Since the times when we lived in caves and needed to keep sabre-toothed tigers at bay, wood fires have been part of our genetic make-up. Fortunately, modern log burning stoves mean we don’t have to constantly watch the fire - but it does need care and attention to the fuel used to keep it working efficiently and safely.
Fortunately, there's an old rhyme to guide log buyers to the best fuels:
“Beech-wood fires burn bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year;
Store your beech for Christmastide
With new-cut holly laid beside;
Chestnut's only good, they say,
If for years 'tis stored away;
Birch and fir-wood burn too fast
Blaze too bright and do not last;
Flames from larch will shoot up high,
Dangerously the sparks will fly;
But ash-wood green and ash-wood brown
Are fit for a Queen with a golden crown.
“Oaken logs, if dry and old,
Keep away the winter's cold;
Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke;
Elm-wood burns like churchyard mould,
E'en the very flames are cold;
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread -
So it is in Ireland said;
Apple-wood will scent the room,
Pear-wood smells like flowers in bloom;
But ash-wood wet and ash-wood dry
A King may warm his slippers by”
It’s still a pretty good guide – but needs a little updating to bring it into line with the high temperatures of modern stoves, and the subsequent risks to thatch:
- Fruit woods burn very hot and should be avoided in thatched properties
- Wood from pine, leylandi and other evergreens should be avoided as they contain resins which can leave a sticky residue in the chimney and increase the fire risk
Unless you’ve got your own wooded land, you will probably need to buy your logs. I’ve found that word-of-mouth is the best source, as ‘loads of logs’ advertised in local papers can be of dubious quality and the size of load isn’t fixed.
Before using logs, check carefully that they are the correct size for your stove, are hardwood, and seasoned for at least a year – if so they will be dry with plenty of cracks.
A well set-up and maintained stove is like a well-tuned car – easy to start, responsive, and not sending out thick clouds of smoke! If your stove is not performing properly, it’s likely that you’re using damp or unsuitable wood – or there’s a problem with the chimney.