Fuel for the autumn and winter

Another delivery of UK Heatlogs as we stock up on fuel for autumn and winter. 105 boxes arrived on a pallet which was set down between two parked cars on our street. In true Cornish fashion, it started raining as soon as I had signed off the delivery. A chain gang of friends helped us carry them inside where we piled them into every room downstairs. This weekend we will rearrange the shed outside and move them to a more sensible location!

 

Buying Local – Cornish Milk

We rarely shop in supermarkets if we can help it. Personally, I dislike the atmosphere of them, and find the bullying tactics used to squeeze suppliers to maximise profits for shareholders rather distasteful. I prefer to buy as much produce from local suppliers where I can.

In Penzance we are lucky to have many shops that sell local produce. One every day essential that we always buy as a Cornish product is milk. Roddas, the company famous for their clotted cream, also sell milk in Cornwall (“the locals’ milk”). We can also buy milk from Roskillys, famous in Cornwall for their fantastic ice cream and fudge, as well as Trewithen Dairy.

Cornish Milk

Cornish milk from Roskillys, Roddas, and Trewithen Dairy

It’s not as expensive as you’d imagine either. Thornes on Causewayhead, Penzance, sell Roddas milk at 99p for 4 pints, which I believe is competitive with the supermarket milk. Milk from Trewithen Dairy can be found in the Costcutter at the bottom of Causewayhead (with lots of other local produce) at 89p for 2 pints, and Roskilly’s organic milk in Archie Brown’s on Bread Street at £1.19 for 2 pints.

So, if you’re looking to start buying more local produce, and you live in Cornwall, try looking into some smaller shops and see if you can find some Cornish milk. It’s delicious and good for all the right reasons. If you don’t live in Cornwall, see if you can hunt down milk from a nearby dairy, and help keep regional variation and choice alive.

 

 

Sawdust heat logs: the perfect wood burning stove fuel

Today I re-ordered a full pallet of sawdust briquettes from UK Heatlogs. In January, we took advantage of an offer to buy a 1000kg pallet of their ‘B grade’ bagged sawdust heat logs and after our previous year of bad wood, haven’t looked back since. For the benefit of new readers, we have three fires in our house, and we need them, since they are our only source of heat and hot water (and we actually don’t want to change that). One of our stoves is a range cooker, so much of our cooking is fired by solid fuel.

UK Heatlogs

The advantages of UK Heatlogs:

  • They burn hot
  • The leave very little ash. Scarily little!
  • The are clean. A bit of sawdust on the floor sweeps up easily and doesn’t mark, unlike coal
  • They are consistently dry
  • They can be broken up into smaller discs to start a fire more easily
  • They are easy to light – they’re so dry
  • If you load up your stove, get it blazing, then turn down the airflows, they can burn all night and still have some embers glowing by morning
  • They are environmentally sound – turning waste from the timber trade into fuel
  • UK Heatlogs are now HETAS approved
  • No more nasty coal dust

ukheatlogs-burningI could go on: neat bags stacked up to the roof in our wood shed. Clean bags – a few of which we can stack inside so that we don’t have to brave the Cornish rain driving in off the sea (and it rains a great deal here). We can now get a fire going and the house warm really quickly, and also be sure that when we wake up, the stove will still be hot and be quick to get blazing again if it’s cold outside.

I wish we could say the same of the wood that we have tried from five different suppliers over the past year.

When ordering a new pallet of their ‘A grade’ bagged heat logs this morning, I spoke with Christian, who told me that they are trialling the sale of their heat logs at Aldi. Let’s hope more people discover them, because it’s a big relief when you rely on solid fuel to find something that’s efficient, and you get on with.

Without wishing to sound like an advert, and I have no relationship with them other than as a customer, but if you are hunting for a consistent fuel for your wood burning stove, do have a look at the UK Heatlogs website and as we did, order a trial box. After your first pallet, you won’t look back.

 

This week’s fuel

This week we are stretching out the last 8 bags of UK Heatlogs by using it to get our fires going, then continuing with wood for the duration of the evening. The weather has been mild enough down here in the west of Cornwall to not need the fire going all day (at last!).

My father-in-law brought down in the boot of his car all the way from London a substantial amount of 2 year seasoned apple wood. He had had it stacked neatly in a dry place thinking it may come in handy. It did!

 

With a hand saw, I've cut up the lengths into the right size for our Esse Ironheart, which is currently belting out plenty of heat behind me as I type.

Apple wood burns very hot indeed, with long-lasting embers. It's very efficient indeed, and I'll be making enquiries locally to see if anyone has any apple trees that they might need pruning!

 

 

On burning pallets

We're lucky enough to live near a number of places which regularly receive deliveries on pallets. If we ask first, we're often allowed to take the odd one away to burn in our stoves. We have had many a day where our entire heating, hot water, and cooking has been provided for free this way.

If you do burn pallets, be sure to check that they are solid wood. Never burn pallets that include chipboard or layered ply as these contain glue which is bad for you, your stove, your flue, and the environment in general.

Cut them up with a saw – splitting with a hatchet or axe isn't much fun.

Here, I have cut a pallet into chunks ready for burning using a hand saw. I don't worry about removing nails, as it's vastly easier to empty them from the ash pan than it is to extract them from the wood!
 

Happy St Piran’s Day – Gool Peran Lowen!

5th March is St Piran’s Day here in Cornwall. In Penzance and many other Cornish towns, the streets are decorated with black and gold, shops display our national flag, and parades snake their way through the narrow and winding streets to tunes new and old played on just about every instrument imaginable.

