stove

Oct 182012
 
burning logs in fire

How to make a log fire

In these days of central heating where you push a button or the heating comes on automatically by timer – heating your house with a log burning  or dual fuel stove can be a challenge, and for many is a skill that they have never learned.  As children many of us were warned away from fire, and discouraged from playing with matches.  Our houses were warmed by gas, electricity, or oil.

So you have opened up a fireplace or installed a stove, and are struggling to light that fire or get a good blaze going.  Ray Mears can produce a fire from a spark in the wilderness but you have gone through several matches and firelighters and still there is a pitiful flicker that produces no heat.

What are the tips to lighting a fire?

The things you need to consider are:

  • Air flow or draw of the fire

    Your chimney is the lungs of the house and you need air flow to feed the flames and build up heat.  When we had an open fire this included opening the door in the room, or putting up a sheet of newspaper against the chimney opening to create a rush of air.  In a stove this is easier by opening the vents and door slightly.  Sometimes there are issues about not having enough of a draw – if this is the case seek professional help – a cowl (see link) might be required and on occasion I have heard of a electric fan assisted cowl to artificially generate a flow of air.  If you have an open fire then beware of back-draft when it is windy – sometimes it is just not worth  setting a fire (you can get a cowl to help this see link above).  Or you may have to much of a draw that creates a draft when the pass door is open -(we experienced this which is why personally we prefer stoves).  We have not had a problem with back-draft since we installed the stoves and when the fires are not lit – we don’t have the cold air coming down the chimney.  One last point on an open fire – they are less efficient than stoves because you lose a lot of heat up the chimney.  Stoves retain heat simply from their structure and they enable you to control the rate of burn thereby maximising efficiency.

  • Type of wood you are using to light the fire

  See my other blog on what types of wood burn best.  Most types of wood when unseasoned or green, are too full of sap and water to burn effectively (Ash is the exception).  Also some wood just does not burn very well.  The heavier and therefore denser the wood, the higher its calorific value and therefore the longer it will burn. Hardwoods tend to be denser than softwoods such as pine and spruce and some of the densest are oak and beech. However, some of the very dense hardwoods like oak and elm can be very difficult to burn, so it is usually best to burn them with another type of wood as well. Softwoods tend to be easy to light and to burn quickly (making them very good kindling). Some of the best woods to burn are ash, beech, hornbeam, hawthorn, crab apple and wild cherry.

Your wood needs to be seasoned (dried over a period of time or in a kiln). If buying from a log merchant, check that your load will be well seasoned and ready to throw on the fire.  If you are still unsure, or storing it yourself, use a moisture meter to detect when the timber’s content is below 25%.  Until then, store in a pile with plenty of air circulating around it.

  • Moisture content of wood for the fire

 This can affect how well wood will burn.  Wet wood is also less efficient because the rising steam takes away heat from the room. It will also coat your chimney with resin and soot which is a major cause of chimney fires. More information on this issue can be found here.

  • Size of wood in the fire

 You need to light a small piece of wood and newspaper or firelighter that then lights a bigger piece (called kindling) that then lights a log.  Heat needs to build up and you need a bed of embers burning before logs will burn freely. Check out this You Tube link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6aIeIZfTkg&feature=related

  • Log fires need a lot of attention

They burn quickly and can go out if not attended or fed with other logs.  Coal is a less green option but gives a greater long lasting heat.  However it produces a lot more ash or spoil that is considered toxic and cannot be used in your hen shed or compost.  We put our wood ash under the roosting perches to balance out the acidity of the hen poop. The chicken manure and wood ash react, driving off the nitrogen and drying out the manure. The result is an easily handled, easy-to-store, organic fertilizer that is rich in potassium and phosphorus.  We also add wood ash to the hens dust bath.  Wood ash is a good source of potash check out this link for more info.  For the reasons given we do not mix wood (apart from initial lighting with kindling) with coal, we have one type of fire or the other.

  • Health and safety

Open fires can be more dangerous than wood burning stoves because of the sparks they produce – amongst other dangers.  Never leave an open fire unattended, however stoves can become dangerously hot and touching them or proximity of materials close to stoves can melt, or smoulder.  Fire guards, proximity, and health & safety are things that must always be taken into consideration.

  • Flammable materials

do not burn things in your fire that can cause fumes or are dangerous.

