Smokey Tipi

Anyone know about smoke flow and Tipis?


All you need to do is make sure you kindle your fire, a slow burn will smoke you out, and make sure the hole a the top is wide enough. a flap that acts as a vent that you can move without taking the tipi down helps. if the open area of your door is greater than the open area on top, then air should convect right up and out of your tipi. The closer to size your door and sky-hole are, the less convection, but on a windy day, you’ll find the vent-flap quite useful. never spent more than a weekend in a tipi though…

The lining inside the poles is critical to comfort in the tipi. The lining goes around the circle and is about six feet high. The outside of the base of the tipi is above ground level. The lining is all the way to the ground and curls slightly on the ground (usually on top of carpeting that is on the floor, or tucked under the edge of one carpet piece and on top of another). What this creates is a chimney effect coming from outside air, going up that six foot lining, and then being pulled the rest of the way out the poles in the top. This creates a chimney effect from the fire in the center of the circle.

You can also increase the chimney effect with a ditch dug coming from outside the tipi to the firecircle, that you then place soup cans to form a fireproof pipe (or something like that) and then cover up again. So, you have a draft going directly into the firecircle from outside, and this helps channel air straight up to the top.

Then, in addition there’s a part of the tipi called an “ouzu” - not sure of the spelling. This is a piece of canvas that attaches to the poles right about the top of the lining at the back of the tipi and stretches across the tipi in an angle going toward the front of the tipi above head height. What this does is catch water that might drip down inside and not run down the poles like it’s supposed to. It also seems to help the draw from the fire to be pulled upward. I’m not sure why it works, but it seems to. The ouzu usually isn’t installed in the tipi other than during rain and snow season.


you know, with all my backyard experiments, I hadn’t ever thought to make an air envelope to create that kind of induction! It’s brilliant! I had just seen a house that operated on a similiar principle that was rediculously energy-efficient.

Thanks for the tip Snowflower!

I guess I should be more specific…

So I’ve got a lining and an underground air pipe. The problem is… My Tipi stands 8’ tall and is 8.5’ in diameter. Now, I’ve got a fire going in there before with no smoke, like tony said keeping it fed, but the problem is as soon as it begins to smolder, it is unbearably filled with smoke. Now, in order to keep the fire smokeless it must burn hot, but because of the size of the Tipi the fire has to be really small, which means you have to add little pieces of wood to it every minute or so.

A friend of mine who has lived in Tipis before told me that even in the great big ones the level of smoke was just above your shoulders, so to get out of the smoke even in Tipis with good air flow, you had to sit or crouch. Anyone have a similar experience? Any suggestions to solve my dilema? At this point I’m thinking of just buying a small wood stove.

are you just using gathered wood?

The Miami of Indiana, who do not use tipis, did teach me a lot about hidden stores between on seasonal camp and the next, and dry firewood was their priority.

Gathered wood has a tendency to already be innoculate with moisture retaining fungi, which can make a lot of wood that appears to be dry smoke.

wood that hasn’t been exposed to any moisture for about a year should help you on your course to a smoke-free tipi.

Maybe the wind isn’t right for your tipi. Do you have the option to relocate?

One more suggestion … use smaller and smaller wood and learn to be more at one with the cold. If you’re only maintaining embers, rather than half-burnt logs, there is no smoldering, n’est pas? Try iusing nothing thicker than your wrist (well, maybe my wrist).


Given your further detail, Scout, I’d have to go with the woodstove idea. The tipi is just too small to manage smoke near the top and sitting on the ground out of it. I’d suggest some of the homemade stoves you can find online - put a search in for “rocket stove” or “homemade wood stoves” I think. You can design a smoke hole for the tipi - don’t try to take the smoke stack up through the center, but come out the side going straight up. They make asbestos smoke holes for tents - it would be safer to get one to sew into the canvas.
PS. I sewed together a 15 foot tipi a long time ago during my active hippy years and lived in it for awhile with my ex-husband and our baby.


The wood I was using I bought at the store for that reason. It was bone-dry doug fir heart wood, the classic firewood bundle. Perhaps there was fungi already growing in it though?

