The rise in popularity of wood burners over the past few years within the UK has led to an increased demand for firewood. As many people will have found out, to get the best from your wood burning stove, the firewood that you put into it needs to be prepared and stored properly. This may sound straight forward enough but there is skill involved with preparing your firewood so that it burns at its maximum efficiency on your stove.
If you buy your wood from a supplier, ask yourself if it is in the right condition for burning efficiently. It is often the case that wood is not stored correctly before being sold on and from the buyer’s point of view this is not a good investment. For wood to produce its maximum heat when burned it needs to have moisture content of no more than 20%; this can only be achieved if it is split and stacked in an appropriate way.
There are several steps towards achieving this goal and no single answer or process will be sufficient. If you buy your wood from a supplier, choose wisely as much of the preparation process will have already been carried out for you. If you source your wood as boles, trunks or large branches you will have complete control over the quality of firewood at your disposal. Below is a list of important points that, if followed, will leave you with excellent quality wood to keep you warm throughout the winter months.
1. Cut your wood to the appropriate length for your stove
When cutting your wood prior to splitting, make sure it is the right length for your stove. Try to leave at least three inches to spare, as this will promote the best burning characteristics. As a guide, 12 inches is a good starting point and a comfortable length to split. Remember to put safety first if you are using a chainsaw, and if you have one, use a sawhorse for the most accurate cutting.
2. Split your logs to the right size
Smaller pieces of wood will burn more easily than larger cuts and will be easier to ignite. Remember that you are trying to produce heat within your stove so a large piece of wood burning slowly will not necessarily provide you with the best results.
3. Split your wood with a maul, not an axe
A maul is fatter and designed for splitting wood. An axe is thin and meant for chopping and cutting, not splitting. If you are not happy about using a maul, log splitters are very safe to use and reasonably priced nowadays.
4. Stack split wood in a single row exposed to the sun and wind
Choose an open area to stack your firewood. Exposure to warm summer sunshine and a drying breeze will remove moisture and humidity. Build your woodpile in a single, straight row for the best ventilation, to a height of about four feet for best results.
5. Build a solid base off the ground
Keep your carefully prepared wood away from the damp ground to prevent mildew and mould from penetrating the lower layers of your woodpile. Old pallets picked up from a warehousing site will work well, allowing air to flow under the woodpile. Failing this, two long lengths of wood placed closely together will do an adequate job.
6. Prepare for winter in the spring
Complete your initial preparation stages in the springtime so that your woodpile has a whole summer of sunshine and wind to dry out. It will need at least six months of ‘seasoning’ in the open weather to complete this process, longer if possible. You may find that the densest hardwoods will take up to two years of drying before being ready for the stove.
7. Cover your wood
Not a necessity, but something that can be done, especially if you live in a damp area. If you do cover your woodpile, only cover the top with a tarpaulin or sheet of corrugated iron. Leave the sides exposed for maximum ventilation.
If you have followed the above advice you should have some good quality firewood at your disposal by the end of summer. If you are happy that the wood is dry enough for burning it is time to move it into storage for the winter. Storage simply means somewhere to keep the wood from becoming soaked and unusable so any sheltered place will be sufficient. If you have a garden shed with room to spare this will be fine, as will a garage. It is simple enough to erect a purpose-made wood shed if you have the time and worth the effort in the long term.
Preparing good quality firewood is not a complicated task but does require a bit of forethought and some sustained effort on your part. The effort will be worth it when you are enjoying the warm glow of your fire on a cold winter’s day.