You’re now a proud owner of a new wood burning stove, and now you find yourself in a whole new world of wood types, terminology and rules about what’s best to burn and when. Don’t worry, we’re here to help you through this minefield and help you get a handle on where you should go next to get your stove up and running as the winter draws in.
Green wood, seasoned wood
If you’ve done any kind of research you’ll know that you need to burn dry wood and this is referred to as ‘seasoned’. This generally means that it has been left to dry out for approximately a year, sometimes longer. A green wood is from a tree that has not long been felled or cut from the tree. It needs to dry out in a well ventilated area to make it suitable to burn in your stove. You’ll know if you have been camping, that trying to get a wet piece of wood to light is frustratingly difficult. Once you have got this wood alight it smokes, spits and hisses, the flame is small and not very hot – ruining your Smores! It’s the same for burning wood in your stove. A wet wood will give off a lot of steam evaporating away any heat it may have in the water vapour. This is true for a log that’s sat on the ground for too long, or been out in the rain as well as green wood. Burning dry wood is recommended as it burns hotter and gives you more heat.
There is an optimum water content for seasoned logs of about 15 – 20%. When a log is newly felled it can have up to 50% water. The idea of seasoning the wood is to let as much water content evaporate away as possible. The best way to tell if a piece of wood is dry enough to burn is to get a moisture meter and it will electronically gauge the water content. There are other ways you can tell though, when you look at your piece of wood, look for cracks in the ends and the color will be a darker yellow or grey color. A dry piece of wood will weigh less and feel quite light. If you bang two logs together they will sound hollow.
Buying the wood
Wood prices vary from state to state. How much work has gone into your final product will also affect the price you pay. Wood is sold in ‘cords’ and one cord is a stack that measures 4 x 4 x 8 feet. Or 128 cubic feet, although you may only have 70-90 cubic feet of actual wood as there is drying space between the logs. When buying wood most people don’t want to buy a 4 foot length of wood; it won’t fit in most people’s stoves/fireplaces, so you would then need to be cut it down to size. Many wood sellers will sell fractions of cords – which are called ‘face cords’; ‘stove cords’ or ‘furnace cords’ where they have cut the wood to between 12 and 20 inches and sell in piles 4 feet high and 8 feet long. Getting recommendations from friends who buy wood is a good way of finding a reputable seller and it’s always a good idea to visit the yard yourself and you can see how the wood is stored and get an idea of the quality you’ll be buying. If you’re asked how long you want the lengths of wood, it’s a good idea to get a few inches smaller than the firebox of your stove. Different size logs work best for stoking the fire and keeping it going.
But which wood is best?
So now you know a bit behind the terminology, the burning question is what wood should I actually look for? It’s a good idea to know what you have abundantly growing in your state and your immediate area, if you’re buying local wood it will hopefully keep the costs down. There is a great debate about whether you should buy hardwood (such as Oak) or softwood (such as Pine) for your fire. The answer lies with you, if you need your stove to give you a lot of heat and is your main source of heating then a hardwood would be better as it gives a higher BTU (the measurement used for heat output) and takes longer to burn, so you would use less wood in the long run. This does come at a cost though; the hardwoods are generally more expensive to buy. If you do buy softwoods be aware of how much resin they output, as this will coat your chimney flue and if not cleaned out fairly regularly could cause a chimney fire.
Top 5 countdown of the best wood species for burning
It is a hardwood, and found quite a lot among the northern hemisphere. It doesn’t produce too much smoke and burns at a medium to high heat. This can leave a residue in the flue if used a lot.
This is on the list as it is found throughout the upper and lower Midwest and East Coast, and sporadically on the West Coast, it is another hardwood, but less dense than Oak. It gives a high heat out put, but you need to check your stove is EPA approved due to its toxicity.
This is found extensively in the USA and burns easily with very little smoke.
This is a softwood that splits easily and burns with a medium heat. This is a good species for an inexperienced fire builder. It is the best of the conifers.
This is the consistently the number one favourite for wood burners. One variety or another is found in every state and widely available. It has a high heat output and emits very little smoke, which is ideal for wood burners. Special mentions should be given to Maple and Cherry. They are both hardwoods that have a high heat output. If aroma is important to you then nothing beats the smell of a Cherrywood fire.