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Dry Science

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Jane and I got our first wood burning stove in the spring of 2014. We were fortunate to find some free sources of wood quite early on, like a big old conifer that had fallen at the back of a friend’s property, and so, come our first winter, we had enough firewood to keep us going. We kept our eyes open and, although stocks ran low once or twice, we never ran out of seasoned firewood that had spent at least six months cut and split and often much longer.

That matters, because wood can have a very variable amount of moisture. It counts as “dry” and good for burning around 20% moisture content and below but the level can be much higher than that. That means it is harder to ignite and it will smoulder away, giving out more smoke and other combustion by-products (like the soot and tar that can build up and ignite in chimneys). Therefore, for ease of use and for health and safety, dry wood is required. How do you tell though? The appearance can give some clues but “wet” wood is typically far from sopping wet.

The answer is that you need to measure the electrical resistance: possible with a multimeter but easier with a dedicated moisture meter. To that end, I recently picked up one produced by Tavool. So far, I’m quite impressed with it. The device confirmed that most of what I’ve got ready to burn inside is indeed dry, down towards 15%, although I did find a short stick that was closer to 50% (back outside for that one!). I also split open a section of the Christmas tree we are disposing of for friends. That’s still approaching 40% inside so I’ll get the rest split up soon but, as expected, that will need to sit and season.

Since getting our house in Loughborough in July — and the wood stove installed in August — we’ve been playing catch up with our wood supplies. We even ended up buying in a load and might want a second if the weather remains cold. However, at least now we’re not guessing about which bits are perfect to burn and which might need a bit longer to get ready for their big day.