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Old 01-09-2006, 07:25 AM
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Default Seasoning Green Wood

I've read the posts about drying the next day's wood after you're done cooking for the day, but what about seasoning green wood? Anyone tried it?

I have discovered that contrary to the rest of the world, fire wood is expensive here. 1/2 cord=$200 Since there's still a lot of oak around from the last two hurricanes, I've been collecting for the oven. I was just wondering how effective filling the oven with green wood after a burn would be. I'd assume that it would be necessary to leave the door ajar to get some air circulation and to let moisture out... Anyone got some experience on this one? Ideas?

As always, thanks for the insight!
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Old 01-10-2006, 07:35 AM
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If you have the room I would "season" it myself. Cut it down to size, split it up and then stack it. We did this on my dads property up north (kalifornia). He had a few trees that fell a few years back. We just lined it up in a nice stacked row. Because of the local rains/misting snow he covered it and essentially left it for about 6 to 9 months. From what I was told it burned nicely.

Only down side is that it takes a season to season the wood and if you are hankering to use the wood sooon then you will have problems with moisture content and sap. Since it is oak I don't think there is as much sap (as with pine) but moisture can be a bad thhing when you are trying to get the most BTU's out of a fuel source, kinda like water in gasoline. I have been around some green fires where a log would "explode" due to the water/sap content. It makes a loud noise and sometimes topples the stack but generally does not have any destructive force behind it.

Last edited by jengineer; 01-10-2006 at 07:37 AM. Reason: darn computer keeps making spelling erros
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Old 01-19-2006, 03:03 PM
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We get a cord in NorCal for about $300 for seasoned Oak and Madrone. It's good.

Jengineer's comments on wet wood in a fire is right on. The way fire works on wood, it has to "bake out" the water, before the wood will burn, which is sucking BTUs out of the oven. If you can season your wood and find an alternative for this year, that might be good.

Does anyone know how long it takes fresh cut oak to be burnable??

We had a real wet load delivered last year, and it was a pain to work with. Very frustrating. You can even buy a wood moisture gauge to check the moisture content on a delivery. I've been thinking of getting one. Hey, every hobby needs gadgets.

James
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Old 02-15-2006, 08:19 AM
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Actually, what I was suggesting was to expedite seasoning the wood in the oven after a night of cooking. It takes 6-9 months of open air seasoning to get oak to a useable level of dryness. While I'm sure throwing 10 or 15 pieces inside a 400+ degree oven would drive the water out quicker, the fact that the moisture would have nowhere to go would be a problem. I could leave a the top of the door slightly open but would that be sufficient? Would that allow the temp too fall to quickly to be useful? Would the buildup of moisture inside the dome defeat any gains? Should I just shut up, suck it up, and buy a cord of wood?

And while I'm on that note, how long does a cord last you? I'm actively trying to work out a deal with a local barbecue place to have them order an extra pallet of wood and pay them their cost. Most of the big firewood users down here have it shipped from north Florida. The only wood available in south florida comes from tree trimmers and is either live oak or austrailian pine. I'm slightly skeptical of the quality and the cost is painful. Also, while I know the oak is perfect for a pizza oven, I'm also told the pine is as well. It's commonly called "Ironwood." Anyone had experience with it? One guy said he sells it exclusively to the local "California Pizza Kitchens" stores for their ovens.

It's funny but I figured the wood part of the pizza oven equation would be the simple (and cheap) part...
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Old 02-16-2006, 10:09 AM
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Default Wood consumption

Here are some rough numbers you can use to do a SWAG calculation.

A cord is roughly 4400 lbs, and your oven should burn about 15 lbs per hour. You should be able to run the math and get an estimate.

You can definitely stack wood in the oven after an evening of cooking to dry it out for the next day's baking. It does help. I'm not sure how far it will go to drying out green wood. That sounds like a stretch. It will help a little, but not that much.

