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Burning softwoods?

Urban Rural


Joined: Jun 19, 2011
Posts: 13
Hi, I'm new to this impressive forum, with a question about appropriate wood to burn in a woodstove.

I've always heard that softwood - especially wood from evergreen trees such as pine - is not good to use as firewood, because it gunks up the chimney. 

Recently, though, in an online article about firewood, I read the opinion that softwood is fine to burn, as long as it's seasoned long enough - like, I guess, several years.  This writer said the idea that it's not okay is an old wive's tale. 

Has anyone here tried, or know of someone who has tried, to burn softwood after seasoning it for a good long time?  This would be great if true, since competition for free firewood around here has gotten tougher with more people installing wood stoves to save money.

Thanks in advance for any wisdom and insights on this! - Carol
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5809
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
  85
Soft woods will not last as long as hard woods, nor will they put out as many BTU's.  But "free" certainly gives them an edge!  Soft woods do need to be fairly dry, or else they can put out a lot of tars which will accumulate in your chimney, and can cause chimney fires.  A well designed stove/fireplace will alleviate a lot of the problem.  If you get a complete burn, the problem is minor.  An incomplete burn is when you get the problematic build up.

With any wood, seasoning helps create a better product.  What you chop this autumn should be for NEXT winter's fire, not this year.  If you can split it soon after chopping, that will allow it to season faster...more surface area exposed to the elements.

Good luck with the free wood, and stay warm.
Urban Rural


Joined: Jun 19, 2011
Posts: 13
Thanks John for the information and cautions.  I am aiming for wood for winter after next at this point - I underestimated how much of a challenge it would be to find free wood (and at over $200 a full cord around here for "bought" wood, I'm not sure I'd save a whole lot of money heating with that instead of my natural gas furnace).  Before I started trying to heat exclusively with wood, it seemed like people were giving me free firewood all the time. 

Thanks again, and I will keep in mind about the complete burn.
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5809
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
  85
I don't know where you live, but I often see freebies on Craig's List.  The wind storm took down a couple trees, and the owner wants them gone.  You will need a chain saw and a trailer.  You will probably also need a chipper, as the home owner does NOT want you hauling off all of the lumber, but leaving all of the trash on his front lawn!
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4432
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    4
holy crap$200 a cord !!! we pay $40 a cord here in Michigan for cut, split and delivered firewood for our outdoor wood burning stove..and thought that was high


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
http://restfultrailsfoodforestgarden.blogspot.com/
Matt M


Joined: May 02, 2011
Posts: 28
Location: Montana
I live in Montana,where there are no hardwoods,we heat with lodgepole pine,and we have no trouble with it
Urban Rural


Joined: Jun 19, 2011
Posts: 13
John Polk wrote:
I don't know where you live, but I often see freebies on Craig's List.  The wind storm took down a couple trees, and the owner wants them gone.  You will need a chain saw and a trailer.  You will probably also need a chipper, as the home owner does NOT want you hauling off all of the lumber, but leaving all of the trash on his front lawn!


Thanks John for a great idea, unfortunately I'm short one chainsaw, one trailer, and one woodchipper.  My previous free wood bonanzas were from people who cut down trees in their yards, chainsawed them into lengths, and wanted someone to haul the logs away.  You'd be amazed how many will fit in the back of an old Honda Civic hatchback. 

I did learn how to split wood this winter, and LOVED doing it - I wish I'd discovered it years ago, since at this point in my life (let's just say far middle age) it was fun while I was doing it, but I've been limping like an injured prize-fighter ever since - firewood 1, me 0.  I'm going to give it another try this summer, this time going into training first. 

As far as operating a chainsaw, everybody has told me to forget about it, it takes more strength and coordination than I have to do it safely.  A couple of guys who have helped me with home repairs in the past have offered to do the chainsaw part for me, but I'm kind of nervous even to have them do it.  It just seems like a person could get hurt really bad, really fast with a chainsaw.  Maybe if I got a set of those chainsaw chaps for anyone who's helping me to wear.

I also heard that the government may start requiring manufacturers of saws to build in that invention that stops the blade when it touches flesh, which would certainly cut down on the injury potential.  However, I don't know if that works with chainsaws, and anyway they may not do that in the first place. 

