Firewood is a cheap, non-fossil fuel from a renewable resource.
Many small woodlands are under-managed – cutting firewood from them can help rekindle traditional woodland management to the benefit of both the trees, the wildlife and the owners.
Small-scale firewood production can help revitalise a declining rural economy.
To cut logs properly and profitably needs a management plan and an outlet. Depending on the volume of wood to be cut, you may need a felling licence from the Forestry Commission.
Local woodland initiatives should also be able to provide advice including how to market the products if you are not cutting wood just for own use.
Newly cut logs are about half water making them heavy and difficult to burn without drying or seasoning. Logs are normally cut in winter and left to season during the following summer before they are ready for burning the next winter. Ideally logs should be stored outside under cover where the air can dry them but the rain cannot get to them.
Some trees make better firewood than others. Broadleaf trees are denser than conifers so provide more heat energy volume for volume.
Properly seasoned ash, oak, beech, birch, sycamore and hornbeam are all good firewood.
Conifers are prone to throw sparks as are sweet chestnut and turkey oak although they can be used very dry in a closed wood-burning stove or boiler.
Alder, willows and poplars are poor firewood due to their high moisture content although they are suitable for biomass production for burning in commercial boilers.
People often ask how much firewood they would need to heat their home and provide hot water each year. In round terms, a cottage would need 8 – 16 tonnes, a two or three bedroom family home 16 – 24, and a farmhouse 24 – 32. A 1 hectare (2.46 acres) broadleaved woodland should produce about 5 tonnes of fresh logs a year.
Although attractive, open fires are not efficient and may waste up to 85% of the heat. Wood-burning stoves are more efficient and can be visually attractive and larger models produce domestic hot water too.
Larger boilers are available to heat buildings as large as stately homes and often use wood chips in a boiler which is fed an automatic continuous system.
Firewood is a basic essential in the lives of many people worldwide.
The Royal Forestry Society supports Tree Aid – the foresters’ charity which works to pump prime projects and encourage better management of forest resources across the Sahel belt of Africa. The work includes designing and making more efficient stoves to conserve firewood resources.
More: If you are interested in heating your home using wood, further details are available on the British Biogen website, which is the UK trade association for the growing Bio-energy industry or The National Energy Foundation.