What kind of wood should
It does not matter what kind
of wood you burn: as long as it is really, truly seasoned. In the case
of hardwood, especially oak, it should be seasoned for
at least one year! That means last year's wood - NOT this
years wood! If you're wondering about which wood is really the
best, or which wood causes the least creosote to build up, the answer is
the same! Properly seasoned wood
produces the most heat, and produces the least creosote!
It's not the kind of wood you burn that really makes the
critical difference, but whether or not the wood is seasoned. Most
firewood that hasn't been split or seasoned for a year isn't worth a darn!
On the other hand, dry, well seasoned wood is just great! Seasoned wood
produces a lot of heat, and it burns clean!
If you have trouble starting your fire,
or if you have trouble keeping your fire going, you are probably using
this years wood - which means that it's not seasoned. Unseasoned,
or green wood, is extremely frustrating and disappointing. If wood is not
properly seasoned it will be hard to light. It will keep going out. It
will smolder. It won't put out heat. The moisture content in unseasoned
wood does not allow the wood to burn well. It just burns poorly and inefficiently.
It is also precisely the moisture in wood which causes creosote
to build up at an accelerated rate. One fresh-cut cord of oak may contain
enough water to nearly fill six, 55 gallon drums. The moisture content
in the wood determines how much heat the fire puts out, and
how much creosote will build up in your chimney.
If you are going spend hundreds of
dollars on firewood, it's essential to KNOW that the wood you are
buying REALLY IS seasoned! Seasoned
wood may look darker, or dingy, or gray compared to green wood -
but if you split a piece of seasoned wood - it's WHITE on the inside. It
may seem brittle. It may seem gnarly - but this is because it is just rough
unfinished wood. If it is split in quarters, seasoned wood has cracks running
through each piece, and a lot of little cracks on the inner rings at the
ends of each piece. Tap the wood with a key or coin. Seasoned wood gives
a sharp, resonant sound, like a baseball bat. Unseasoned wood sounds dull.
Standard lumber, available at any lumber store, like 2" x 4" s is unseasoned
wood. It looks pretty - but in log form - even when split - it is very
troublesome. Unseasoned wood has very few cracks, and it has a fresh looking
center because it is actually still damp. Unseasoned wood usually has a
whiter, lighter (“drier looking”) surface near the edges or ends which
have been exposed since cutting. When firewood is very fresh, the bark
will be tightly attached. Avoid these hassles! When you get cold, you will
be miserable if your firewood does not produce the heat you need. Only
well seasoned wood produces pleasant, trouble free heat.
Depending upon when it was actually
cut down and split, softwoods like fir might be dry enough within one year
to burn nicely. But, a year is not enough for hardwoods: especially oak!
As far as quality is concerned, madrone is great wood! Madrone is
very dense, HARD wood. It burns extremely HOT, and it burns for a long
time. Next, come live oak, black oak, eucalyptus, walnut. White oak and
tan bark oak come in last*. A mix of good oak AND madrone is your best
bet. *Tannoak, or tan bark oak, is not really oak: it is beech. It is
often sold as "tan oak" in quantities by big outlets. To call tannoak "oak"
may be false advertising. Tan bark oak burns much cooler than other woods,
and it produces a lot of ash. It is usually sold very cheaply for commercial
use by outdoor barbecue restaurants. In looking for firewood, I have had
large wholesale dealers of tan bark oak ask me "why are you interested
in this crap?" White oak can be troublesome wood because it does need to
be seasoned for a couple of years.
For inexperienced fire-burner's,
fir is probably the most trouble free wood you can buy overall.
But, if you read further down you'll see it's advantages and disadvantages.
Eucalyptus can be a little gnarly to handle: but is absolutely great hard
firewood. The oak that really burns good, is the very same wood that makes
good furniture. If distributors are selling large quantities of wood, it
may be because they can't sell it for other useful purposes. Most importantly,
stay away from large quantities green wood -- and DON'T be fooled by claims
of "seasoned fire wood." Seasoned wood is WHITE inside when it is split.