Thanks again John for the great Craig's List idea, I'm going to start watching it, there could be ads eventually from people who have sawed lengths to get rid of.
Carol


Urban Rural


Joined: Jun 19, 2011
Posts: 13
Brenda Groth wrote:
holy crap$200 a cord !!! we pay $40 a cord here in Michigan for cut, split and delivered firewood for our outdoor wood burning stove..and thought that was high


Brenda, that's why I keep thinking about moving out of the Northeast, where everything is sky-high (except the number of job openings). 

"Outdoor wood burning stove" - that's probably a kind of outdoor furnace with the heat ducted inside somehow?  That must be great - no soot/bark etc. mess in the house - the one big drawback of an indoor woodstove.
Urban Rural


Joined: Jun 19, 2011
Posts: 13
MattM wrote:
I live in Montana,where there are no hardwoods,we heat with lodgepole pine,and we have no trouble with it


Thanks Matt, that's good to know.  I might have an easier time getting free pine, since around here people think you can't burn it.

May I ask how long you season it before burning, and how your chimney does regarding creosote buildup? 
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4432
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    4
the outdoor wood stove is a boiler and has water/antifreeze mix that goes through pex tubing into our house, our son's house, garage and under my greenhouse

the co that made the furnace went out of business so NO warrante or replacement parts which was a bummer, but otherwise it heats well

we use heat exchangers in the houses and garage..son has in floor heating in his basement that the pex goes thru
Urban Rural


Joined: Jun 19, 2011
Posts: 13
Brenda Groth wrote:
the outdoor wood stove is a boiler and has water/antifreeze mix that goes through pex tubing into our house, our son's house, garage and under my greenhouse


Wow, what a great set up!  Too bad about the warranty, but half the time those turn out to be no good anyway, right?  .
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5809
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
  85
Most oaks put out about 30% more BTUs per cord than most pines, but if I had a choice of a free cord of pine, and a $200 cord of oak, my house would smell like a pine forest all winter long!  There is nothing wrong with pine (it just burns faster & cooler), but I had an unlimited, free supply of oak, why should I have bought pine?

Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4432
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    4
we do burn aspen in the spring and fall and some alder as it is free here, but we buy hardwoods at $40 per cord for the winter and overnights when it is really cold..we don't have enough hardwoods on our property to cut it but have loads of aspen, cherry, alder, etc..we have some ash growing up and dying from the emerald ash borer so we'll get some free wood from them..
Urban Rural


Joined: Jun 19, 2011
Posts: 13
John Polk wrote:
Most oaks put out about 30% more BTUs per cord than most pines, but if I had a choice of a free cord of pine, and a $200 cord of oak, my house would smell like a pine forest all winter long!  There is nothing wrong with pine (it just burns faster & cooler), but I had an unlimited, free supply of oak, why should I have bought pine?



Thanks for a good breakdown on the difference between hardwood and softwood firewood.  Re: oak, I've got three huge old oaks in my back yard, and if I didn't love them truly they'd be firewood before they knew what hit them.  Lucky you to have unlimited FREE oak!
Urban Rural


Joined: Jun 19, 2011
Posts: 13
Brenda Groth wrote:
we do burn aspen in the spring and fall and some alder as it is free here, but we buy hardwoods at $40 per cord for the winter and overnights when it is really cold..we don't have enough hardwoods on our property to cut it but have loads of aspen, cherry, alder, etc..we have some ash growing up and dying from the emerald ash borer so we'll get some free wood from them..


It must be great to have your own woodlot, and the lack of hardwood not too much of a problem when you can get it at that price!  I bet the cherrywood smells wonderful when it burns. 
Daniel Hatfield


Joined: Jul 11, 2011
Posts: 10
I split pine into kindling at the advice of a neighbor, one small piece is usually enough to get large oak chunks going and is not going to gunk up the chimney. In the spring and fall I burn ash and red maple(swamp maple), which are both soft, because we only need a little heat. Ash burns great green, even with the damper closed, were the maple wont burn at all unless seasoned.  The first year we put in the stove I bought a cord of "seasoned hardwoods" but within a short amount of time I realized it was pretty green and there was a bit of hemlock, the hemlock would put the stove out every time I closed the damper.  But my same neighbor said it burns if its totally dry. 
Urban Rural


