A roaring fire in the hearth is a surefire way to banish the winter blues. However, to build and more importantly sustain such a fire, it is essential to make the right choice of firewood. Obviously the longer the fire burns, the better it would be. Other important factors for determining the correct choice of firewood would include a pleasant smell and if less residue is built up in the fireplace and/or chimney, so much the better. So how to get the best firewood?
While there would be varying opinions about the best firewood to be used, I would think that it is safe to say that hard woods are, generally speaking, a better option than soft woods. Wood from most fruit trees is usually hard and also will burn longer on average. However, some fruit tree wood may not smell too good for a home fireplace. Oak is a very good choice for home fires. This type of firewood when properly dry, not only lights easily but also burns longer and has a decent smell as well. Best is to use hard oak which has been well dried by being cut and split for a length of time before it is used. About six months of being set aside after being cut is ideal. The firewood is then said to be seasoned. Hard maple is an alternative to oak and will have similar properties too when burnt. Cherry and apple tree wood is also good for burning.
Although hard woods burn for longer, yet they burn slower and thus do not generate as much heat as softer woods. It would be a good idea to mix hard and soft woods in equal measure to get the best of both options. The soft wood will give more heat while the hard wood would keep the fire burning that much longer. However, soft wood like pine should be avoided since it deposits tar and residue in the chimney, which could possibly spark off a chimney fire over some time.
Another factor to keep in mind is the size of the firewood being used. Obviously the shorter the pieces, the easier they would be to handle. The more uniform the length of the different pieces of firewood, the better it is. Variation of more than 2 inches in length of the individual pieces means that the firewood is not of standard quality and could cause difficulties in loading the furnace, stove or other appliance or even the fireplace. Ideally firewood should be split to sizes between 3 to 6 inches each, so that while the smaller pieces will ignite quickly, the longer pieces would burn for a reasonable period of time.
It is also important to stack and store the firewood properly. If stacked incorrectly, the firewood will not season well and will not burn effectively either. It is best to stack firewood in separate rows some distance from one another an covered only at the top as protection from rain. Also it is best to keep the firewood off the ground on pallets and to keep the stack sides uncovered. To be properly seasoned, while soft woods can take up to six months, harder woods like oak and maple would need to be kept aside for one year for them to dry out fully.
Firewood pellets are also emerging as an alternate to firewood. These pellets are used in pellet stoves, which being automatic, take care to maintain the room temperature at a constant level by feeding the stored wood pellets into the flame. Wood pellets are made from compressed sawdust or wooden waste from sawmill operations.