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Too Much Charcoal Building Up in a Wood Stove

Most of us appreciate wood that makes a nice bed of coals when it burns. But sometimes you can get too much of a good thing. I once had an EPA certified wood stove with a small firebox that had this problem. Sometimes a bed of slowly smoldering charcoal would build up so much that there wasn’t much room to put enough wood in to make a hot fire.

This was especially a problem during cold weather when I was going through a lot of wood 24 hours a day. The more wood I burned, the more charcoal would build up. This was also a bigger problem in cold weather because that is when I wanted to be able to put more wood in for a hotter fire. But with all the coals in the way, I had a problem and I didn’t want to let the fire die down enough to scoop the coals out because the house would get cold if I did.

EPA certified stoves are more likely to have this problem. This is because of the higher temperatures inside the firebox. This causes the more volatile and faster burning compounds to burn off quickly leaving more of the slower burning coals.

What I learned to do is to move the coals around so they would be right next to the air inlets inside the firebox. This stove had the airwash system that blew air over the door glass to keep it clean. So I would pull the coals up front as close to the door opening and piled as high as I could without the coals spilling out. Then put some small split pieces of softwood on top of the coals.

With the air blowing down on the coals and the fast burning wood on top, the coals would flare up and burn up. At least those in the direct airstream would. As they burned away I would keep pulling more into the airstream and repeating the process until the charcoal was down to a more acceptable level.

How Much is a Cord of Wood?

When people often ask me “how much is a cord of wood?”, I have discovered that some are asking how much wood is in a cord, while others are asking how much a cord of wood costs. You can find out how much wood is in a cord of wood here. The rest of this article will discuss the cost of a cord of wood.

If you want to know the cost of a cord of wood, it will all depend on the type of wood and location. Firewood is a unique commodity in that most of it is produced, sold and used locally. Unlike most things we buy, bulk firewood is usually not shipped all over the country, or far at all. Because of this, the price can vary greatly from location to location. In some parts of the US, a cord of hardwood can cost $150-$170. In other areas, the same wood will be $345-$400.

Prices vary by location depending on several factors. The abundance of raw material in the area and the distance it has to be transported between the forest and the consumer. The cost of harvesting, which can depend on forest conditions, size of the trees and how many there are per acre, type of terrain, etc. Government regulations and forced costs regarding harvesting, processing as well as taxes. Local demand as well as the socioeconomic climate in the area also are a factor. In more affluent areas, customers are willing to pay more, so the price is usually higher.

Softwood usually costs less per cord. Usually roughly 2/3 the price of hardwood. This is usually for a couple different reasons. Softwood is usually easier to process and lighter in weight so it is easier to transport. But the main reason is because there is less energy, or potential heat, in a cord of softwood than there is in a cord of hardwood.

Post a comment below and let us know what the price of firewood is in your area.

Does Burning Softwood Cause Creosote in a Chimney

I have read a lot of articles about how you should never burn softwoods because they will cause creosote to build up in your chimney, and if you do your house will likely burn down. The idea is that the resins in softwoods cause the creosote to build up. But these are mostly rumors.

Creosote buildup is primarily caused by the chimney flue cooling the exhaust gasses enough to where they start to condense onto the walls of the flue. This is the case with both hardwoods and softwoods. If these exhaust gasses are above 250 degrees Fahrenheit, they will rise out of the chimney the way they are supposed to. When the temperature of these gasses falls below 250 degrees, they condense on the flue surface and build up.

There are a couple main causes of low flue temperature. The first and maybe the most common is the wood burning appliance operator. Burning wet wood releases water from the wood and absorbs heat from the combustion and the exhaust gasses, causing it to cool. Burning wet wood is a big cause of creosote buildup.

Restricting the oxygen supply or dampering down causes the wood to burn more slowly or even smolder. This may be good for holding a fire all night, but it creates a lot of particulates and unburned gasses without a lot of heat. The cooler and dirtier gasses will likely cool enough as it rises up the chimney to deposit creosote.

The best ways to prevent this is to burn dry wood and burn hot fires instead of smoldering fires. If you want less heat, instead of throttling the air supply, simply put in less wood and make a smaller fire. This is easier done with smaller pieces of wood.

