Monday, January 30

Can You Use Softwood in a Log Burner?

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Buying wood for your log-burning stove can sometimes feel like navigating a minefield. With several options to choose from at different price points, choosing the right wood isn’t just about figuring out which burns best, but also determining the most economical choice for your home. Is softwood in a log burner a cheaper option? Keep reading to find out more.

Why consider using softwood in a log burner?

While installing a log burner in your home can be an effective way to combat the rising cost of gas and electricity for heating, wood prices are also headed upwards. Hardwood is the go-to option for log burners, but it’s not the cheapest.  Softwood, on the other hand, is more readily available. And it’s often sold at a lower price point since it costs less to produce. But can you burn softwood in a log burner, and is it worth the savings?

log store

What is softwood?

Softwood is the term used to describe the wood from coniferous, evergreen trees. Cedars and pines are common examples of trees that produce softwoods, both of which grow extensively across the Northern Hemisphere. Hardwoods, in comparison, are produced by deciduous trees. They tend to be more expensive to buy for your fire as they’re not as easy to come across.

Firewood Express says that there’s not enough hardwood being grown in the UK to meet the rising demand. This is leading to environmental damage caused by importing it from Eastern Europe. Since softwood grows extensively throughout the country, burning it in your stove isn’t just a cheaper choice, but it’s kinder to the environment too.

In general, softwoods are open-grained and quite light in colour. They are ideal for firewood when dried. They can also be used in a range of applications around the home. This includes furniture, building and renovation, and much more.

Types of softwood & how well they burn

firewood in basket

If you’re looking for softwood to use in your log burner, then you are likely to come across these common types. Some softwoods are better choices than others for burning cleanly and efficiently. They produce less smoke and offer a more pleasant experience.

Good softwood choices:

Poplar: This is a softwood that burns quite slowly, making it a potentially efficient choice for your stove. You will need to season it very well – otherwise, it will produce a choking black smoke.  To burn this softwood effectively and safely, it will need to be very dry.

Cedar: Cedar is a softwood that makes excellent firewood, burning well and giving off a pleasant aroma. The heat produced by cedar can last for quite a long time, but you might miss out on a flickering fire as it doesn’t produce a lot of flame. It doesn’t spit a lot, and small pieces make fantastic kindling.

Pine: This softwood also burns well; however, it can spit a lot. Since it’s prone to leaving sooty deposits in stoves, you might only want to consider this softwood if your stove has a powerful airwash system.

Larch: Larch is a softwood that can be successfully used in a log burner. However, it can spit a lot while burning, so you will want to avoid using it in an open fire. It has a high moisture content, so you will need to season it well to ensure that the moisture levels are low before burning. Since it is prone to leaving sooty deposits in your flue, firebox, and the viewing window of your stove, like pine, once again this might be a softwood to consider if you have a stove that is fitted with a good airwash system.

Softwoods best avoided:

Douglas Fir: This softwood doesn’t produce a lot of heat at all, so it’s not a great choice for your log-burning stove.

Spruce: Spruce will burn OK; however, this firewood is of a lower quality compared to other options.

Is softwood soft?

chopping firewood

Despite the name, softwoods are not soft in nature. In fact, some softwoods are stronger and more durable than many hardwoods. The names softwood and hardwood have nothing to do with the density of the wood itself. It refers to the seeds on the trees.

Softwood tree seeds are typically protected by cones, while hardwood seeds drop inside the protective casing of a nut or piece of fruit.

Why is softwood cheaper than hardwood?

stored logs for fire

There are several differences between softwood and hardwood, and the speed and rate of growth is one of the main ones. Compared to hardwood trees, softwood trees typically reach maturity much faster. Because of this, softwood is an ideal choice for not only firewood but plenty of DIY applications such as wooden furniture and building products.

Since softwood grows so quickly, these logs are often much less expensive to buy in comparison with hardwoods, so using them in your log burner can help you save significant amounts of money when heating your home, especially if you use the stove a lot.

Along with earlier maturity, the fact that softwood is typically easier to cut compared to hardwood means that preparing it for burning is not as expensive. Firewood companies ultimately make savings that they pass on to you, the customer.

Does softwood in a log burner work well?

Hunter Herald 8 Wood Burning/Multifuel Boiler Stove

Hunter Herald 8 Wood Burning/Multifuel Boiler Stove

Softwood logs are an ideal choice for starting a fire easily and quickly. They make excellent kindling and you can use them either for lighting a hardwood fire faster or for burning on their own. Since softwood logs are very resinous in nature, you can also dry and season them ready to burn in a much shorter period compared to hardwood.

