Making the right choice of wood for your stove takes careful thought. Not all woods are equally efficient in terms of the heat they produce and their speed of burn. Hardwoods are usually the best choice, due to their greater density, which can result in as much as 50% extra heat production, when compared with softwoods. You’ll also spend much less time re-fuelling the stove as the logs will burn more slowly, leaving you with more time to enjoy the warmth and much less time and effort.
Wood needs to be well-seasoned before being used as a fuel. Logs should be dried for between 18 and 24 months to reduce their moisture content to 20% or less, before they are ready to burn. Householders can buy a moisture metre to test the content of their logs. Another simple way to test for moisture is to bang two logs together and listen to the sound they make. A well-seasoned piece of wood will make a light “clacking” noise, rather than a dull thud, so that you can tell it’s ready to go on the fire. Another clue is when the bark starts to peel and the wood cracks at each end. Using your eyes and ears can help you judge when the wood is well seasoned. Burning wood that is still moist causes unnecessary pollution and is an inefficient way of using logs, so buying a moisture metre is a good investment if you own a wood-burning stove.
Ideally logs should be stored outside in a specially designed wood store so that they are off the ground, with the air circulating freely, but well- protected from rain or snow. This will help accelerate the seasoning process.
Which wood is best for a log burner?
There are many good choices of wood for burning, such as ash, birch, cherry, elm and oak. Each type of wood has its own special character and charm. Some are best for burning alongside other types of wood, others are best for making kindling to get a fire started.
Ash is always a popular choice with stove owners. It will produce excellent heat and lasts longer than most other logs. It’s very easy to split with an axe and makes efficient kindling to get your fire started.
Birch also generates plenty of heat and the logs create an attractive fire with lively flames licking around the logs and a pleasant aroma. Birch is perhaps best used when mixed with other slower burning woods such as ash or elm.
Elm is another good choice and there is generally plenty of this wood available due to Dutch Elm disease. However because elm has a high water content it will take a long time to season. It tends to burn slowly so is best used with other logs around it. However once it is well alight it will produce generous levels of heat. Elm is the perfect wood to add to the stove last thing at night due to its slow burning properties.
Cherry is another wonderful, slow burning wood that will push out heat into your room and create a beautiful smell. Cherry is a popular choice for burning at Christmas time, giving a seasonal atmosphere to your home.
Oak, like elm, takes a long time to season. However once it is dried and ready to burn it is particularly sought after due to its slow burning properties. It produces a long-lasting heat even when down to the last embers.
As well as these popular choices there are several other recommended woods, such as beech, cedar and hazel, which can be used on stoves with success. Softwoods such as pine and deal are also easy to obtain and make particularly good kindling. For a slow burning wood that produces tremendous heat levels you can’t do better than yew.
Woods to avoid!
Some types of wood are best avoided, perhaps because they have thorns, are difficult to chop up into logs or have a high resin content that can damage the flue. Others may perform very poorly, creating little heat or burning up much too quickly.
Woods that are high in resin, such as pine, can leave sticky deposits in the flue with damaging results. Hawthorn is fine if it is already cut into logs, but it has vicious thorns so care is needed. Alder and cypress burn fast, producing little heat, so are disappointing choices. Poplar will produce unpleasant black smoke when it is burning, so is best avoided.
Perhaps the most unpleasant wood is from the garden tree laburnum, which is poisonous and produces an unpleasant yellow sap when cut. When burnt it produces large quantities of foul-smelling smoke, making it a wood to be avoided at all costs.
Spending some time choosing the right type of hardwood, storing it properly away from the elements so that it is well seasoned, and burning it when it is ready will ensure that you get the utmost enjoyment from a wood burning stove.