More and more people are cutting down on electric and gas heating and going back to burning firewood to heat their homes.
Helping to meet the growing demand for timber is Black Country Firewood, based at Salters Hall Farm in Bobbington, South Staffordshire.
The business, which began in 2012, was the idea of owner Mike Snelson, a graduate of Harper Adams University, in Newport.
He wanted to complement the seasonal workload of his family’s arable farm which grows crops such as barley, wheat and oil seed rape and potatoes.
“We’re a lot quieter in the winter as most of the work takes place during the summer months so I wanted something to fill in the time.
“We started chopping up fallen trees on the farm and selling the wood but we quickly realised that if we carried on like that we would have no trees left.
“We now get our timber through forestry contracts and we’ve had timber from places like Apley Estate near Bridgnorth, Enville Estate and Far Forest,” says the 31-year-old.
The team, which includes manager Richard Clarke, 26, sources all of their timber from well-managed woodlands.
They offer customers hardwood including ash, oak and silver birch, and softwood such as Scots pine and other coniferous species.
Hardwoods burn hotter and therefore you need fewer logs to produce the same heat output while softwood logs are easier to light and burn brighter.
“We recommend people start with smaller logs and then build it up gradually. It’s not an instant thing, it takes time to build up to a big fire.
“A lot of it is down to personal taste and people have to find a recipe that works for them. Silver Birch is quite easy to light and has a nice flame.
“Oak is a slower burner and ash is a good all-rounder and has a good flame. They complement each other as they have different burn rates,” explains Richard, who is also a graduate of Harper Adams University.
Whatever logs you choose, one of the most important things you can do is to ensure they are as dry as possible.
Firewood that has been dried to less than 25 per cent moisture content is a more efficient heat source.
The process of drying wood is called seasoning and can be done naturally in the fresh air or artificially in a kiln.
Black Country Firewood’s seasoned logs are dried naturally for two years to remove as much moisture as possible.
The first stage of drying sees the tree trunks stacked on top of each other, with gaps for the wind to blow through, and left to dry in the fresh air for 12 months.
They are then chopped up and the logs are allowed to dry for a further 12 months in a purpose-built drying shed, which was constructed with the help of a European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development grant.
The site now has a plentiful stock of more than 1,000 tons of logs which will see them through the busy winter season.
Properly seasoned wood has a weathered appearance and large cracks in the ends of the logs – the larger these cracks, the drier the wood.
Richard says burning unseasoned logs could cause damage to your log burner or chimney and could be a safety hazard.
“There is a danger that the steam given off from the logs will carry sap and tar up your chimney or flue where it condenses and sticks to the sides. This can build up and can lead to a chimney fire.
“That’s why you should only burn seasoned logs with a moisture content of less than 25 per cent moisture, and make sure that you have your chimney swept at least once a year.
“Our seasoned logs have a moisture content of less than 20 per cent and our kiln dried logs have less than 15 per cent,” he explains.
Kiln dried logs burn hotter than seasoned logs as less energy is used to burn off residual moisture and therefore more energy converts to heat.
“We make sure the logs are as dry as they can be so we take all of the hard work out of it for people. They can just pick the logs up and put them on the fire knowing they are going to burn nicely,” adds Mike.
He says burning wood is becoming increasingly popular as it’s a sustainable fuel source and can help people to save money on their energy bills.
“A lot of people have turned their central heating off and are burning wood to save money. They just want to heat one room at night by lighting their fire and that will provide enough heat for them and will help to heat the rest of the house.
“They are saving money by not having the central heating on and by not heating rooms like the spare room and bathroom when they are just sitting in the lounge watching Coronation Street,” explains Mike.
“We enjoy talking to customers and providing a high-quality and reliable product.
“It’s usually one of us who is delivering the wood so we get to know people and they get to know us,” he adds.
The team at Black Country Firewood will hold its third annual open day next Saturday, October 5 from 10am until 2pm.
The team will be on hand to demonstrate log processing machinery and there will also be free wood-fired pizza and complimentary drinks.
“People can come down and see what we do and what we offer, ask any questions they might have. We will also have Flaming Fires from Wombourne there, a chimney sweep and hopefully the fire brigade who will talk about fire and chimney safety. It’s a totally free event,” says Richard.
For more information about the open day see blackcountryfirewood.co.uk