Which woods are best to burn?

warm fire

With Autumn upon us, you may be starting to think about open fires and cosy nights in front of the wood burner. You might even be stockpiling wood for the coming winter – you don’t want to run out half way through the first cold snap!

But what is the best firewood to burn? In this article we will discuss what makes a good firewood and list some of the best woods for your fireplace or wood burner that are available in the UK. We will also mention a few that you shouldn’t be using, for some very good reasons.

What wood burns the hottest?

Ideally, you will want wood that burns hot and for as long as possible with minimum smoke and soot. Top of your list should be hard woods like Ash, Oak or Alder. These feel noticeably heavier in the hand when compared to a softer wood like Pine. This is because they are denser and therefore have more stored energy to release as heat.

Soft woods like pine are can be used for kindling as they catch alight very easily if dried properly, but will burn very quickly and you would need to keep adding more to keep your fire going. Not very relaxing! A good chunk of dried oak will last more than an hour in a wood burner and will continue to generate tremendous amounts of heat with minimum smoke and soot.

Other hard woods with similar properties include Birch, Beech and Sycamore, and if you are looking for a very pleasant aroma then Cherry should definitely be on your list. In all cases you should only use wood that has been seasoned for at least a year or preferably has been kiln-dried to get the moisture content below the magic 20% mark.   In fact, when using kiln dried wood the type of hardwood used becomes less critical as it will all contain a very low moisture content.

Which woods to avoid

If you have cut down a tree in your garden you might be tempted to store it to burn in your fireplace or wood burner.  This is rarely a good idea for some very good reasons.

Even if seasoned for a considerable amount of time, most conifers and pine trees do not make a sensible choice for use in an open fire as they can have a very high moisture and sap content if not properly kiln dried. This produces a lot of messy soot without much heat, but worse of all if used on an open fire they tend to ‘spit’ a great deal sending out sparks that could burn your carpet or even injure your family or pets.

Other types of wood can generate a lot of unpleasant smelling smoke and soot, which will mean a lot of mess and extra maintenance to avoid dangerous chimney fires caused when soot deposits in your chimney or flues catch fire. Woods to avoid for this reason include Poplar, Larch and Elder.

Finally, if you are lucky enough to live by the coast you may be tempted to burn wood that you have found washed up on the beach. However, this would be a very bad idea as driftwood is saturated with salt which when burnt can release substances that are toxic to people and have even been linked to some types of cancer.

It is always best to source your wood from a quality retailer so that you know exactly what you are putting in your fireplace or wood burner.

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