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All About Fire Wood

If you are looking to purchase firewood go to Our Firewood For Sale Page....... If you want to find out about firewood, it uses and the differences between various woods for burning then please read on.
 

The three main types of firewood that you will come across are Hardwood, Soft wood and Kiln dried woods (Kiln dried wood can be either hard or soft wood but are generally hard). If the wood is not kiln dried, it is either seasoned or unseasoned. So what does this all mean?

Seasoned Wood: There is no point talking about unseasoned (green) wood, as it is effectively useless to any self-respecting pyromaniac.  Suffice to say that green wood does not burn, it smoulders very disappointingly and builds up creosote inside your chimney, thus putting you at risk of chimney fire – so DON’T BURN UNSEASONED WOOD.   Seasoning is the process of storing the wood in the correct way so that it dries out perfectly for burning. Freshly chopped wood is around 50 % moisture and the process of seasoning brings the moisture level down to 20-30%. If the wood is too moist, your fire will spend too much energy drying out the wood before it can actually burn it, this will bring the overall burn temperature down so you cannot get optimum performance out of badly seasoned (or moist) logs. I think we have probably all had that experience of the log that just hisses and smoulders, spewing ungodly amounts of smoke and noise into the atmosphere instead of obliging with a quantity of wonderful flame and heat – yes it’s annoying isn’t it??

To season your firewood, logs that are over 6” in diameter should be split in order to increase the surface area of the log, thus making it easier to dry out. 

Ideally you should season wood on a dry base and allow the wind to get at it. It should, however be protected from the rain as much as possible. Many people build shelters to season their wood, or you can buy a log store, which is a three-sided shelter.  You can just leave an unruly heap of wood on the ground – it will still season…

In rural France, you see woodpiles everywhere; they are just open piles of wood in fields, sometimes covered by a tarpaulin. The French love to burn wood and it is considered a great sin to steal from a Frenchman’s’ wood pile!

Two years is the optimum time to season wood, but often, wood is cut down late in the year and seasoned until it is used the following winter. 6-9 months is the shortest time you will get away with seasoning wood and it will not be brilliantly seasoned, just passably so.

Wood could be well seasoned but can have caught superficial moisture. For instance, if you order a tonne of fire wood, it could take a week to get to you, you have no idea where it is stored in those few days and if the weather is damp and wet and it has been held in a damp warehouse belonging to the pallet delivery company, the wood could gain superficial moisture – this is not really a problem as the logs will dry out in a few days (or a week)

The main hassles with seasoned wood are:

a.     You don’t know how long the wood has been seasoning for. If it has not been drying out for long enough, they may be too damp to burn effectively. It is absolutely pointless and somewhat soul destroying to burn wood that is damp all the way through. Be sure to use a reputable source for your fire wood supplies.

b.     Superficial moisture – As mentioned above, well-seasoned wood can always be subject to superficial moisture. This is fine, to a point, as the wood will dry out in a matter of days. The best way to deal with this is to bring a few days’ wood supplies into the house or a dry environment to dry off before burning. BUT, if you want to burn straight away, you have a problem.  THIS IS NOT THE SAME PROBLEM AS POORLY SEASONED WOOD, WHICH WILL AFFECT YOU ALL SEASON; THIS IS A PROBLEM THAT SHOULD CLEAR WITHIN A FEW DAYS TO A WEEK OR SO.

c.     Storage of seasoned wood. If you store your firewood outside without a tarpaulin, the wood will always be damp, even if seasoned.  If you leave it under cover – in your garage for instance – it can develop a white mildew. Seasoned wood needs to be exposed to the air, so a watertight shed or garage may just be too sealed. That’s why wood stores are three sided affairs.

d.     To avoid these problems, people buy kiln dried wood – see below….

 Kiln Dried Wood:

Exactly what it says on the tin! These are fire wood logs that have been heated in a Kiln and artificially dried out. This produces a super dry log with about 18-20% moisture.  The dryness also created a lighter log, so your tonne of kiln-dried logs will contain more logs than your tonne of seasoned logs.