Joined: Jun 19, 2011
Posts: 13
Thanks Daniel for the idea about pine kindling, my stove is a little tricky to get going and I hadn't thought of that idea.  Since I posted my question I've had an offer for all the free pine AND all the free deciduous wood I can use, so I may get a load of pine for kindling and then really stock up on the deciduous.  That's also good to know about ash and hemlock. 
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5809
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
  85
Here is a handy chart to compare the BTU ratings of various woods:

http://www.chimneysweeponline.com/howood.htm
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4432
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    4
helpful chart, thanks..gave me some ideas of what to burn that I hadn't thought of
Chaosgarten McCoy


Joined: Sep 01, 2011
Posts: 2
If you season it dry for about 2 years you can burn any wood. We use even willow and elder which is really soft. Of course you need more of it, but if it comes for free...

Pinewood is also okay, we have some spruce and pine. In Germany the chimneys are controlled and cleaned every year by a chimney sweeper. One year isn't enough to gather enough dirt in the chimney to burn, so if you sweep your chminey, you can burn whatever you like.


My blog: http://chaosgarten.blogspot.com
Urban Rural


Joined: Jun 19, 2011
Posts: 13
Thanks John for the chart, nice to be able to look up any kind of wood. 

Chaosgarten, I appreciate hearing your experience with this - I had been kind of thinking that it might be worth while to just burn whatever species of free wood I get,  and just clean the chimney more often, but I wasn't sure how long I could go between cleanings. 

If I burn a lot of softwood, I'll take off the bottom plate of my outside insulated chimney from time to time and look up and check how it's doing, but it's great to hear that you're able to go more than a year before you get much buildup. 

In a way that's great that you have the chimney sweeping program, just hope it's not too expensive!
hvala Hatfield


Joined: Aug 21, 2011
Posts: 79
pine and similar wood burns fast. so i dont see it as good wood for heating. also it can make your chimney burn after some time. on the other side pine is perfect for starting fire, since its full of rasin. in old times when it was not so easy to start fire people used to carry around with them selves few splitters of pine wood, even word light comes form those....
Urban Rural


Joined: Jun 19, 2011
Posts: 13
That's a good idea about using pine to start a fire - especially for me since neither me or my woodstove are great fire-starters.  Also very interesting about the word light - thanks, hvala.
Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3510
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  40
  With the resinous softwoods it's more important for the stove operator to know what they're doing. With a rocket stove or good quality masonry stove it's possible to get temperatures high enough to burn off all of the hydrocarbons. With many metal stoves you simply can't reach a high enough temperature for efficient combustion and all of that crap sticks to the chimney. If you're chimney gets gummed up your sending energy up the chimney.   

      As for the question of whether you can heat with softwoods the answer is obviously yes. Heading south from the Arctic there is quite a wide band of almost exclusively coniferous trees before you find any of the desirable hardwoods. People in northern Canada, Alaska, Russia and Finland have extreme winter conditions and the only wood available to them are softwoods. When I lived in Newfoundland we went through about 20 cords of white spruce firewood in one season. It's crap if you don't have the right stove.

    In Newfoundland they don't sell wood by the cord but instead count each piece and you don't know if you're going to get a piece that is 3 inches in diameter or a foot in diameter . There is constant debate about who has larger wood for sale and the merits of buying 5 cent little chunks or $.50 large ones. The guy who delivered to us insisted that no one speak to him because he was afraid of losing count and  having to start the laughable process over. I'm sure it's inefficiencies like that which have led to many of the a derogatory jokes directed at this population.

    For most of us a cord is 4' x 4' x 8' but in some parts of the country they use face cords which are 4 feet x 8 feet with chunks of wood either 12 inches or 16 inches long. This may account for some of the huge price discrepancies mentioned since the quantity of wood is either one third or one quarter of the amount in a full Bush cord.



   


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Urban Rural


Joined: Jun 19, 2011
Posts: 13
Dale, how fascinating about the places with no hardwoods, that had never occured to me.  And 20 cords of white spruce!!  You must have had a huge yard!

Hilarious about the debates re: firewood diameter, and that they actually [i]count[i] the wood.  Newfoundland must be a great place for a person with a sense of humor to live (or at least visit). 

"Bush cord" - that's a new one on me. 

