Fired up the DS 1500 a week ago Saturday. Gotta say I was nervous, as this thing is at least 2x the BTUs and 3x the firebox size as my old Franco-Belge. That was a baby stove compared to this.
Was very cautious building the fire. My usual newspaper + Matchlight startup got things rolling well. I probably overdid it with the Matchlight, next time will probably use about 1/2 to 2/3 of what I did this time. Also went very slowly with adding coal, thin layers of one shovelful every 20-30 minutes or so till the fire was built up close to the hopper, then filled the hopper. All this time, I had the ash door cracked open and MPD full open. From start time to hopper filled, and closing ash door and MPD, was about 3.5 hours. Much longer than my F-B; I could have that stove lit and in walk-away mode in around an hour.
No draft problems to report. I took the advice of posters on here, shut the MPD almost fully (11:00 position, 12:00 is fully closed). My outside chimney with 6" round terracotta liner is also insulated with loose insulation between the round liner and the sqaure blocks they used to build the chimney. Even on the coldest nights last week (single digits with zero wind chill), no problems with the burn. On the windiest days, the closed MPD and stove's thermo control kept it burning steadily. For the first four or five days, my son and I checked temps and blues every hour--including 24/7 the first three days. Later in the week, when wind died to zero and outside temps rose into the 20s, I didn't change anything, and the temps stayed pretty even, dropping just a little.
As for shaking and filling, I'm doing this twice a day...about 7 am and 7 pm. The fire is still plenty hot before shaking, and a few blues are visible. I open ash door to poke from below (read on) and by the time the poking is done, blues are lively with hot coals visible between unburned pieces on top of fire, looking down. I close ash door, open MPD, and shake till hot coals are dropping into ash pan. Usually some blues are already jumping. I leave ash door open a few more minutes, and then close door and MPD. Shutting the ash door usually causes the few blues to instantly spread all around the fire outside the hopper...very pretty! At first I was leaving the ash door open for 5-10 minutes but one time when I did that, the thermo draft shut the draft almost completely, and killed the blues, about 10 minutes after I closed the ash door. I almost paniced and reopened the ash door, but I checked the thermo flapper, and by then it was standing wide open again. I realized the stove would soon recover with that much air--glowing coals were already visible down through the fire. I waited another ten minutes, and by then, the blues were actively dancing again. I think what I learned here was (a) don't overheat after a 12-hour shakedown, because blues will come right back without it, and (b) this stove's thermo damper does a good job of regulating draft and temps.
Using this routine, I'm just barely emptying the hopper with each shaking. One coal bucket or slightly less fully refills the hopper. My bucket holds 30 lbs max--usually I'm dumping in a bit more than 25 lbs every 12 hours. 50 lbs per day is probably 15-20 lbs more than the old F-B. Burning more isn't a surprise, but I hope I can reduce that during more normal winter temps and warmer fall/spring days.
I'm keeping temps on these cold days about 450-525 on top of stove (mag thermometer, on top just back of filler door) and 200-250 on pipe (another mag thermometer). Pipe temp is before MPD--my goofy low thimble, with this stove, means I only have two 90* elbows from stove to thimble, with a short piece of straight pipe right at the thimble to hold the MPD. No place to put a baro or manometer--or a thermometer to get a temp past the MPD. I'm a little worried about that with the warm, damp weather expected this week (64* and rainy Wed.). I had been getting top temps of 550* at first, with thermo dial slightly above 3. I've since cut that back to 2.8-2.9.
One problem I've had is ash buildup at back of firebox. Checked some posts on here and found rberg's suggestion for making a poker out an old paint roller handle (thanks, rberg!) Made one on burn day 3 and have used it at each shaking since. Still not getting hot coals dropping at far rear of firebox when I shake. First couple days I wasn't even getting much ash falling in the back, but that's improved. Plan to make another, longer poker tool to get farther up into ashes (mine has about 2.25" after 90* bend at tip). But blues seem to dance all around the back of the hopper so there's obviously some fire back there. Also might visit a metal shop and have a long poker made for poking/slicing from the fire door. My old F-B poker/slicer won't reach to back.
The DS sure burns coal more efficiently than my old F-B. I'm only getting about half the volume of ash, even with a larger firebox and much larger fire--although some of that might be the Blashock white ash nut I'm burning vs. the red ash nut I used in the F-B.
All in all, so far so good!!! Now a couple questions.
About the temps, where should I be measuring the stove surface temp? I moved the the mag thermo from stove top just behind filler door to top corner of front near viewing door--therm reading dropped quickly from 560 to 370. My new mag thermos are fairly large though, and the sensor part might be touching a part of the front that's right at the corner and not fully exposed to firebox temps.
How much poking/slicing of the fire is normal on a stove like this, and under what conditions? What's your method for doing it?
Any suggestions about how to safely "throttle back" the stove, and how much, during warm/damp conditions? I want to be sure to let my wife know what to watch for when I'm at work.
Finally, any thoughts or suggestions based on the routine I described above would be appreciated. Thanks!!!