Often overlooked, the quality and material of what you burn is just as important as the quality and material the fireplace is made from.
In 1930, Celia Congreve, a World War I era poet and author, penned the Firewood Poem,
In it, she lists different types of wood and their burn qualities. Unfortunately, lovely rhymes don’t make for the best wood-burning advice. Here are 3 things to know about having wood burning fires in your fireplace.
Have the right tools
A set of fireplace tools is essential. Not only do they look traditional and classic by the fireplace, they are necessary for keeping the fire in control and for cleaning up the area afterwards. We are all familiar with the pokers and log talons, but one great tool is the bellows. A bellows is an accordion-like gadget that delivers a directed stream of air to the fire. This tool is handy when a fire is struggling to start. A quick puff of air to a coal can give it the oxygen it needs to flame up. A bellows works much more efficiently than fanning the flames, which often spreads ashes.
Buy and use the right wood
Mrs. Congreve’s poem aside, any kind of wood, as long as it is dry and clean, is good for burning. Softer woods like maple and birch burn more quickly. For longer fires with lots of lingering, glowing coals, harder woods like oak and hickory are best. Be aware that some softer woods like pine may tend to build up creosote in the chimney.
Often you will hear of firewood vendors selling a “face cord.” The term refers to a stack of 16-inch wood logs that is 4 feet high and 8 foot in length that is straight stacked. But beware: a “face cord” is an informal term, and some less scrupulous firewood vendors may use it to sell a stack of wood that is less volume than expected. A correctly measured 4×8 cord is in straight-stacked wood only, and the logs are 16 inches long or more. If the vendor cross-hatch stacks your delivery, claiming it “airs out” the wood, they may not be honest with the amount of wood they are delivering. Half the amount of wood can fill up a 4×8 space when it is cross-hatched.
Clean the chimney
Creosote is an ignitable wood burning byproduct that can collect on the inside of your chimney. This kind of buildup is common in wood stove chimneys which sometimes don’t have the proper ventilation. Exposure to creosote can be a health hazard. An annual sweep by a professional should take care of any creosote buildup.
A few more tips and tricks for great fires:
- Use Fatwood Sticks as starters.
- Keep the twigs from your various yard cleanups. Dry them & use them as kindling.
- Bring in any wood you’ll be using at least a day or two ahead. Birch and Aspen will light even when damp.
- Split the wood. It’s difficult to ignite whole logs with bark intact.
- Make sure the flue is open and can stay open.
- Hold a burning stick or column of non-glossy newspaper up the chimney to start a draft before starting your fire.
- Crack open a nearby window to give the chimney more force to draw air.
- Light all four corners of the fire with a long-necked lighter.
- As always, safety first! If you didn’t check your smoke alarm batteries at the time change, check them before your first fire. And always have an extinguisher on hand.
Enjoy the fireplace season!