  • Maintenance of chimney

make sure your chimney is cleaned or swept regularly – it is recommended that this is done at least once a year.  Otherwise that roaring fire might turn into something far more dangerous…….  When coal soot deposits or wood tar deposits build up to a sufficient level there is the risk of chimney fire. The heat from the fire warms the deposits releasing the combustible volatiles until they ignite. The fire then migrates up the chimney as the burning deposits heat the chimney above. Chimney fires can damage structures, destroy homes and injure or kill people. Here are some useful links http://www.chimney-cleaners.co.uk/chimney-fires.phphttp://www.stovesonline.co.uk/chimney-fires.htmlhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3drlKFx8P7Y.

We fitted chinese hats to the tops of our chimneys to stop rain getting in, birds getting in, and reduces downdraft.  Check out this link for examples of caps or hats for your chimney.

Making a fire

When your wood is ready, make a wigwam of dry kindling (gathered twigs, chopped up logs, or pallets cut into batons) over scrunched up sheets of newspaper.  Once the paper is lit in several places, this is the foundation of your fire.  Other items that give it extra spark include fir cones, loose or dry bark, or cardboard such as empty toilet rolls. When the kindling is roaring (if using a stove, open up the vent fully or for an open hearth, use bellows to fan the flames), start by adding one log and then more once the fire is established (in a stove leave the vent partially open to keep it steady).  Continue to stir/poke the fire to stimulate combustion and feed with fuel when necessary.

 A log stove can go out quickly if left without fuel, if you wish to stoke up a fire then you need to reduce the air flow and make sure there is plenty of fuel so that it can be left overnight, for example, to burn slowly or smoulder and produce a low heat over a long time.  Hardwoods such as oak are best suited to this as they are dense and slow-burning.

With coal it is possible to pack it down, reduce the air flow, (some people even pour a little moisture over the top to create a crust), and restart the fire again in the morning.  This is less likely to happen with wood as it will burn quicker.

 Wood ash

Unlike coal ash that should be disposed as rubbish, wood ash has many beneficial uses and should be treasured.  Wood ash contains 10-25% calcium, 1-4% magnesium, 5-15% potassium and 1-3% phosphorus. And amongst other things is good for your compost, garden, and chicken dust bath. Read more

 October 18, 2012  green, post archive, smallholder, tree Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Oct 112012
 
15sep12 015

Why Grow your own firewood?

Wood is the natural sustainable choice of fuel for many domestic fires – in use since the first fire thousands of years ago. When we warm our homes with wood, we participate in a natural cycle that we share with ancient ancestors.

The ability to burn wood for heat in our homes gives us more control and options for fuel. We are no longer dependent on large energy utilities and multinational corporations whose charges only ever increase. Even if we have to buy in our logs at least we are supporting our local economy.

Unlike the burning of fossil fuels like coal, gas or oil, burning firewood releases no more greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide) than would be produced were the wood to simply rot on the forest floor. If we are responsible in the ways we grow, cut, and burn our firewood, wood burning can actually be a good choice for the environment.

When sourcing wood you have three choices, buy in, buy a mature woodland, or grow your own.  This article will focus on the latter, check out this other article about sourcing wood away from the smallholding.

What trees are the best to grow for firewood?

Note that all woods burn better when seasoned and some burn better when split rather than as whole logs.  In general the better woods for burning that you are most likely to come by are:

  • Apple and pear – burn slowly and steadily with little flame but good heat.  The scent is also pleasing.
  • Ash – the best burning wood providing plenty of heat (will also burn green)
  • Beech and hornbeam – good when well seasoned
  • Birch – good heat and bright flame, burns quickly
  • Blackthorn and hawthorn – very good, burns slowly but with good heat
  • Cherry – also burns slowly with good heat and a pleasant scent
  • Cypress – burns well but fast when seasoned, and may spit
  • Hazel – good
  • Holly – good when well seasoned
  • Horse Chestnut – good flame and heating power but spits a lot
  • Larch – fairly good for heat but crackles and spits
  • Maple – good
  • Oak – very old dry seasoned oak is excellent, burning slowly with a good heat
  • Pine – burns well with a bright flame but crackles and spits
  • Poplar – burns very slowly with little heat
  • Willow – good if seasoned well

If the tree you are looking for is not here then try this link.

Timescale for harvesting wood as fuel

If starting from scratch then the quickest tree to plant and harvest is willow.  It can be grown on damp unusable ground, and if properly undertaken, will produce wood of a size that is manageable by a smallholder without specialist equipment.

Willow as firewood

Pros

Super fast growing varieties can produce logs up to 3 inches or more thick in only 5 years.  It is best to cut or coppice in the dormant season from late autumn to late winter.  This ensures there is the least quantity of water within the coppice poles, which reduces the time taken to season the firewood to a minimum.

