Hardwood or Softwood?
Hardwoods such as Ash, Oak, Chestnut or Beech are more traditionally burnt as firewood. They burn slow and steady giving a higher and longer lasting heat. However, softwoods also offer the benefit of being cheaper, readily available and, if you process your own wood, they take less time to season.
Seasoned or Unseasoned?
It is important that the moisture content of any wood you burn is less than 20%. You should never burn unseasoned wood, whether softwood or hardwood. Not only does it provide inadequate heat, it will cause damage to your chimney or flue liner. As the gases rise, the moisture condensates on the chimney or flue lining and sets as a hard tar. If it builds up, it could catch alight and start a chimney fire.
Well-seasoned firewood is easier to start, produces more heat, and burns cleaner. Moisture testers are handy gadgets to have to hand, available for around £25-£30, so you can test the moisture content of any wood delivered or to test whether wood you are drying yourself is dry enough to burn.
But beware, even well-seasoned firewood can be ruined by poor storage. Exposed to constant rain or snow, wood will reabsorb large amounts of water, making it unfit to burn and causing it to rot before it can be used. Wood should be stored off the ground if possible and protected from excess moisture when weather threatens.
The ideal situation is a wood shed. There should be a roof that protects the wood from moisture but also open or loose sides that provide the air necessary to dry it.
Get the fire going
We all have different ways to start out fire – this is how we do it at Clover:-
To get the fire going, use a mixture of dry newspaper scrunched into balls and dry softwood kindling. Bunch a handful of newspaper balls at the base of the fire and build a pyramid over with the kindling sticks. If it’s very cold, we’d recommend putting a couple of newspaper balls on top of the kindling pyramid also. If you’re lighting a stove, remember to open the vents to allow as much air in as possible. Take a match (the long ones are the best) or perhaps a blow torch if you use one in the kitchen occasionally, and light as much paper as possible as quickly as possible to get the fire going. Start with the paper balls at the top of the pyramid as this will start to heat the flue quickly and helps prevent any smoke blowing back into the room. Leave the kindling to burn until well established and then slowly add the firewood logs, again in a pyramid shape until the fire is established.
Don’t be tempted to use magazine pages, comics, junk mail or old wrapping paper etc or anything else with a plastic coating or colour printing. They may give off toxic fumes, don’t burn well and are certainly no good for your stove and flue!
NEVER use flammable liquids in your fireplace or stove.
And ALWAYS remember to have your chimney swept at least once a year to prevent any chimney fires. Once a year should be adequate if you use your fire for occasional evening and during weekends. However, for more regular use, you should consider sweeping before you start to use them and again about halfway through the season. Please see our article on ‘Why I Need To Sweep the Chimney!’
And finally …
And this part is critical, sit back, put your feet up and enjoy the fire! It doesn’t get better on a cold winters day than a walk in the crisp outdoors, followed by a cup of tea, a piece of Christmas cake (alternatives are available!), a good book and a roaring fire – sheer joy!