The glow of a wood burning fire is a welcome sight on a chilly evening. The flickering flames, the cracking and popping of burning bark and the delightful smell of wood-smoke all help to forget the gloomy darkness outside. To help you achieve the best fire, we’ve put together some top tips on selecting what firewood to burn.
How to Choose Your Firewood
First things first, don’t even think about throwing just any ol’ log on the fire! We’ll explain why below. It’s important to remember that not every piece of timber makes good fuel.
Hardwoods such as beech, oak, ash, birch, and most fruit trees are the best burning woods that will give you a hotter and longer burn time. These woods have the least sap and are generally cleaner to handle.
You should never burn salt-saturated drift wood, non-local wood or discarded woods that you’d usually take to the tip like coated, painted, or pressure-treated wood. Burning any of these can release toxic or harmful chemicals into the air.
You should also never burn green wood. Before burning any freshly cut wood it needs to season, this basically means dry out this process takes a minimum of six months. Freshly cut wood, called green wood, is loaded with sap (mostly water) and needs to dry out first. It’s hard to light and once you get it going, it burns very quickly and produces a lot of smoke. If you’re unsure if the wood you’re about to purchase is green, ask the seller when it was cut. You can also check the bark: firmly attached bark that’s still sticky with sap is a bad sign.
Softwoods such as pines and firs should also be avoided. These can burn very fast, don’t leave a lot of coals and produce a lot of smoke which, in the long run, would be damaging to your flue or chimney.
If purchasing from a supplier, be careful what size of firewood you buy. Any logs over 5 inches in diameter will need to be cut or split before burning. Whilst this can be great exercise, you will need room to chop and an axe. Also, be aware that kiln-dried logs are more expensive to buy, but they are not necessary for most wood burning stoves or fires. Another tip is to always look for the ‘Woodsure Ready To Burn’ label. This certification means the wood you are buying has a low moisture content, so you can be sure that the logs that you are burning are right for your stove.
Whether you decide to buy from a supplier, or source your own wood, the key is to only put good quality, clean, seasoned firewood in your stove or on your fire that is dry to the touch.
A Guide to How Different Hardwoods Burn:
The following is a short guide detailing how different hardwoods burn. With different aromas and burn speeds, it is important to consider this when selecting your wood to achieve the fire you desire.
Ash: Ash wood produces a steady flame in fires with a good heat and burns well. It will burn successfully on its own, so does not need to be burned in a mix of different species. Traditionally claims an ash fire is fit for royalty and said to be one of the best woods for burning.
Oak: Oak is the slowest wood to season, at approximately 2.5cm a year and ideally should be seasoned for a minimum of two years. Because of its density, it is slow to burn as firewood and is best used in a mix of faster-burning logs. It can help to keep the fire going on longer nights.
Birch: Birch makes excellent firewood, producing a good heat, although it burns relatively quickly, so in a fire, it’s best to use it in a mix of slower-burning woods, such as elm or oak. The bark on birch can be peeled off and used as a natural firelighter.
Beech: Beech is a superb burning firewood, although it has a high water content so needs to be dried well; ideally, it should be seasoned for three years before use. It does not need to be burned in a mix.
Cherry: Cherry burns slowly with a good heat output in a fire and gives off a lovely aroma. Needs to be well seasoned, again strips of the bark can also be used as natural firelighters.
Sycamore: Sycamore burns in a fire well when seasoned with a moderate heat output. It seasons very quickly, usually within just one year.