Seasoned wood is comparatively lighter by weight, and so it has a brittle
and hollow sound if you scrape an end with your fingernail, or it has the
resonant sound of a baseball bat if you tap it with a coin. The darker
color, the cracking pieces, and the many little cracks on the inner rings
at the ends of each piece, are unmistakable signs of seasoned wood.
DO NOT cover your wood with a tarp
.... or you will prohibit evaporation! Use a shed, or buy a prefab wood
What REALLY causes creosote to build
up? Creosote is the condensation of unburned, flammable particulates
present in the exhausting flue gas (smoke). The
actual cause of creosote condensation, is the surface temperature of the
flue in which the flue gas comes in contact.
Like hot breath on a cold mirror, if the surface temperature of the flue
is cool, it will cause the vaporized carbon particles in the flue gas (smoke)
to solidify. This condensation is creosote build-up. If the wood you are
using is rain logged, or green, the fire will tend to smolder. Wet wood
causes the whole system to be cool, and inefficient. But, dry wood means
a hot fire! A hot fire means a hot flue, and a hot flue means much less
Back in the early 1980's, tests were
conducted to discover which kind of wood created the most creosote in a
regular "open" fireplace. The results were surprising. Contrary
to popular opinion, the hardwood's, like oak and madrone, created MORE
creosote than the softwoods, like fir and pine.
The reason for this, is that if the softwoods are dry, they create a hotter,
more intense fire. The draft created by the hotter fire moves the air up
the chimney faster! Because it is moving faster, the flue gas does not
have as much time to condense as creosote inside the chimney. Also, because
the flue gas is hotter: it does not cool down to the condensation point
as quickly. On the contrary, the dense hardwood's tend to smolder more,
so their flue gas temperature is cooler. Thus, more creosote is able to
condense on the surface of the flue. So,
saying that "fir builds up more creosote than oak" just isn't true! It
is a misunderstanding to think that it's the pitch in wood which causes
creosote. It's not the pitch that is the problem, it's the water IN the
pitch. Once the water in the wood has evaporated, that pitch becomes high
octane fuel! When dry, softwoods burn extremely hot!
Which kind of wood is better?
That depends on what you want. If you are
a first time fire-burner, or if you only want to burn a couple dozen fires
a year: go with a DRY softwood, like fir. Your odds for being happy are
higher with fir, especially if you are just now buying wood
for this year. The fresh aroma of
fir creates a lovely holiday ambiance! Fir seasons quickly, and when it
is dry it is truly delightful, trouble free wood! It's easy to get
going. It smells great. It's easy to split for kindling. It creates BIG,
friendly, luxurious fires! But it definitely requires a good protective
screen, or glass-doors because it does crackle and pop. Also, it burns
much faster than oak or madrone. You must feed a stove much more frequently
to keep it going with fir, and there is no guarantee that there will still
be live hot coals in the morning. Because it does crackle, pop, and throw
more sparks than hardwoods - it can be annoying to some fire burners. Also,
it is important to know that fir and other softwoods go bad after 5 or
6 years. If fir is allowed to age for more than 5 years, the creosote -
which is the flammable substances of the wood - evaporates. While fir is
great for hot crackling fires in it's the first few years after being cut,
if it is allowed to sit for too many years it just goes dead. A deal on
fir which seems "to good to be true" - might indicate that the fir is so
old that it is no longer really good wood. This can happen with ANY wood
that is allowed to age too long. Still, to be safe in the later part of
the season: fir is a very good bet. For the serious fire-burner, however,
cord for cord the hardwood's are preferable.
Hardwood's, like madrone, live oak,
black oak, eucalyptus, and walnut are the definite choice of the serious
fire burner. You may pay $350 for a cord of seasoned oak, and only $250
for a cord of fir. BUT, because
the oak is more dense, it weighs much more than the fir. You actually get
more for your money with hardwood. In
fact, you may get twice, or three times the fire for the money! Because
hardwoods are denser, they provide more available fuel in the same
space. So, hardwoods burn longer.
