You've finally found your cottage in the country. In the living room, there's a woodstove. You wanted a traditional fireplace but you loved this place so much, that you decided you would get used to the metal box with a pipe coming out of it. It's rustic and the way it's set up is interesting.
You've seen these stoves in old movies, or a friend's house, but you don't know much about them. Maybe you've heard they were invented by Benjamin Franklin. He was smart, so maybe there's something smart about them?
In fact a well crafted woodstove is a very smart tool. They existed way before Franklin modified one, making it more efficient. He added hollow baffles to keep their heat inside of them longer, thus improving them as a heat source. Others before him had used different systems of baffles and air spaces for the same reason.
Unlike a fireplace, a woodstove encloses your fire on all sides. It uses less wood to make more heat. It can keep a fire going for much longer, and can readily be kept going consistently overnight and into the next morning.
In many models, the door can be kept open, with a screen in it, when you want to spend time looking at your fire. But most of the time, it's likely you'll burn it with the door closed, because that's the safest and most efficient way to use it. If the fire is burning well, and there's a window in the door, you will still see your fire.
Like with a fireplace, your first job is to consider how you're going to use it safely.
You will need to hire a professional to come sweep the chimney and examine it for any damage. They should also examine the woodstove itself. You don't want to get a raging fire going only to find out the chimney is stuffed with creosote, or the stove has a crack in it. In fact you can start a serious fire in your brand-y new home if you don't take care of this step before you use it.
The person who sweeps your chimney will probably know a great deal about using the woodstove, so if they know in advance that you need a lesson, and you offer to pay extra for their time, they may be willing to give you one. It's also a great idea to download a user's manual for it, if you can find the make and model online.
Have them check on the safety of your surround. That's the area behind, under, to the sides of and above your woodstove. You need to be sure it is set back far enough from the wall, and you may need to further fireproof these areas.
Now, some tips for making it work. Air has to move inside of the stove if a fire is going to burn there. You will need to learn to control the flow of air both into and out of it. To that end, look for where the air comes in, and where it escapes. Move any levers you find; do they move smoothly? Which way is open, which is closed?
A safe way to experiment: Open the door and put a candle into the firebox. Light it and watch which way the smoke travels. Close the door. Change air intake settings and see if the intensity of the flame increases, or see if it snuffs out. Work your settings until you have a happy flame that burns a little hot.
One of the main features of a woodstove to look for is whether or not there's an ash pan under the fire grate.
Access to the ash pan will, in most cases, be through a separate door right under your main firebox.
Once you've gotten used to your stove, you'll be opening that bottom door to empty the ash pan when the fire is hot, so you should be sure you have a way to open it with a tool rather than with your hands... (ouch!)
This door should lock in place thoroughly, creating a seal that air won't pass through when it's closed.
When that bottom door is open, air will whoosh up through the bottom of your fire. Most manufacturers caution not to leave that door open while your fire is burning... it can cause your fire to get way hot way fast. Even a little crack of opening will dramatically increase the amount of air coming into your firebox.
Ash is an element that will change airflow. When it's thick, the flow of air is reduced. Before you start your fire, be sure you've knocked any ash left in the firebox through the grate, and empty the ash pan. If your woodstove doesn't have a pan, shovel the ashes out of the firebox. Once you have a fire going, you should check that ash pan every morning to see whether or not you should empty it.
For more about how to handle the ash, please take a look at my blogpost: For Those New To Fireplaces.
Last tip for today; use dry seasoned wood to make your fire! Otherwise you can end up with a smoky mess that's hard to keep lit.
There's nothing like the cozy warmth of a cranking woodstove. While there's a learning curve in firing it up safely, it's a warmth you will totally appreciate during the cold winter months.