It’s cold outside, lighting a log burner.

Just recently I had a log burner installed in my house, and I have to say it was one of the best decisions ever made by myself or my Partner in Crime. Our living room is positively toasty when it’s burning well, and the heat is intense enough that it even penetrates to other areas of the house, making them if not hot, then at the very least, not cold. But that said the first two weeks of owning it were occupied by a pretty steep learning curve.

You’d think that running one would be much like lighting any fire, and to a certain extent that is true. You still start off your fire with paper or firelighters, kindling, and all the rest. But there are a few differences from just throwing down a fire in an open fireplace.

– If you have a cheaper burner, and we do, the two vents built into it are essentially ornamentation.

The first week we had ours was mostly spent in frustration trying to keep the damned thing burning. It quenched itself constantly, in no small part because those two vents. The vents, one beneath the fire-grate and one well above the fire itself, are meant to allow you to keep up a draft inside the burner, allowing more or less oxygen to get to the flames and thus getting you more heat, but a shorter burn time, or the reverse. Well on ours they do nothing much. So when we need some extra air in there we just open up the little door that’s meant for cleaning out ashes.

– Log burners are made up of a LOT of cold metal.

This is sort of an important consideration when you’re impatiently waiting for your fire to really take off, because frankly until that metal has gotten hot enough it’s just not going to. Think of it this way, when you preheat an oven before putting in a roast it takes times, then you put in a big hunk of very cold meat, on a very cold metal tray, and the oven temperature drops like a stone until at least some of that material has heated up as well. And it turns out that’s kind of how log burners behave as well. So that being the case, we’ve taken to using scrap material for the first while until the burner itself is far too hot to touch. Then when you put in heavier logs, and more solid fuel it takes a flame very quickly, meaning you don’t have to keep a draft going through it for very long, and you get more burn time for your fuel.

– If you open the bottom door even a tiny bit for the first minute or two of a new fire, you won’t spend ages on your knees blowing on embers later.

Kind of self-explanatory really. But we have found that if you make sure that for those first couple of minutes there’s a good strong draft in the burner, the fuel really takes off well. And it’s so much easier to make sure the fire is burning well at the beginning than trying to dismantle it later, and relight it.

– Log burners are dangerous for your skin.

Log burners, once they’re up to temperature, are monstrously hot. To the point that it can actually be very uncomfortable, even with tongs and heavy gloves, when you have to lay a new log into them. That heat is a godsend in cold weather, but it’s definitely contraindicated to make direct physical contact with one. I am typing this piece with more burns on my hands than I’ve had at anytime in my life, including when I was in the scouts and pretty much permanently had cuts and burns on them. All it takes is one moment when your concentration is lacking, or instant of distraction (like a puppy deciding your ears need a good cleaning) and, SIZZLE! And you better believe it makes that noise. So wear those bloody gloves, and use the tongs, your skin will thank you for it.

Oh, and unless you like serious pain don’t forget yourself and grab the handle of the main door with your bare hand. It hurts, a lot.

– “Log Burner’s” burn pretty much anything.

If it’ll take a flame, it will burn in a log burner. Which is good news if you have access to things like old pallets, or other scrap wood, as it makes it those first two fires each day a lot cheaper. How so? Well instead of chopping perfectly good logs down small, you get to use scrap wood, and keep the good stuff for when it’ll burn properly.

– Cigarette lighters really shouldn’t be  left on top of the log burner.

I did. My right ear was still ringing three days later. And I had to change my underwear. I got lucky, it also flung shrapnel in every direction and I could have been hit by molten plastic, or sharp pieces. Don’t do that. Also don’t leave anything small and flammable on there either. It’s a little scary when the spare piece of kindling you forgot was up there, decides to burst into flames.

– Pay attention to how you stack the wood inside.

If burners have one draw back, it’s that door in the front. Yeah it’s great in many ways, but when the wood burns down and the embers come to rest against the glass…that can be trouble. A lap full of red-hot embers type trouble. You can mostly avoid this by thinking for a few moments as you lay the next fire, and placing the fuel in the right way so that it burns down evenly.

– Does you log have spiky bits.?

If it does chop them off. Seriously, take a hatchet and cut those buggers off. They can punch through the fire-glass in the front of your burners door, leaving you with an often unusable burner, and a hefty bill from glazier’s.

– Clean the ashes out every day.

This one is sort of debated, some people think that it makes the fuel last longer if you don’t clean it out too often. But personally I haven’t noticed any real difference, except that when you don’t clean it out, you spend a lot more time trying to relight it.

– Clean the glass with vinegar.

Yes it does sound like a tip from a really bad reality television show, but it really does work, and nothing beats looking in and watching those flames dance. Especially when it gets so hot inside the firebox that those flames are almost, but not quite, invisible. Gorgeous.

And that’s pretty much it. They are a great way to heat your house. Efficient, actually quite easily managed, economical to run. But to get to the point where they really star to pay off, you have to take a little time, a little care, and get to know your burner. Then it’ll give you sterling service, and keep you warm all Winter long.

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