Some miscellanious tidbits on firewood.

There are always some ideas on firewood and what is best or how one should or should not do something.

I have accumulated a few of these and actually found some solid research and answers for a few.

The first is should pieces of wood be split from the top down or the bottom up?

This is not really as important as most people today do not actually have to split their wood and if they do often have a hydraulic splitter.  But if you do have to split the old fashioned way you may be interested and old timers will often swear by one or the other.  Sometimes the old timers do not agree but swear theirs is right!   Well this is an interesting one as studies and performance of several careful experimental tests have clearly shown that there is no advantage at all in either direction – it does not matter as both have similar results in every single test performed.  However, it is best if the wood is split along naturally formed lines or cracks already present during drying as this can significantly reduce the required effort in splitting the wood.

Does wood split easier if frozen?

Another one which people will argue over – some feel it will simply snap apart if brittle from frost.  Well again there has proven to be very little difference if frozen or not – unless there are knots present.. in which case it is actually more difficult to split when frozen!

How long should wood be seasoned or dried?  Some say one year – some say two years – what do tests and studies say?

Well this is interesting.  The studies demonstrated clearly that wood drives quite quickly if it is split and stacked with exposure to wind and sunlight.  Natural airflow through the wood pile will dry quite quickly!  In fact the pieces cut to 12″ length were dry in as little as two or three months; if extended to two feet (24″) it took longer – actually six to seven months long!  And if in four foot lengths then it did take at least a year to dry properly.

Does covering a wood pile help it dry?

Well first of all – the sides should not be covered – the air and wind still needs to get to the wood pile.  But if the top is covered there was a very slight improvement but hardly noticeable in most of the tests done (except in tests done in very high humidity climates).

Does wood dry faster if split?

Depends on diameter – some smaller logs actually did not make much difference but larger logs did dry somewhat more quickly.  The cuttig of length and stacking was actually more important.

Generally speaking there was little value measured in any firewood drying longer than 9 months except for longer cut lengths (4 foot or longer).   If cut to 4 foot lengths and stacked for 9 months – cut just before burning it likely will not burn well as it is still too wet.  (remember 4 foot lengths take longer to season properly).

Heating Your Home With Wood – Some Easy Lessons

For those who have not grown up with wood heat; it can be very different.  Not the same as the gas or electric heat with an easy to turn up thermostat when you want more heat.  In fact many today would struggle with the age old; yet somewhat primitive wood heating systems.    Lighting and maintaining a fire – providing the right amount of heat – takes a bit more know how than simply adjusting a dial on a thermostat.
It actually begins long before the heat is needed; one has to obtain the wood; and just how much wood do you need?  How do you cut it – split it – stack it and store it?

Number One – Finding The Right Wood Is Essential – wood stoves are designed to burn seasoned wood.  This is wood that has dried to the point of reducing much of the moisture content – to a level typically of 20% moisture content or slightly less.  Freshly cut trees are full of water – it can take months – six months – a year – or even more to get the wood to a moisture level that is good for burning.  Some may ask why 20% moisture – but you can actually dry wood too much – 20% is the maximum moisture content – but it can be slightly dryer.  This is the range the stoves are actually tested at and the area they are designed to burn.  To dry the firewood – it should be stacked allowing air and sunlight to reach the wood – you can put a covering on the very top but leave the sides open.  Do not simply leave the wood in a pile – a pile or heap of wood will not dry but will rot and or mould.

There are several firewood species and all have pros and cons –  good hardwood species (sugar maple – red oak – beech) provide long burning; hot fires – but can be too hot for some of the year and are best mixed with other wood species (white birch – ash – soft maple).    Some other species often not considered also are fine if mixed – even pine, poplar, basswood or willow make good firewood but provide less heat per stick and burn faster.  Some think wood like pine produces more creosote – not so – and in fact parts of the country only burn conifer as a wood for their fires – they have no other supply!  The University of Georgia is reporting this old wisdom to be false, with research proving that creosote forms from burning low-temperature fires, not resin-rich woods. As with any other species – as long as it is seasoned properly then creosote is not a problem.  However, as with many other softwood species, pine will burn very fast and hot so often best to use as kindling and/or mix with a harder wood species to slow the burn a bit.  And finally never use construction wood, especially those pieces which have been treated due to the dangerous toxins in the gases.

