Keeping a good fire going throughout the winter without being wasteful takes knowledge, practice and skill. It's not just a matter of throwing a log or two into the stove. It goes deeper than that. Choice of firewood, chimney maintenance and wood seasoning methods are all important. Which type of fire to build, when to build it. Do you want a slow-burning fire or do you need to warm the house up quickly? No matter which type of wood-burning stove you use, learning correct firing methods will improve the efficiency of your heating system.
Maintain a clean chimney. Have the chimney and damper system inspected once a year and cleaned if necessary.
Burn hardwood to keep fire going for extended periods. Madrone is the very best, but live oak comes a close second; mixing the two will produce a hot, slow-burning fire and also be more economical.
Split the logs and season the wood in a sheltered spot for at least a year. Green wood has a moisture content of up to half, and that has to be boiled off before the wood will burn. Diverting thermal energy that way cuts heating efficiency in half.
Stack the logs in the stove loosely in a crisscross fashion if you need to heat the house quickly. For a fire lasting overnight or throughout the day while you're at work, rake the coals forward and pack the logs tightly; start against the back of the firebox and work forward. Build a triangular-shaped stack sloping from the roof of the firebox toward the stove door.
Open the air vents fully until the outer logs in the stack are covered in a thick layer of charcoal. Reduce air in stages to the desired level. Allow enough air to maintain a clean burn.
Shop for firewood a year in advance. Always burn last year's wood.
Avoid white oak -- it does not burn very well.
Do not cover the woodpile with a tarpaulin; it will trap moisture and slow drying.
To tell if wood is seasoned correctly, split a log. It will be bone white on the inside and dry on the outside.
Although charcoal doesn't smoke when burning, with inefficient combustion it gives off copious amounts of dangerous carbon monoxide. Never let the fire smoulder.