During our recent cold snap the temperature reached -16C overnight, a very cold snap indeed for us in the south of England, and in the shed in the morning it was still -10C so a bit too cold for turning on the polelathe. Time to build up the fires inside and the quality of the firewood makes quite a difference to the ability to keep the house warm when its that cold.
I’ve found that the choice of firewood for the coldest part of the year is well worth putting some thought into. In recent years I’ve taken to putting aside some of my driest best firewood for the cold snaps when they come.
My mother was a talented caligrapher and some years ago she sent me a version of the old poem ‘Wood for Burning’ – and there is no smoke without a fire as they say – it’s as a good a guide to choosing your firewood as you can get, so here is her version again in case you missed it last time around.
All wood will burn and per Kg they all give about the same heat, but everyone has their favourite firewood. Oak, Beech and Hawthorn are common favourites but why is Ash said to be the best?
I think the answer lies in the density and moisture content of the wood. The denser the wood the more heat it can release when it burns but in my experience the densest timbers can take years to season. When you try to burn them the high density of the wood slows the burning process down and if they still have too high a moisture content they burn even more slowly and don’t provide enough heat.
The obvious solution is to split and dry your firewood in the sun then store undercover for some years until you need it. That’s fine, but not everyone has enough Oak woodland or a barn for a log store to enable firewood to be stored for years in advance to season and dry. Knowing which woods will need less seasoning and can even be burnt green can be key to keeping warmer in the winter.
Winter felled Ash is relatively low in moisture content in comparison with other woods and it’s medium density open grain means it will dry faster than the denser woods – hence the references in the poem to burning ash wet or green. Also it tends to grow straight grained, is easy to chop and split and it doesn’t smell bad on the fire so it comes out as a good all round compromise.
Mind you, I don’t get a lot of spare Ash – it’s too good for turning on the polelathe, so my favourite logs to burn are a combination of Birch with Oak or Beech. The Birch starts the fire and burns very hot and fast, when mixed with Oak or Beech the fire burns both long and hot. Oh and Birch does smell good on the fire as well!