Growing Green: The logarithms of fireplace logs
Choosing firewood to burn in your fireplace or wood-burning stove is much like selecting any favorite item.
The fuel-wood connoisseur will want to choose his or her wood carefully and weigh his or her needs and tastes before building a fire.
Softwoods, like pine, spruce and fir, are easy to ignite because they are resinous. They burn rapidly with a hot flame.
However, since a fire built entirely of softwoods burns out quickly, it requires frequent attention and replenishment.
This characteristic of softwoods can be a boon if you want a quick, warming fire or a short fire that will burn out before you go to bed or before you step out for the evening.
For a long-lasting fire, it is best to use the heavier hardwoods such as ash, beech, birch, maple and oak. These hardwood species burn less vigorously than softwoods and with a shorter flame.
Oak gives the most uniform and shortest flames and produces steady, glowing coals. When you have several oak logs burning in your grate, you can settle back for a steady show of flame.
Aroma is best derived from the woods of fruit trees such as apple and cherry, and nut trees such as beech, hickory and pecan. Their smoke generally resembles the fragrance of the tree’s fruit.
Wood from fruit and nut trees may sell for more per cord than wood with greater heating values, but they generally are steady producers of flame.
By mixing softwoods with hardwoods, you can achieve an easily-ignited and long-lasting fire. Later, by adding some fruit or nut woods, you will capture the nostalgic wood smoke aroma, as well.
The heat that a log produces depends on the concentration of woody material, resin, water and ash. Since woods are of different compositions, they ignite at different temperatures and give off different heat values. Therefore, it is beneficial to mix light and heavy woods to achieve the ideal fire.
The most common measure of firewood volume is the cord. A standard cord can be described as a well-stacked pile of logs, 4 by 4 by 8 feet. A ton of air-dried dense hardwoods, such as oak, hickory or maple, is equal to approximately one-half of a cord.
If you buy your wood by weight instead of volume, look for the driest wood. Don’t pay for extra water.
Logs are sold in different lengths and thicknesses. The sizes you buy should depend on the size of your fireplace or wood-burning stove and the amount of time you want to take to get your fire going.
Purchase logs that will fit when laid across your grate. Logs too large to burn readily may be split. Extra heavy logs may be split to more manageable size.
Short lengths are generally easier to split than longer logs. Straight-grained, knot-free wood is easier than crooked-grain. Green or wet wood splits more readily than seasoned wood and softwoods usually split more readily than hardwoods.
Elm, blackgum and locust are so difficult to split that they are rarely used as kindling. When kindling is needed, short lengths of straight-grained fir or pine will split ready and prove more satisfactory. Small twigs and branches found in your yard are good as they often do not have to be split and dried.
When you buy wood, request a mixture of wood species and diameter sizes. Although the wood should be generally sound, don’t worry about small pockets of rotten wood you may find in the logs.
Most wood species will not burn if freshly cut, so the wood you purchase should be reasonably dry or “seasoned.” The surest way of having dry wood is to purchase it several months prior to using it.
Splitting logs hastens drying. Split logs or small round logs should be stacked outside under a roof for six to 10 months before burning.
Firewood and woodpiles can attract termites and other insects, drawing them closer to your home. The insects can migrate from the piles of wood to the housing structure. To avoid an invasion, stack wood at least 20 feet away from your home.
Go enjoy the warmth of a fire and don’t even think about the cold weather outside.
Spotted Lanternfly Update: Be on the lookout for spotted lanternfly egg masses. For information on what to look for and how to destroy the eggs: extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly.
“Growing Green” is contributed by Lehigh County Extension Office Staff and Master Gardeners. Information: Lehigh County Extension Office, 610-391-9840; Northampton County Extension Office, 610-813-6613.