What kind of firewood should I burn?
- It does not matter what kind of wood you burn: as long as it is really, truly seasoned. In the case of hardwoods, especially oak, they must be seasoned for over one full year! That means last year’s wood – NOT this year’s wood! If you’re wondering about which wood is really the best, or what causes the least creosote to build up, the answer is the same! Properly seasoned wood produces the most heat, and produces the least creosote! It’s not the kind of wood you burn that makes the difference, but whether or not the wood is seasoned. Dry well seasoned wood is just great! Seasoned wood burns hot and clean!
- If you have trouble starting your fire, or if you have trouble keeping your fire going, you are probably using this year’s wood – which means that it’s not seasoned. Unseasoned, or green wood, is extremely frustrating and disappointing. If wood is not properly seasoned it will be hard to light. It will keep going out. It will smoulder. It won’t put out heat. It just burns poorly and inefficiently. It is also the moisture in wood which causes creosote to build up at an accelerated rate. The moisture content in the wood determines how much heat the fire puts out, and how much creosote will build up in your chimney.
- If you are going spend money on firewood, it’s essential to KNOW that the wood you are buying REALLY IS seasoned! Seasoned wood looks dark or grey when compared to green wood – but if you split a piece of seasoned wood – it’s WHITE on the inside. It’s brittle, or gnarly. It has cracks running through each piece, and a lot of little cracks on the inner rings. Unseasoned wood has a wet, fresh looking centre. When firewood is very fresh, the bark will be tightly attached. Avoid these hassles at all costs! When you get cold, you’ll be miserable if your firewood does not produce the heat you need. Only well-seasoned wood produces pleasant, trouble free heat.
- Depending upon when it was cut down, softwoods like fir or pine might be dry enough in just one year to burn nicely. But a year is not enough for hardwoods: especially oak! Fir is probably the most trouble free wood you can buy overall. But, if you read further down you’ll see its advantages and disadvantages.
- DO NOT cover your wood with a tarpaulin or you will prohibit evaporation! Use a shed, or buy a prefab wood crib.
- What REALLY causes creosote to build up? Creosote is the condensation of unburned, flammable particulates present in the exhausting flue gas (smoke). The actual cause of creosote condensation is the surface temperature of the flue in which the flue gas comes in contact. Like hot breath on a cold mirror, if the surface temperature of the flue is cool, it will cause the vaporized carbon particles in the flue gas (smoke) to solidify. This condensation is creosote build-up. If the wood you are using is rain logged, or green, the fire will tend to smoulder. Wet wood causes the whole system to be cool, and inefficient. But, dry wood means a hot fire! A hot fire means a hot flue, and a hot flue means much less creosote.
- Back in the early 1980’s, tests were conducted to discover which kind of wood created the most creosote in a regular “open” fireplace. The results were surprising. Contrary to popular opinion, the hardwoods, like oak, created MORE creosote than the softwoods, like fir and pine. The reason for this is that if the softwoods are dry, they create a hotter, more intense fire. The draft created by the hotter fire moves the air up the chimney faster! Because it is moving faster, the flue gas does not have as much time to condense as creosote inside the chimney. Also, because the flue gas is hotter: it does not cool down to the condensation point as quickly. On the contrary, the dense hardwoods tend to smoulder more, so their flue gas temperature is cooler. Thus, more creosote is able to condense on the surface of the flue. So, saying that “fir builds up more creosote than oak” just isn’t true! It is a misunderstanding to think that it’s the pitch in wood which causes creosote. It’s not the pitch that is the problem; it’s the water IN the pitch. Once the water in the wood has evaporated, that pitch becomes high octane fuel! When dry, softwoods burn extremely hot!
- Which kind of wood is better?
- The cheapest firewood on the market is softwood due to its availability. Your odds for being happy are infinitely higher with fir, especially if you are just now buying wood for this year. The fresh aroma of fir creates a lovely holiday ambiance! Fir seasons quickly, and when it is dry it is truly delightful, trouble free wood! It’s easy to get going. It smells great. It’s easy to split for kindling. It creates BIG, friendly, luxurious fires! But, it doesn’t last as long as oak! You must feed a stove more frequently to keep it going with fir, and there is no guarantee that there will still be live hot coals in the morning.
- Hardwood’s, like oak, silver birch, ash etc., are the choice of the serious fire burner. Hardwood is denser, it weighs much more than the fir. So you actually get more for your money with hardwood. In fact, you may get almost twice the fire for the money! Because hardwoods are denser, they provide more available fuel in the same space. So, hardwoods burn longer. If hardwoods are properly seasoned, they do burn very hot. The fuel available in hardwood enables stoves or inserts to sustain high temperatures for significantly longer periods. Also, when the stove is shut down tight, hardwoods may keep a hot live coal bed overnight. So as a rule, airtight stoves, or inserts, perform best with dry hardwoods. It is, however, always important to have a large supply of really good kindling – because hardwood is difficult to start. Having a quantity of fir on hand is great source of good kindling.
- When buying firewood, remember that first and foremost, it must be properly seasoned. The best way to get seasoned wood is to buy from Cork Firewood Company! For a scrupulous first time wood buyer, a moisture tester may be a good investment. Wood sellers will often tell you that even though this wood was split this year, it will be just fine. Except in the cases of fir or pine, that is not true. Look for grey, or darkened, brittle wood that has a lot of cracks in the inner rings. Seasoned wood looks grey, or dark and dingy because it has been sitting in the sun, drying, and collecting dust for a while. But, if you split it: it’s dry and very WHITE inside! Unseasoned wood has the fresh clean look. Unseasoned wood has that same fresh look on the INSIDE when it’s split. Though seasoned wood is darker on the outside, its bone white on the inside.
- Once wood gets over 4-5 years old, it does start to deteriorate, so the best wood is 2-3 years seasoned. If you find good dry wood of any kind, you will really enjoy your fireplace! But, if you get stuck with green wood, you will be one very frustrated wood burner.
Cork Firewood Company