Building a fire is not that hard, and as long as the fire triangle is complete the fire will burn.  The fire triangle consists of fuel/heat/oxygen – now some have problems getting the fire started due to lack of good kindling or smaller wood to start the fire.  To help you in that area; consider something like a cedar fire starter – you can read about a brand of them here.    Or you can buy them at a lower cost right here in Penetanguishene at Home and Cottage Centre.   I guarantee once you try them you will never use anything else.

As far as how much firewood you will burn in any given season – there are many factors to consider.

a) the efficiency of your fireplace or wood stove – newer highly efficient wood burning systems will use less wood.  Also the Rumford fireplace will provide a lot more heat than the normally designed conventional fireplace of today – it is a design made for both beauty and efficiency!

b) the species of wood you burn – a cord of hard wood will provide more heat than the same cord of a softer and lighter species.

c) the size and type of appliance (stove or fireplace) – this also goes along to some degree with efficiency.

d) how often you use the wood heat – is this your primary heat or do you just use to take a chill off or sit and enjoy the wood fire?

e) how well insulated your home is can also be a factor.

f) as well as how warm you like the house to be – each degree upward takes more energy – be it wood, gas or electricity it is a matter of physics.

g) how cold the winter is where you live.

With decent wood – and a good wood stove most can heat in our area of Midland / Penetanguishene for 2.5 to 3 cords of firewood a year.

Keep in mind that wood heat is also most often centralized heat and you may need fans to move the air around the home to help eliminate the cool spots.

And once winter is over – don’t forget to call the Chimney Sweep!

Best Firewood in North Simcoe – Midland and Penetanguishene

I often get asked what is the best firewood.  Honestly the best firewood is some that is properly seasoned.  Now seasoned firewood by definition is properly seasoned.  Now every firewood producer will tell you their wood is dry and properly seasoned.  Well by definition seasoned firewood is wood that contains 20% moisture content or less.  Now be easy on the less side as your wood can actually be too dry.

What are some signs of properly seasoned firewood; well I have a moisture meter to help me but not everybody has one.  First of all, it should have been cut, split and piled for a year.  Wood left unsplit will not season properly and wood not piled properly will not dry – but will mildew and rot first.  Air and sunlight needs access to the wood surface to allow it to season properly.   Yes, properly seasoned wood will burn hotter, produces less smoke and less creosote buildup in your chimney.

But if it is seasoned what is good species.  Well actually a mix is likely the best.  Oak is good but will burn hot if dry; ash and birch on the other hand will burn quickly.  But mixing them works well.

In the Midland and Penetanguishene area look for birch, ash, sugar maple (or hard maple), beech, red oak or black cherry.  Because you are buying by volume try to avoid poplar, soft maple, pine or other less dense wood.  Having said that if you can get some cedar or even pine in small volume for less money, it makes great kindling.

Now when I say to avoid these species; it is because you will get less value for your dollar, not because they burn worse or cause more creosote.  Some think species like pine cause greater creosote, university studies have actually proven this to be nothing more than a myth.

There are good firewood suppliers in the Midland and Penetanguishene area and there are not so good firewood suppliers.  I try to keep a list of ones I know are great and update it based upon feedback from customers.  If you have a great supplier please send me the info and I will check it out myself and if I agree will post the info online and spread the word.

Bad smelling firewood.

Have had customers from time to time mention the smell of firewood.  All firewood stored outdoors will have some humidity in it even when seasoned; and with that some wood can carry an odour.

Even when wood is down to 20% level of moisture – which is considered seasoned by the woodstove manufacturers – it can still contain enough moisture to emit a smell.

Some wood is worse than others – one we have around here that can smell bad is Red Oak.  Best to not put the wood indoors – some like to store inside – but please know in advance it can smell.

Also note that storing wood indoors – on any wood or woodstove site – will NOT be recommended for a few reasons.  In fact I don’t think I have ever seen a reputable site which recommended storing inside – reasons to not do so include.

These include – adding moisture to your home – making the firewood too dry (yes it can be too dry and there are other blogs I have explaining that) – adding unpleasant odours to your home – bringing pests and insects indoors with the wood – potentially causing a fire hazard (do not stack close to heat – wood stove – in fact in most cases keep back 48″ from stove).

So yes there can be nasty odours from firewood – some worse than others.  Oak in our area can be one of the worst – yet is also a highly desirable wood.  If you are going to bring it inside – despite all the above – try to tell the wood supplier you do not want any oak in the mix.