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. … 


Farndale with smokeless coal (Thermaheat by Semmens)

image The winter is setting in. Temperatures in west Cornwall are going down although not as dramatically as elsewhere. But now is the time to test how much heat we can get out of our solid fuel heating and hot water system. Having recently had a second bad experience with a major local wood supplier we decided to embrace smokeless coal more fully.

Our previous smokeless coal order was for 125kg of Ecoal by Homefire. It is a hexagonal large briquette which needs a good bed of embers to get going but then keeps going for many hours and we successfully used it to keep our Esse Ironheart ‘in’ all night. This meant a nice warm bathroom in the morning (towel rail heat leak radiator), plenty of hot water and a ground floor that isn’t ‘bracing’.

We turned to our most local coal merchant Semmens for our next order and decided to order a variety of the cheaper and more expensive smokeless coals, in addition to naturally smokeless anthracite. Reviews are difficult to decipher as are descriptions so we wanted to find out for ourselves whether paying more necessarily gets you a) higher heat output b) long lasting heat.

Our front of house heating is provided by a Town and Country Farndale, a super efficient multi-fuel burner but whose capability on coal we hadn’t fully discovered. Yesterday I built up a fire just with a firelighter and bone-dry kindling. Then slowly added layers of Thermaheat, a much smaller ovoid briquette than the larger Ecoal or related Homefire briquettes. Semmens’ Thermaheat is about a quarter less of the price of Ecoal and Homefire and was at the base end of the range we are currently trialling.

It worked a treat in the Farndale. In total I loaded a medium sized bucket load into the firebox and it lasted for at least seven hours, kicking out a high amount of heat. We knew this because we ran our Kontax Sterling Engine heat fan on top and it was going like the clappers, just like it has on high-output logs or heat logs. We did not add any more before bed-time so it was out by morning, but if we had, I am certain we would have come down to a bed of red hot embers.

I think their smaller size and shape mean they are much easier to get alight without the need to create a wood ember bed, allowing air to flow all the way around the firebox and using the fine tuning of the Farndale to its best.


An eventful wood delivery

I won’t be buying wood from what is claimed to be Cornwall’s largest supplier of firewood again.

Today we had a delivery of wood. More correctly, a re-delivery, after the 40 bags of logs turned out to contain unseasoned wood rather than the seasoned firewood we had paid for. They did this to us last time, so we couldn't quite believe that it had happened again.

Seasoned wood should have a moisture content of 25% or less

To put things right they offered to replace the wood with kiln dried wood. The firewood company proprietor himself came to take away the heavy bags of unseasoned wood, and he tried to argue that his office shouldn't have promised kiln dried as a replacement. He offered 20 bags of kiln dried to mix in with the unseasoned to “get the same calorific output”. I was appalled, since this isn't a great thing for your flue to put all that moisture (the logs were 40%+ moisture content) into it.

Eventually, he said that he had 36 bags with him, and I could have those and keep whatever bags of unseasoned he couldn't fit back into his 4×4. To get that far I had to explain quite calmly that this was the second time we had been messed about, we had to come home early to wait for deliveries, and it was very heavy stuff to move about considering it was their error. This appeared to have no effect, and only when I mentioned that we knew 4 people on our street with fires, who had been asking us where we sourced our wood that he relented. He left behind 9 bags of unseasoned, which I will be splitting into smaller pieces and stacking up inside on our rack, but it will be many months before I can burn it.

I won't name and shame at this stage, as they eventually gave us adequate compensation with the more expensive kiln dried wood, but they have definitely lost my confidence. I won't be buying wood from what is claimed to be Cornwall's largest supplier of firewood again.

Here's a tip if you buy seasoned wood. Ask for a few logs when the delivery person arrives, split them, and test it with a moisture meter across the grain. It should have a moisture content of 25% or less. If it is, accept the delivery, if not, reject it, before a lot of heavy lifting is done!