Be Prepared for Winter!
It won’t be long before we feel the deep chill of winter, so it’s best to be ready for it!
Bad weather can occur at any time of the year and it takes different forms – high winds, heavy rainfall and sub-zero temperatures being the most obvious conditions. In Norway, it is a legal civil contingency requirement that homeowners have an alternative form of energy available. In practice, this means a woodburning stove. In the UK, such stoves have become a major growth area as energy prices soar and we feel the need to have a degree of independence from a weakening energy chain as well as the pleasure of a glowing fire radiating its heat throughout the home. Here is some useful advice for getting the best from owning a woodburning stove.
• Buy or collect wood for burning well before you need it. A woodburning stove, unlike an open fire, is not fussy about what sort of wood you use because of its efficiency. Look around for the best ‘quality for price’ from a reputable supplier. Word of mouth is useful here. If you use a stove regularly, you will need far more wood than you might imagine!
• I’m lucky; I never ever have to buy wood, which makes running costs negligible. As a woodworker, I often acquire chunks of waste wood. I also belong to a volunteer footpath group which sometimes gives us access to felled trees already cut to log length. There is both satisfaction and recompense in this activity for helping the community.
• Split your logs on a thick, flat slice of log, resting firmly on solid ground. A piece of a mature tree is ideal; surfaces prepared with a chainsaw give smooth faces top and bottom on which to work. Don’t have your block too high – this might seem to protect your back, but you do need the extra swing distance for the axe or maul to do its work. Logs need to be split correctly, so they can dry ready for burning. The bark provides protection to the the trunk while the tree is growing, but this slows drying considerably, hence the need for splitting logs while still ‘green’.
• Make sure the logs will fit your wood stove lengthwise. You need convenient sizes for burning. The diameter can be dealt with using a splitting axe or maul, or a heavy hammer and wedges. The choice depends on how big the task is. Use a froe to reduce the logs further in size. The bigger each piece is, the slower it will burn, but too big and it won’t fit in your firebox.
• A car tyre or bungees can be used to hold a log together while splitting it into pieces. Once the log starts to split, it can be reduced still further with a froe and club.
• You will need kindling to get a fire started. Don’t buy this; instead, use slim pieces of dry waste wood from the workshop and dry twigs. You can also take thin log sections and split them with a hatchet or hand axe. To avoid hand injury, hold the section upright with another slim piece and bring the axe down smartly.
• Split logs and kindling must sit on a dry surface. Pallets are good as they allow airflow underneath. Stack your logs between uprights of some sort to get a high, stable pile. The stack needs airflow all around, with a weighted rain cover or roof and drop-down tarpaulin to cover the front.
• Logs must lose most of their moisture before you burn them or you will be simply boiling water in the form of sap, which wastes energy and can cause flue corrosion. A moisture level of 10–15% is acceptable. A cheap moisture meter can help you keep a check on drying, but you should expect the process to take some months.
• When you have the woodburner going, you will need to keep some logs and kindling nearby for convenience and to allow final drying in the atmosphere of the house.
• On your woodburner, replace cracked firebricks, door glass and door rope (if it is frayed). You should only use a woodburner with a proper flue lining. This will get coated in tarry, not sooty, deposits, so get the chimney flue swept regularly.
• To light a woodburner, use scrunched-up newspaper to line the grate and then pile kindling in a pyramid shape, before applying a lit match in several places. Leave the door slightly ajar for five minutes and keep the vents open. Leaving the door open creates a ‘Venturi effect’, which causes air to speed up and helps conflagration. Close the door and leave for a few more minutes, then add some small log sections carefully. Close the upper and lower vents midway as the fire settles. After a while, you can add a larger log section and start to adjust the vents as necessary. Once the fire is burning well, do not close the vents completely as this restricts airflow too much.
• A wood fire needs to be on a bed of ash and this takes times to build up. When the fire is out and the stove is cold, press the ash into a firm bed all over the grate. After a number of burning sessions, the ash will rise too high, so scrape some off the top, place it in an ash can and dispose of it.
• Woodburners provide electromagnetic heat like the sun. The heat radiates, creating a buffer that spreads around, unlike dull radiators. With care, you can cook or boil on your woodburner, and you can string lines of laundry safely away from the stove for drying. Just take care, have a set of fire tools and armoured leather gloves at the ready, and keep a fireguard in front. Sit back and enjoy the heat; it’s worth all the effort!