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What kind of wood should I
It does not matter what kind
of wood you burn: as long as it is really, truly seasoned. In the case
of hardwoods, especially oak, they must be seasoned for
over one full year! That means last year's wood - NOT this
years wood! If you're wondering about which wood is really the
best, or what 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 makes the difference,
but whether or not the wood is seasoned. Firewood that hasn't been
split for over a year isn't worth a darn! On the other hand, dry
well seasoned wood is just great! Seasoned wood burns hot and clean!
If you have trouble starting your fire,
or if you have trouble keeping your fire going, you are probably using
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. It just burns poorly and inefficiently.
It is also 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,
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 looks dark, or gray when compared to green wood - but
if you split a piece of seasoned wood - it's WHITE on the inside. It's
brittle, or gnarly. It has cracks running through each piece, and a lot
of little cracks on the inner rings.
Unseasoned wood has a wet, fresh looking center, with lighter (“drier-looking”)
wood 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 at all costs! When you get cold, you'll 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 cut down,
softwoods like fir or pine might be dry enough in just one year to burn
nicely. But, a year is not enough for hardwoods: especially oak!
As far as quality is concerned, madrone is unquestionably the best wood!
Madrone is extremely dense, HARD wood. It burns extremely HOT, and it burns
for a long time. Next, comes live oak, eucalyptus, walnut, and then all
other oaks*. 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. *White
oak is troublesome wood. Though it is often mixed in, it's a
disappointing hassle. Remember that piece of wood that just NEVER seems
to burn up? That's white oak. Stay away from large quantities green wood,
and accept as little white oak as possible - though it is difficult to
avoid it entirely.
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: definitely go with a DRY softwood, like fir. Your odds for being
happy are infinitely 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 doesn't last as long as oak or
madrone! You must feed a stove more frequently to keep it going with fir,
and there is no guarantee that there will still be live hot coals in the
morning. Cord for cord the hardwood's may be a better deal.
Hardwood's, like madrone, live oak,
eucalyptus, walnut, black oak etc., are the choice of the serious fire
burner. You may pay $300 for a cord of oak, and only $250 for a cord of
fir. BUT, because the oak is more
dense, it weighs much more than the fir. So you actually get more for your
money with hardwood. In fact, you may
get almost twice 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 hot. (Look
for oak mixed with madrone.) The fuel
available in hardwood enables stoves or inserts to sustain high 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.
is, however, always important to have a large supply of really good kindling
- because hardwood is difficult to start. Having a quantity of fir on hand
is great source of good kindling.
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! For a scrupulous first time wood
buyer, a moisture tester may be a good investment. 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 darkened, brittle wood that has a lot of cracks in the
inner rings. Seasoned wood looks gray, or dark and 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
seasoned wood is darker on the outside, it's bone white on the inside.
Once wood gets over 4-5 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 get trouble free firewood.
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