A lowdown on logs
Everything you need to know
Logs are lovely when you need a fabulous fire. Many would say logs are logs – what else is there to say? But they’d be wrong. In fact, delving deeper will unearth some fascinating facts about these friends from Mother Nature. So here’s a unique lowdown on logs large and small.
A Brief History of Logging
Logging in the United States goes back centuries, when settlers needed wood for fuel, warmth and cooking. It was fairly crude at that time of course, but nevertheless invaluable. Lumbar was priceless to the American economy for a long time – the practice was glorified by folklore hero Paul Bunyan, a mythical woodman who carried an axe and was accompanied by his Blue ox Babe.
At the turn of the 19th century, Washington had become the top state across the pond for producing world-class lumbar.
Here in the UK
Logging had already gone on for centuries here in the UK, but it was on 1 September 1919 that the Forestry Act came into force. With this, the Forestry Commission emerged, taking responsibility for woods in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Eight Forestry Commissioners were charged with promoting forestry, developing afforestation, overseeing the production of timber and making grants to private landowners.
What do we mean by logging?
In essence, logging is the cutting, skidding, on-site processing and loading of trees or logs onto trucks or skeleton cars. This in turn can be used for timber or cut down again into much smaller pieces, used for a variety of purposes including logs for fire building. When it comes to forestry, we can talk of the process as describing the logistics of moving wood from the tree stump to a sawmill or lumber yard outside of the forest. This is a highly skilled practice at all levels and while it may look relatively simple, the process is quite complicated. In fact, years of training goes in to producing the very best logs for fuel.
There are two main types of logging:
- Clear cutting, which is the removal of all trees from a given area.
- Selective logging, which is cutting down one or two selected species of tree.
The whole idea is to take away any rotten trees and facilitate sustainable growth over a long period of time. In many ways, you are taking away ‘the rotten apples’ so the remaining trees can fully flourish.
Horse logging is the removal of felled timber using horses. Horse logging, or snigging, can be quite a lovely sight, and it’s enjoyed a resurgence in the 21st century. In fact, using horses in woodlands is traditional, great for the environment and has the benefit that animals can work in steep conditions where machinery would often have problems.
Amazing facts – Kiln-dried Logs:
- Are much more efficient
- Burn hotter than seasoned logs
- Lead to minimal fuel and stove problems
- Generate a greater source of heat
- Freshly cut wood contains a naturally high amount of water, between 65 and 90 per cent depending on the species.
- We cut trees as part of the natural thinning process to generate more light and better environmental growing conditions for the remaining trees.
- Logging usually refers to above-ground forestry logging.
- Cutting trees with the highest value and leaving those with lower value, generally diseased or malformed trees, is referred to as high grading.
A fascinating range
- Kiln-dried logs are those with most of the moisture taken out after the completion of the process.
- Seasoned wood means cutting and splitting the wood into manageable pieces before air drying for the spring and summer.
- Green wood has been recently cut and not had an opportunity to season by evaporation of the internal moisture.
- Unseasoned wood put onto a fire will eventually lead to a build up of tar in the chimney because of the moisture content.
- Softwood is excellent for burning and comes from trees such as pine, spruce and larch which take less time to fully mature than other species. You’ll find lots of softwood kindling sold in garage forecourts.
- Hardwood comes from trees that lose their leaves in winter – species include ash, beech and oak. Slow-growing, they provide a denser, tougher wood.
- Heat logs are manufactured to various sizes but are typically between six and eight inches long and two to three inches in diameter. There are two types: pressed heat logs or briquettes that expand when burning because they are of solid form, and extruded briquettes which have a hole right down the middle so they burn even better and much more efficiently.
The intricacies of transportation
Felled trees close to a river can be skilfully floated downstream – this is known as log driving or timber rafting. It’s a much cheaper method of transportation, and actually led to a number of special boats being constructed in the past. Away from a watercourse, heavy equipment is used to both gather the logs from the site and move them close to the road to be lifted onto trucks. Contraptions like skylines can carry logs in the air over long distances, and together with Bunyan Buggies, heavy lift helicopters and all manner of cleverly designed vehicles, what can be a very difficult task can be managed efficiently and safely. The good old Timer-Jack Harvester is one of the mainstays of the logging industry. What looks like a huge tractor can get into some hard to access areas and assist in felling, holding and moving logs. Modern technology has certainly combined well with the older methods to culminate in an impressive process, saving both time and money.
Storing wood fuel
For those who use logs on a regular basis, it’s important to store your precious fuel safely and comfortably. Essentially, they should be kept as near to the property as possible but without creating a hazard– you don’t want to be carrying heavy material far, especially when the weather is particularly bad. These days you can buy superbly created log holders of varying sizes, but if you have a waterproof outbuilding this will do just as well. Always remember to have the right stock in place – not too many or too few logs – but enough for your regular use and to keep the environment around you safe at all times. As with most working systems, simple is good.
So which logs are best?
There’s little doubt that when it comes to an efficient fire, kiln-dried logs will win the day as a superb fuel for all uses, but especially warmth and heating. It’s clear that with most of the moisture taken out, you’ll get a much better burn that’s safe for the environment with pleasing results. It also means you’ll use less logs, leading to significant long-term savings. They are, amongst other things, much easier to light, store and handle.
Ease of delivery
It matters little where you live or about the property you live in when it comes to delivery of your logs and wood fuel. There are local companies who can deliver via a tipper truck at a time to suit, even if you aren’t at home. Depending on the size of your order, you may need a truck to bring your logs on a pallet. Even if access is difficult, many firms can provide the perfect solution, though it may cost a little more. From bags to loose loads, modern delivery is both quick and straightforward.
So where can I buy quality logs?
You can purchase just about anything in our modern world without too much trouble, and logs are no different. Just spot the bags of logging and kindle on garage forecourts – or the array of logs and firelighters in our supermarkets. DIY stores are also a good place to go, and there are countless hardware shops and associated stores. There are also some excellent businesses online who specialise in logs, and this can prove to be the most convenient option in many cases. In fact, it can lead to a regular supplier taking the hassle out of re-stocking your precious fuel. It’s always best to shop around in the first instance until you find the medium that’s right for your requirements.
A truly sustainable fuel
Logs, and a wood fuel source in general, are regarded as fully sustainable across the world because it represents a renewable source of valuable energy. Also bear in mind that bio fuels are greener and much cheaper to use. It’s a way of putting as much back into the environment as possible so everybody wins. It’s also proof, as climate change begins to have a much greater effect, that men and women don’t have to plunder the earth.
Logs are a precious commodity and a great friend to each and every one of us – a wonderful source of fuel, they can be regarded as the perfect gift from Mother Nature. But as you’ve just discovered, there’s so much more to wood fuel, logs and kindling than at first sight.