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Come on Baby Light my Fire!

Come on Baby Light my Fire!  

With the high price of gas and electricity these days, together with the insecurity of future supplies, it is hardly surprising that more and more people are turning (or should that be returning) to wood fires to help heat the home. There are a huge variety of woods available to set a match to, and all with different burning properties. Knowing how different woods burn can provide invaluable information for the success of your fire.

Always start with dry kindling, small sections of softwood are best on a bed of newspaper. That way, the expense of a box of firelighters is avoided!

By putting fast burning woods on first and harder slower burners on once a good fire is going then you will make the most of the different types of wood.


Makes a lovely fire and is probably the most fragrant of the hardwoods. It burns slowly with good heat but must be well seasoned.


This is the best burning wood of all.- Because it has such a low moisture content this means it can be burnt green straight off a tree if necessary. Like all woods it burns better after being well seasoned and at it’s best after six months or so.


Burns nearly as well as Ash, but does not perform quite as well when still green. 


Like apple, birch is aromatic and produces a good heat. It has a tendency to burn rather quickly but it also grows fast, therefore making it a sustainable fuel source.


Also one of the best burning woods, Blackthorn (and hawthorn) burns slowly, gives out a lot of heat without much smoke and is probably the best wood for keeping a fire in overnight.


Rather like blackthorn, cherry burns slowly and gives out good heat but also has a pleasant smell.

Douglas Fir

Little to be said, poor heat and insufficient flame.


Almost identical to blackthorn. Keeps fires in well overnight.

Hazel, Holly & Horse Chestnut

All burn well but need to be seasoned for at least six months. Of the three, horse chestnut has a tendency to spit and so is best used in a log burner rather than an open fire.


One of the only softwoods to use as a primary fuel in a fire. If well seasoned it gives off a good heat and lasts a surprisingly long time.


Not worth bothering with. It has such a high moisture content that it needs to be seasoned for a very long time, and even then gives off little heat.


Along with it’s cousin the sycamore it burns well and having a lowish moisture content, seasons fairly rapidly. Maple also gives off a pleasant fragrance.


The traditional burning wood. It is very hard and good for keeping the fire going overnight. It needs to be very well seasoned, but once it is it's hard to better. The only disadvantage is that the smoke tends to be a little acrid


Like apple, once well seasoned pear burns well although the smell of the smoke is not as fragrant.


As long as it is properly seasoned, pine burns well due to it’s high resin content. However, if burned too early the resin can build-up in the chimney and cause problems later on. It also spits like fury and like larch best used in a closed burner.


All mouth and no trousers! Even when seasoned for a long time (years even) due to it’s high moisture content, it spits noisily. The flame and heat are moderate at best. However, there is serious commercial interest in willow as a biomass fuel for pellet boilers.


Apart from those already referred-to some woods are best avoided, especially hemlock (useless heat) and poplar as it gives off very acrid smoke.


An unattributed poem really sums it up:

 Beech-wood fires burn bright and clear if the logs are kept a year;

Store your beech for Christmastide with new-cut holly laid beside;

Chestnut's only good, they say, if for years 'tis stored away;

Birch and fir-wood burn too fast blaze too bright and do not last;

Flames from larch will shoot up high, dangerously the sparks will fly;

But ash-wood green and ash-wood brown are fit for a Queen with a golden crown.


Oaken logs, if dry and old, keep away the winter's cold;

Poplar gives a bitter smoke, fills your eyes and makes you choke;

Elm-wood burns like churchyard mould, e'en the very flames are cold;

It is by the Irish said; Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread,

Apple-wood will scent the room, Pear-wood smells like flowers in bloom;

But ash-wood wet and ash-wood dry a King may warm his slippers by.




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