Troubleshooting a Smokey Masonry Heater

Here is an email that I recently received from a client that explains a situation that other new masonry heater owners may experience:

Hi Max

This thing happens that I want your advice on.  Occasionally when we fire the stove, we get a lot of smoke in the room during the first 10-15 minutes of the fire. It’s coming out of the vent in the door of the bake oven. Do you have any idea what might cause that, or how we can better fire stove to prevent it? I have the vent to the bake oven closed as tightly as it will go, but it’s not tight enough to prevent the smoke from coming out.  Also, we don’t have any vent fans on in the house. Any ideas?

-Recent Client

Here is my reply:

My main guess as to what is going on is that you are experiencing smoking into the room on sluggish startups with a relatively cold heater.  The hardest start-up scenario is starting with a relatively cold heater when it is relatively warm outside.

One of the best suggestions I have is to prime the heater by placing some sort of heating element inside one of the two bottom cleanouts.  

1) Prepare your fire in the main firebox. Remove the cleanout plug, then make a small paper fire (start with 1 and up to 3 pieces of paper).  Let that burn and notice when the draft picks up that draft has been established in the chimney.  Almost simultaneously put the plug back in the cleanout and light your main fire.  Always make sure to use a proper amount of dry paper and kindling to start to ensure a swift startup fire.  A small plumber’s torch could be a substitute for a paper fire.

2) You can also light a candle or place a blow dryer with the heating element on in the cleanout for a short period and then removing and sealing the cleanout before making the fire

In almost every custom heater we build, we include a bypass damper which is a valve that allows you to skip the circuitous heat exchange channels and immediately get to the chimney.  Tulikivis do not include this option because it also has some disadvantages.

Once you are rolling with a warm heater as you get further into the fall and winter, you should not have these issues.  If you do, please let me know.


Max Edleson

If you are firing a masonry heater that was previously in service for the first time, it is good to do an overall inspection. If you do not feel confident in what you are looking at, you should call a professional heater builder who can help you to understand your heater.

Check if the grate in the firebox is still functional. If not, you can order a replacement:

Also check if there is an ash drawer. We make a standard ash drawer that fits many masonry heaters:

If you have further questions, you can involve yourself in the forum topic on this subject.

Start the discussion at

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