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Why is My Solo Stove Smoking (and how do I make it stop)?

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By J. Herwick

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If you are new to Solo Stove fire pits and your Bonfire, Yukon or Ranger aren’t quite living up to your vision of what a smokeless fire pit should be, you might need to up your fire-building game. Unfortunately, your Solo Stove smoking could result from one issue or four, but either way, we'll jump in, cover each, and I'll show you what to do.

Generally speaking, Solo Stoves will smoke excessively under the following conditions;  the firewood used is not adequately seasoned (i.e. dry), softwoods are being used as the main firewood source, the top of the firewood stack is over the air inlet holes at the top, and finally, a hot coalbed has not been established.

Bottom line, if your Solo Stove is smoking, it’s likely due to something you are doing or not doing that is contributing to the level of smoke you are experiencing.

All Solo Stoves will smoke to some extent – the same goes for all other brands of smokeless fire pits as well.  

There is no magical fire pit anywhere where any type of wood, in any condition, can be thrown in, set alight and somehow smoke disappears automatically.  

That sounds great and all, but we’re not quite there yet.

Just remember, a smokeless fire does not mean no smoke at all.  Wood-burning fire pits smoke; it's just that some are designed to smoke a lot less, which brings us back to our smokey Solo Stove dilemma.

Let’s dive in and take a look at the contributors of a Solo Stove that smokes a lot and what you can do about it before and during your next fire pit fire.

Image of a solo stove fire pit that isn't smoking
A nice hot non-smoking Solo Stove Yukon | Image Credit: Backyard Toasty

Why Does My Solo Stove Smoke?

In my experience, there are four main drivers for a Solo Stove fire that smokes a lot, and all are pretty easy to overcome.

The tips I’m going to give you for each of these will all become second nature as you get more experience building low-smoke smokeless fire pit fires.

Resolving any one of these is going to make a big difference – resolve them all, and you’ll have about as little smoke as possible for a wood-burning fire pit. <— link to my article on how to reduce fire pit smoke

Reasons Your Solo Stove Might Be Smoking…Bad

If you see that some of these might look familiar or a potential cause of your Solo Stove smoke issues, don’t sweat it.  

I’ve made all of the mistakes that can be made, so you don’t have to.  We’ll get you to smokeless in no time.

 We’ll cover this four one by one – here we go.  

Image of wet firewood stacked
Stack of damp, unseasoned hardwood firewood | Image Credit: Backyard Toasty

1. You Are Using Unseasoned Firewood

What is unseasoned firewood, you ask?  Well, for our purposes here, it's firewood with a moisture content of higher than 30%. 

Twenty percent (20%) is ideal, but you won’t find that number usually unless you are looking at kiln-dried firewood.

Unseasoned firewood does not burn well, and when wood doesn’t burn well, it smokes a lot.  

If you are buying firewood from a supplier, you want to be in that 30% or less range, ideally.

Sometimes you’ll get there, and sometimes you won’t (unless you are buying kiln-dried firewood, that is).

As I’ve said before, in other posts, smokeless fire pits can be a lot more “forgiving” when it comes to firewood quality, moisture, etc.  

Because of a more efficient burn, Solo Stoves and other smokeless fire pits will do a much better job at drying out less-than-seasoned firewood thrown on the fire than a regular wood-burning fire pit might. 

Once that moisture is pulled from the wood, which is usually pretty quickly under certain conditions I’ll discuss in greater detail below, you will see very little in the way of smoke.  

Regular fire pits will smoke and smoke until the fire goes out.  They just don’t get hot enough at the beginning to deal with the moisture in imperfect wood.

Image of stacked pine firewood
Softwood pine firewood tends to smoke…a lot | Image Credit: Backyard Toasty

2. You Are Using Softwoods as the Main Firewood Source

Softwoods like spruce, firs, pines, cedar, etc., are pitchy, meaning they’ve got sap that’s going to make your fire smoke.

Not only that, softwoods, once ignited, burn extremely hot and fast.  Not an ideal situation for a long night by the fire.

With that said, softwood kindling can be very useful in getting a fire started.  This is where the hot and fast combo comes in handy.  

Otherwise, I wouldn’t use softwoods as your main fire pit fuel source unless that’s all you have.  

I’ll burn pinyon in mine from time to time when I can get it, as it burns super hot and maybe a little longer than your average softwood.  

The mosquitoes hate it as well (the smoke), so there’s that if you are struggling to keep them away where you live.

Now we are getting into the meat and potatoes of the article with the next two items.  

Both are easy to do and will have the biggest impact on whether your Solo Stove smokes heavily or not.

Image of a solo stove fire pit with too much wood
Keep the top of your firewood stack below the upper inlet air holes | Image Credit: Backyard Toasty

3. You are Building the Firewood Stack Too High

Solo Stove smokeless fire pits burn off smoke in a process called secondary burn.  

Heated air traveling up a double wall to outlet holes at the inner top feeds the top of the fire right where you want to take care of the smoke before it leaves the fire pit.

If you stack wood in your Solo Stove (or another smokeless fire pit) that reaches above these air holes, everything burning above those air holes will create smoke that will be missed by the secondary burn.

