You’ve just got yourself a brand-new wood burning stove, but now you’re in an alien world of wood- speak: wood types, terminology and rules about what to burn, when to burn it and what’s best to burn. Turns out wood isn’t just wood! Worry not, we are here to help you navigate through these unchartered waters and get your wood burner up and going just in time for the chilly winter nights.
Its best to burn dry seasoned wood, but what exactly does seasoned mean? The simple answer is that it’s been left to dry out for about a year, sometimes longer. Green wood is wood that has just been, felled, or cut from a live tree. You may be able to find dead, dry wood that has fallen from trees on your woodland walks, but if it’s lain in the undergrowth it will probably still need to dry. To season the wood, it is stacked in such a way that it is well ventilated and then covered and left for approximately a year. Why should you burn only dry wood? If you have ever been camping or built a bonfire you’ll know that trying to get wet wood to light is frustratingly difficult. It’s not impossible, but once the wood is alight, the flames are small, the fire spits and hisses and it doesn’t burn very hot. It’s the same for your wood burner, wet wood will evaporate the heat along with the water vapour. So dry wood will light easier, burn hotter and be better for your stove.
Once your green wood has had time to dry out, or seasoned if you will, your wood should have the optimum water content of about 15 – 20% water. Green wood, that has just been cut can have up to 50% water. The most efficient way to tell the water content of your logs is by a moisture meter, a handy gadget that will electronically gauge the water content. If you don’t want to spend the money on the gadget there are other ways to tell. Firstly, the colour. A seasoned dry piece of wood will be a darker yellow or grey colour. Secondly look for cracks in the ends. A well dried log will have a lot of cracks. Thirdly is the weight. A dry log will weigh considerably less than a wet one. Lastly is the sound they make when you bang them together. Wet wood will have a dull thud, but dry wood will sound hollow. These methods are good, but you obviously wouldn’t be able to tell the percentage of water.
What Would Wood Cost?
There is not a universal system for buying wood in the UK. You can buy it by the cubic metre, the net, the dumpy bag and some places will sell it by the ‘loose load’ which is a trailer full. There isn’t even a universal pricing for how much it should be. It’s not as bad as it first appears. The general rule of thumb is hardwoods are more expensive than softwoods and kiln dried is the most expensive of all. A net is generally 10 – 12 logs and will be priced between £3 – £5 for seasoned wood and about £7 for kiln dried. A dumpy bag works out to be around 0.6 cubic metres and will cost anything between £40 and £70 for seasoned mixed hardwood and softwood. Kiln dried will cost around £125.
The price of your logs will also be affected by delivery costs, if you are having it delivered it will be a bit more expensive, many places will only deliver if you’re ordering over a certain amount, so watch out for that. When you’re buying your wood, you’ll want to keep in mind the size of your stove, and get logs that are about 10 – 12cm smaller so they fit.
But Which Wood is Best?
OK, so now you know what you’re talking about, and what the terminology means; but what species of tree is best for you to burn! If you have wood that is widely available in your area it will keep the cost down. There is a continuing debate about whether you should just have hardwood (such as oak) or softwoods (such as pine). You are the only one that can answer that. If you’re heating your whole house, a Rayburn and heating your water you’re going to want to have mostly hardwood as it burns hotter, giving a better BTU (the measurement used for heat output) and as it’s dense it burns more slowly. If you do go for softwoods, be aware of how much resin they produce, as it coats your flue and is one of the culprits of chimney fires, especially if the chimney isn’t cleaned regularly.
Best of British
- Ash and Oak are the most abundant on these shores and are generally agreed to be good for wood burners. Other good woods to look out for are:
- Apple: It burns slowly, is readily available and doesn’t produce much sparking or spitting.
- Birch: This wood produces a good heat output, and has the added advantage of being able to be burnt unseasoned. However, the sap can cause deposits to form in the flue with prolonged use.
- Hawthorn: This is a very good choice, again abundant in the UK, so is a more traditional wood. It has a slow burn and a very good heat output.
- We have to mention Cherry which gives a beautiful aroma and has a good heat output. It does need to be well seasoned though.
Full Steam Ahead
This is by no means the last word on wood buying, this is however a guide to get you through the choppy waters of what to expect when getting your wood for this heating season. As the years go by you’ll wonder why you were so daunted at the prospect of getting in that first buy. Happy heating!