We moved into our house in the Winter of 2013, and have never had our wood stove cleaned. It was something on that had always been on the “to-do list,” but with Mr. Smith’s growing collection of wood and plans for lots of fires this coming winter, it became more of a safety issue. We looked into the price of cleaning and Mr. Smith wanted to take on the challenge of figuring out how to clean a wood stove. In addition, since the stove was already going to be disassembled, he decided to fix it up a bit too.
Step One: Research
Find your instruction manual – it has a lot of useful information. Ours provided Mr. Smith with the measurements he needed to cut fire bricks at the right size. The standard fire bricks are 9 x 4 1/2 inches, but the depth differs by stove. In addition, there is a special order you need to follow when putting them in the stove.
What are fire bricks?
Fire bricks provide insulation for the inside of the stove. They help retain heat and prevent the fire from melting your wood stove, but wear out over time. Mr. Smith suggests using clay ones because they have better durability. He actually had to break the old, clay ones in order to remove them. He always says that “if you’re going to do it, do it the right way, so you don’t have to do it again.”
As he does with car repairs, Mr. Smith watched many YouTube videos. He found ones that featured stoves similar to our own and studied up on the best approach.
In addition, Mr. Smith visited a fireplace store to price materials and ended up getting some great tips. The fire bricks were actually cheaper than what we found online. Home depot was charging $40 for packs of six ($6.67 each), whereas the store only charged him $ 3.50 for each. They gave him tons of tips and advice, and helped him when he made a mistake.
Step Two: Cleaning The Flue
You need a brush in order to clean the flue. Mr. Smith purchased a poly-nylon brush because it will not scratch stainless steel. A wire brush will scratch stainless steel. We had a 6 inch pipe. You need to make sure that all of your pipes are the same size. Sometimes a flue may have a combination of different-sized pipes. Then, you need chimney rods. The fireplace store sold them in 6 foot lengths. Mr. Smith measured down length of flue to figure out how may rods he needed. They connect with a simple, clock-wise twist. Mr. Smith made the mistake of twisting the rods counter-clockwise while cleaning and they disconnected inside the flue. He was able to fish them out in a couple of minutes, but it did prolong the process a bit.
The rods were $12.17 each and he needed three of them. The brush was $14.99. This is much cheaper than the cost for someone to come out to clean your flue ($95 to $125 per the quotes that we received), and now we have the supplies to do it next time.
Safety Tip From Mr. Smith. Use PPE, or personal protective equipment. You will want to use a mask (painter’s mask is fine) and eye protection for all of the work outlined below.
You start by removing the cap and the bottom plug. The bottom (or clean-out) plug is located outside of your house at the bottom of the flue. It is easily removable with a quarter clockwise turn. Learn from the mistakes of Mr. Smith. There is a handle on the plug. It is attached with rivets. He thought these rivets should be drilled out to remove the handle, and what he thought was just a cap. Instead, he was left holding the handle and the plug remained firmly in the flue. He went back to the fireplace store for help and they demonstrated how to turn it. Fortunately, Mr. Smith had access to a rivet gun and rivets, so he was able to reattach the handle and then, simply turn to remove the plug.
The cap, as one might assume, it up on the top of the flue, which can hopefully be accessed from your roof. As you can see in this photo, ours was attached by four hex screws. They are pretty small, so make sure you hold onto them safely.
Mr. Smith wants to point out that there is always the option to clean from the bottom up towards the top. This will allow you to skip removing the cap and climbing up on your roof. However, as you clean, all of that creosote will be falling down.
If you don’t want the ash and creosote on the ground, place a trash can, with a trash bag, under the flue.
Stick the bush into the flue, with the first pole attached, and go in two foot strokes up and down, all the way around. As you run out of pole you attach another pole, working all the way to the bottom. Remember to only turn them clockwise! He compared it to cleaning a baby bottle with a bottle brush. Mr. Smith said that cleaning the flue was the easiest part of this project.
