Cozying up around a wood stove instantly warms you on a chilly day. Whether you use it as your main source of heat in a small home or as supplemental or emergency heat, your wood stove can kick out plenty of warmth with the right wood. The type of wood you put into it affects how efficiently the stove works and how much heat you get. Softwoods such as cedar work in your wood stove, but mixing them with hardwood helps you maximize the results.
Features of Cedar
Cedar is a softwood that is high in natural resin, which is the tree sap that collects in wood pockets or pores. Because resin is highly flammable, resin-rich wood burns hot and sometimes explodes into sparks or burning wood pieces, which isn't ideal for a wood stove inside your home.
Cedar is an open-pore wood compared to oak or other hardwoods, so it throws out high flames for a short period of time and dies down quickly with minimal coaling properties. What does that mean for your firewood use? Cedar doesn't produce long, continuous heat, but it may be a good option to get your fire going before you add longer-lasting hardwoods.
How Wood Stoves Function Best
Wood stoves work best with a mix of wood types. Cedar and other easily ignitable softwoods make excellent fire-starters. When split into kindling, cedar forms an ideal base that catches fire quickly and heats air that flows up the chimney. As warm air goes up the chimney, it draws air around the fire and makes the wood burn more completely. Smoke goes up the heated chimney and carries fumes or soot out through the chimney. Small seasoned cedar logs, stacked on the kindling, form a hot foundation for hardwood logs. When you stack hardwood logs on the cedar, the hardwood burns slowly but with higher heat because its dense wood burns down to hot embers and coals.
Reserve red cedar, poplar and other softwoods to start the fire. Add oak, hickory or other hardwood logs for steady heat. Mixing cedar and hardwoods in small amounts provides continued burning that makes your wood last longer while kicking out plenty of heat.
Wood that burns too hot can damage your wood stove, so it's best to avoid a stove full of cedar or other softwoods. When cedar is cheap or free, it is inexpensive fuel and can burn in your wood stove, but keep the cedar fire modest to protect the stove from overheating and to minimize sparking. Even though hardwood is more costly than softwood cedar, investing in hardwoods and mixing them with your cedar for wood stove fuel increases efficiency and makes the wood last longer.
Cedar fires deposit small amounts of resin in chimneys as they burn. These deposits are flammable and must be cleaned from the chimney. Wood stoves burning with cedar are more hazardous due to excessive heat and sparking. Keep combustible household furnishings away from the stove. Place a multipurpose fire extinguisher near the wood stove for emergency use.
Phyllis Benson is a professional writer and creative artist. Her 25-year background includes work as an editor, syndicated reporter and feature writer for publications including "Journal Plus," "McClatchy Newspapers" and "Sacramento Union." Benson earned her Bachelor of Science degree at California Polytechnic University.