Wood Burning Fireplace: The Best Wood for the Burn
Lighting a fire in a wood burning fireplace can be exasperating for the inexperienced. Rest assured be this way forever. With a little bit of know-how, and the right wood, you can easily avoid future frustrations.
Successful Wood Burning: What You Need to Know
- Wet vs Dry Wood
To make ignition easier, wood must be dry, with a 15-20% moisture content. Dry wood is cracked at the end, changing in color from white/cream to grey/yellow with time. When banged together, wood should sound hollow, not solid and dull. If the interior feels wet when split, it’s too moist. Perceptions of ‘seasoned’ wood vary widely. When possible, buy it green in advance. Ask friends and neighbors about reliable suppliers, and season it yourself. Avoid randomly piled wood, buying stacked cords to ensure you get what pay for.
- Hard vs Soft Wood
All wood is chemically similar, however the density of each species effects its behavior in the fire. Denser hardwoods offer a higher energy content per cord, providing long-lasting fires and coal beds and more heat per firebox load. Softer woods burn faster. Plan and stock ahead, choosing a variety based on your seasonal heating needs. Modern fireplaces and stoves function well with a variety of species, and are better designed for the combustion process than older models. Remember: What’s best in fall may not be ideal for winter’s chill. Ask an experienced burner or state forester. The time investment will pay off.
- High heat value: Hickory, oak, apple, yellow birch, beech, ash, sugar maple, hornbeam.
- Medium: White birch, elm, big leaf maple, red maple, Douglas fir, eastern larch.
- Low: White pine, lodgepole pine, hemlock, aspen, spruce, cedar, redwood, alder, cottonwood.
- Short vs Long Wood
The best quality wood is consistent in length, with variances more than 2 inches a sign of inferior wood. The length of wood pieces must fit your firebox, and should ideally be at least 3 inches shorter than its size. Shorter pieces are preferable. Even those only slightly too long can make stoking difficult. For most fires, pieces cut from 14-18 inches long work best.
- Fat vs Skinny Wood
Pieces that are fatter in diameter smolder longer. Thinner pieces ignite more speedily. Because of this you’ll want wood split into a variety of sizes from 3-6 inches in diameter, allowing for some to ignite quickly, and others to provide a steady burn. Understand commercially available firewood is generally too large for effective fire building and maintenance, and will need to be split smaller. Expect to pay more to local providers offering a variety of properly split cuts.
Building Your Fire
Check manufacturer recommendations for preferred fire building recommendations. For many of today’s modern heating models, a top-to-bottom burn is recommended, achieving temperatures quickly, and providing a more efficient burn. Stack logs tightly as described in this tutorial from largest at the bottom to smallest on top. Top with kindling, lighting from the top. Observe chimney smoke: Thick and dark equates to lost heating energy. Steamy, light smoke is best. This means no packing, torching to a roar, and reloading (this builds creosote and decreases the life expectancy of equipment). You’ll get more efficient heating by maintaining your fire a little bit of wood at a time.
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