It might be the start of spring, but when it comes to preparing your wood burning stove for the first burn it's never too early to start considering your firewood. Whilst pre-cut logs offer a convenient and fuss-free option, sometimes there's nothing quite like sourcing and chopping your own timber. This process can be a really rewarding and satisfying one, but it requires a bit of skill and forethought.
Follow our tips and tricks for chopping, splitting, stacking and storing your own firewood, so that you're stove-ready come autumn.
If you’re looking to obtain firewood from the source, there are a few things you’ll need to consider. “Can I collect firewood from public land?” is a common question, and the answer, quite simply, is no. All trees in the UK are owned, which means that the seemingly harmless act of taking wood from woodland or similar is actually considered illegal. In old English law, ‘estover’ rights gave the public freedom to take wood from common / public land for personal use. Today, most public-owned woods belong to the Forestry Commission, which states that “wood lying on the ground in woodlands is the property of the woodland owner, and removing it without permission is technically theft”. To avoid any potential issues, make sure you get permission from the landowner if taking or purchasing wood from private property.
When sourcing from a fallen tree, timing is crucial. You should ideally cut your logs at least 6 months prior to burning; late winter or early spring months are ideal to allow the wood sufficient time to dry. Freshly cut wood is exceptionally high in moisture; the ideal water percentage for firewood is between 12 - 20%, so the timber needs time to allow for maximum water evaporation.
When chopping your logs ready for splitting, the best tip is to keep the ends as flat and square as possible to ensure a level, sturdy surface. In terms of length, the shorter the log the easier and safer it will be to split with an axe. This will also help to speed up the drying process, and be more compatible with the space in your stove’s combustions chamber.
Safety should be your first priority when you’re ready to start splitting logs. Make sure you perform the task in an area with adequate room that is away from people and has plenty of free space to accommodate for the swing of an axe. You should always wear eyewear to protect against flying debris.
Set the chopping block on a flat surface to allow for a good footing. The block itself should be low to the ground and not come up any higher than your knee. When you’re ready to chop, keep both hands firmly on the handle of the axe. Place your log vertically on the chopping block and aim for any natural grains in the wood; they will split far easier along these structurally weaker lines. If you’re trying to split larger pieces of wood, it may be that the axe stops midway through the log. If so, try to flip the log with the axe handle and swing the reverse side of the axe onto the chopping block. The weight of the log should naturally finish the split.
Depending on the amount of firewood you’re planning to store, a simple pre-built rack is a good option as long as it’s sturdy and placed on level and dry ground. If storing your logs outdoors, opt for an area that is out of direct rainfall and in the sunniest spot. In terms of stacking, pile your wood loosely enough that air can circulate around it to optimise the drying process. To help prevent rotting, try to elevate the bottom of the wood store off the floor using a treated material base. Tree bark is a natural moisture barrier, which can slow down the drying process as it restricts all-round water evaporation. However, the bark can also prove to be useful when storing. On the base of your pile, place the bark side down to further protect the wood from standing water or snow, and on top, face the bark upwards to assist with repelling rainwater.
After the 6-month period, your logs should be ready to burn in your Arada stove! But be aware that different species will have different seasoning lengths. Hard wood such as oak can take in excess of a year to full season. How can you tell if your wood is ready? Seasoned timber will be greyer and less vibrant in colour, it will also display radial hairline cracks along the edges. Due to the evaporation of water, the logs will also weigh less than fresh wood and make a hollow sound when knocked together.
Written for the first-time stove owner in mind. In just a few easy-to-follow steps, you'll go from a cold, absolute beginner to a cosy master of a great flame in no time! Great advice for stove veterans too!
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