I lit our first fire of the season on Sunday, and had a fire all day today while it was cold and drizzly outside. Ah it is nice! Our stove is fully closed, so you can't see the fire inside and there is no odor. It provides radient heat that doesn't dry out the air. We think it is the best heat either of us have ever had.
I talk about how I build a fire in our wood stove, how I load it, tend it and manage it, but I am no expert. :-) Safety First! Please get expert advice for YOUR stove and YOUR situation before building your own fire so that you can be safe. Each stove is different, and some have different tolerances for how the fire is supposed to be built, tended and managed. Do your homework. Talk to your local Fire Department and the folks you bought your stove from. Be sure to do research for your particular brand and type of stove. Online, Woodheat.org (linked from my sidebar) has been a great help to me and is a good starting point.
As mentioned previously, we have oak firewood, and some pecan. I save all the little branches and deadfalls from our pecan trees all year and use these for my kindling (little sticks and bigger sticks). They work great. When I have time, I break them into pieces and stack them in buckets or tubs, then I can just bring some up under the carport to have handy. I bring up firewood in my wheelbarrow, one load at a time because I do not want it stacked near the house (too tempting for pests). We are keeping our eyes open for a good wood rack we can put under the carport, but in the meantime my wheelbarrow works fine.
For some reason, I always have a little trouble building a brand new fire in a clean stove. Once there's some ash cover underneath the grate, a new fire catches easy.
It took me most of the first winter, and then I finally got the hang of it. The old Boy Scout method seems to work best for me: a pile of little sticks, bigger sticks on top of that, and finally small logs. Once those small logs are burning well, I can add a bigger log. When there is a nice bed of coals and still some fire on the larger logs, I can add a big, unsplit log, turn down the damper and it will burn slowly all night.
I use the fire starters made from sawdust and wax - I buy them ready made and break one in half and put a half on each end on top of the little sticks, under the bigger sticks. Then I light those. Once they are burning I close the stove door and open the damper. When those logs are all burning nicely, I open the door and add a bigger log, then I can close the damper a little and it will burn at just the right speed for our stove.
That's it really. Our stove has a temperature gauge on top and I can "adjust" the external temperature (as measured by the gauge) by opening and closing the damper. The damper is what allows air into the stove. The more air coming in, the faster the burn. Too little air and
the fire will go out (although the logs may still smolder a long time so always assume there are hot coals in a stove).
I try to keep the gauge at about 300 degrees. That seems to be a good temp for our house and is not too high for my stove. It can be dangerous to let the temp get too high, and can even damage the stove itself. Here again is a place where you need to research for your specific stove to know what is optimal. That is still very hot, and children, pets and flammable things should be kept clear.
Oh and one last tip: ALWAYS open the damper before opening the door to your stove. Otherwise smoke (and maybe even fire) will come out into the room!