Now back to softwoods causing creosote. Resinous softwoods are well known for burning quickly but  more intense. A lot of people don’t like softwood because a lot of the heat goes up the chimney instead of radiating into the room. With more heat going up the chimney, there may actually be less creosote.

The other main cause is poor flue design. If you are burning hot fires with dry wood and still having problems with creosote, you should have an expert come inspect your system. Some poorly designed flue systems can cause the gasses to cool too fast no matter how you burn wood below.

On the flip side, there are some chimney flues that are so good that you can burn all the wet wood you want without a problem. This is partly why there are so many conflicting stories on this subject.

Even in the best cases, all wood burning flues will have some buildup and all flues should be cleaned regularly. This article is only my opinion. Contact a trained professional for real advice. If you do a search, there are a lot certified chimney cleaners who have websites with great information on keeping your flue safe and clean.

Soaking Wood Chips for Smoking and Grilling

There is a lot of debate about soaking wood chips for smoking and wood chunks for grilling. Soaking the wood in water can help keep the wood from catching on fire and helps to make the wood last longer. Wood can also be soaked in wine, whiskey, beer and other fluids to add flavor.

Should You Soak Wood Chips or Chunks in Water?

Many people swear by soaking wood with water before putting it on the grill or in the smoker. Others say it is a waste of time and not necessary. Critics claim that unless you soak the wood for weeks, in most cases only a thin outside layer of the wood will absorb the water and it will be completely dry inside. Once in your smoker or on the grill, the water quickly evaporates and the wood will be just as dry as if you hadn’t soaked it.

In some cases green wood might be a better alternative than soaked wood if you want it to last without flaming up. Using green wood can vary between species. Some will not have the same flavor between green vs. seasoned.

Cooking is an art and a lot of the time it’s a matter of trying things and finding out what works for you. It is no different when you are cooking with wood.

Keeping your smoking wood dry and ventilated is important when storing it, especially with chips. Moist wood can rot, mildew, grow mushrooms, or all of the above. As wood degrades, it can change the flavor. Some go as far as to store their smoking food in a dark place to preserve it. That sounds a little extreme to me, but maybe there is something to it.

Post your experience and opinions of soaking wood chips and chunks below. What are your favorite things to soak the wood in?

Cover Your Firewood With Metal Roofing

Cover Firewood With Metal RoofingIf you don’t have a shed or other structure to store your firewood under to keep it dry, a simple way to keep your firewood dry is to cover it with metal roofing, sometimes called tin roofing.

One of the most common ways to cover wood is with plastic sheets or a tarp. I have covered firewood with plastic for a long time, but I get tired of pulling the plastic off and on all the time. It always gets holes in it, and it always gets pools of water that collect in the low spots, which gets everything wet when I pull it off.

And tarps, I really don’t like those things. They leak after a while, and then they start to shred into those little strips that get everywhere. They eventually make a mess after they start to degrade and there will be little bits of blue or whatever color pieces all over.

If your firewood is stacked, a piece of metal roofing can be a great way to cover it. If your wood is cut to standard 16″ long pieces, a two foot wide piece of metal roofing on top of the stack will have enough overhang to keep the stack nice and dry. Unless of course it’s raining sideways. But if the wind is blowing that hard, it may also rip a tarp or plastic off anyway.

Both plastic sheets and tarps can inhibit drying of wood since they can trap moisture in. But with metal roofing, there is plenty of air flow all around the wood to keep it dry.

Metal roofing is best used with one long single stack of wood. If you want multiple stacks side by side, you will probably want to space them apart so there is enough room so that the overhangs do not touch. If you want to interlock the roofing over multiple closer stacks side by side, that is another article for another day.

If the stack is longer than the roofing, you can overlap the ends of multiple pieces. It’s best if the roofing can slope a little and the piece on the uphill side can be on top of the down slope piece so the water will run from the uphill piece onto the downhill piece instead of under it and onto the wood.

