“To have no fire, or a bad fire, to sit by, is a most dismal thing.”
Lighting a fire
They say that making up a fire is an art in itself and everyone finds what works for them eventually – I was always told that a fire should light with one match and generally I have found that to be so. Having got the fire to light sometimes it just doesn’t do and I am at a loss as to why. For an explanation and tips on how to light a fire check out this article.
Below is a poem by an unknown author that may help us all to know the best firewood to burn and keep us warm.
What to burn
“Oak logs will warm you well, if they’re old and dry.
Larch logs of pine will smell, but the sparks will fly.
Beech logs for Christmas time; yewl logs heat well.
‘Scotch’ logs it is a crime for anyone to sell.
Birch logs will burn too fast; chestnut scarce at all.
Hawthorn logs are good to last, if you cut them in the fall.
Holly logs will burn like wax; you should burn them green.
Elm logs like smouldering flax, no flame to be seen.
Pear logs and apple logs, they will scent your room.
Cherry logs across the dogs smell like flowers in bloom.
But ash logs, all smooth and grey, burn them green or old.
Buy up all that come your way, they’re worth their weight in gold.”
The quality of firewood is based upon various characteristics such as its speed of burn, heat given off, tendency to spark (spit), ease of splitting, time required to season, etc.
Grade: 1 = Poor, Grade: 2 = Okay, Grade: 3 = Good, Grade: 4 = Excellent.
|Common Name:||Botanical Name:||Comments:|
|Alder||Alnus||Low quality firewood.Grade: 1|
|Apple||Malus||Needs to be well seasoned. Burns well with a pleasant smell and no sparking/spitting. Grade: 3|
|Ash||Fraxinus||One of the best firewoods. It has a low water content and is easily split with an axe. Burns best when seasoned but can be burned green. Grade: 4|
|Beech||Fagus||Beech has a high water content and will therefore only burn when seasoned. Grade: 3|
|Birch||Betula||An excellent firewood that will burn when green. However, it burns quickly so should be mixed with a slower burning wood such as Oak. Grade: 3/4|
|Cedar||Cedrus||A good firewood which burns with a pleasant smell. Gives a good lasting heat and does not spit much. Small pieces may be burned green.Grade: 2/3|
|Cherry||Prunus||Must be well seasoned. Burns with a pleasant smell without spitting.Grade: 2/3|
|Elm||Ulmus||A good firewood but due to its high water content of approximately 140% (more water than wood!) it must be seasoned very well. It may need assistance from another faster burning wood such as Birch to keep it burning well. However it gives off a good, lasting heat and burns very slowly. Larger pieces of wood will prove difficult to split. Grade: 2/3|
|Eucalyptus||Eucalyptus||Allow to season well since the wood is very sappy when fresh. Can be difficult to split due to stringy wood fibre. Best method is to slice into rings and allow to season during the summer, the rings will start to split themselves. Burns fast with a pleasant smell and without spitting. Grade: 2/3|
|Hawthorn||Crataegus||A good firewood. Grade: 3/4|
|Hazel||Corylus||An excellent wood when seasoned. Burns fast without spitting. Grade: 4|
|Holly||Ilex||A good firewood that can be burned green. Grade: 3|
|Hornbeam||Carpinus||Burns well. Grade: 3|
|Horse Chestnut||Aesculus hippocastanum||A fairly poor firewood.Grade: 2|
|Larch||Larix||A very poor firewood which spits excessively while burning and leaves an oily soot in the chimney. Provides a good heat. Grade: 1|
|Lime||Tilia||Poor quality firewood.Grade: 2|
|Oak||Quercus||One of the best firewoods. When seasoned well, it gives off a good, lasting heat. Burns reasonably slowly.Grade: 4|
|Pear||Pyrus||If well seasoned it burns nicely with a pleasant smell. Grade: 3|
|Pine||Pinus||Burns hot but needs to be well seasoned. Leaves an oily soot in the chimney and spits excessively.Grade: 1|
|Plane||Platanus||A reasonable quality firewood. Grade: 3|
|Poplar||Populus||Very poor firewood. Burns with a poor heat and only usable when well seasoned. Grade: 1|
|Rowan||Sorbus aucuparia||Burns well. Grade: 3|
|Spruce||Picea||Low quality. Grade: 2|
|Sweet Chestnut||Castanea sativa||Burns when seasoned but spits continuously and excessively.Not for use on an open fire and make sure wood-burning stoves have a good door catch!Grade: 1/2|
|Maple (including Sycamore)||Acer||Burns well. Grade: 3|
|Walnut||Juglans||Poor quality firewood.Grade: 2|
|Wellingtonia||Sequoiadendron||Very bad quality. Grade: 1|
|Willow||Salix||A high water content means it needs to be well seasoned. Grade: 2/3|
|Yew||Taxus||Usable. Grade: 2/3|
Burning green or unseasoned wood
In simple terms, the word ‘seasoned’ means ‘dry’ and the term ‘green’ means ‘freshly cut from living tree’.
Green wood carries about a third of its weight as water, which on the fire evaporates and helps to carry the heat away up the chimney. You can often hear a log sizzle or hiss in the fire if it is too green or damp. Read More
Difference between wood and coal for burning
Wood fuel has typically less than half the calorific value of coal and smokeless fuel which burns for longer, so you must be prepared to use a greater volume of wood to heat your home or room, unless you use both wood and mineral solid fuel. Coal ash should be disposed of in your rubbish, whilst wood ash has many uses and should not be discarded.
Best wood for an open fire
Generally hardwoods are best for open fires because they tend not to spit excessively, however there are exceptions (horse chestnut spit badly making them a hazard in an open fire). Conifer wood (like spruce) tends to spit excessively when fresh, so is best used for sealed wood burning stoves, again there are exceptions. Many conifers also cause an oily, sticky ‘soot’ to form inside the chimney which can increase the risks of chimney fires. Once properly seasoned conifer wood can be successfully used on the open fire without excessive spitting. Ideally, conifer wood is best mixed with hardwood.
Where to find firewood
The most common form of wood fuel at the moment is logs. These will usually come from local sources and can be brought from a variety of outlets – e.g. coal merchants, farmers, tree surgeons. There are now companies who only supply firewood. If you cannot afford to purchase firewood, then why not contact your local Forestry Commission office and enquire about a Scavenging Permit to lift leftover wood after an area has been harvested. The only other option is to grow your own – however this is a long term investment (unless you buy a mature woodland) some trees grow faster than others such as the fast growing willow Viminalis but the downside is that you have to store them for longer before they are dry enough to burn.
Buying logs – what you need to know and ask
It is better to buy wood by volume than by weight because between 35% and 60% of the weight of freshly felled wood comes from water. Read More
Which trees are hardwood or softwood and what is the difference for firewood?
The two categories of woods, softwood and hardwood, do not actually refer to how hard or soft a wood is to the touch but rather how dense the wood is. Read More.