Wood for Open Fires
All wood will burn equally well in a good wood-burning stove. But not every kind of wood is suitable for open fires.
Conifer wood tends to trap the wood gas created inside the log. As the piece of wood gets hot, high gas pressure can therefore build up until it finally forces its way out. When the fire crackles due to the gas explosion, red-hot bits of wood come off and in some cases can be thrown several metres from the fire. Sparks can be a hazard for carpets, furniture and the clothes of people sitting near the hearth. So the only safe way to enjoy the crackling of a traditional log fire is to screen off the fire from the living room with a glass or mesh fire guard. Spruce and fir make less soot in an open fire than pine.
Wood from deciduous trees more readily releases the wood gas from inside the burning logs, and so sparking and bits breaking off are less frequent. Oak, ash and robinia will all make an open fire which gives off plenty of radiant heat with only occasional sparking. The quietest burners are beech, fruit tree wood, maple and birch. The hotter the fire, the more quickly a large quantity of gas builds up inside a log placed on it. If that large quantity of wood gas cannot escape from the log quickly enough, then sparking will occur, even with deciduous wood. Because the structure of the wood in trees is as individual as the way we humans look, nature is always coming up with surprises. So never leave an open fire unattended.
Choosing Wood for an Open Fire
Its silvery bark makes birch a popular choice for burning. But other kinds of wood are just as suitable for open fires. Something which one lover of open fires has immortalised in literature. The well-known French novelist Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (1873 to 1954) wrote in "La Retraite Sentimentale":
"I read or play with the fire, I riddle the embers, I pick out a log from the basket just as one chooses one's favourite books!"
If you want to do this too, you will need to get in supplies of several different kinds of wood.
Here are some suggestions to guide you:
- Birch for its beautiful bark
- Beech (or maple or fruit tree wood) for heat
- Ash or oak for lively, crackling flames