Metal Roofing Firewood CoverYou will of course have to weigh the roofing down so the wind won’t blow it off. It’s just a matter of finding something to place on top that is heavy enough to hold it down. You could also tie it down somehow. I usually just place some pieces of firewood on top. It will get wet, but you can burn those pieces next year.

Unlike tarps and plastic, metal roofing can last for decades, and you won’t have to buy new ones every year as with plastic. And with any sheet metal, always be careful, the edges and especially the corners can be sharp.


Difference Between a Cord of Split and Unsplit Firewood

I sometimes get asked what the difference is between the amount of wood in a cord of split vs unsplit wood, or larger vs smaller split pieces. Or how to measure a cord of wood that is not split. The answer to the last question is, it gets measured the same. If it is not split, you can stack the cut but unsplit pieces, or rounds, and measure them  like any other cord. But the interesting thing is, I have noticed some difference in volume between the two.

I have noticed this difference in volume when I sometimes haul firewood that is cut into rounds from the woods to the splitter. Rounds are the pieces that are cut but not yet split. In some cases, if the rounds are too big to handle, I will rip them into halves, quarters or pieces that are small enough to handle. Either way I call them rounds.

If I stack the rounds in my trailer, I can fit a full cord into it. If I take that cord of rounds and run it through the splitter, then stack the split pieces back in the trailer, I always have wood left over when the trailer is filled up to the same level that the rounds were.  So there is obviously more solid wood in a cord of large pieces, than a cord of small pieces.

The reason for this is, when the pieces are split smaller, there will be more pieces in a cord. With more pieces, there will be more air spaces between the wood. With larger pieces, the spaces may be larger, but in this case, many of the smaller spaces take up more space than the fewer larger spaces. And this is always the case regardless of whether the unsplit pieces are round quartered or cut into halves. I would say it is even more so when the pieces have flat edges.

So what does this mean? If you buy wood that is split smaller, you will get less actual wood per cord. But it’s not that big a difference. So if you like the smaller pieces, I wouldn’t go to larger pieces just because of this. I would say go ahead with the size you prefer. In a lot of cases, with some stoves, burning smaller pieces can produce a cleaner more efficient burn. In this case, you will probably still come out ahead with smaller pieces.

How much is the difference in volume? This all depends on the size of the rounds and the size of the split wood. Also how tightly it is stacked. I have not really kept track of it or measured the left overs. But I would say it’s small enough not to worry about it.

Cord of Firewood Prices and The Real Cost of A Cord of Wood

Firewood prices can vary greatly depending on your location and the type of wood you are buying. It will also depend on what type of cord is being sold. When comparing the cost of a cord of wood, you really have to consider the variables involved, otherwise it is like comparing apples to oranges. For full cords, firewood prices can range from $150 per cord to over $400 per cord. The rest of this article should help you determine if you are getting a good value when you buy firewood.

The first thing in determining the cost is to make sure you and the buyer are talking about the same thing when you are discussing a cord of firewood. A full cord is 128 cubic feet of tightly stacked wood. In many states, that is the only legal firewood measurement. But many firewood dealers try to sell firewood by the rick, face cord or fireplace cord. In many areas, these measurements are not legal because they are confusing and not not exact amounts. A rick of wood, a face cord, and fireplace cord can be as little as only 1/3 the amount of wood as a full cord. So make sure the person you are buying firewood from is selling by the full cord or fraction of a cord.  If they refuse or give you any lip about it, find someone else.

The cost of a cord of firewood will usually vary between hardwood and softwood. Dense hardwoods will usually cost more than softwood. This is because there is more energy in dense wood. You may think you are saving money by buying cheaper firewood, but if it has less heat, you may not be getting a good value. These firewood BTU charts can help you in determining the amount of heat in different types of firewood.

Green firewood will usually cost less than dry firewood. There is usually more time and labor involved in drying firewood, so sellers will usually give a discount if you buy the wood green and dry it yourself. This can be a great way to get cheaper firewood. I encourage my customers to buy green wood. Just make sure you buy it well ahead of time so it will have plenty of time to dry.

