I have two wood-hungry stoves which I need to keep supplied with seasoned wood to provide warmth for at least 5 months between cold Autumn evenings and Spring time. Here is a summary of some of the things I have learned about wood for domestic fires over the years.
Burning unseasoned wood is a waste of time; the moisture content causes it to smoke and it leaves a sticky residue on the inside of the stove and chimney lining which can become dangerous and costly to remove. Unseasoned wood is also difficult to light and provides little warmth. On the other hand, seasoned wood lights easily, burns cleaner and gives off more heat.
Deciduous trees like oak and beech are the best choice if you want to produce a lot of heat but its best not to try to burn them exclusively. Ash and most fruit trees give off slightly less heat but burn well and all the latter give off a fruity scent as they burn. Sycamore, birch, hornbeam and maple are generally good burners and fair for heat production whilst alder and willow are poor in both respects. Elm is hard to find these days but one of the poorest burners except when it is totally dead as a result of Dutch Elm Disease when it becomes one of the best burners. Even the smaller branches and twigs when dead by DED provide excellent kindling.
Seasoned hard woods will burn longer than soft woods giving off continuing heat and ambiance and though they are hard to ignite initially, this can be solved by using a small amount soft wood which is easier to light especially when laid on a base of scrunched up newspaper and a few dry sticks.
Conifers are soft wood with pine and fir being the most suitable for burning. Fir gives off a lovely aroma whilst cedar gives off a pleasant scent and snaps and crackles as it burns. When seasoned, conifers burn hot but they burn fast and will need topping up constantly. A mix of hard and soft wood works well.
Big trees cut up into surprisingly small heaps of fire wood. Many logs can warm up to 12 times – tree felling, de-branching, cutting into barrels, discs or 2m sections (depending on thickness), carrying to transport, loading, unloading and stacking, chopping or chain-sawing, loading onto transport again, unloading and stacking, carrying indoors to the stove area and at long last – when the log finally burns on the fire.
We store our logs in 2 year cycles and some new-felled hardwood trees we’ve been known to season for 3 years. Any longer and they are past their best. Weight and colour are the two main indicators when seasoning is optimum. We stack our logs so the rain can bounce of them rather than soak into them and where the wind can pass through them to help the seasoning process. Dry logs ready for cutting are best covered in such a way that they stay dry and aired.
Anyone who is considering chain saw ownership and use should beware of the implications. They are not cheap and to be able to cope with anything more than sawing up a few branches, you really need two different sized chainsaws. Starting with the process of acquiring a wide range of chain saw skills, add in the cost of fuel, oil, wear and tear, servicing and part replacement including new chains when required and factor in the cost of chains saw trousers, gloves and suitable kit for head, eyes and ears protection as well as a range of essential accessories such as files and wedges etc and its easy to see why logs cost what they do to buy. Transport and a suitable working environment are also important considerations. Short-cutting any of the above to save money and time is folly.
Ideally, ‘removed’ trees, for whatever reason, should be replaced to maintain the balance of nature and landowners should seriously consider building tree replacement into their business plan for woodland for profit and for environmental reasons. Cutting firewood through thinning and coppicing can quickly re-establish a traditional woodland habitat. It is a decline in this type of practice that has led to the loss or reduction of some of our most attractive woodland wildlife.
With energy prices in a seemingly endless upwards spiral together with the efficiency of modern wood burning stoves, firewood production is once again becoming a practical proposition. Firewood is environmentally friendly because it is both a renewable resource and considered to be ‘carbon neutral’ as it results in minimal ‘fossil’ carbon dioxide being added to our present environment and thus helps minimise the effects of climate change as compared to using gas, oil or coal.
Logs have become an intrinsic part of our family life and every one we handle has a mini story to tell. We never take logs for granted in our house – after all, they don’t grow on trees.
The Firewood Poem
Beech wood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year,
Chestnut’s only good they say,
If for logs ’tis laid away.
Make a fire of Elder tree,
Death within your house will be;
But ash new or ash old,
Is fit for a queen with crown of gold
Birch and fir logs burn too fast
Blaze up bright and do not last,
it is by the Irish said
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread.
Elm wood burns like churchyard mould,
E’en the very flames are cold
But ash green or ash brown
Is fit for a queen with golden crown
Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke,
Apple wood will scent your room
Pear wood smells like flowers in bloom
Oaken logs, if dry and old
keep away the winter’s cold
But ash wet or ash dry
a king shall warm his slippers by.
The firewood poem was written by Celia Congreve, is believed to be first published in THE TIMES newspaper on March 2nd 1930.
The firewood poem has also been set to music by Golden Bough on their “Celtic Music” double CD which has been known to be sold on amazon.com.
The Firewood Rhyme – Anon
Logs to Burn, Logs to burn, Logs to burn,
Logs to save the coal a turn,
Here’s a word to make you wise,
When you hear the woodman’s cries.
Never heed his usual tale,
That he has good logs for sale,
But read these lines and really learn,
The proper kind of logs to burn.
Oak logs will warm you well,
If they’re old and dry.
Larch logs of pine will smell,
But the sparks will fly.
Beech logs for Christmas time,
Yew logs heat well.
“Scotch” logs it is a crime,
For anyone to sell.
Birch logs will burn too fast,
Chestnut scarce at all.
Hawthorn logs are good to last,
If you cut them in the fall.
Holly logs will burn like wax,
You should burn them green,
Elm logs like smouldering flax,
No flame to be seen.
Pear logs and apple logs,
They will scent your room,
Cherry logs across the dogs,
Smell like flowers in bloom
But ash logs, all smooth and grey,
Burn them green or old;
Buy up all that come your way,
They’re worth their weight in gold.
This firewood rhyme was written by Honor Goodhart during the 1926 coal strike in England. It was originally published in Punch in 1926, and has been variously reprinted since then.
Compiled / researched by Ted Liddle