Kiln dried logs are very popular but are always more expensive than seasoned wood. But performance is superior. Going by what was said above that a log with more moisture has to be dried out by the fire before it can actually burn and give off heat, Kiln dried wood has so little moisture that it burns hotter because it is the moisture content in wood that brings the burn temperature down. It is said that one kiln dried log at 20% moisture, will generate the same amount of heat as two seasoned logs (at approx. 45% moisture.). The logs also feel a lot drier and they tend not to be as messy to handle.  Until you have actually held a kiln dried log it is difficult to appreciate the difference, but they do really feel different to a seasoned log.. However an argument levelled at kiln dried wood is that it is fairly pointless to dry your wood out using fossil fuel fired kilns, when the reason for using wood heat is often an environmental one….

Sometimes you can come across kiln-dried logs, which are dried, in wood powered kilns, which gives them further eco credentials.

Often, people prefer kiln dried logs because they are totally “ready to go”. If you buy seasoned wood in the winter, although it has sat around seasoning for a year or so, if the weather is damp or rainy, there will be superficial moisture in them. This is why it is a good idea to buy your firewood early in the season and keep it in a dry place until it is burned (one way of doing this is to store under a tarpaulin in the garden and bring a weeks worth of wood into the house/shed for burning at a time).

Overall, the decision whether or not to buy kiln dried logs or not is a personal one, based on whether you feel that the superior performance is worth it. Even getting hold of official data on the subject (which, I am sure exists!) will not help, as the matter is purely subjective….

Hard wood and soft wood – which is best?

There is considerable difference of opinion on this matter. But ultimately, the wisest thing to say is that if wood is well seasoned, there is not a huge amount of difference…as the energy output of wood is pretty much the same…but here are a few things to take note of.

Hard woods such as Oak and Elm are popular in the UK as is Beech, Birch and Alder (especially (Silver Birch) and in all honesty, not many other hard woods are commonly available in the UK. These woods are all different due, mainly to the fact that they have different densities. Oak is the most desirable of hard woods and you can often buy seasoned Oak as your firewood, but it will be expensive.

Hard wood is heavy and dense (as a rule of thumb but beware, Balsa wood is technically a hard wood), this means it lasts a long time and burns for longer.

Soft woods such as pine, spruce and poplar and various quick growing conifers are not as dense or heavy as hard woods and as such they will ignite easily and burn with a good high flame. They generally do not burn as long as a hard wood (a piece of well seasoned Oak will burn a lot longer than an equivalent sized pine log, but not with the same lovely flame). Sometimes, you can fall out with hardwood because it just is so unromantic, burning without much flame and being difficult to get going.

Kindling is usually soft wood because it ignites so easily.

Two very different uses emerge here. If you want to spend your evening sitting by your heath looking into the “trancey” flames, then use soft wood. If you just want to heat your room and you are nowhere near your fire or you are going out but you want to come back to a fire that is still going – stick a big hard wood log on there, which will give you a couple of hours (even longer on a stove).

Hard wood can be a pig to get going, it is much easier to get your blazing fire going with soft wood, but for maintaining the heat over a long time – hard wood is probably best….Another problem with hard woods is that they can take much longer to season.  Some requiring up to four years!

So, ideally, a mixture of both hard and soft woods is preferable.

 

Different woods and their qualities:

Ash – Very good wood for burning – good heat output

Beech  – good when well seasoned

Birch – good heat and a bright flame, but burns quickly

Larch – fairly good for heat but crackles and spits

Maple – good fire wood.

Oak – very old dry seasoned oak is excellent, burning slowly with a good heat. The most popular hard wood to burn and rightly so.

Pine – burns well with a bright flame, great for that lovely blazing fire at Christmas time, but crackles and spits

Poplar Burns slowly with little heat. Not the best fire wood. Matches are made from Poplar

Willow – Nice wood to burn



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