To get reasonably sized logs you will have to coppice your willow every 4-5 years.  The advantage of short rotation coppicing has always been the small diameter of the trees which enabled them to be worked with hand tools.  The production of firewood is best carried out using the coppice system  because a felling licence is not required to cut coppice poles with a diameter at breast height (1.3m from the ground) of 15cm or less.

Cons

Willow wood is mostly water and takes a long time to dry out.  Some other woods will dry all on their own, simply as a function of time, but the willow dries best with good access to a breeze. Otherwise it can rot or start to grow again before it drys out.  If it sits outside and get’s rained on, it will soak up water like a sponge even if it was previously “dry”. Willow has to be kept dry- in other words, kept under cover. It should dry for a minimum of six months, but letting it dry for two to three years improves its performance slightly.

Willow is very soft wood and it burns very quickly so mix it in with your other firewood because it won’t last long.

Click here for more information on the benefits of willow, planting willow, and willow types for sale.

Coppicing trees 

Many species of tree can be coppiced (e.g. hazel). This involves regularly cutting the tree down to a stump called a stool. Multiple new shoots (known as poles) regrow from the stool. The cutting is done on cycle so to keep a consistent supply you need to plan ahead and have sets of trees which you cut each year. The interval between cutting depends on the species of tree. The trees are cut during the winter before the sap has risen, and the branches are all cut low to the ground. By repeatedly cutting the trees their lifespan can be greatly increased. One of the advantages of coppicing is that you do not need to replant the trees every time you cut.

The new growth is fairly straight and manageable, and can grow very fast. Because the wood from coppicing is relatively small it also takes less time than large logs to season and you should easily be able to season it over one summer. Coppiced firewood can be burnt in a wood stove and is ideal for use in gasification / batch boilers – these boilers have very larger fireboxes which can take long length logs. You fill up the firebox and the boiler burns the fuel transferring the heat to a heat storage or accumulator tank for use when needed.

Many types of deciduous tree can be coppiced: Alder, Ash, Beech, Birch (3-4 year cycle), Hazel (7 year cycle), Hornbeam, Oak (50 year cycle), Sycamore Sweet Chestnut (15-20 year cycle), Willow, Sweet Chestnut, Hazel (7 year cycle), and Hornbeam. 

Turning trees into firewood

Once you have harvested your wood you must split any logs that are more than 6 inches in diameter.  This increases the surface area of the wood exposed to the elements and therefore enhances drying.  You can get mechanical splitters, and attachments for a tractor, when you have large quantities to split, but they are not cheap.

For the average user or smallholder a maul is the tool needed.  It is a type of axe with a heavy wide head especially for splitting logs.  A maul does not need to be particularly sharp – unlike a narrow felling axe which slices at wood and needs to be sharpened regularly.  You can use a felling axe for splitting logs but it is much harder work than a maul.  The trick with a maul is to let the weight of the head do the work – swing the maul over your shoulder and let the head fall on to the log without forcing it down.  The wide head will force the log apart.  It’s also important to have the log you are splitting at a good height – on a tree stump or larger log about 18 inches to 2 feet off the ground is ideal – this makes the job easier and avoids back damage.

Kindling

Trees and shrubs suitable for kindling include:

  • The older wood or prunings of Buddleia
  • Gorse -as a fuel it has a high concentration of oil in its leaves and branches, and so catches fire easily and burns well, giving off a heat almost equal to that of charcoal.
  • Lilac: Thinner branches make good kindling, whilst the thicker burn well with a clear flame and a very pleasant smell.
  • Rhododendron: Old thick and tough stems burn well.


More articles on firewood can be found here


Jan 282012
 
hand woven willow heron sculpture

Willow cuttings available for sale from Fifesmallholder

  • Salix Viminalis – very fast growing and ideal for firewood etc.

  • Continental yellow

  • Zwarte Driebast

  • Flanders Red

  • Noire De villaine

  • Continental Purple

  • Brittany Green

Our willows can be used for different purposes 

 
 “there is a willow grows aslant the brook
that shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream”
 
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
 

Benefits of willow

  • Properties of Willow 

    Willows will grow in a range of habitats and survives in most localities.  In soil of pH 6.0 – 8.0  Most soil types. Most topography.