We went out to watch the Penzance parade at 10.15am. The roads in the town centre were closed off, and literally hundreds (650, it was said) of schoolchildren and locals processed in their black, white, gold and Cornish tartan finery, proudly waving their banners and flags of St Piran. It was a wonderful sight.

One and all gathered by the bandstand in the subtropical Morrab Gardens to watch the enthusiastic play about the legend of St Piran, performed by a local school. There must have been about a thousand people, and the atmosphere was incredible, everyone so happy, and celebrating all that is Cornish.

We’re continuing the celebrations. We had pasties for lunch (not such a rare event, I assure you!) and are cooking something special for dinner that is made from 99.9% Cornish. There will be a separate blog post for that. In the meantime, here’s a slideshow of some photos from the parade – I hope that they give a sense of what it was like.

Gool Peran Lowen!

 

The trials of finding a supplier of dry seasoned firewood, ready to burn, in west Cornwall

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[Update April 2017] We still buy wood from Iglu, and still highly recommend them, but we have now sold our Esse Ironheart and have had central heating installed. Read why.

[Update February 2015] We are now buying our wood from Iglu, a Cornish company based near Looe.

We live in a terraced house in Penzance. Our three fires are our only form of heating, which is how we like it. We have a highly efficient Town & Country Farndale wood burning stove in our lounge, a small open fire in the second reception room, and an Esse Ironheart in our dining room which adjoins the kitchen. The Ironheart also provides our hot water via a thermal store and gravity system, and we cook on and in it. We use just under a cubic metre of wood each month.

We have now had firewood from five six different suppliers. Five of them have supplied second-rate wood, with moisture readings from 30% to off-the-scale. The one who supplied the best wood ironically wasn’t keen to deliver to us again as they could not tip the load of wood onto a driveway. Another local supplier refused to deliver at all after I described where we lived, as it seems tipping the wood is the only method many are prepared to do.

Wood, it seems, is a fuel often just burned as an occasional luxury by people with large houses, their own driveway, plenty of money, and no knowledge of what dry, seasoned wood, is like.

Is it local wood?

The last load of wood we bought, from another of the larger firms west of Truro, turns out to have been imported from Latvia, according to the driver. I was aghast as all this wood was piled up in our yard, to learn that it had come from such a long way away, making no environmental sense whatsoever.

Stacking Fee

Cornish Firewood delivers wood in netted bags as standard, and the driver will generally help to get your wood as near as possible to your store. Other suppliers such as South West Forestry will charge a £10 “stacking fee” to take a loose load through a property. I can see that this is fair enough, as if there’s a lot of wood this can take a while, and time is money, after all.

Wood as a variable product

Wood is, after all, a natural and variable source of fuel. However, people have seasoned firewood for millennia. Is it a lost art? Perhaps. With the exception of the first load of logs we got from B&B Logs, the moisture content has been all over the place. None of the others have managed to supply seasoned wood with a moisture content under 30%. The Latvian wood has been closest to this mark, being 30-35% on average. Twice we have been given unseasoned or only partially seasoned wood when paying for seasoned. The “largest” supplier of firewood in these parts who delivers in netted bags eventually, after much argument, replaced the unseasoned wood with what was claimed to be kiln-dried, yet the larger pieces still had a moisture content of above 30%. But there’s only so much complaining one can do…

Our chimney sweep told us that on visiting one of the suppliers we have tried, they were stacking their wood to ‘season’ in such a way that air could not pass through and had to encourage them to re-stack it. Simply leaving wood in piles for set six months does not constitute seasoning. This news did not fill me with confidence for our prospects of finding someone who can supply regular loads of dry, seasoned, ready to burn firewood.

It turns out that over the border in Devon we’re not alone with our frustrations.

What’s the alternative?

Our last delivery of wood came from South West Forestry, and along with the (well-travelled) wood, we ordered 10 packs of their local sawdust briquettes. They are fantastic. Bone dry, quick to light, loads of heat, and consistent. They were £3.95 per pack of 12 and we used on average 4 per day to mix in with logs to get it all going. But what about using them as the primary form of fuel, and just mix a few logs in? The key is to find sawdust logs that are good, and affordable, and buy them in bulk.

Our next experiment is with a palette of UK Heatlogs, which should arrive in the next few days. 81 12kg bags of sawdust logs for £175; fuel which has a moisture content of about 6%. We bought a tester pack last year and were astounded by how hot they burned. Now we have more experience ‘driving’ our stoves, we should get a lot out of them.

[Update May 2014] We burned heat logs exclusively for over a year. However, we’ve converted our Esse Ironheart to be wood-burning only since we don’t use coal, allowing us to fit more fuel in and get a better overnight burn. However, this wasn’t great for the heat logs, which tended to collapse into dense piles of hot sawdust and not get as hot as we’d like. Heat logs are better on a multi fuel grate in our experience.

So we have returned to using wood. One other supplier of ‘seasoned’ wood was tried, and a mixed load was ‘mixed’ in moisture too, from 25% to 40%. We will have a big stack of this wood in our woodshed for a long time to come while it dries out. I’m slowly splitting the bigger logs to help them dry out more quickly.

A pallet of kiln-dried Ash logs from Kuggar Stoves was the best wood we’ve ever had, and so, if we can get a slightly better price than £155/m3 we’ll burn that from now on, and perhaps mix in some of our last loose load of ‘seasoned’ as we go.

 

On cheap wood

Our local fuel supplier recently had an offer on “seasoned” firewood at £2.89 a bag. Based on our experiences thus far, and from what our chimney sweep had told us, we knew not to expect much. So, knowing that we would have to lay the wood out for a month or more to dry out, we bought a few bags. …