Keep the top of your firewood below these holes to take full advantage of your Solo Stove’s secondary combustion capabilities.  

As a general rule, I don’t build the fire any higher than about 3 inches below these holes at the top, depending on what Solo Stove model I’m using.  

It’s a lot easier to do on the larger models.

Image of a hot coal bed in a fire pit
A red-hot coal bed at the bottom of a Solo Stove Yukon | Image Credit: Backyard Toasty

4. You are Not Building a Hot Coal Bed Before Adding the Main Firewood Source

This is my number one tip for any new Solo Stove user.  A super-hot coal bed is the key to a truly smokeless fire.

What is a coal bed?  If you’ve grilled over charcoal in the past, then you know what I’m talking about.  

A coal bed in your fire pit is going to be those blazing hot embers that line the bottom of your Solo Stove Bonfire, Yukon, or Ranger.  <— link to my review of the Solo Stove Bonfire 2.0

A hot coal bed will cook off the moisture in your firewood very quickly, cutting smoke output and the risk of the fire going out prematurely. 

With a well-established coal bed, your Solo Stove fire will burn more completely and stay lit until you stop adding firewood.

Coal beds are best built slowly at the beginning of the fire. 

I start building my coal beds with tinder and kindling and slowly add smaller firewood splits (I use beech for this most of the time) that have been quartered to the fire as it starts to establish.  

Once you’ve been feeding smaller pieces of wood like the splits I mentioned for about 20 minutes or so, you should start seeing a solid coal bed forming. 

GIF image of a Solo Stove airflow diagram
Cutaway of Solo Stove's smokeless fire pit airflow system | Image Credit: Solo Stove

How Do Solo Stoves Work?

I’ll cover this briefly here, but I’ve got an article on the subject of smokeless fire pits that covers how Solo Stoves work if you are looking for a little more detail.

Solo Stoves, as currently designed, are based on a wood-burning stove technology called Top Lit Updraft Gasification or T.L.U.D. <— link to University of Florida publication on TLUD technology  

These wood-burning stoves were designed to pull air through the base of the stove by creating a vacuum inside the fire pit by starting a fire.

This air, once inside the stove, is channeled to vents at the base of the fire, with some of the air traveling up the stove’s double wall.

The air going to the base of the fire helps the fire burn more efficiently. 

Regular wood-burning fire pits don’t have this ability, pulling air from all directions except the bottom of the fire where it is the most effective.

The air that heads up the double wall toward the top of the stove and exits through interior vent holes feeds a second burn aimed at smoke reduction.

The original TLUD stoves, designed for use in the developing world by Dr. Paul Anderson, helped to maximize the effects of the wood fuel available while also making it cleaner, burning, and healthier for users.

Image of a tlud stove
A top-lit updraft gasification stove | Image Credit: Engineering for Change

Solo Stove and a number of its competitors have harnessed the capabilities of TLUD design by carrying it over the residential backyard fire pit market.  

Again, for more on TLUD and its connection to current smokeless fire pits, please check out the article I mentioned earlier here.

Best Low Smoke Firewoods for Solo Stoves

Before I wind the article down, I wanted to quickly cover what I believe are among the best firewood types for a Solo Stove smokeless fire pit.  

Earlier I mentioned what types of wood not to use, so I wanted to balance that out with a list of wood recommendations. 

I chose these three firewood types because they are plentiful (at least around the U.S), have high BTU ratings, are great for building a hot coal bed, and are naturally low-smoking.

Low Smoke
Firewood Species
BTU RatingNotes
Shagbark Hickory28Excellent coaling; hard to split
American Beech28Excellent coaling; hard to split
Bur Oak26Excellent coaling; easy to split
Red Maple24Good coaling; easy to split
White Ash24Good coaling; medium splitting difficulty
List of Best Solo Stove Firewoods for Low Smoke | Graphic Credit: Backyard Toasty

What Firewood Does Solo Stove Recommend?

Interestingly, Solo Stove recommends juniper firewood in their fire pits.  I say they recommend it because it's the only fire pit wood type they sell under their own branding.

What makes juniper an interesting choice is that it's a softwood. 

Image of a juniper tree at the top of a ridge
Juniper, a softwood, is sold by Solo Stove for use in its smokeless fire pit line | Image Credit: Backyard Toasty

I’ve never used it myself, but from what I understand, it is very dense, which is a positive for firewood.  Denser firewoods tend to burn longer and hotter.

With a BTU rating of about 22, it's definitely on the high end heat-wise for softwoods, and not surprisingly, it’s got a medium smoke level.

In Closing:  Why is My Solo Stove Smoking?

So, if you want to make your Solo Stove truly smokeless and more efficient, give a few of the tips discussed a shot and see how they work for you. 

And don’t forget to experiment a little – everyone has their own preferences when it comes to running their own fire pit.  What works for one person might not work as well for another. 

With a little practice, you should be able to create some amazing Solo Stove fires that put our little smoke and plenty of warmth over during the upcoming winter.

One final thing, keeping damp ash out of your Solo Stove is helpful as well for keeping your smokeless fire pit from smoking a lot – check out my article Your Solo Stove Got Rained On…Now What? for keeping your Solo Stove clean and low-smoking.

Thanks for reading!

John

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