     

    There are species of Willow, which are adapted to different conditions:

     

    S. alba – low lying conditions

    S. fragilis – river bank

    S. herbacea – mountains Scotland

    S. repens – colonises sand dunes

 
Willows are the fastest growing & highest yielding tree or shrub in Britain. When grown as Short Rotation Coppice they can produce as much as 10 to 15 tonnes of dry wood per hectare per year and often more on the better sites.
 
Farmers are now growing willow to supply power stations with a natural, renewable and carbon neutral source of energy. It is usually harvested on a 3 year rotation then chipped, dried and loaded into giant hoppers to be fed automatically into the boilers to produce electricity and/or heat.
 
For a smallholder or householder though, logs are more useful than woodchips. Known as the 5 year Coppice Rotation, a site is divided into 5 beds and 1 bed is harvested each year, providing a regular supply of firewood year on year.
 
Using this system, 500 plants on 750 sq m (less than a fifth of an Acre) can produce 1 Tonne of dry firewood every year.
 
To read more about firewood click here.

Planting willow

These plants are delivered as setts – unrooted cuttings.  Willows should be planted during the time when they are dormant, i.e. after the leaves have dropped and before the sap starts to rise again.
 
As they need to develop a good root system, before they can afford to develop leaves, willow cuttings should be planted between December and the beginning of April and willow rods should be in the ground by the beginning
of March.
 
They establish rapidly in any soft earth, free of weeds.  Soak them in water overnight, then plant them to about half their depth, coloured end pointing upwards. Cut back half the new growth in the winter after planting to make them bush out.
 
Planting willows link 
 
  • Healing

Country folk have been familiar with the healing properties of willow for a long time. They made an infusion from the bitter bark as a remedy for colds and fevers, and to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism. Young willow twigs were also chewed to relieve pain. In the early nineteenth century modern science isolated the active ingredient responsible, salicylic acid, which was also found in the meadowsweet plant. From this the world’s first synthetic drug, acetylasylic acid, was developed and marketed as Aspirin, named after the old botanical name for meadowsweet, Spirea ulmaria.

  • Bee Fodder

Willow benefits pollinating insects in early spring. Willow plants when flowering produce both nectar and pollen. Females give only nectar, but male plants give both nectar and pollen. Planting a variety of willow types, will give an extended flowering season. The Salix Viminals often flowers in April, at the end of the period that is crucial to honey bee brood building time.
 
click here for more information 
 
  • Willow is a good supplementary feed for sheep and lambs, it also helps them cope/expel/resist worms.

 

Willow links with Scottish place names 

The Gaelic words for willow are shellach, or suil, and feature in Scottish place names such as Achnashellach in Ross-shire, Glensuileag in Inverness-shire and Corrieshalloch on Speyside. These names would have referred to both the presence of willow and the attendant industries utilising the willow’s gifts.

 

Willow folklore

 click here for some folklore 

Links

Oct 302011
 
hawthorn logs gathered on smallholding for winter fuel

Gathering logs on the smallholding for fuel

Today we have been gathering up logs, that have been sawn up for winter fuel.  These logs will not be used this winter, but will be stacked and allowed to dry out ready for use next winter.

fife smallholder gathering logs for winter

 

Information about hawthorn

We have many Hawthorn trees in our wood, and this was one that was past its best.  Hawthorn wood is hard-wearing and often used in the past to make handles for knives and daggers.  No wood burns more readily than hawthorn, even when green, and it is known as the hottest firewood.  Excellent charcoal is made from hawthorn.  Here in Scotland the bark was used to dye wool black and in most country places hawthorn leaves were used to make a refreshing tea.  Hawthorn flowers can be added to syrups and can make a lovely wine.

Hawthorn and blackthorn both have the character for a good hedge: they are easy to germinate, quick to grow and capable of being trained in any direction.  if haws, from the hawthorn, are put in a bag and soaked in water all the winter and then sown in February or March, they will come up the first year.

Hawthorn berries are popular with wild birds. For information on flowers, pollinators and insects that are attracted to the hawthorn click here.

Hawthorn Folklore 

Hawthorn is linked to May Day ceremonies and was believed to protect people and livestock from evil influences and lightning: and witches too, who get tangled up in the prickles.  Never bring May (hawthorn blossom) indoors, though.  Because of its association with Christ’s crown of thorns it is thought to bring death to the household.

Click here for lots more lore on Hawthorn.

hawthorn at fifesmallholder

What type of wood makes the best fuel?

“Hawthorn logs are good to last, if you cut them in the fall.”

Check out this post to find out more.

What is the difference between hawthorn and blackthorn?

Check out this post to find out.

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