Chimney Soot

By Rose B.

Mother of 3, in NC

Seasoned wood will produce less soot than green. Hardwood produces much less soot than pine, etc.
To season cut wood, stack it where it can be left for a long time. You probably want to have it up off the soil, perhaps on some cement blocks, bricks, or the like. Rotten wood just isn't a nice thing!
If you want the seasoning process to work faster, you can water the wood pile. If in a great hurry, soak the logs in hot water, and then dry them near the fire. This process, hot soaking and drying, is reportedly used to season wood that is going to be used for making things.
When I had a fireplace, I was sometimes able to get a lot of the soot to fall down by clanging the flue when the chimney was cold. I just sort of slapped that handle back and forth so that I could hear a vibration echo up the chimney.
I don't know it if is helpful, but the combination of geese and a soot problem reminds me of something I read about in an historic novel. The mother in the story instructed her son to bring a vigorous goose into the house. She shoved the goose up the chimney, and as it clambered/flew to the top to escape, it cleaned the chimney. Afterward, an agitated, soot-fouled goose was making her displeasure known in the barnyard, and the son was busied gathering wood for the next steps in spring cleaning -- making lye soap and boiling the bed linens.
A method I do NOT recommend is to fire a pistol up the chimney; the idea is that the vibrations will shake the soot loose. I'm also leery of the method of inserting a flaming splint up the chimney to burn out the soot. It probably does get rid of the soot, but chimney fires are dangerous, because they can get out of control. If you can get onto the roof, the method of lowering a bag of bricks down the chimney by rope seems much safer. In this approach, you would use an up-and-down motion to scrub the inside of the pipe. Be aware that most chimneys have secured caps to prevent roof fires.
So, there are three known categories of chimney-cleaning. Vibrations to shake the soot loose; friction from a panicked goose, a chimney-sweep's brushes, or the lowered bag of bricks; and burning the stuff out.
To reduce the amount of soot that forms, it has been suggested that holding a burning stick or roll of newspaper just below the flue can pre-warm the chimney. It is presumed taht more soot forms if the first smoke passes through a cold chimney pipe. This pre-warming method is also siad to improve the draw from the beginning. And of course, you can then take the remnant of the burning brand and use that to light your well-laid fire.
My finding is that starting with a well-laid fire is more efficient in the long run. If you pile the most combustible material (mostly household waste paper) at the bottom, with sufficient kindling laid across the grate, and then successive of small to not-quite small logs above that, you can save a lot of trouble. As the paper catches fire, the splints, splits and bark bits are warmed and as they catch, the smallest logs become warmed, and so on. I think this helps to reduce soot when using green or incompletely seasoned wood, because I could see the sap boiling out the ends of green logs. Once such a fire is going well, it will need little tending except to add more fuel.
Leaping flames do NOT denote a hot fire. The hottest fire is one where the combustion is mostly in the glowing embers on the underside of the logs. I found that if a fire began to cool, I could keep it going, not by "stirring", but by scraping a few embers from the bottom of the logs, and perhaps adding just a bit more kindling. I would also use the prod to push the ashes to the sides to make sure there was a bit of air under the burning part, but not too much. The hottest fire needs a bit of air, but not too much.
I have purchased firewood, but I never had to purchase any extra kindling beyond the small carton of it my first vendor provided with the logs. I gathered all my fallen twigs, all the bark that would readily peel from my trees, and any unburned bits left from previous fires. I also collected pine cones. The scales of a pinecone will burn quickly, leaving a core that burns slow and hot. Dry cones are great for re-kindling a dying fire, or to widen the area of embers on the underside of the logs.
And of course, I saved the paper waste. A single sheet of newspaper can be torn to strips or rolled into a tube. Cartons from cold breakfast cereal can be torn into strips for tinder, or can be filled with smaller scraps of paper as a portion of the kindling layer.
Many things can be burned. Some weedy plants have woody stems left in the cold months. Cotton rags can also be burned. You can safely burn a few wax-coated paper cups, but don't inhale the smoke. Color-printed papers, particularly magazine pages and gift wrap, are obtained with a vast array of chemicals, and emit all sorts of disagreeable things in the fumes. However, for fun, you could drop a tiny bit in, and observe the interesting colors of the flames.
Wood ashes can be added to the compost pile, but not too much at once. Layer small amounts of ashes with other garden wastes. If your dogs want to dig where they should not, wood ashes can be put into the holes and then covered with a bit of dirt to keep them from blowing/washing away. You can minimize the areas that are barren of grass from dog wastes by applying wood ashes. Lilies enjoy a bit of wood ash dug in near the roots.
And of course, wood ash was the traditional source of lye for soap making. While it sounds like a very harsh product to apply to the skin, lye soaps are sold as glycerin soap, and when the balance of lye and fat is correct, there is no lye left in the soap -- it is completely absorbed into the new chemical compound that is gentle to the skin. It is difficult to measure the strength of lye made from ashes, and thus some home-made soaps had too much lye for the volume of fat used. That's no reason not to make a bit of home made soap from wood lye for the learning experience, and use it for laundry or dishes.
And don't forget, wood ashes sprinkled around could deter those foxes from stealing your chooks. Wild creatures distrust fire, and even a faint smell will inspire second thought about approaching human habitations, no matter how tender and juicy the chook dinners look. "Better a small wild bird or rodent in peace, than a fat domesticated fowl and a singed tailbrush."
Fires can be lots of fun, appealing to the deepest part of our natures, so have fun, but be careful and be safe.
Rose B, mother of three, in NC
(North Carolina, USA)