Friday, 30 December 2011

Gathering winter fuel


One of the things I relish in winter is the log-burner. We have a little Stovax in the back room - a room small enough to heat easily on cold winter evenings. A glass of wine, some music, my Kindle and the glow of the log-burner. What more is there to life?

I even enjoy cleaning the thing each morning, chucking out the ashes, refilling the log box with more wood. At the moment I’m using a load of logs I bought locally last year. They were already seasoned according to the delivery guy, but I stacked them by the garage and gave them another year.

Now they’re perfect. Well-seasoned hardwood chunks which split easily into the size our stove likes best. Some chunks are oak, judging by the colour, the grain and bits of deep bark here and there. I tend to split everything into smallish logs so I can feed the burner little and often. Big logs in our small Stovax tend to burn too strongly or subside into big black ashy lumps which have to be prodded and turned over to finish them off.

Apart from wood I buy, I have loads from the garden because we've only been here two years and a fair bit of hacking-back was required. We inherited a 50 foot blue cedar, but the tree-feller took away most of that as part of the deal for felling the thing.

I also have lots of logs given by friends and neighbours who know we have the log burner. Even an old pine bed is useful kindling. I’ve tried some artificial logs made from compressed bark too. Very good they are, but they burn in rather an odd way and last nowhere near as long as claimed by the manufacturer.

I’ve developed an eye for good stove-weather as well, for judging the breeze in the frond-like tops of silver birches against a darkening sky. Are we in for a good, steady burn or will a fretful wind moan its way down the chimney, drawing the fire in fits and starts so I’m forever getting out of my chair to fiddle with the air vents?

I’ve only had one failure so far – a foggy evening, the air heavy with damp and as still as a crypt. The stove smoked from the start and outside I could see it drifting across the lawn as if it had simply fallen off the roof, completely knackered after struggling up the chimney.

I soon gave it up as a bad job. After all, we have a gas fire in the other room. It isn't the same though - now why is that?

Note - Old Fool has a nice poetic take on firewood.


Sam Vega said...

Yes, one of life's finer pleasures. I find that I do a lot of scrounging for lumps of softwood and other scrap that I don't always split into kindling, but burn with the logs to spin them out a bit more.

The atmospheric conditions issue is enduringly fascinating. I conclude that there is an "X factor" which I cannot detect, independent of breeze and bright skies and lack of damp.

Should you be cleaning out every morning, by the way? Ours works best with a nice deep bed of wood ash. I believe the ash is good for the garden, too.

I once had dreams of heating the house entirely by means of the stove. By judicious opening and closing of doors, and deciding when to sit where, we could do it. But for a family of four (five when my older son visits) it would mean burning over ten tons of wood per year. This would take up a space bigger than we have available in the outhouse; a stack of wood about the size of our living room!

A K Haart said...

SV - I only clear the ash from the pan, which on the Stovax is rather shallow so I do it every morning even though it would last longer. Like you I leave a bed of ash in the grate.

Our plumber fixed a water tank to the back of his stove and connected it to the radiator system. He doesn't use a pump, but relies on thermal currents to take warm water round the central heating system.

dearieme said...

We used to have a cottage with an open fire. We used a combination of firewood that we bought and driftwood that we gathered on the beach. I miss it.

A K Haart said...

d - I bet you do. There is something very satisfying about roaming along a beach gathering driftwood for a fire.