Firewood prices can vary greatly depending on what area you are in. This can depend on how much wood is grown in the area and the distance it must be shipped. In areas where there are a lot of local forest products being produced, often the price of firewood will be less since wood in the area is likely abundant. But not always. Sometimes areas with well established forest industries have more valuable, or less labor intensive uses for the wood, which makes wood for firewood more scarce. So when comparing wood prices, make sure you are comparing them in your local area.

When comparing firewood prices, be sure and factor in all the variables so you are comparing value and not just cost alone.

How To Make Sure You Always Have Dry Firewood

I hear it a lot from firewood buyers, it is hard to find a good reliable source of dry firewood in the area. It is an all too common story. People say they order wood from someone who assures them it will by dry, but when they get it, they are disappointed that it is anything but dry. Then they have to spend the rest of the winter trying to burn wet wood.

A lot of firewood dealers may not care that what they are selling is not dry. Many just don’t want to hold onto their inventory for a full year to let it dry before they can sell it. But lot of suppliers may not even realize their wood is not dry. Many people who sell firewood are just trying to make extra money and they really don’t know what they are doing. They don’t know if the wood is fully seasoned or not or even what a full cord is. They just happen to be someone with a chainsaw, a pickup, and a source of wood and they need the money.

The Solution

Firewood is a great way to heat your home, but if you do choose this source of heat, realize that you are going to have to take charge a little if you want to have a steady supply of dry wood. Most people wait until the last minute and start looking for dry wood in the late summer or fall, and some wait until after it is cold and they needed it yesterday. But my more experienced customers know not to follow the masses. Instead, they buy their wood in the spring or early summer when most people are not even thinking about firewood.

They do this because they know that if they buy it then, it will then have plenty of time to dry before winter. So it doesn’t matter if I bring them wet or green wood. Most of them actually prefer to buy it green because green wood costs less, it is usually cleaner, with fewer bugs, mold and fungus. And since fewer people are buying early in the year, you can get it when supplies are more available and when the weather is more favourable in the woods for cutters to be producing wood.

If  you want dry wood, spring or early summer is the best time to buy. It is great to give wood a full year to dry, but most wood only needs a summer to dry since it does most of its drying in warm dry weather. Some prefer to only let it dry over the summer and avoid having damp wood sitting around all winter where it can attract bugs and debris to later bring into your home.

Either way is good, as long as you are giving it at least a full summer to dry and have a good place to dry it. Otherwise you are taking a big gamble expecting firewood dealers to bring you dry wood at the last minute.

Buy firewood in Humboldt County

Why it is So Hard To Find Reliable Dry Firewood For Sale

I sold out of dry wood early in the summer last year, so I didn’t have dry wood available for those who usually buy it before winter. I just didn’t cut as much wood early in the year to dry last year, since I had other business to tend to. This is the nature of the firewood business. Supplies of dry wood will not always be reliable.

Firewood is not usually a mass produced commodity. Electricity,  natural gas, oil, and even wood pellets have well established nation wide and world wide distribution systems. This makes these commodities always available on demand. This is not at all the case with firewood. Firewood is a product that is usually produced by local small operations, sometimes one person doing it just because they are out of work or to make extra money. It is a tough business to be in and most suppliers will come and go. You may find a reliable source for a while, but they probably won’t last forever.

In order to bring you dry wood, a wood cutter will have to cut large amounts of wood months ahead of time, and then wait for it to dry before it can be sold, and before they can make a dime on it. Most cutters are more interested in paying the bills now and aren’t going to cut and split that much wood knowing they won’t be paid for many months or a year later. And huge piles of wood in a wood yard don’t dry nearly as fast as a small amount stacked at your home will. It is hard to get good air circulation in a big pile of wood to dry it.

What is the Best Firewood to Burn?

best firewood to burn
The best firewood to burn will depend on what you are trying to accomplish.

I often hear people ask, “what is the best firewood to burn”? There are differences between the way different types of wood burn, especially between dense hardwoods and less dense woods like softwoods.

There are also types of wood that will produce more ash than others or more creosote build-up.

Which type of wood is the best burning wood will depend on what you want to get out of  burning it. Someone who wants wood for a campfire may want something different than someone who wants to heat their home with a wood stove.

