Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Wood rhyme

properties of firewood

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Alder
When fully seasoned, it may burn quickly, but gives off relatively little heat. It is a firewod with a sluggish feel to it. Nevertheless it makes an excellent, steady burning charcoal.
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Apple
Apple wood is really too good to burn, as it is not so commonly available and can be made into many beautiful objects. If you have lots of it, as I did one winter, when a friend brought me a couple of old trees, it is a treasure. Save some for a special occasion because of its heavenly smell. It's a good wood for cooking fires, because it tends to glow without giving off too much flame. The smoke from an apple wood fire gives a most excellent flavour to smoked foods.
Chop the logs whilst still green, as they become incredibly hard and tough on seasoning..
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Ash
Ash is my favourite firewood and we are blessed to have a Ash coppice. An old rhyme says: "Ash, mature or green, makes a fire for a Queen."
And yes, it is true: even unseasoned Ash will give a good fire. Ash wood produces excellent heat, a nice flame and it lasts reasonably well. I also like using the branches for kindling.
We have always sawn most of our logs with a hand bow saw and Ash has the additional benefit that it is a relatively pleasure to saw and chop it.
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Beech
A very good firewood which produces both heat and flame. Beech can sometimes give off a few sparks. It is easy to chop.
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Birch
Produces a lovely fire with good heat, but it burns up quickly, so it may be a good idea to mix it with longer lasting firewoods. The bark of Birch was traditionally known as "the campers friend". Patches of the thin skin can often be peeled from the tree without damaging it. They contain an oil, which makes it a wonderful aid in kindling a fire, especially when all other wood is damp. Can be burned unseasoned if nothing else is available.
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Blackthorn
Like the wood of its sisters in the Rose family, Blackthorn wood burns steady and slow with an excellent heat and little smoke. Of course the logs tend to be small, but it is worth even using the smallest branches.
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Cedar
Has a lovely smell. A good Cedar fire will glow with a steady heat without too much flame, so it is a fine source of wood for a cooking fire. Thinner logs and branches may be burned without to much seasoning if nothing else is available. Occasional spit, but not too bad.
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Cherry
Burns like Apple, Blackthorn and Hawthorn slowly and with lots of heat. This is an other firewood to treasure.
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Douglas Fir
Burns reasonably slowly and with lots of heat.
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Elder
Traditionally Elder wood is not used for firewood, as people had too much respect for the ancient Hag Goddess living in this tree. Burning the wood is said to invite death. Gypsies were known for their habit of looking carefully through a bundle of firewood to make sure there were no Elder sticks amongst it. Like all woods, it will no doubt burn when well seasoned but I have been reluctant to try it. I'm happy to be alive just yet!`
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Elm
The famous firewood rhyme says that Elm burns like smouldering flax. The other rhyme says that it burns like 'churchyard mould'. This is probably because it is one of the woods with the highest water contents. It has more water (140%)than wood when it is green, as opposed to Ash wood, for example, which has only 50%. Sadly many people had the opportunity to use Elm as a firewood due to the thousands of these beautiful trees dying of Dutch Elm disease. We had a great pile of logs in the 80's from such a tree and found that it made a very decent fuel. It certainly kept us warm for the winter and did not seem to burn up too fast. On open fires, it may smoke a little. If you have any Elm, season it extremely well. Large logs of Elm are notoriously difficult to split, so this is best done as early as possible.
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Eucalyptus
Not very common as a firewood in this country, but there are occasionally trees available that have blown over in a garden or die in a frosty winter. It need proper seasoning due to high water content and may be difficult to split due to its stringy fibers. I have heard that some people with access to a chainsaw, slice it for this reason if the log is large enough to make chopping it a necessity. It gives a fresh medicinal smell on burning, due to its gums. A quality which has not made it a popular tree for cooking fires. Burns quite fast, but does not spit.
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Hawthorn
One of the very best and hottest firewoods. A bunch of hawthorn branches from trimming the many hawthorn hedges we are lucky to have in the UK, makes a classical faggot bundle good enough to heat old-fashioned bread ovens. Like the other woods in the Rose family, Hawthorn burns hot and slow. The smaller twigs are also well worth using. A firewood of choice for a frosty day.
