December 5, 1998 | By: Ellen Brightwell

With the arrival of colder, near normal temperatures, many Kentuckians are packing away their shorts and grabbing their coats to go out to buy firewood. Paying attention to wood density, quantity, and seasoning will keep your firewood investment from going up in smoke.

"Wood species have different heat values and aromas so consider what you want to accomplish with the fire and any family nostalgia before buying firewood," said Doug McLaren, Extension forest management specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

Softwoods such as pines ignite easily and produce a hot flame. Because they contain much resin, pine species burn out quickly and require frequent attention and addition of more wood to the fire. Softwoods and lighter hardwoods like yellow-poplar have a place in a firewood buying plan for people who want a quick, warming fire or a short fire that will burn out before they leave the house. These species also are a good choice to combine with more dense species to get a fire started.

"By contrast, the more dense hardwood species burn less vigorously, thus producing a longer-lasting fire," McLaren said. "Hickory, black locust, oaks, and ashes are among the more desirable and plentiful hardwoods. These species have good to excellent splitting qualities."

Burning woods of fruit trees such as apple or cherry and nut trees like beech and hickory provides a pleasant aroma that resembles the fragrance of their fruits or nuts. These woods produce a steady flame, but usually cost more than those with greater heating values.

"Since various wood species produce different heat values, it's good to mix light and more dense woods to achieve a good fire," he said. "By mixing softwoods and hardwoods, you can build a fire that's easy to ignite and long lasting. Then you can add some fruit or nut woods to produce a pleasing aroma."

How much should you pay for firewood?

The answer depends on the volume of wood you purchase as well as the availability of firewood in your area, according to McLaren.

"The most common firewood measurement is a 'face cord,' which is four feet high and eight feet long and is available in variable widths," he said. "Be sure to buy a width that will fit in your fireplace or wood-burning stove. The price of a 'face cord' is usually about $50 in areas where firewood is plentiful and up to $200 or more in locations where firewood is scarce As with most other purchases, firewood prices are negotiable.

"Buy firewood in a quantity convenient for your use during the colder season. You don't want to have a lot of wood left over next spring. Also find out if the wood will be delivered and stacked properly."

Seasoning is another important consideration when purchasing firewood, according to McLaren.

"Ask the dealer if the firewood you're considering has been seasoned," he said. "Wood that is seasoned, or cured, properly was cut, split, and stacked for about six months to remove enough moisture so it will burn efficiently this season. Properly seasoned firewood has a gray, weathered appearance and large cracks in the log ends."

One reason it's important to buy seasoned firewood is that burning unseasoned wood produces a smoldering fire that creates a potentially dangerous creosote buildup in the chimney. This inefficient burning also can lead to a poor draft, causing smoke to bellow into the room instead of flowing up the chimney.

"Buying properly seasoned wood species that fit your needs will ensure that you have a warm, long-burning fire to enjoy on a cold winter night, rather than seeing your investment go up in smoke," McLaren said.

Contact: 

Writer: Ellen Brightwell
(606) 257-1376

Source: Doug McLaren
(606) 257-2703