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How to choose, buy, and store your wood stove fuel

The next step after the purchase of a new wood stove or wood stove insert, you must now acquire the fuel to make it functional. So many people make the mistake of rushing out and buying any wood that is available, quite often in doing so, you end up buying fuel that is not ready for efficient burning. Buying fuel that is unsuitable may create pollution and more importantly may create potential hazards such as a chimney fire.

To start to understand wood fuel we must first learn about the tree the wood comes from. Trees are classified into two categories; hard wood and soft wood. This classification is based on the solidity of the tree, which in turn affects the amount of heat the wood would provide. The harder the wood the more dense it is, and therefore would produce more BTU’s (British Thermal Unit) per cord. Also the harder the wood is the longer the wood would burn in comparison to soft wood. This would then increase the burn time of the fuel you have loaded. For these reasons, hardwood would normally be sold at a premium price.

Wood, after it is cut down from the tree and split, must go through a drying or aging process before it can be efficiently used as fuel. When wood is first cut down from a live tree, it is called green wood, the moisture content is anywhere from 40 to 60%. If you try to burn the green unseasoned wood, you will normally see moisture bubbling or steaming out of the wood as the any heat from the green wood is going toward trying to dry out the wood. This is a huge waste of energy and resources. You might as well turn on those expensive gas, electric, or oil heaters as they will operate efficiently and will be cheaper to operate.

Seasoned wood quite often is a term that wood cutters use. Many times it is used to disguise the fact that the wood is actually fresh cut or has not been thoroughly dried. Do not interpret this term to mean that the wood is seasoned enough to be ready to be used as a fuel to heat your home it usually is not ready and will require a lot more time of drying to be ready for efficient and safe heating fuel.

Dry wood is what is needed to be an efficient fuel. Seasoned dry wood needs to have moisture content of 12% or less. It usually takes approximately one year for cut wood to reach this moisture content.

Compressed wood is actually made from waste product, such as sawdust or wood chips, and then pressed into logs similar to presto logs. Do not confuse Presto Logs with compressed logs, both resemble each other, but products such as Presto Logs can have a lot of binder combined with the sawdust that can coat your chimney and could potentially cause a chimney fire. It is suggested to leave Presto logs for the occasional used in an open fireplace. Compressed wood on the other hand can be a good source of fuel. The logs are dry and usually fairly clean to use, this means that compressed wood will burn correctly in your wood stove. However, compressed logs are usually more expensive then buying wood itself.

A Simple Wood Moisture Test Add one large piece of wood to the top of an established fire. If it starts to burn on three sides. Within one minute, it is dry and seasoned and right for burning. If it turns black and starts to burn. In three minutes, it is damp. If it turns black and does not start burning until after five minutes, it Is green and wet. If it hisses at any time the wood is soaked and will not burn until excess moisture is boiled away.

Wood is usually sold by the cord. A cord of wood is stacked 4’ high X 4’ wide X 8’ long. Let your discursions be your guide and try to compare the amount of wood to a cord in order to get a true value. Some consumers actually buy the logs by the truckload at a considerable saving. But be prepared for some messy backbreaking work, as the logs have to be cut, split into smaller pieces and stored for one year.

If you purchase the wood from a wood lot or dealer, don’t just ask if the wood is dry. You need to know if the wood is seasoned or not, quiet often, in the wood business the old saying of Let the Buyer beware still hold true. Be sure that you are getting what you are paying for. Not only the dryness of the wood but the actual amount of wood. A good guide would be to physically pickup the wood. Dry seasoned wood is much lighter then green wood. Your best strategy is to purchase the wood a year in advance, spit and store the wood in a dry ventilated place. If you don’t have the year, purchase in the spring, cut split, and stack it then cover with a black tarp or plastic. The black tarp or plastic will help heat the wood, creating a capillary effect, in the wood drawing out the moisture and letting it run down the black covering. If you wait till fall, you will need to find a source of dry wood, and probably you will pay a premium for actually dried wood, not just short time seasoned. If you are unable to find dried firewood, you might consider purchasing, pressed logs that are made from waste wood products such as sawdust. This is a better alternative than using green firewood.

Having followed all the above preparations and your wood is now stored and dried be prepared for one of the warmest most comfortable heat for you home you have ever experienced.