The biggest thing that determines how wood burns is its density. More dense woods, like dense hardwoods, burn slower and have more total energy. That is because there is more actual wood fiber to burn than in the same volume of less dense woods. These types of wood produce more glowing coals and give a lot of radiant heat over a long period of time. This makes them very popular for wood stoves and home heating. Examples of these types of wood include oak, hickory, locust, madrone, maple, walnut and many fruit woods.

Less dense woods like softwood and the softer hardwoods have less wood fiber in them than hardwood. Because of this they tend to burn faster and put out less total heat. But they are easier to ignite and tend to burn with fewer coals and more flames. This can make softwood a good choice for kindling and starting fires. It is also good where you would want larger flames like maybe a campfire or a fireplace. Many softwoods are more likely to crackle.

Low density hardwoods include aspen, cottonwood and alder. Softwood include cedar, pine, fir, hemlock and redwood. Learn the difference between hardwood and softwood.

If you ask which is the best burning firewood, someone might say low density woods like softwood burn best because they ignite easier making them easier to burn. Someone else might say hardwood burns best because it puts out more heat in a wood stove. Some people really like oak because some varieties hold a bed of coals for a long time, while others will not burn it because it produces so much ash.

Deciding which is the best firewood to burn will really come down to what you want to get out of it. All wood will burn well if it is dry and will put out heat. So if  you have it burn it. If you are deciding which type of wood to buy, keep in mind you should pay less for softer woods since there is less energy in them. If more heat is what you are looking for, it is usually worth it to pay more for the more dense hardwoods. A great place to start is to look at the different firewood BTU ratings of different wood species. The higher they are on the list, the more heat you will get out of the wood. The lower they are on the list, the less heat they will have but they will tend to be easier to ignite and more likely to burn with larger flames.

How to Season Firewood and Keep it Dry

How to Season Firewood

how to season firewood
Firewood develops cracks, called checks, as it dries.

If you buy or cut your wood green, you will need to dry it in order for it to burn more efficiently and safely. Learning how to season firewood is simple. It takes time for wood to fully dry but there are a few tricks I will tell you about below that can speed up the firewood drying process.

When firewood is cut from a live tree it will be green. Green wood is wood that is still alive and full of sap, which is mostly water. When a tree is fresh cut the moisture content can be 60% or more. Before your firewood will burn well it will need to be seasoned. To season wood means to give the wood time for the water to evaporate out of it. Ideally it should be seasoned to about 20% moisture content or less. This can take from 6 months to over a year depending on the wood and your firewood drying conditions.

If your wood is green it should be left out uncovered exposed to the sun and wind. Air circulation is a must when drying wood and direct sun will greatly speed drying. It is common for people to want to cover their wood pile with a firewood tarp but covering it too soon will only cause you problems.

The smaller your wood is the faster it will dry. Whole logs will take a long time to dry and in some cases may not ever fully dry. When you cut them into firewood lengths and split them you greatly increase the surface area where moisture can escape. Splitting your wood will especially help it dry. The bark seals in moisture and when you split the pieces it opens them up so the moisture can evaporate.

Keep your wood off the ground. Wood will absorb moisture from the soil.

drying firewood
Firewood stacks with space between the rows. This space allows air to circulate between the stacks to allow them to dry.

Stacking will help by creating better air circulation. One long stack in direct sun is best. If you make multiple stacks side by side be sure and make at least a few inches of space between the stacks so air can flow between them. Learn how to stack firewood.

If you stack it in a shed it will likely dry slower because it will be shaded from the sun and the walls may inhibit air flow. If you must store it in a shed make sure it’s well ventilated and stack the wood so air can flow between the stacks. Just know that it will probably dry slower than if it was out in the sun.

Don’t cover your firewood pile with a firewood tarp or similar cover while it is still green or wet. This will just hold in moisture and encourage mold and decay. If it rains, it doesn’t matter if the wood gets rained on. The surface water from the rain will dry fast, and believe it or not, according to many people, rain can help the wood dry. Wait until your wood is dry before covering it.

firewood tarp
Stacked firewood with tarp or plastic sheeting only covering the top. Sides are left open so air can circulate into the stack to help it stay dry.