A lot of creosote will fall down into your stove, so you will need to vacuum it out. Definitely use a shop vac or something old. You do not want to use your household vacuum. Everything will smell like fire and all of its pieces will be stained black. Keep the door to your stove closed while cleaning. You will need to remove all of the creosote and old ashes to move forward with the painting process. Make sure the flue is cleaned out before you start disconnecting the pipes inside your home.
Step Three: Painting
There is quite a bit of preparation before you get to start painting, which was the most time-consuming for Mr. Smith. You will want to start by sanding down the wood stove. Mr. Smith used an orbital sander and hand sanding (smaller surfaces like door hinges) and lightly smoothed out rough surfaces. Don’t use too coarse of a sand paper. He used 150 grit. Make sure to remove any rust. Then, he prepared all of the surfaces by cleaning them with soap, water, and an old rag.
If your wood stove is removable and you can take it outside, it would probably be a good idea because of the paint fumes. Mr. Smith did not, because he was worried about getting it back in just the right spot to line up with pipes. He made sure that his work area was well-ventilated by placing fans in open doors and windows.
As he kept the wood stove inside for the work, he had to enclose the stove. Mr. Smith used cheap plastic sheets, and taped them up with painter’s tape, all around the box. He taped craft paper to the pedestal floor and carpet, craft paper with tape on the door, and taped off all wood surfaces (like on the handle). Note: don’t leave tape on for more than three days, if possible, with time it becomes harder to remove without damaging surfaces or living a sticky film.
Now, it’s actually time to start painting. You have to start with primer. Coat all parts of wood stove that are to be painted. He used two cans of primer on the wood stove and indoor pipes. The pipes and door were removed and painted in the garage. The primer turned our wood stove a nice, maroon color. Mr. Smith allowed the primer to dry overnight.
After you prime the stove and all of its pieces, you can start painting. It has to be special high-temperature paint. Mr. Smith used Stove Bright and recommends it. He says it worked very well. He used less than three cans of paint.
You want to hold the spray paint about 12 inches away from surface. Try to make nice even coats back and forth. You will still see primer after the first coat and that’s okay. Three light coats are better than a heavy coat. It will probably seem like you just want to keep spraying, but going too heavy could result in drip spots. You will eventually cover the whole thing. He waited at least 30 minutes between each layer of paint, but the instructions should be on the paint can or on the manufacturer’s website. If you need extra guidance on this step, there are plenty of instructional videos on spray painting to watch on YouTube.
Step Four: Replacing The Fire Bricks
Mark lines on your new fire bricks according to the measurements in your instruction manual. Mr. Smith used a wet tile saw, which gave him a very clean cut and kept dust down. Always do this step outside, because it will make a big mess. He had a wet saw from his construction work. However, you can always rent a tile saw by the hour. If you have the bricks marked out ahead of time, you can easily do all of the cutting within an hour or so. You can also use an angle grinder with a friction blade, but this will create a lot of dust. Again, you would want to do that outside.
Take your time putting them back into the stove, so you don’t break or chip them.
Mr. Smith also cleaned up the “gold” surfaces and the window for the door to make them look brand new too.
Step Five: Enjoy A Fire!
We haven’t done this step yet, because it hasn’t been cold enough. Mr. Smith is definitely anxious to try out his clean and refurbished wood stove. We will probably leave a window open for the first fire, in case there are any fumes. However, the instructions say that the stove should be well-cured in five days.
Total Cost For This Project = $215
Unofficial Estimate For The Work = $1,200 to $1,800
Finding new things to DIY is becoming a fun challenge. There are really so many resources out there to help you learn handy skills that can save you lots of money. Mr. Smith’s final comments are that it is hard work, and you have to want to do it, if you’re going to do it the right way. It is not a weekend project, unless you’re not planning on doing anything else that weekend. He is very satisfied by the end result, as he thinks “It looks almost brand new.” And, I agree 🙂
Mr. Smith is available to answer your questions, if you decide to also take on this project.