Thanks for very interesting info. -
Carol
Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3510
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  40
    Guys who work in the forest or Bush as it's known in some places refer to cords as being 4 x 4 x 8. Retailers in cities like Toronto like to sell face cords since the price ends up sounding a lot cheaper when you're dealing with one quarter or one third as much wood.
Urban Rural


Joined: Jun 19, 2011
Posts: 13
Thanks Dale, I am definitely going to say "Bush cord" when I go to buy wood, it will make me sound a lot more knowledgeable.  Good to know about face cords, I realized  they were less wood than a full cord but I wasn't really aware of how MUCH less. 
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5809
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
  85
Yeah.  A "face cord" will fit in the bed of a pick-up truck.  A cord will not (and if it is hardwood, it will weigh about a ton and a half...big load for a half-ton truck).
djg-shef Hatfield


Joined: Nov 06, 2011
Posts: 1
I wouldn't understate the benefits of softwood (or overstate the dis-benefits).  All wood has pretty much the same calorific value (energy yield per lb or kg, etc.).  The useful table referred to gives energy based on volume and you will see if you divide column two by column one you get energy per weight (lb, Kg or whatever).  All come out at pretty much the same.
Well seasoned and burned hot, softwoods are excellent and becoming more popular here in the UK.  They are quick to light and burn with a high temperature and bright flame (though they can of course spit a bit so are best burned in a stove).  Larch is very low in some of the tars that can deposit in flues though burned hot, these tars are a source of calories.
Keep warm this winter!
richard valley


Joined: Aug 18, 2011
Posts: 195
Location: Sierra Nevada mountain valley CA, & Nevada high desert
Greetings, We burn a good 4 cords, 4X4X8, each winter that we cut and split here at the ranch. Almost all Fir, sometimes a bit of pine. We are preparing our other place, about to install a wood burner to save on propane, a smaller wood stove: Nordic Eric jr it has duel fan setup, had the stove for years but never used it.
I'm gathering what is needed to install the chimney, most I have had here except the roof jack or flashing, the tripple wall pipe I've had for years too, purched the jack and storm collar, making the chimney cap.

Tom Lawlor


Joined: Apr 15, 2013
Posts: 1
Urban Rural wrote:Dale, how fascinating about the places with no hardwoods, that had never occured to me.  And 20 cords of white spruce!!  You must have had a huge yard!

Hilarious about the debates re: firewood diameter, and that they actually [i]count[i] the wood.  Newfoundland must be a great place for a person with a sense of humor to live (or at least visit). 

"Bush cord" - that's a new one on me. 

Thanks for very interesting info. -
Carol


I know these are old posts and probably well out of your head by now, but, I just could not resist countering some of the incorrect info you have been given about Newfoundland. I have been burning wood to heat our home here for years and I can swear to you that we have never once purchased firewood "by the piece". People who use wood as their primary heat source in Newfoundland always buy by the cord. Those who obtain a residential permit to cut their own wood also cut it by the cord as prescribed by law. The term "face cord" is rarely used in this province and would probably only apply to those folks that buy wood already "junked"(cut into lengths suitable for splitting or burning without further processing), and either take their own truck or trailer to collect the wood or have it delivered. In those cases they buy it by the pick-up load. A cord here is the same as everywhere, 128 cubic feet. Of course you can buy bagged wood as well if you are simply using it to burn in a fireplace on special occasions. In none of these cases have I ever heard of a seller counting individual pieces of wood. It's always sold in volume.

This should not be confused with issues of log diameter. The commercial cutters have to harvest all the trees in their designated lot. That naturally leaves a wide assortment of log sizes and many homeowners have a preference for a particular diameter. That can often lead to discussion with a seller. The larger logs represent harder work for the secondary processor as they are more difficult to move around and require in most cases that extra time be spent with splitting. Last time I ordered wood ( 5 cords) the logs were mostly quite large, actually to the point that two people could barely lift them. That made the work to cut and split very difficult and even dangerous as they had been dumped on the ground sort of like a log-jam. On the other hand, people will complain if the purchase contains too many small diameter trees as well. In future I will ask that the wood be delivered by a flatbed with boom and grapple so they can stack the logs in a neat pile. I also purchased a log splitter so those big junks are now easy to split.