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Hazel
Hazel is a good all-round fire wood for different purposes, but burns up a bit faster than most other hard woods.
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Holly
Holly logs make a lovely warm fire. The famous firewood rhyme says they burn like wax when green. I haven't tried that, but will report back later on this winter. There are some hollies growing on our woodland path, which need pruning and will give the opportunity to experiment.
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Hornbeam
This is a very hard wood and so it may be sensible to prepare it before seasoning. Makes a hot slow burning fire.
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Horse Chestnut
Produces both heat and flame, but tends to spit a lot.
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Larch
Makes a good fuel when well seasoned. Best to use in a woodstove, as it is liable to spit. Can leave an oily soot in the chimney.
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Laurel
Laurel wood is said to give a lovely flame.
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Lime
A poor fuel, which is just as well, because it is one of the finest woods for carving. Its fine structure allows great detail.
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Maple
A good fuel.
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Oak
A great firewood, but one that needs serious seasoning, ideally for 2 years. It then becomes a good slow burning fuel, which gives of lots of heat, but produces little flame. Oak, which has not been fully seasoned may give off an acrid smoke. The fire may also need the addition of a few faster burning logs to liven it up.
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Pear
Like Apple, Pear wood produces a most excellent heat and is a firewood to treasure.
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Pine
Burns well when seasoned, but tends to spit, so it's best in a stove. All resinous woods makes good kindling. They also tend to leave an oily soot in the chimney. The smell of a pine fire can be a feast for the olfactory senses.
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Plane
I have not used this myself, but have heard that it makes a reasonable firewood. It does not seem to be rated quite as highly as some of the other hardwoods and I wonder if this could be due either to its lacy structure or because it may be used more often by urban people, who do not always have the storage facilities for proper seasoning. Is there anyone out there with any experience in using this?
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Poplar
Like Willow, Poplar needs patient seasoning to become a good firewood.
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Rowan
Like all its sister and cousins in the Rose tree family, Rowan makes a good hot fire, which burns slowly.
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Spruce
Burns very quickly and sparks badly, so again: for indoor use it is best in a stove.
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Sycamore
Sycamore tends to grow prolifically and is therefore often abundant. Many people do not like this beautiful tree, because it is seen as a weed tree. In hedges it will certainly need frequent pruning. The thinner branches make great kindling wood, which are easy to break by hand once they've dried for a few months. The logs burn well, but do not give quite as much heat as some other woods like Ash. All in all this still makes a very good firewood.
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Sweet Chestnut
Not the best of firewoods. Will need careful seasoning and spits a lot.
(We received this very useful email:
"Hi, As someone who spends many a happy winter's evening in front of a glowing stove full of chestnut I was surprised to read your comments about this useful European tree. Here in France we know to leave it at least two years in the stack, after splitting, just as you suggest for oak. Chestnut is grown very widely in continental Europe, it seems to like granite and other acid soils and doesn't object to slopes or altitude. Most people coppice if they're after timber (it's great for roof planking, flooring and fencing as it resists rot and insects) but if you don't, and give selected trees a bit of space you get tons of nuts. Firewood is certainly not its top use, it can't compare to oak, fruitwood or thorn for density or heat, but there's so much of it I use it all the time." Pat Heslip)
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Walnut
Said to be a mediocre firewood. If anyone has used it, please share your experiences.
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Willow
Trying to burn willow when still green is a waste of time, because of its high water content. After sufficient seasoning it is quite good. I have only used Goat willow myself, but assume that all other willows will eventually make a decent fire too, because they are used commercially as a biomass fuel.
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Yew
Yew wood burns slowly with a fierce heat, but it would be a crime to use it in a fire. This beautiful wood may be better used for carving and turning into the most attractive objects and artifacts.

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