On buying firewood:

We burn a lot of firewood ourselves and like to extol its virtues where we can.

Wood is amazing stuff. Endlessly renewable, carbon neutral, versatile, tactile, strong, durable and much, much more. If it didn’t exist some multinational corporation would be trying to invent it and then patent its gene sequences! As it is, it is all around us but much unappreciated. So make the most of it.

There are two things to bear in mind when burning firewood. Firstly, it is well worth getting yourself a wood-burning stove and secondly, season your wood properly.

Wood burning stoves are far more efficient than open fires, attractive though the latter may be. Even the simplest stove is much more efficient than an open fire, simply because you can control the draught going up the chimney. If you want to see dancing flames – and who doesn’t – you can always open the stove doors when you’re sitting in front of it and close them when you’re not. Or, better still, go a bit more up market to one of the clean-burn stoves and watch them burn through clean glass doors right through the winter.

However you elect to burn it though, make sure that you burn the right wood. By this I simply mean burn dry, seasoned wood. Forget all those old bits of folklore about this wood burning, that wood smouldering and some other wood blazing. All wood burns more than adequately if you’ve seasoned it properly, although certainly different woods do have different burning characteristics.

So how do you get seasoned wood? Well, what you really need is a large shed in which you can store enough wood for two years worth of burning. Because that is how long it takes to really season large lumps of wood (maybe even three years for very large oak or beech logs!). If you haven’t got that much space, then here are my three top tips to help you on your way to reasonably well seasoned wood.

  • Firstly, fill your woodshed up at the end of the winter you’ve just come through, not at the beginning of the one to come. Wood dries rapidly during the summer months, very slowly during the winter.
  • Secondly, split all but the thinnest logs. Wood dries out much faster through a split surface than it does through its bark. And keep them as small as you can. Small logs dry much faster than large ones, though you do have to load the stove more often.
  • Thirdly, go for quick drying species (Sycamore, Birch, Poplar, Alder etc). Don’t despise softwood (conifers like Scots Pine or Larch). They will dry quickly and give you as much heat weight-for-weight as hardwoods (like Ash or Beech).

Lastly, a couple of cautionary notes.

Don’t trust those adverts that say ‘Load of seasoned logs’. I can almost guarantee that they won’t be properly seasoned, though there are occasional, honourable exceptions. But build up a good relationship with your local firewood man (pay him cash on delivery; order your logs up well in advance; don’t expect him to stack everything by hand in that pokey little shed at the bottom of your garden), pay attention to the tips above, and you’ll find that it pays dividends in the long term.

Sweep your chimney out at least annually, twice if you are burning unseasoned wood or coniferous wood. Chimney fires are not nice, particularly if you have thatch!