If hardwoods are properly seasoned, they do burn very, very hot. (Look
for oak mixed with madrone.) The fuel
available in hardwood enables stoves or inserts to sustain higher temperatures
for significantly longer periods. Also, unless the stove is shut down tight,
hardwoods may keep a hot live coal bed for days. So as a rule, airtight
stoves, or inserts, perform best with dry hardwoods. It
is always important to have a good supply of kindling - because hardwood
can be difficult to start. Having a quantity of fir on hand is great source
of good kindling.
Unless you need to prove that you are a professional fire-starter who knows
how to split kindling, etc. There is a very easy way to actually start
your fire's with very little effort. Buy a box of small wax/sawdust "Starter
Logs" - for a whopping $7 bucks. Then, buy a couple of large, cheap
plastic bottles of barbecue lighter fluid. You do not even need one full
starter log. Just break up the starter log, and strategically place the
pieces under a set-up of selected logs, arranged as a 2 stack log cabin.
Douse the starter logs - and the wood with lighter fluid - and start
your fire. The wax starter logs burn long enough to ignite the logs, and
the lighter fluid insures that everything gets going. It may sound "scary",
but the danger factor is almost non-existent, and the ease factor is HIGH.
One's method of starting a fire is sort of like a "Personal Computer".
It's a personal thing. If you don't want to hassle with kindling, and taking
the time - do it the lazy man's way. My family has used this method for
decades - and I have never once even seen a flame catch onto the front
step of a stove - or onto a hearth. Do not worry about a little "over-spill".
Lighter fluid burns very, very cool. After you learn this method - you
will enjoy watching your friend or neighbor demonstrate his fire starting
skills -- while you gaze at his rear-end for ten minutes as he demonstrates
his fire-starting expertise. This method horrifies people who don't understand
it - and that must be respected. If you must use kindling, make a 2 - 3
high stack of kindling laid like a log-cabin over rolled up newspaper.
When the kindling is going - add the logs. NEVER
- EVER use gasoline! Gasoline is explosive and is very, very
dangerous. Do not imagine that the lazy man's
"lighter fluid" method might ever be applied by using gasoline. Gasoline
should never even be brought into a home.
When buying firewood, remember that
first and foremost, it must be properly seasoned. The best way to get seasoned
wood is to buy THIS years wood for NEXT
year! Don't be scared by "green oak."
Green oak is the buy this year for trouble free use next year. Wood
sellers will often tell you that even though this wood was split this
year, it will be just fine. Except in the cases of fir or pine,
that is not true. Look for gray, or darker, brittle wood that has a
lot of cracks in the inner rings. Seasoned wood might look gray, or dark
or dingy because it has been sitting sitting in the sun, drying, and collecting
dust for a while. But, if you split it: it's dry and very WHITE inside!
Unseasoned wood has the fresh clean look of new lumber at a building supply
store. Unseasoned wood has that same fresh look on the INSIDE when
it's split. Though the older, seasoned wood is darker on the outside, it's
bone white on the inside - which means thai it really is seasoned.
Remember, when wood gets over 5-6 years
old, it does start to deteriorate, so the
best wood is 2-3 years seasoned.
If you find good dry wood of any kind, you will really enjoy your fireplace!
But, if you get stuck with green wood you will be one very frustrated wood
burner. Most wood for sale is "this years" wood. If you get serious about
wood burning, you must always think one full year ahead! You
should always buy this years wood for for NEXT year. Good
buys of seasoned wood do come along, but they are often not advertised,
because the serious wood burners already know where to go. If you are a
first time wood burner, either buy dry, split fir, or hunt down really
dry, cracking hardwood. You won't be sorry if you spend a little more money,
just to make sure that you enjoy trouble free firewood.