Keeping the home fire burning

When I moved to the cottage I fancied I’d collect my own firewood, driftwood from the beach and fallen branches from the woods, to keep me toasty through the winter. Ha! Not a chance. As the nights drew in and the air sharpened, I was burning what seemed like half a small forest a day. So, first lesson learnt, I ordered a load of logs. Now they’re sitting outside soaking up the rain because my wood store’s a shoogly thrown-together thing, nothing more than a discarded door resting on my compost heap. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t keep the wood dry in this drenched place. So my next job (when it stops raining) is to build a proper wood store – one that lets the air in and keeps the water out and can store a tonne of logs. Any tips welcome.

My wood-burning stove

My wee wood-burning stove serves as a kettle, cooker, heater and light when the leccy goes off.

I’m learning though. I’ve become pretty nifty at slicing logs into satisfying piles of kindling with my trusty axe. And I’m finding out about different woods – how they season, the heat they give off and the smell of their smoke. My neighbour felled a few birch trees last spring. It burns longer and brighter than the lemony spruce and the smell is on the edge of sweet, like a smoked oyster. Throw in a few bits of driftwood and you get a whisper of the sea. The oak that I dragged up from the beach in the summer has a fierce, unstoppable heat and the old telephone pole burns like a demon (what was it treated with?). Every now and then my auntie brings a bag of off-cuts from my uncle’s days as a joiner; the little bits of plywood and pine are as dry as a bone and never fail to stoke a damp squib of a fire.

Once the fire gets to a certain state – its heart roaring and red – nothing can resist it, not even damp logs. I can’t resist it either, this gentle warmth that holds me in its purring glow. I unwind, sink deeper into my chair, maybe have a little snooze. Now, what was I saying about building a wood store?



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8 responses to “Keeping the home fire burning

  1. Might I suggest that you read up a bit on firewood and the stove you have? Begin with “Sweep’s Library: Firewood Comparison Chart”. There is a wealth of information on the web about burning wood for heat, including dangerous practices like burning creosoted posts (telephone posts are treated with creosote). They burn VERY hot, like coal, and if your stove or chimney/stack is not capable of taking the heat, you could burn your home down. Another warning is to be very careful with things like pressure treated wood – which is usually treated with insecticide and poisons (neuro-toxins?) and could cause you serious health problems, as could burning driftwood in your stove.

    ALL firewood should be “seasoned” – which is a fancy way of saying “aged” to let it dry and to allow some of the volatile compounds to vaporize. I season my firewood for 9 months to a year, and I burn good high BTU content woods like honey locust and hickory. Even dry wood usually has creosote in it, and over time, slow smoky fires could cause creosote build up in your chimney, which could lead to… you standing out in the cold watching your home burn down because of a stack fire. (I understand stack fires in brick chimneys are the most remarkable sight because they cause the bricks and the rocks in the mortar to literally explode – I think it’s called “spalding” – and your stack ends up looking like a little volcano, which lights the roof of your house… etc.) Splitting the wood will help it to dry faster, but it will also burn faster because each stick has more surface area exposed to the heat.

    Burning wood for heat can be an enjoyable part of life… but only if you do it safely. 😉

  2. Mark

    Hi Eve,
    Have a look at this web site.
    I built a couple of wood stores out of old pallets. They last a few years before you put them on the fire. They are usually free and can be nailed together in situ. Michael makes some very good points about what to burn. Damp wood will create creosote which will dry and stick to the chimney as will burning plywood as it has glue in it. Having this happen will increase the need to sweep the chimney but more worrying can catch light and cause a chimney fire. It is a bind but you need to plan and burn dry hardwoods like Birch.
    If you build 2 stores as seen on the web page you can hopefully have one with wood seasoned for at least a year and the next one ready to fill up ready for next year.
    I would suggest you make the roof overhang a bit more than in the pics as it helps keep the wood at the bottom dry. Make sure the store is built on a good not soft base as the wood is heavy and can make the store move or sink. I recon you can see what is needed without paying for the plans.
    Try to buy clean wood early in the year to give it a good time to dry out. I have just had a load delivered and will not be able to burn it until next year as it is too wet.
    Michael also makes a good point about vapours. I have a cheap carbon monoxide detector as wood can give off toxic fumes which can be blown back depending on the chimney. Mouldy or decaying wood burns badly and gives off fumes which also smell very bad.
    I would not lean the store against the house as it can encourage damp.
    Hope this is of use

    • Mark! hello! Loads of good tips there thanks. The old pallets seems to be a good – and very ‘westcoasting’ way of doing it. Will let you know how I get on. Hope all’s well with you?

  3. Coll J

    hi Eve, hope you had the ‘hatches are well and truly ‘ battened’ after the latest onslaught; 2 hurricanes in a few weeks! Go canny..
    Any way, on the above, keep the wood stacked so the air can get; have some sort of raised platform to pu them onto, keep your shelter on the windward side and drafty bit on the leeward side.
    The only other advise is get out soon for a collection, after this wind! Collecting wood tied up with a timber hitch will mean you can drag much stuff more efficiently.. Happy hunting.

  4. Brigid

    Hi Eve

    This might be obvious but my dad always says it’s important to let moving air circulate around the wood store. That way rather than the wood just being kept dry, the wind can help to dry it out quicker. The pallets in the ‘how to’ guide will let this happen but I haven’t seen it said anywhere explicitly.

    By the way, I think I have a magazine article that tells you how to make a DIY eco outdoor hot tub…keen?

    Brigid xx

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