In this guide, we cover what you will need to know to help you choose good firewood for your stove or appliance. Burning wood is a popular choice amongst homeowners. It is a renewable energy resource, and is better for the environment.

Firewood Pile

Choosing suitable firewood is an important step in making a good fire. It will ensure that your wood-burning stove or appliance performs to its full potential.


Moisture Content in Wood

The moisture content contained within the logs is important, as this will affect how well the logs burn. For a clean burn, with maximum heat, the drier the wood, the better. Dry wood (seasoned), will burn better than wet wood (unseasoned), which should not be burnt. This is because the fire needs to burn off the excess water contained within the wood, before any heat is generated into the room, it is also unsafe to do so.

One of the main reasons chimney fires occur is because people use the wrong type of wood on their fire. Unseasoned wood or wet wood, can release tar which can block your chimney. Wet logs produce a smouldering fire and create excessive smoke.

If you are picking your own firewood, it needs to be seasoned for at least two years in a dry area with good air circulation, before burning. Seasoning reduces the moisture content within the wood. A wood moisture meter will help you decide when your wood is ready to burn. Otherwise, dry seasoned wood is lighter, and makes a hollow sound when knocking the two pieces together.

Wood is ready to burn when the moisture content is below 25%. When buying logs, Kiln dried logs are the best option, as they are ready to burn straight away. The image below shows the moisture content in wood during the various stages of the drying process.

Moisture Content in Logs

Which Wood Burns Best?

Various types of wood have different burning capabilities, as seen in the table below.


Type of Firewood
Benefits
Ash  
  • Great for wood burning
  • Produces a steady flame
  • Has a good heat output
  • Low moisture content
Elm  
  • Can be difficult to split
  • May smoke a lot and get misty
  • Elm has a lower heat output
  • High moisture content
Pine   
  • Burns with a good flame
  • Lights easily and burns faster
  • Gives out heat quickly
  • Need to refuel more frequently
  • May form soot deposits in chimney
Oak
  • Slower burn
  • Very dense and so produces a small flame
  • Needs to season
  • Creates a lot of ash
Birch
  • Can be burned unseasoned
  • Burns well with a nice aroma
  • Gives out heat quickly
Cherry
  • Slow burn
  • Medium heat output
  • Pleasant aroma
  • Easy to split
Beech
  • Burns longer with a good heat output
  • Beech can spit, so not ideal for us on open fires 
  • May not split well
Chestnut
  • Poor heat quality
  • Produces a small flame
  • Sparks and can smoke a lot

Hardwoods, such as, ash and birch are generally best for burning. They generate a lot of heat, which will warm the room up faster. They also burn for longer, which means fewer ‘top ups’. This is ideal if you want to keep the stove running throughout the night. Hardwoods also provide a cleaner burn, which means there is less smoke, and build-up of ash and tar.

Softwoods, such as pine, are easier to source and are quite cheap. They are lighter than hardwoods, so light easily and ignite much quicker. This makes them ideal for use as kindling.

Softwoods burn quicker, which means that you will need to refuel more often. Softwood has the same calorific value as hardwood in terms of weight, but is less dense. So, you will roughly need to use twice as many logs to achieve the same heat output.

Some softwoods may be vulnerable to cracks. When burning, the wood may produce excessive smoke, crackle and spark, which can be dangerous, particularly on an open fire.

The advantages and disadvantages of burning softwood logs and hardwood logs are summarised in the tables below.


Softwoods

Softwood Advantages
Softwood Disadvantages
Relatively cheap to buy  
Burns fast, so regularly refueling required
Ignites quickly  
May be vulnerable to cracks
Ideal for use as kindling 
May crackle and spark
Seasons quickly
Produce less heat than hardwood logs

Hardwoods

Hardwood Advantages
Hardwood Disadvantages
Provides a good amount of heat  
Takes longer to season
Clean burn   
Will cost more than softwood logs
The fire burns for longer, so fewer 'top ups'
Slower burn

Log sizes

Make sure your firewood is cut to suitable lengths, so that the pieces are easy to handle, load and position within the stove or appliance.

Logs should be cut to lengths of 15 – 30 cm, to ensure that they fit within the appliance. They must be split to no more than 10cm diameter, to ensure that they will burn properly. This also helps remove excessive moisture contained within the logs.

Small logs are great for getting the fire started quickly, whereas the larger logs are great for a long all-night burn.


Final Thoughts

Choosing the correct fuel, will help you get the most out of your wood-burning stove or appliance. Wood is ready for use on the fire when the moisture content is below 25%. Hardwoods, such as, Ash and Birch are an excellent choice for wood burning, as they provide a clean burn, produce lots of heat and last longer.

Have we missed anything? Please leave your comments below.