Monday, 4 October 2010

Tree species guide for firewood

Here is a guide to the firewood qualities of each type of tree that we have growing in this part of southwest France.

Sweet Chestnut.
castanea sativa

Sweet Chestnut small roundwood from the first thinning of the coppice at 17 years.
These really need 2 years to dry out properly as they are unsplit.
This species makes up about 50% of my woodland. This wood must be split to enable it to dry out. If
left unsplit it will take years to dry out even if it is covered. Straight, knot free pieces are a pleasure to split parting easily and cleanly. Old, twisted and knotty pieces can be nearly impossible and it saves a lot of time and frustation if you precut through the knots with the chainsaw. On reasonable sized knots it is best to either steer well clear of them or to go for a split that will run right through the centre of the knot splitting the base of the enclosed branch. The latter is a technique that works well for me. Usable the following winter but larger pieces are better for leaving for the one after!

Silver Birch.
betula pendula
This makes nice firewood. when dry it's light weight and burns well. It must be split within a few months of felling or it will rapidly deteriorate even if kept dry. I guess the bark must be waterproof and the humidity within the wood cannot escape so that the wood that has absolutely no natural rot resistance turns to mush leaving just the outer circle of bark. The basel 50-80cm of a birch tree of any stature is an absolute sod to split even by machine. It is so tough and stringy. Best solution is to cut into short lengths of 30-40cm for splitting. I still sometimes even for these short lengths need the help of the chainsaw to cut a full log round in half. In general the wood is a little stringy and a hand axe or small chopper is a great help for cutting through the last persistant fibres. In a sunny spot it dries very well for use the following winter.

fagus sylvatica
A lovely firewood - one of my favourites. Once again it must be split within a few months or it will start to deteriorate becoming mottled (spalted) in appearance as it becomes invaded by fungal colonies. It has no natural resistance to rot so it must be kept dry. It splits fairly easily and cleanly except for the lowest 50-100cm of the trunk. Cut this part into short pieces for splitting. If you take the effort to follow these guidelines it is super firewood. It dries easily for use the following winter and burns well with a good sustained heat.

fraxinus excelsior
Widely regarded as the best firewood. When freshly felled it naturally has a low moisture content and lovely white wood. It will dry well even when not split. It is a little stringy at times which can make it a little difficult to split. It is however well worth the effort. Unfortunatly it is only a minor species in this area growing mostly in the valley bottoms on the more fertile and humid soils. The few trees that I have tend to be of great form and are much too good for firewood. I normally use only the branchwood for firewood production. I plant and encourage the regeneration of ash more than any other tree. Please try to do the same if you can.

quercus robur
Great firewood but it can be quite hard work to produce. Open grown trees are very knotty and these are hard to split. This is easiest to do when the wood is still very freshly felled. Cut through the larger knots with the chainsaw and or cut into short lengths to make splitting easier. Keep the logs dry or the sapwood which is often quite a large percentage of the log will quickly rot away even on split wood. If the logs get repeatedly rained on they produce several types of fungi which are soft and slimy and not a pleasant experiance without good gloves! Small splits will dry before winter but all larger pieces need an extra year or even two to get the full potential from this hot burning, long lasting wood.

corylus avellana
Don't overlook this as a source of firewood. The wood dries well without splitting and burns nicely. Hazel is a quick growing species that coppices readily and will provide with a good crop of round logs and kindling if cut every 12-20+ years. As this grows as a dense cluster of stems make the first cuts at about 1m above ground until all the stems are felled and cut up. Then with the chain saw horizontal, cut through the top of the stool to cut free all the 1m legths that are still attached to the it- of which there can be well over 100 individual stems. This technique taught to me by my old french neighbours greatly reduces the danger of kickback caused by the guide bar tip touching the crowded stems.

tilia platyphyllus and cordata
It's wood and it burns when it is dry is about all you can say from a firewood perspective. Don't make an effort to aquire or produce firewood from it, but if the tree has to come down use it.

Fruit tree wood
Malus and Prunus species
These burn well but are usually a pain to split especially with old knotty trees

salix species
Found growing on damp or boggy soils. We have a lot of this, I have found this to be a better than expected firewood. It dries well both split or unsplit. It burns a bit quickly and therefore I would never sell it to anyone. We burn it at home as well as all the other odd left over pieces of wood, the horrid knotty bits, partly rotted logs etc. and find that they all burn and heat the house pretty well.

Wild Cherry
prunus avium
One of my favourite trees so I never cut them down unless they are almost dead or they blow over. The wood burns well but should be split first for drying. Any good straight stems should be planked and used for something better than burning!

Sycamore and Norway maple
acer pseudoplatanus and acer platanoides
Easy to split and burn pretty well. They are both only very minor species in this area so I don't get to cut a lot of either.

abies, larix,picea, pinus,pseudosuga etc. species
I have used many species of conifers for firewood and have found that they burn fairly well, but quickly. They have a more open wood structure and therefore dry more quickly than hardwoods. For splitting I always cut them into short pieces about 30-45cm in length and always split around the knots.


  1. great great greeeeaaaatt!!!.. You have helped me in an extraordinary way, I seek information for a book, and you are exactly what I wanted.. thank you sooo much!! --Emma

  2. Try using your silver birch bark to ignite your fires, if the reverse is fluffed with a knife it will light readily from a firesteel and is truely rewarding :)

    Thanks for the firewood info.

    Regards, Matt.

    P.s. give us a visit

  3. Any advice regarding quick growing trees would be helpful I want to plant some trees in France and want something that will act as a screen and also grow quickly other than conifers.

  4. Any advice regarding quick growing trees would be helpful I want to plant some trees in France and want something that will act as a screen and also grow quickly other than conifers.

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  6. I am very much grateful to you for this post.Everyone around the UK knows the Importance Of Firewoods
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