Why Is My Wood Stove so Smoky?

The radiant heat you get from a hot, clean burning stove is what everyone loves on a cold winter day. But a smoky stove is just the opposite. So what actually causes wood stove smoke, and what can you do to stop it?

smokey-stove-2Identify the Real Culprit

While it’s tempting to blame the stove, the truth is that stoves don’t cause smoke…people do! In the last 30 years of selling and installing thousands of wood stoves, we have never seen a wood stove itself cause smoking. (The one extremely rare exception to this is if someone incorrectly assembled the upper baffle components after a stove and chimney cleaning.) Read on, and learn the 3 fire-building tips to prevent smoky wood stoves…

The 3 Fire-Building Tips to Prevent Smoky Wood Fires

Wood stove smoking is always caused by combustion temperatures that are too low. And these low temperatures are caused by 3 things that are all controlled by the user. Follow these 3 tips to build a nice hot fire, so you can enjoy a cozier, cleaner fire all winter long.

  1. Don’t cut off air supply too soon. After starting your fire, you must keep the air supply vents wide open for at least an hour. It’s tempting to shut your vents to prolong the burn time…but in reality, such low temperature combustion wastes a huge amount of wood and smokes up the neighborhood. Allowing plenty of combustion air is critical.
  2. Avoid burning wet wood. Wood with a moisture content of more than 12% is considered wet. Store wood out of the elements, and remember to stock your woodshed well ahead of the wood-burning season to ensure your fuel has had plenty of time to dry before you burn it.
  3. Build a better start up fire. When the house is chilly, it’s tempting to try to speed things up by putting large logs on top of a small kindling fire. However, adding large pieces of wood to your small kindling fire is a sure recipe for smoke. Split medium sized pieces of wood to add to your kindling fire, establishing an ample bed of flaming fuel and red hot coals before attempting to add the larger pieces.

Not Just Blowing Smoke

Now you know that if your stove is smoking, it’s means the fire you’ve built isn’t hot enough. But the wood stove smoke you see and smell is just a symptom of the way low-temperature fires affect your stove, pipe, and chimney. Here’s what happens inside your stove when you build a fire that’s not hot enough:

  • First there is an immediate build up of black creosote on the glass door that does not burn off.
  • Next, the cold chimney walls have rapid creosote build up from constant low temperature burning. This quickly reduces the usable inner diameter of the chimney.
  • Chimney caps can very quickly plug up with creosote. Many times this cannot be seen when viewed from the ground.
  • Creosote build up and smoking means you are wasting a lot of wood. Stove efficiency drops from the 70 – 80% range to 50%, or lower. This significantly increases your heating costs and the amount of hours you spend handling and getting wood.


Low temperature combustion smokes up the neighborhood, wastes a huge amount of wood, and causes the need for chimney cleaning. So build a hot fire in your stove by allowing plenty of combustion air, burning dry wood, and making a hot start up fire. Not only will you stop your stove from smoking, you will save a lot of money and time, and enjoy the hot, clean burning wood fire that everyone loves on a cold winter day.

Author Roger Sanders is the Owner of Bend Fireside. Connect with him on .


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