposite direction and the layer after this in the opposite direction again.

I have tested this with a different number of layers and some people might think that it is a lot of kindling. This is a little trial and error depending on the size and thickness of your kindling. Usually, if I have thick kindling, I might use just 2 or 3 layers. However, if I had thin kindling I might go as high as 4 layers. The idea of sacking the kindling is that the heat will warm the flue which is important.

Step 3 – Adding one final burner log

Adding third large log on top of kindling, this step is optional

Now, this option is the tweak to the method that I have mentioned. You don’t need to add this third log, but I find that if I do, I don’t have to add any wood to the stove as soon as I would have if hadn’t added this third log. Anyway, you can try with the log on top of the kindling or choose to add the third log once the fire is going well. Both methods do work well.

Step 4 – Open air vent fully

Making sure air vent on wood burning stove is fully open

Now, this step is incredibly important, make sure that the air vent, usually located at the bottom of the stove is fully open. On my stove, this means moving it to the right, however, it can be different on other stoves so check your stove instructions. This gives the most airflow which helps the fire start easier.

Light fire lighter under kindling

Now light the firefighter, I always make sure I leave a gap between the kindling so I can easily light it with a lighter as shown above.

Step 5 – Leave the door ajar for a few minutes

Leave stove door ajar for first 5 minutes while the kindling get burning well

Now close the door making sure to leave it slightly ajar to allow more air into the stove while it gets going. My door has a second door catch to leave it slightly open and most other stoves do too.

Step 6 – Watch the kindling start to burn well

Fire burning after only 3 minutes

After 2 or 3 minutes the kindling should be burning well.

Wood burning to after only 5 or 6 minutes of being set of fire

After 5 or 6 minutes the fire should be burning well with the kindling helping to light the two bottom logs and the top log.

Step 7 – Close the door fully and lower the air vent about 50%

Close door on wood burning stove after 5 minutes once the kindling is burning well
Once fire is burning well close the air vent by around 50% to slow the burn but give out the most heat

Now close the door properly and partly close the air vent, I usually close mine by about 50%, but again it could be different on other stoves. If your fire starts to smoke more, then open the vent a little more. What you are looking for is just clear flames and very little or no smoke.

Log burning stove burning well after only 15 minutes

The fire should now be burning well, just add new logs as the fire burns down and experiment with how much you can close the air vent to slow the burn but still give the most heat output. This is when it burns most efficiently.

Thats it for this guide, you can see my recommendation of the best ash vacuums in this guide, which will make cleaning a stove so much easier.

If you need to clean the glass I also have a step by step guide on how to clean the glass with ash, soap and water, and a newspaper. Trust me, it is super simple and effective!

I also have some recommended stove gloves here.

Finally, I have some of my recommended stove accessories if you are just getting started here.

If you do have access to free or cheap logs then seriously consider a log splitter and splitting your own logs as this will save you a ton, you can see my recommended log splitters here, which is much safer and easier than using an axe.

Last update on 2024-04-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Welcome to my site, my name is John and I have been lucky enough to work in horticultural nurseries for over 15 years in the UK. As the founder and editor as well as researcher, I have a City & Guilds Horticultural Qualifications which I proudly display on our About us page. I now work full time on this website where I review the very best gardening products and tools and write reliable gardening guides. Behind this site is an actual real person who has worked and has experience with the types of products we review as well as years of knowledge on the topics we cover from actual experience. You can reach out to me at

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