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For a gift or for heating, how to shop for firewood.

For a gift or for heating, how to shop for firewood

The warm glow of a wood fire seems as much a part of the Christmas season as needled evergreens and stuffed turkey. If you plan to stock the woodpile for the holidays, here are some tips.

Hardwood or softwood. Here in the West, we're blessed with a great variety of trees and almost as many types of firewood. Local availability will vary, of course, but your options can be divided into two types: hardwoods and softwoods. Hardwoods come from broad-leafed trees such as oak, madrone, and eucalyptus. Softwoods come from conifers such as pine, juniper, and cedar.

Each type has different burning characteristics, but hardwoods generally produce a hot, slow-burning fire. Softwood fires are easier to start but don't burn as long. Softwoods often contain resins which can cause the wood to crackle and throw dangerous sparks while burning. And burning them can lead to the buildup of flammable creosote in your chimney.

Some people prefer to buy both kinds: they use quick-burning softwood to start the fire, then add a hardwood log or two for a long-lasting bed of embers. Fruitwoods and cedar give you the bonus of a pleasant fragrance.

How to compare prices. Firewood prices range widely, depending on where you live and the kind of wood you buy. The best way to compare prices is to realize you're buying heat output, not just wood. You'll soon find that the least expensive wood is not always the best heating buy.

The amount of heat a particular type of dry firewood gives off when it is burned is directly related to its density and weight, and can be expressed in BTU units. Since scientists have calculated the BTU output of all common firewoods, these numbers can be used to compare the dollar values per cord (a stack 4 by 4 by 8 feet) of different woods.

We've simplified the data in the chart at lower left, which you can use for a quick comparison of relative heating value.

Let wet firewood dry before burning. Green wood is harder to start, provides less heat, and gives off more smoke.

To make sure you're buying seasoned (dry) wood, look for checks or cracks in the ends of the logs; these are usually a sign of dryness. Or bang two pieces together solidly; you'll want to hear a sharp crack, not a dull thud.

If you do buy green firewood, you'll need to season it before burning. This will take a few months to a year, depending on its wetness, your climate, the type of wood, and how you stack it. The photograph shows one way to stack cordwood so that air can circulate freely between the logs. Split logs will dry faster than round ones.

Store in a convenient place. Store ready-to-use firewood where it will stay relatively dry and be easy to get at--even in the worst winter weather.

In all cases, keep the bottom layer of the pile off the ground. And don't stack firewood against the side of the house: it may contain termites or other wood-damaging insects that could get into your home.

Photo: Handy bundle of aromatic cedar logs makes a hearth-warming holiday gift for host or hostess

Photo: Layer green logs crosswise to permit good air circulation, which will season the wood for better heating
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Dec 1, 1986
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