Burning seasoned softwood causes no concern as long as the fire is prevented from smouldering excessively and you keep the chimney clean at all times. And, of course, burning a mix of hard and softwood helps generate not just more heat but less work and creosote. Lucky for us Newfoundland has significant stands of Birch to use as fuel. Birch has no other commercial value other than as firewood and many cutters specialize in supplying it to homeowners around the island. I don't know where this Dale character lived when he was in Newfoundland but he obviously never saw the central and Western portions of the province. Both are home to impressive stands of this hardwood. As for him claiming to have burned 20 cords of wood in one winter; you might be left with the impression that our winters are extreme. Well that's not really true either, our heating season is just a bit longer than some other parts of the country. Here, where we live, on the Eastern side of the island, we actually have the second highest average mean temperature in the whole country. Last year we used 6 cords to help heat our 2,000 Sq. foot house and the only time the stove wasn't in use was during the day while we were at work.

Currently, a cord here will cost between $ 160 and $ 200 delivered. All Birch would cost more but the BTU factor makes up for that as long as you have a good quality woodstove that doesn't waste energy. The cost of heating with oil and electric are both rising here ( filling the standard 200 gallon oil tank would cost around $ 1,000 and our hydro rates are among the highest in the country. I'm in favour of exploiting the massive peat-bog deposits we have here for use as a fuel as is done in Ireland. It is estimated there is enough bog here to heat every building in the province for 500 years.

Also, it was pointed out that a pick-up will not hold a full cord. Here we simply put stakes in the truckbed walls and stack away. I can easily fit a cord in my pick-up truck. In fact, if I leave the tailgate down I can take logs as long as 12 feet with ease so actually I can get over a cord in back if I select longer logs.

One more thing; Newfoundland is a great place to live, or visit. You would be well served if you bring a sense of humor though as otherwise, you'll feel out of place.
Jeremiah wales


Joined: Dec 28, 2012
Posts: 95
    
    1
Urban Rural wrote:Thanks John for the information and cautions.  I am aiming for wood for winter after next at this point - I underestimated how much of a challenge it would be to find free wood (and at over $200 a full cord around here for "bought" wood, I'm not sure I'd save a whole lot of money heating with that instead of my natural gas furnace).  Before I started trying to heat exclusively with wood, it seemed like people were giving me free firewood all the time. 

Thanks again, and I will keep in mind about the complete burn.


Here are a few comments to consider
FREE Firewood. The free firewood that people offer me is not really free. I have to get a truck or trailer to pick it up. That cost money for gas etc. and most of the time it is old punky, half rotten or small little pieces or pieces that needs to be cut up into useable sizes. Best free firewood is the ones where I am able to go with a chainsaw and cut up down tree tops or cut down trees. But then again, I have my chainsaw. my truck and trailer. Is it really Free?
The best firewood deal I ever got was when I worked with a friend and he had a truck and I had the chainsaw. We went out and got one load for him and one load for me. We split expenses and did it easier as we both provided labor for each other as friends with a goal.
CORD wood. I Believe that the word Cord has been manipulated to scam the buyer. A cord is a cord 4ft x 4 ft x 8 ft. But there are names that people have adapted to fit their purpose.
Cord of wood
Face Cord
Rick
Firewood Cord
Have you noticed that most of the time people only use the word CORD. It is out of control now so that we need to ask for the measurement of a Cord. I wonder how a cake would come out if we used a Cup of milk or a face Cup, or a Wet Cup or is it a tea cup of milk. a Cup should measure a Cup. But that is why we have measuring cups. .
How to buy wood. If I want to get the most wood for my money. I buy unsplit wood and I stack it.This is the most important point. Selling AIR is the best way to make more money. Let me stack the split wood for you and you will get 3/4 of a cord of wood. But unsplit wood is more solid and easier to stack solid.
Cleaning a chimney, easier said than done. When I was a kid I burned not dry pine firewood. Man after a slow fire for about 3 or 4 weeks in the winter. I had a coating all the way up my chimney which was about 3/8 thick. It looked like syrup. Before I knew it I had a full blown chimney fire. The house was shaking and flames were shooting like a rocket 4 feet out the chimney. and the fire department was there.
It is simple,Just ask for the measurement of the wood you get and be careful.
David Livingston
pollinator

Joined: Apr 24, 2013
Posts: 613
    
  12
Not so sure burning peat is the answer. I have used it in Ireland Never mind the enviormental issues, it has not a great calorific value , needs lots of drying And when dry is bulky.
Smells nice though And if you get it cheap enough ok for some if you have a small house.

David


Living in Angers , France
 
 
subject: Burning softwoods?
 
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