Thursday, 2 January 2014

To the Future and Beyond: Kiln Dried vs Naturally Seasoned Logs

Let's agree to disagree about wood !

I mean, who knows more about seasoning wood than the Scandinavians. Their lives can literally depend on it in some parts. However, there's a split of opinion in Norway over which way up the bark should be in a log pile.

In a recent Nationally televised 8-hour log splitting, stacking and general burning wood-athon. The Norwegian TV, station was bombarded by texts and calls complaining that the bark was either the wrong way up or down.

Without any irony, Lars Mytting the writer of the seminal book on the subject: 
'Solid Wood: All About Chopping, Drying and Stacking Wood - and the soul of Wood-Burning' explained...

"One thing that really divides Norway is bark"

So it seems there's always a division wherever we are regarding wood. And if Norwegians can't agree on bark, then i'm not going to sway the argument either way over the subject of Kiln Dried -vs-Naturally Seasoned Logs. I'll give you the facts as they are and we'll see where we all stand afterwards

A process to remove/reduce sap and water content from wood, making it suitable to burn. Key to this process is air circulation, wood size, type and size

Kiln Dried Logs:
On a mechanical level Kiln Drying or Kiln Seasonong makes sense; you get the type of dry logs you want. By artificially creating a controlled warm and dry enviroment, (no matter what nature is throwing at you outside in the yard) you can essentially dry your wood to the moisture level required, in therory. 
But, there's a fair bit of work needed beforehand to ease the final process. Wood must be cut and stored as for natural air seasoning. It needs to be cut and down for around a year, stacked in poles or cord. This is then cut and billited into manageable lengths and stored over the summer. This wood is then left to loose its sap along with the naturally held water in crates or vented bags. This process gets the wood ready to effeciently Kiln Dry, down to the required moisture content. Final Kiln Drying of the logs can take 7-28 days of Kiln time.

Many appliances, specially the latest and most highly engineered German and Scandinavian Log Burning stoves, are very specific in what they will and can burn. Here moisture content is key to their highly effecient (and often sealed ) burning chambers. These appliances are becoming more and more popular, up to 30% more effecient than previous models. So a move toward a more stable supply of dry wood is desireable to fuel these. In time, all appliances will have to come up to these effecient energy standards.

Naturally Seasoned Logs:
I'm a fan of naturally seasoned. It makes sense that if you can cut your wood and lay it down as poles for a suitable year to 18 months, then return to it and cut this into billets and stack it, leaving plenty of air to circulate the pile. To watch and wait for a year or more as the sap leaves the wood, encouraged by rain, wind and sun to then return with the saw, cut these yard long billets into logs and stack them in a airy but dry place, ready to cut and split into firewood once seasoned

This is all well and good if the weather commits to the process. But as the climate we live in changes, we are in turn pushed towards more controlled production method. So this is where Kiln Drying Logs comes in as a way of managing the seasoning process. In essence it's an artificial environment which the forces wood to dry at a consistent rate. In the past these Kilns were fuelled by Gas or Electric. However, the newer Kilns are Bio Mass woodfuelled with the by-product from the wood cutting process. Cleaner and greener and self sustaining.

In conclusion:
If I could choose on a pure athstetic level, then the naturally seasoned air dry method is favourable. It uses less energy but takes more time.
Though just how much wood to cut, how much to store, how much to burn is a guess and an instinct. It takes years of living, breathing and cutting wood to best gauge what's what, to feel your place within the scheme, winter by winter and even then it's not a science, it's a craft and one which catches the most prepared out. 

We also are never quite sure just how long the Winter will last. Remember last year, all seven months of it. I swear trees screamed as I drove by, week in week out, month after unrelentingly cold month to the Kent woodlands. I stripped our stocks bare, until not a twig was left

In the coming seasons we are preparing to adapt to the new Killn Process along side the traditional methods. We embrace the changes ahead, it's an exciting time to be involved in wood and all that surrounds it

As Buzz Lightyear says....
"To the future and beyond !"

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