Which is the best wood to burn in my stove?

Pile of chopped logs

Which is the best wood to burn in my stove?

Wood that is free! Seriously, any wood you burn in a wood burning stove should have a moisture content of less than 20% (as stipulated by all reputable stove manufacturers) to ensure that your stove performs efficiently, you get value-for-money from your logs and your flue system doesn't get clogged and your glass stained. Burning wet or unseasoned wood can be costly and in the very worst case scenario, it could be deadly. The rubbish wood we've all burned at some time on our old open fires in most cases would probably not be good enough for a modern clean burning stove. And don't presume that the logs you can pick up from the local garage that say 'kiln dried' or 'seasoned' will be much better either. A recent survey by Wood Wales highlighted just how bad much of this forecourt wood actually is. Sadly, our experience of local suppliers of bulk seasoned wood or part-seasoned wood isn't much better as it's often not what it's claimed to be. Nearly everybody gets caught out (or burned!) with some bad wood at the start.

So what's a new 'stovie' to do?

If you follow our simple guidelines you can't go wrong (well, most of the time). We could produce an exhaustive list of wood varieties here (as seen on other websites) but the chances are you''ll never come up against most of them and, even if you did, you probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference – I know most of us here wouldn't and we handle a lot of wood. So let's think about wood for stoves in general terms...

Know what you're buying – don't automatically assume it's actually seasoned or dry – or even if it's hardwood, which makes the best wood fuel
Invest in a moisture meter and check that the moisture content of any wood you intend to burn is around about 20% or less
Don't burn any wood that doesn't meet this criteria – you'll be wasting your money and you won't get much heat
Be prepared to season your own wood – that way you'll save even more money and you'll also be sure of what you're burning. It's not rocket science either and the local insect-life and birds in your garden will love it. In addition you can buy your favourite wood when you see it and when it's at the right price
Any native hardwood is good – the slower the tree grows then the 'denser' and therefore the heavier the wood will be, even when it's fully seasoned. Heavier seasoned logs store much more energy – for example like Ash or Oak, so this naturally makes them better for burning
Expect to pay a bit more for Ash and Oak too as these are generally regarded as the best and as a consequence more people want them. However, remember that they could take up to 2 years to season, especially if we have a wet summer. Incidentally, we prefer Ash to Oak as it has better brighter looking flame – but Oak is great for lasting that bit longer which therefore makes it good for overnight burning
Don't be put off some of the other native hardwood varieties like Beech, Birch, Cherry, Chestnut and Sycamore as they all have their own merits and all need to be burned by someone – just don't pay as much for them as you wood for Ash.
Softwoods are all fine too, but they won't last as long as a hardwood log – but as long as they're cheaper or free, then burn away. If you can mix them with the hardwoods above, then so much the better
Trees from the garden – if it's grown here then it's usually fine to burn – providing it's seasoned. The only exception to this, I would say, is Laburnum – never again, it's truly awful with dense acrid smoke. The same with Hawthorn which is vicious and nasty to handle – in my opinion burning's too good for it.
Joiners' offcuts are OK too – provided they haven't been treated. These tend to be Pine or Deal or similar but they won't give you a long burn time or much heat. If you can mix these with other hardwoods it will help any resin burn off and for that reason you should not slumber burn this type of wood. Decking and other tanalised wood, is definitely out as this contains a preservative substance called CCA which contains Arsenic and gives off a really unpleasant odour which catches in your throat.
Avoid other manufactured and painted or varnished wood like plywood or MDF. Burning this is bad for the environment (it's also illegal in a Smoke Control Area) and it's probably not much better for your neighbour's lungs either. Regular burning could leave unwanted and hard-to-remove residues inside your stove and flue system
• Finally, there's a lot to be said for bulk buying a supply of kiln-dried logs when you first start out and at the same time, if you have the room and you can also afford it, also buying some locally sourced logs which you can season while you work your way through the good stuff. If you buy your kiln dried wood from a reputable supplier it's likely to be Ash, neatly cut and stacked, and in a compact and convenient wooden crate or builders bag. You should be aware that if kiln dried wood is not correctly stored it will be so dry that you may notice that it starts to absorb some of its missing moisture taking the moisture content back beyond 20%, especially as you get towards the end of the load or near the floor

When is the best time to buy wood?

If you're going to season your own wood then it's best to buy it when you see it going cheap, if it looks particularly good, or if it's the variety you prefer. Otherwise always buy your wood logs out of season when they're generally a little bit cheaper and give yourself plenty of time (up to two years with Oak) to season them and ensure the moisture content is less than 20%.
 

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About The Author: Geoff Royle is our Technical Director. He has been heavily involved in the stove industry for the last 10 years and represents Hi-Flame and Dan Skan stoves, as well as WBS and The Stove Yard, in the Stove Industry Alliance. Geoff is also a BSI (British Standards) committee member and sits on the Hetas Technical Committee which develops industry standards, regulations and installation best practice.
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