The best firewood for wood burning stoves, plus stacking, storing and fire-building tips
As winter approaches, re-stocking your firewood supplies is on the agenda. We choose the best types of firewood, give advice on stacking logs and how to light a fire. Words Louise Allen, photographs Andrew Montgomery
The glow of a fire pit or wood burner is a welcome sight during the winter months. The flickering flames, the cracking and popping of burning bark and the delightful smell of woodsmoke all help to forget the gloomy darkness outside. To help you prepare for the months ahead, we've picked the best wood for burning and give tips for stacking your log pile and building the perfect fire. For more, head to our piece on the best tools to chop kindling. and don't miss our round up of the best log stores.
Here's our guide to the best wood for wood burners
The best wood for wood burners
Ash tree wood produces a steady flame in fires with a good heat and burns well even when green. It will burn successfully on its own, so does not need to be burned in a mix of different species. Perfect wood for a wood burning stove or wood burner too. Traditionally said to be the best wood for burning.
Oak is the slowest wood to season, at approximately 2.5cm a year and ideally should be seasoned for a minimum of two years. Because of its density, it is a wood that's slow to burn as firewood and is best used in a mix of faster-burning logs. This wood can help to keep the fire burning at night if required.
Birch makes excellent firewood for burning on a wood burner, stove or in an open fire. This wood produces a good heat, although it burns relatively quickly, so in a fire, it’s best to use it in a mix of slower-burning woods, such as elm or oak. Birch will burn unseasoned although the sap can cause a build up of deposits in the flue. The bark can be peeled off and used as a natural firelighter for wood or log burners.
Beech is a superb wood for burning, although it has a high water content so needs to be dried well; ideally, it should be seasoned for three years before use. It does not need to be burned in a mix and can be burned in a wood burning stove too.
Cherry wood burns slowly with a good heat output in a fire or wood burning stove and gives off a lovely aroma. The logs need to be well seasoned, although strips of the bark can also be used as natural firelighters for your log burner or fire.
Sycamore burns well in a fire when seasoned with a moderate heat output. It seasons very quickly, usually within just one year and is one of the best woods for burning. This tree can be burned on a wood burner, stove or open fire as necessary.
How to stack firewood
- Keep your wood and logs as dry as possible
The trick here is to do everything you can to keep them from getting wet or damp. Wet or damp logs will either never burn or will produce excess smoke that will line and clog your flue or – worse – escape into your room. Covering your stack of logs outside with a simple hard cover – a panel of wood propped up at both ends – will keep the rain off and still allow air to circulate around them and dry them out.
- Never stack your logs on the ground
Your firewood needs constant air circulation to stay dry and combustable. An old wooden pallet makes an ideal base – something with plenty of gaps to keep that air moving.
- Make sure your wood burning logs are under cover
But open on at least one side. This is particularly important if you use polythene to cover your logs as they need to breathe to avoid sweating. If you're keeping them indoors you may want to invest in a log holder or similar indoor storage.
- When building the wood stack
Stacking wood is like dry stone walling – there's a knack to it that you just get better at with practice! Start at the outer edge, with a supporting wall or structure, and work inwards. Work on keeping the logs level – ie of consistent size side by side, or at least filling in the gaps with smaller logs as you go – and avoid any sloping in or out. Corners can be created with one layer being laid at 90 degrees to the next, similar to the brickwork on the corner of a house.
How to make a fire in your wood burning stove, log burner or open fire
Make sure your logs are dry and fully seasoned before you bring them indoors and use a good mix of species, as they will burn at different rates. Having a plentiful supply of components to hand is essential, especially on a cold, wet night. Keep a basket full of kindling wood close to the fire so that it’s ready for use at a moment’s notice.
And we've all wanted a real fire but haven't bothered building one as we've not the time or can't bear the trouble. Why not build your fire when you have a spare moment then it'll be ready to go in an instant whenever you need it?
Here are our tips for how to light a fire.
- Soft flammable foundations
Start with a good layer of loosely rolled balls of newspaper. Don't toss on sheets. Scrumple each individually. That way the air can get in around them. Go for as fibrous a paper as possible – i.e. uncoated non-glossy newspaper. Avoid weekend supplements as many seem to be almost fireproof…
- Add a generous handful of kindling
It's easy to skimp here. You need A LOT in order to be able to toss on a leisurely larger log later. Skimp on the kindling – dry small splinters of wood to get the fire going – and you'll be doing more tending than enjoying. Start with small pieces first and larger pieces last. Don't lay them horizontally. Try to stack the pieces vertically on end – like a tee-pee – and don't pack them too tightly.
- Finish with the logs
If your burner or fireplace is big enough go ahead and add the first of your logs too. The first to go on should be smaller in size, ending with the largest on top. Your goal is to create a bed of embers that'll hot enough to ignite larger logs as you add them one by one. Time your tending right and you'll keep a fire going all night without needing to fuss around it.
- Light the paper and enjoy!
Place a match (or lighter etc) to the paper in as many places as you can for maximum chance that at least one ignition point will take a hold. If you've followed the instructions above then your fire roar into life after a minute or two. Don't get impatient and disturb your pile or you'll allow the built up heat to escape. Give it your stack a blow or two at the base if you're seeing burning edges but no flames and it'll soon burst into life. Good luck!
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