In praise of wood-burners

Our cat loves the wood-burner!

The Guardian newspaper has three editorials in the newsprint edition everyday.  Two of these are on global/local events from political perspective.  The other is a positive one on something or someone (in praise of…).  Last week it was on  “In praise of wood-burners”.  The mark of a Guardian reader is not just wearing sandals and eating muesli but now includes owning a wood-burner.   I do read the Guardian, I am not guilty of the first two but I am of the last one.

This editorial got quite a reaction with a number of letters published in the print edition slagging off wood-burners, mostly from the pollution and wood supply perspective.  I wrote a response but I don’t think it will be published.

On the pollution point the criticism was that people were using wood that was too wet and therefore too much smoke was coming out of the chimneys.  Now its true that water does not burn.  Wood needs to be seasoned.  Ash will burn green wet although presumably it burns better when dry.  However,  in my experience logs when split with an axe (along the grain) burn well after about 6 months of drying.  Leylandii and Cyprus dry in about 5-8 weeks. Leylandii burns well.  Cyprus although closely related is more mixed.

One person wrote that they produce smoke out of the chimney when the stoves temperature is less than 200°C.  This is not correct as far as my wood-burners documentation is concerned.  At any temperature above 120°C the stove is in clean burn mode and no smoke should be visible coming out of the chimney.  I get smoke emerging when I’m lighting it but as the stoves gets hotter this smoke diminishes.  I put loads of air through when lighting it, but once its hot load it up with wood and turn the air down so its almost closed off.  The wood burns with dancing mainly blue flames presumably since the wood is undergoing pyrolysis (the chemical decomposition without oxygen) forming hydrogen and methane.  There is almost no visible smoke from my chimney at this point,  or my neighbours chimneys.  In fact it took years to work out that they had wood-burners as well since I could smell the wood-smoke but not work out where it was coming from.  [In very cold weather steam is visible from the chimneys].  The writer complained people were using it as low level incinerators.  If they are they are making a mistake.  I don’t burn plastic or wood with paint on.  I do put small amounts of chicken bones and bacon rind in.  In the UK (I cannot speak for other countries) only stoves exempted under the clean air act can be used in built up areas.  This testing used to take five years.  So used properly stoves should not cause a pollution issue.

Another criticism is wood supply.  I get mine from two sources.  People who know me and are having trees taken down and scrap wood.  The scrap wood is either wooden floorboards, pallets or joists removed due to woodworm or rot, or joiners mistakes.  I am careful not to sit the old rotten or infested wood in the house and prioritise its burning.  Scrap wood of course is dry so burns well producing no smoke.  It tends to have nails in it though.  We cover wood supply in more detail in “No oil in the lamp”.  Suffice to say I would not rely on it for your heating.  I find scrap wood easy to find at the moment although I’m highly proactive.  But this ease may change in the future.  I heard a disturbing report on the news last week from Greece.  Due to the high oil price and extreme economic problems people there are demolishing ancient forests for firewood to keep warm this winter.  Hopefully not a sign of things to come.

Lastly everybody loves the stove; cat, children and home-group.  Last week on of our American members almost got in it!


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