The cold season is well under way and there’s certainly enough chill in the air to warrant a few nights by the fire. Whether you have an inbuilt chimney or a portable wood heater, you need to feed some logs to those flames.
Good firewood should burn efficiently, emitting heat for longer periods and releasing a minimal amount of smoke. Part of this depends on where your source your wood, but it also helps to know the kind of wood you should use.
Ideally, you should buy wood from a reliable, certified supplier. These kinds of businesses have a reputation for sourcing sustainable wood, and they use environmentally conscious suppliers. They are also more likely to have constant stocks. A lot of these companies will even deliver the wood to you and can stack it at a small fee.
If for whatever reason you’d prefer to fetch your own wood in the wild, you can. It’s a cheaper option and can be quite fun. But before you go off into the woods, check your regional regulations. Not all neighbourhoods allow residents to forage, and you could end up getting in trouble.
Once you have permission to go wood-collecting, check the ground before you look at the trees. Firewood needs to be as dry as possible so that it can burn properly, and twigs on the ground are generally drier than branches that are still attached to the tree. When we’re talking about dry wood, we’re not necessarily talking about water. Branches are wet because they contain tree sap and other fluids from inside the tree. These moist branches won’t burn well, so they don’t make good firewood.
Ground moisture is an issue too, so check that you’re collecting twigs and logs which have minimal ground precipitation, especially with winter rains to contend with. If you can’t find enough wood on the floor, you can grab low-hanging branches. Focus on the ones that are about to fall off, because they’re more likely to be dried out. The more easily they snap off the tree, the drier they are, and the better they will burn.
Hardwood burns longer than softwood, so most of your foraged stash should be from hardwood sources like oak trees and nut trees. Softwood is less dense, so it burns faster and runs out quicker. It’s not ideal for overnight fires, but you can pick a few softwood logs to help your fire get started.
In many areas, logging is illegal, so you can’t cut down live trees for firewood. But if you find a tree that has already fallen, then you can harvest it for wood. You can use an axe, a chainsaw, or a wood splitter, but make sure you’re familiar with these tools.Otherwise you’ll chop off a lot more than dried wood.
The easiest option is still to buy wood from a firewood supplier. They will have harvested it earlier in the year and dried it out, ready for use. Your supplier can help you choose the best wood for your needs, but it helps to know a few tricks of your own.
Visit the supplier at least initially, so that you know the kind of wood that you’re getting. You can always have the wood delivered for subsequent orders. At the supplier’s lumberyard, check to see if the wood is stored in covered areas to keep it dry. Wet wood is never good.
If you’re choosing your own logs, don’t take the wood at the front of the pile. It’s probably fresher, wetter wood. Instead, dig into the back where the older, drier ones are stacked. Cracked wood is good wood, because cracks suggest the wood is dry.
Your natural reflex will be to pick rich, brown wood because it looks fresh and healthy. Firewood needs to be old and ratty for better burning, so look for logs that are grey and dark. Zone into the logs that have no bark. Why? Bark attaches to branches through moisture, so a piece of wood that still has its bark is probably still wet on the inside.
Another instinct is to grab heavy logs. They have more heft, so you’ll assume you’re getting more value for money. Unfortunately, most of that is water weight, so go for lighter, drier pieces that will burn faster, longer, and with less smoke than fresh, moist, heavy branches.
When you’re buying a watermelon, you often shake it and hold it against your ear, even though you have no idea why. Here’s a similar quirk you can use on wood. Take two logs and bang them together. If they sound hollow, it means the moisture has drained out and the plant vessels inside the wood are dry, which is good.
Wherever you source your wood from, you might be wondering how much you should buy. One cord is usually enough for the winter. It contains wood that is 1.2 metres by 2.4 metres by 1.2 metres when stacked. Stored wood needs plenty of air circulation to keep it dry, so stack the logs at criss-crossed angles with lots of room between logs to allow ventilation.