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Planning Retirement Online

Wood for your wood burning stove

December 2011 

logsWood burning stoves are enormously popular these days and while there is a large amount of information and advice on how the stoves work, where to site them and the best stoves to buy, there is less information available on what is the best wood to burn.

The good news is that most wood results in lower lifecycle CO2 emissions than using coal for a fire. Also today most wood is from a fully sustainable source, so any CO2 you do release when burning wood will be compensated by the absorption of CO2 from the new trees planted. Wood smoke also contains less sulphides than coal smoke.

But not all wood is good for wood burning stoves. Some burn well and give off a lot of heat; some spit and burn fast, some have a tendency to spark, some are difficult to split or season.

Among the best woods to use on a wood burning stove is ash, which is found across the country. It has only around a 50% water content, which is low for wood, and splits very easily for use in the home. It burns at a good steady rate but isn’t too fast and gives off a very good level of heat. It can be burned green, but is best seasoned.

Hazel is also a very good wood for stoves and won’t spit, although it does burn quite fast. It needs to be seasoned.

Oak is one of the best woods for a stove but no one today would dream of cutting down a beautiful slow growing oak tree for fire wood. However, if for some reason you have some old oak to burn, it gives off an excellent heat and burns slowly.

Hawthorn is quite good although it doesn’t give off so much heat as ash and hazel. Birch makes a good firewood and will burn well even unseasoned. But it does burn through fast, so most people try and mix it with a slower burning wood.

Sycamore and rowan burn well, but as a heat source they are slightly less reliable. Beech again burns well, but because of hits high water content it needs to be very well seasoned. Elm is a good firewood if you can find it, although it is quite difficult to split into manageable sizes. However, it does have a very high water content and has to be very well seasoned before use.

Sweet chestnut can burn very well when fully seasoned but spits dramatically, so needs to be watched carefully. Horse chestnut doesn’t burn that well and its heat output is limited. Pine and larch wood also spit a lot plus they form an oily soot, so they aren’t ideal for wood burning stoves.

There are numerous other woods around and sometimes it is worth experimenting. For instance cedar and apple if well seasoned are very good woods for fires and both can give off a very pleasant scent.

The key to any wood you are planning to use for your wood burning stove is for the wood to be as dry as possible, and many people can be surprised just how much moisture is contained in wood. If you burn wood with a high level of moisture, a lot of the heat that would normally come into the room is used to heat up the water until it evaporates. This produces a higher level of condensation in the chimney.

Seasoning wood, or taking out the moisture content, takes time. You need to cut and split the wood into the sort of sizes you want and then leave them in dry air. The ideal place is out of the rain (i.e. under cover) but in a shelter that is open to the elements so that the wind can blow through. It is also worth lifting the wood off the ground onto a slatted base to allow drying to take place from below as well. Obviously wood with higher moisture content, such as elm which contains more water than wood, need longer seasoning; and larger pieces of wood will take longer than small logs. The ideal is to leave wood to dry for around two years, but this obviously is not always possible. You can buy moisture meters to determine the level of moisture in wood.

If you are cutting down the wood to burn in your stove, it is best to do this before spring so that the sap hasn’t started to rise, which will lead to an increase in the wood’s moisture content.

You can of course today buy wood from professional dealers, but having a basic understanding of the different properties can help you determine what is the best purchase for your home.


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