What wood should I be using?

Short answer

DRY. This means a maximum of 25% moisture content but ideally under 18% if possible.

Do not burn any wood which has been treated as this will release poisonous gases and dioxins. Do not use any driftwood as the salt content can cause irreparable damage to the ceramic cylinder and metal components. Younger softwoods and timber which has a higher moisture content will produce a greater volume of creosote and soot than dry, well seasoned hardwood. 

Logs should be approximately 100mm - 120mm in diameter by around 300mm - 400mm long.


Long answer

Dry wood is a must. To get the heat out of wood the fuel must pass through several stages. Firstly, free water that is not chemically bound with the wood is driven off – even wood at 20% moisture content still has to get rid of 2 litres of water for every 10 kilograms of wood. In the second stage the wood breaks down into the volatile gases, liquids and charcoal. Finally, the charcoal is also gasified, burning with a very short flame close to the char surface that appears to glow. In wood stoves all stages proceed simultaneously.

Wood is the most prolific worldwide, solar embedded, carbon sequestered energy source which is renewable in a human lifetime. It will provide energy when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing, when the outside temperature is above or way below freezing and when the electricity is not coming out of that little hole in the wall. If the abundant, worldwide timber resource is managed correctly it is the most sustainable, environmentally safe, renewable, resource we have and it has sustained mankind for centuries, providing us with warmth for the space we live in, warm water to clean with and the ability to cook food.

With the discovery of more energy intensive and easily transportable fossil fuels, wood was relegated to a lowly place in the order of preference and although it is bulky to transport it is the safest as it does not need a specially built pipeline, it won't suddenly explode or cause devastating marine pollution and with almost no refining can be used in its raw state. The closer it is used to the place where it has grown makes this an even more environmentally friendly product.

Most designer wood burners catering to aesthetic demands totally disregard the thermal conductivity of wood. Microscopic examination of wood shows the channels which carry the liquid nutrients up and down the tree; consequently the properties of wood are very different along the grain than across it. Heat moves along the grain about fifteen times faster than across it, therefore, solid wood across the grain does not conduct heat and is an effective insulator meaning it does not readily burn.

When a fire is lit, even by rubbing two sticks together, the gasification process starts and it is the combustion of these gases with air that produce heat which we see as flames and smoke. When heat cannot penetrate wood easily, i.e. across the grain, the volatiles given off are not rich enough nor hot enough to burn efficiently. Efficiency apparently is not a consideration in such panoramic appliances.

This is getting to the really nerdy bit now...

Burning of the volatile gases delivers over 60% of the heat stored in the original log but few heaters can recover the major portion of this heat as the volatiles must be over 600°C and mixed with hot oxygen to burn them. Now these are difficult conditions to meet and here’s why: if the main air supply comes from under or around the burning logs, the glowing char consumes all of the oxygen - it takes only 5cms of glowing char to consume all the available oxygen. At that point, incomplete combustion continues as characterised by increased carbon monoxide and tars which mostly go up the chimney where the unburnt volatiles deposit on the flue walls as a highly flammable, gummy substance known as creosote. It is wrong to introduce cold secondary air above the fuel as it cools the gases below their ignition temperature and now they won’t burn at all. The requirement is to introduce a highly pre-heated but variable volume of air for the different stages of combustion. This is done very efficiently by the secondary air tubes inside the Pyroclassic IV fire.

All fires consume large volumes of air in order to extract the oxygen required to burn their fuel. One kilogram of wood needs 3.7m3 of air to burn completely, although this is only a theoretical minimum for stoichiometric combustion. Such ideal combustion does not exist in real life as only some of the oxygen in that amount of air can be used and therefore 'cool fires' need some 200% - 300% excess air to get the oxygen they need. Therefore some 7 - 10m3 of air per kilogram of wood pass through the firebox cooling the core temperature inside it and cooling air below 600°C , which kills the reaction needed to burn the volatiles. In most fires the air needs of the fire make it work against itself making it inefficient and polluting, the excess air it uses only goes up the chimney with all that gas, tar and particulates. A Pyroclassic IV only uses super-heated air in its secondary burn cycle ensuring there is no cooling of the firebox and no excess air consumed.

Burning wood scientifically is done very effectively by the Pyroclassic IV freestanding woodburning fire but even the cleanest and most efficient woodburning stove needs logs which are as dry as possible to give the best output from your fuel. Check the moisture content of your wood when you buy it and then let nature do the hard work for you. Stack it off the ground in an open sided, roofed store to allow plenty of air flow around it for as long as possible or at least until the moisture content is below 20%. It’s then ready to be used in your Pyroclassic fire to give you a nice warm house right through winter in the most efficient and cleanest way possible.