The glow of a wood burning fire 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 to burn and give tips for stacking your log pile and building the perfect fire.
Which woods to burn
Ash produces a steady flame 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. Traditionally said to be one of the best woods for burning.
Oak is the slowest timber 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 slow to burn and is best used in a mix of faster-burning logs. It can help to keep the fire going at night if required.
Birch makes excellent firewood, producing a good heat, although it burns relatively quickly, so it’s best to use it in a mix of slower-burning woods, such as elm or oak. 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.
Beech is a superb burning wood, 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.
Cherry burns slowly with a good heat output and gives off a lovely aroma. Needs to be well seasoned, although strips of the bark can also be used as natural firelighters.
Sycamore burns well when seasoned with a moderate heat output. It seasons very quickly, usually within just one year.
How to stack wood
Keep your logs as dry as possible, and do everything you can to keep them from getting wet or damp.
Never stack your logs on the ground as your firewood needs constant air circulation. An old pallet makes an ideal base.
Make sure your logs are under cover but open on one side. This is particularly important if you use polythene to cover your logs as they need to breathe to avoid sweating.
When building the stack, start at the outer edge and work inwards, keeping the logs level, and avoid sloping in or out. Corners should be created with one layer being laid at 90 degrees to the next, similar to the brickwork on the corner of a house.
Creating the perfect 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.
- Start with a good layer of loosely rolled balls of newspaper – avoid weekend supplements as many seem to be almost fireproof.
- Add a good handful of kindling, small pieces first and larger pieces last. Try not to lay all the pieces in the same direction.
- Finish with the logs. The first to go on should be smaller in size, ending with the largest.
- Light the paper, sit back, watch the fire roar into life and enjoy the warming glow.
Words Louise Allen
Photography Andrew Montgomery