When you kiln-dry it, softwood uses less energy to dry, making it cheaper to produce and more environmentally friendly compared to hardwood. And softwood logs are quite lightweight, so you might find that they’re easier to buy in bulk to save money, especially if you are going to be transporting them yourself.

What are the disadvantages of softwood in a log burner?

firewood storage

Before you stock up on softwood for your log burner, it’s worth knowing the disadvantages of burning this type of wood. Softwood is naturally moister than hardwood. It can be more prone to causing inconsistent flame patterns, sparks, spitting, and unwanted smoke levels in your fire if not dried correctly.

Sooty deposits in the firebox and on the viewing window are also more likely with softwood. So, you’ll need to be prepared for more maintenance if you don’t have a log burner with a powerful airwash system to clean it.

Making sure that your softwood has been dried and seasoned thoroughly before you burn it is the best way to avoid any unwanted side effects. Before burning either softwood or hardwood on your log-burner, dry it out to no more than 20% moisture.

To avoid sooty deposits and excess smoke when burning, you should dry the wood to a 20% average moisture content of 10-12% on the outside and 25% in the middle. If possible, an average moisture content of 15% is even better and gives a much cleaner burn.

Seasoning softwood before you burn it

Saltfire Peanut 3 Wood Burning EcoDesign Stove

Saltfire Peanut 3 Wood Burning EcoDesign Stove

You can save even more money on heating your home with a log burner by purchasing softwood that is not ready to burn. However, before you can use it on the stove to get your living room warm and toasty, you will need to season it. This is a process that can take at least six months.

Seasoned wood is wood that has gone through a long process of drying out. This ensures that as much moisture as possible has been removed. It’s essential to ensure that softwood has been dried out before you burn it.

High moisture will lead to unwanted problems like spitting and black smoke in the fire. To burn softwoods successfully, you’ll need to ensure that the moisture content is below 20%. ‘Green’ or freshly cut softwood could have a moisture content of 50% or higher.

By seasoning your softwood and getting the moisture levels low before burning, you will not only improve the fuel efficiency, but you’ll also make sure that your stove is kept in better condition. You’ll get your fire going and keep it going much easier, too. Excess moisture can cause your fire to keep fizzling out.

Drying out the wood is also essential for reducing risk to your health and the environment. You can achieve this by keeping smoke levels low.

How to season softwood ready for your stove

If you’re purchasing green softwood to save money or have your own source of softwood that you can access, you can season it yourself at home.

Consider that it can take several months for your softwood to reach the optimal moisture levels for burning. So, starting early is essential. Most people want their firewood to be ready for winter. Spring is a good time to start drying.

One huge benefit of burning softwood rather than hardwood in your log burner is that it doesn’t require as much seasoning time. You can season and dry softwood ready for putting on your log-burning stove in just six months.  Hardwood, on the other hand, can take as long as two years to be ready for burning on the fire.

chopping firewood for log burner

1. Prepare a suitable storage area

It’s important to find the perfect storage spot for seasoning your softwood logs. Encourage airflow around the wood, and provide shelter from the elements with the spot you choose. Ideally, you should select an outdoor spot that gets plenty of sunshine to encourage the process.

You can buy pre-built wood and metal log stores. These are designed to ensure the best conditions for seasoning softwood and other types of firewood.

2. Chop the softwood

If you want to minimise drying time and have your softwood ready for the fire sooner, chopping it into smaller pieces can help. Pre-cut wood is available for purchase if convenience is important to you. However, if you want to save as much money as possible on your firewood, buying full logs and chopping them yourself is a worthwhile option. To do this, you will need an axe and somewhere suitable for chopping such as a tree stump.

Before you chop your firewood to size, it’s a good idea to check the manufacturer’s handbook for your stove. Look for the maximum log size it will take.

3. Stack to maximise airflow

Stack your chopped firewood into a log store ready for drying. How you stack it impacts the time it takes to dry, and how efficiently it dries out. Keep the air flowing throughout the logs. Do this with pallets or a few longer pieces of wood at the bottom to keep your logs raised.

Stacking the logs using a criss-cross pattern will also help you maximise airflow as much as possible. Bear in mind that this will use up more space.

We hope you’ve found our guide to burning softwood useful. Why spend more than you need to on expensive hardwood, when softwood is cheaper, more readily available, and can burn just as well?

 

Shop wood burning stoves at Direct Stoves now

For more stove buying guides, advice and information, read the Direct Stoves blog

Wood Buying Guide for Wood Burning Stoves | How Much Does it Cost to Run a  Log Burner? | A Complete Guide to Buying Firewood for Your Log Burner

 

 

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