I’m worried that most of the wood I gather will be rotting wet stuff. It’s the NW, and I’ve got no real places to stock/store it. However, since I can only use twiggy stuff for the small Tipi, it may not end up being that bad. Most bigger wood is shipped out of the city on yard debris day, so you’re left with the little twiggy stuff anyway, and that dries quick.

In the end, I think I may go with your suggestion, Snowflower. I was thinking about that a while back and saw the rocket stove online somewhere. I think at least for the summer I’ll just do the fire thing outside… but next winter I may change things around… but who knows, maybe next winter there will be a whole tribe of us and we’ll have a lodge under a bridge somewhere. :smiley:

I wonder if there is a way to have a furnace for you tipi, that is to have a stove outside and pipe the hot air inside. It would be economical spacewise. or you could always heat rocks outside and bring them in. not bury them just put them in the middle. but it’s a pain to transport hot rocks and then you have to remember not to touch them by accident.

Great info from a local outfit that has done research and design on efficient rocket stoves made from simple materials …

These guys are very aware of venting and safety issues, as they build these in places like Guatemala, etc., where people often suffer respiratory issues from poorly vented indoor fires.

I just had an idea.

What if I dug a pit and put the Tipi over the pit? Since my Tipi is so small, it would feel way more roomier if I dug it out. It would also create more air space for smoke that’s not getting pulled up from the draft. Plus, I elevate the fire somehow and that would make it all the more better. What to do with the soil though? And getting permission to dig a big fucking hole in Erins backyard… I don’t think she’ll go for it. It’s worth the thought though in case I get a place in the future where I can do that.

Depends on your water table and the potential for rain water to find a drainage path into the tipi I suppose. If you were able to dig out a hole and add the dirt to the outside around the base of the tipi, it might be pretty nice to increase your headspace and give you additional weather protection. I’d put the fire down in the hole though - not try to elevate it at all, especially if you make that rocket stove. It would be safer down about a foot or so from the canvas.

Just wanted to let yall know I’ve had a grip of fires in there. As long as I keep the door open, it seems to work okay.

i’m glad it’s working out for you now, scout. i love the picture of you in your tipi from your hot rocks experiment.

Great! Even for big tipis you are supposed to crack the door to help the smoke draw so it makes sense. Yeah the tipi is looking cute.

what type of methodology would you recommend for drying out wet wood? is there a dry structure you could build to do so?

elferno, if you don’t have a woodshed or a tarp then the best thing is to make a big fire so the wood dries out as it burns. Trying to tend a little fire with wet wood is an exercise in futility.

Some tips for avoiding a smokey tipi:

Set the outside cover up so it’s a couple inches off the ground and use a complete liner to create the proper draft and keep the door closed.

Don’t dig a pit for the fire or at least not a very deep one. Pits restrict the air flow to the fire and make it burn smokeyer.

Learn to use your smoke flaps and pay attentiion to the wind. It drafts best when the flaps create a chimney effect. A lot of people try to clear the smoke by just spreading them wide open to make a big gaping hole when a narrower chimney would create more of a draft and clear it out faster and better.

Use dry wood if you can but if there is none then do what I said at the top of this post.

Rather than digging out a pit to get more headroom (smokeroom, lol!) in your small tipi, how about putting it up on a short wall? That’s more or less what the pre-Roman people in Britain had – steep conical houses up on short walls. Probably extend the life of the tipi cover that way, too.


Thanks for the suggestion freeholder, but alas, I took it down for many other reasons than smoke… But had I had a fire it it, the other reasons may not have happened, so who knows. I still have the canvas and the beams, but the liner is history. It I ever do use it again, it will probably just be for summer time privacy. :wink:

I hope someday i can live in a more mystical kind of shelter like that. But you know, the people in my bio-region slept in Cedar Longhouses during the winter and grass mats during the summer.

Check out my blog about my tipi failures:

Tipi or Not Tipi?

Building codes require 1’ of chimney draw for each 100’ above sea level.

Maybe all you need is a taller structure for the elevation you are at.