Best Firewood To Use With A Wood Stove?

If you ask people what they want from their firewood inevitably they talk about hot fires, long burn times and efficient combustion. But what firewood is actually the best for your stove?

The rather trite answer is "it depends". The best firewood for you depends what grows well in your area, whether you are using it for cooking or heating, and whether you are using an open fire or an air tight wood stove.

The first thing to remember is that all wood is chemically pretty much the same - one kilogram of Ash will provide pretty much the same heat as one kilogram of Elder, and the same as one kilogram of Pine. The difference comes from the density of the wood - hardwoods such as Oak and Ash can be twice as dense as softwoods such as Pine. Hence people tend to value the denser hardwoods more highly as you need fewer logs for the same amount of heating.

If you don't mind the work associated with loading logs more frequently, cutting, stacking and carrying then less dense softwoods are for the most part fine to use in wood stoves.

Locally grown firewood is generally your best bet - by sourcing your wood locally you support sustainable local forestry, prevent the risk of transporting pest insects and fungal spores and usually get your wood cheaper too! Sourcing your firewood as localy as possible is really a no-brainer.

Seasoned Firewood - the hottest, cleanest and best firewood

The best firewood possible will be well seasoned - that is it has be left to dry for a long period between being cut and being burnt.

Timber when cut can have anywhere between 40% and 60% moisture content by weight. This moisture has a big impact on how efficiently the firewood can burn and can cause a wide range of problems. Seasoning firewood for between 6 months and 3 years can reduce this moisture content to between 15% and 20% - as a result seasoned firewood ignites more easily, burns more cleanly and has greater heating value in your stove.

Check out our page on seasoning firewood for ideas for getting the most from your green firewood. Seasoning firewood is an issue that will be covered elsewhere but in general:

  • split wood, down to 3" or so thick, dries faster than thick wood
  • the wind and sun are your friends - stack firewood so that they get as much of both as possible
  • dense hardwoods generally need longer seasoning than softwoods
  • try to keep off rain but keep the sides of the stack open

As it can take upwards of a year to season the best firewoods you should be planning your wood needs a full year in advance - buy fresh cut logs in autumn for the following winter. Even further ahead is better if you have the space.

If you don't have the space to buy green wood and season it you could try buying kiln dried firewood - you pay a premium for the convenience but get wood that will burn reliably.

Problems associated with unseasoned firewood

  • Trying to burn fuel that is improperly seasoned is frustrating and, at its worst, could lead to a chimney fire. Here are some of the problems you might face:
  • Creosote build up - moisture in the wood means a cooler firebox, cooler chimney and hence greatly increased creosote deposits in the chimney. Creosote is the major cause of chimney fires.
  • Wood stoves burning wet firewood run at a lower temperature and struggle to achieve complete combustion of the wood gases - hence the stoves smoke sending valuable unburnt gases up the chimney
  • The energy required to drive off the excess water is lost as the steam is carried up and out of the chimney - less heat is available to be transfered to the room
  • You need substantially more wet firewood to achieve the same amount of heating so need more fuel to get through the winter

What is the best firewood log size?

This depends on your wood stove - in general you want pieces that are as long as possible but fit comfortably in your wood stove.

Longer pieces stack more easily and make stable wood piles - important if you are storing large amounts of firewood for long periods. Long pieces of wood are no use, however, if you can't fit them in your stove to burn them. For ease of use we try and keep our pieces 3" or so shorter than the full width of our stove. This makes it easy to load pieces without having to jam them in and reduces the risk of logs shifting while trying to load more fuel in. In general smaller pieces, both in length and girth, will burn more easily so if you are having trouble getting a good fire going try splitting your wood smaller.

Over the past few years we have found that large pieces of wood burn slowly and it can be awkward to load more logs in around a large slow burning log. We now prefer to split our logs smaller than previously and load them more regularly (in reality it is only a few seconds work every 45 minutes or so) - the fire tends to burn more cleanly and maintain more even temperatures through the evening.

The other advantage to splitting firewood more thinly is that the logs season more rapidly meaning we get the best from the firewood.