It's that time of year to answer burning questions about firewood

October 29, 2005|By ROB KASPER

Since this weekend was sizing up to be dark and scary - daylight-saving time is ending and Halloween celebrations are beginning - I felt the urge to stay inside and light a fire.

Apparently I was late. Judging by what the people who sell firewood tell me, this year's indoor burning season is already off to a flaming start.

"Supply of firewood is down and demand is way up," said Ben Cole of Blue Moon Farm, a firewood supplier in Randallstown. One factor is the recent jump in the cost of other home heating fuels, such as oil and natural gas, he said. Another is that, unlike last year, we did not recently have a tropical storm or hurricane. Thanks to Tropical Storm Isabel, there was plenty of firewood around at this time last year, Cole said. Wood from all the trees felled by that September 2003 storm was not only available, but also seasoned.

Seasoned wood, Cole explained, is what you want in your fireplace. Freshly cut wood can be up to 45 percent water, so you don't want to burn it right away, he said. Instead, let it dry out in the backyard or season for several months.

This fall, the call for his seasoned red oak at $210 a cord (or $140 a half-cord) is so strong that orders are taking about two weeks to fill, Cole said.

At Overshot Wood Products in East Baltimore, a spokesman said demand for firewood is up about 30 percent over last year. A best-seller, he said, is the $190-a-cord mixed hardwoods.

for stacking a cord of wood.

Smaller, so-called "weekend packages" of wood have been selling quite well at Watson's Fireplace & Patio in Lutherville, said owner Joe Watson.

"There has been a run on those," Watson said of the 15- to 20-log stacks that the store sells for $15.

Watson thinks the surge in sales is fueled more by recreational burning than home heating economics. "When it gets cold," he said, "people like to nestle by a fire."

While I had these guys on the phone, I couldn't resist quizzing them on a number of burning issues. Namely, how much wood is in a cord? How do you store it? What exactly is "fatwood"? And what's the best way to arrange logs in the fireplace?

A standard cord, I learned, is 128 cubic feet of wood - generally a pile 8 feet wide, 4 feet tall and 4 feet deep with all the logs facing the same way. A so-called face cord is the same height and width, but only as deep as the length of the logs, usually 16 or 24 inches. The Chimney Safety Institute of America says a face cord of 16-inch wood works out to only 1/3 of a standard cord, while a 24-inch face cord yields half a standard cord. I didn't do the math, but I trust them.

A cord is a lot of wood, says Jon Allen, a deliveryman for Blue Moon, something that becomes apparent to some first-time wood burners only when the wood truck arrives at their home. "About half of the people have a plan where they want to put the wood," Allen said. The other half get wood-storage counseling. A common solution, he said, is to store most of the wood off the ground away from the house (to keep termites at bay) while stashing a few logs inside the house for easy access.

Fatwood, I learned, are sticks of pine stump loaded with a natural resin that easily ignites. Using fatwood to start your fire, I gathered, makes you more of a woodsman than using rolled-up newspaper.

As for how to best arrange the logs on the fireplace grate, Cole advocated starting with a crisscross pattern. "This lets the air move through, and it gets the fire nice and hot," he said. Once the fire is going, move the logs together so they touch. "The tighter the logs, the longer the burn," he said.

Watson added this fire-starting tip: Use a veteran log to set the pace. When choosing logs, he grabs at least one that has spent several seasons drying out. This old-timer, he said, not only burns more easily, it also ignites younger logs, and with its bright flame, it sets an excellent example.

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