One of my favourite things on the barge is our wood burning stove (well multi-fuel stove actually). It is the main heat source for the barge. It is also very useful to heat kettles of water and occasionally to cook on. If you are going to burn wood rather than smokeless fuel or coal there are a few tips that will help you make the most of your stove, and more importantly, make it more efficient.
Wood is wood, isn’t it?
All wood burns, but some burns better (by that I mean hotter) than others. Some types of wood are fast burning but don’t give off much heat. These would include Poplar and Willow, so these are best avoided, particularly in the Winter months when you need constant heat to keep the boat up to ambient temperature.
Pine burns well but can spit and contains a lot of tar which can clog your chimney. In fact, many chimney fires are caused by people burning Christmas trees. Although you don’t need to avoid using it, the advice would be to use it sparingly and make sure that you regularly clean your chimney (which you should do anyway whatever you are burning, but this is particularly important when burning pine logs).
Some woods burn very badly such as Holly. If you put Holly on the fire it just goes black and disappears slowly, giving off very little heat. Chestnut if it is not seasoned (completely dry) can be particularly volatile!
The best logs for maximum heat output
By contrast, Ash, Oak, Beech, Sycamore, Hazel, Apple all burn extremely well giving off maximum heat even when still slightly green. If you can, get large logs into your burner. Larger logs burn quite slowly which is great, as it saves you from getting up regularly to feed the fire.
A few other tips
It is important on a boat to have an emergency supply of fuel. The worst case scenario is if you get flooded and you can’t get to your supply. Also, make sure the wood is kept dry. Wet wood doesn’t burn well. Cover the wood, but let the air circulate if you can. Care should be taken though storing logs near your wood burner, as an unnoticed stray spark could smoulder and catch light later.
It can be difficult to obtain small logs for smaller stoves, which are commonplace on narrowboats. In these cases, you may need some way of cutting them down further. Bear in mind that split logs burn quicker than unsplit logs. Also, a good supply of dry kindling is a must. We pick up kindling on our mooring all year, to avoid buying it from the garage wrapped in plastic. You could try sourcing large quantities and fetching it yourself, this is cheaper than having it delivered. Ebay or Gumtree are good places to look for this.
How to set your wood burner without using firelighters
We tend to use what we call the ‘cave’ method.
- First, make a three-sided wall by putting one medium log widthways at the back of the wood burner, and two medium logs either side, continue to build it up to three tiers (as you would a log cabin)
- Next, use some paper in the middle (one piece) with something more substantial like cardboard (toilet roll centres or egg boxes are ideal, but not glossy paper as this doesn’t burn well) on top, but don’t overdo the paper or cardboard layer.
- Put a handful of kindling on top of that (about 5 pieces should be enough), followed by small dry logs about 5cm diameter
- Top with a larger log
- Light the paper, it should light the first time. Then sit back and enjoy the heat.
Incidentally, if you would like to learn more about chopping firewood read our blog post How to split logs for firewood