I experimented burning pine and fir, just to see what it would do, and it wasn't good. Sappy, smoky and there aren't many BTUs in the light woods. If felt as if they were taking out as much heat for combustion as they were putting back in.

We're lucky. I keep pruning trees and have a good source at our house in Healdsburg (though that will eventually run out).

James
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Old 02-16-2006, 12:22 PM
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yup, that's what I figured re: the seasoning. Oh well, it sounded good in theory.

Unlike the other pines, Austrailian Pine is "supposedly" considered a hardwood without sap and is plentiful here. Add that it's considered a problem exotic because its shallow roots don't work well under hurricane conditions and you'd think it'd be cheap! I'm going to give it a try but the price is still an issue. A face cord runs about $150 for both the pine and live oak... There has to be a better solution...
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Old 02-17-2006, 05:08 AM
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Default Ironwood?

I'm a little confused about terminology for certain trees. Here in Ontario, what's called ironwood has a smooth, thin, tight, dark gray bark. And there's a definite winding or twisting or rippling pattern to it from bottom to top. Unless it's seriously old, it doesn't get much bigger than about 2-4 inches in diameter. It's also called osage orange, I think, and was used in the old days for fence posts and tool handles. It grows very straight, and it's a very, very hard wood, very tough on chainsaw chains (like elm and hawthorne), and all three are virtually unsplittable. Ironwood is an understory tree, commonly growing here among taller ash or silver maple. Fortunately, here at least, it's considered a trash tree, and I've cleared and burned a lot of it in my indoor wood stove over the years. Hope I can get more to cut into 4 foot lengths. There's also a lot of locust; it grows fairly straight, splits well, has yellow heartwood, and is quite hard. Dries fairly guickly, burns well, but thorny when you're felling it. Some varieties get quite large, and the boards were used for flooring in cattle barns. It, like elm, cedar and walnut, is a silicate wood; hence the chain dulling.

Speaking of splitting: I ordinarily wait until 4-foot logs, up to 8 inches in diameter, are frozen solid outside before splitting, because frozen wood splits much, much more easily. In summer, I wait a week or two after felling and bucking before going near them. I use an 8 lb. sledge and two aluminum wedges made in Germany.

Because I'm just starting out with my wood oven, I've been very nice to the electric company guys (called Hydro here). When they're limbing around hydro wires, I show up with coffees and take as much limb wood as I can fit in my vehicle. It's common for them to trim dead maple limbs, and these require no seasoning at all. Often, the homeowner gets first crack at the wood in the towns, but not along country roads (even so, most homeowners are interested in the larger stuff, split for indoor heating). Commonly, the crew would just chip the limb wood that I want, but I talk nice to them. Maybe find out if you can make contact with one of these crews. It's a lot less work for them if they only have to chip brush.

There might be arborists in your area that clear understory trees or limb larger trees in state forests or parks or tree farms. For them, it's necessary to ensure the health of the bigger trees. Might look into that one. They, too, would probably just chip the smaller stuff. I'd stay away from "Christmas" trees, especially spruce; just plain too resinous, no matter how dry. Pockets of resin definitely do explode, and it won't do your chimney any good to burn it.

I try to separate standing dead wood from green in my shed, leaving green maple or whatnot for at least a season to air dry. Far as I know, there's no easy way to speed this up, unless you want to build a small solar drier. Many people have done this to cure rough sawn lumber for furniture making. I've seen one such in northern Michigan; it was just a simple "greenhouse" made from old storm windows--with an evacuation fan. I'm considering it. There must be plans or advice on the web somewhere.

Mostly, because of where I live, I try to cut in winter, when the sap is down in the roots. This helps, too.

I've found that standing dead red pine works well, so long as you use it as an intermediate wood: kindling fire, split pine, hardwood on top. This gives the fire the brightness it needs to really get the hardwood going and burns the soot off very well. What's called Manitoba Maple here (really box elder) is a soft wood that would serve the same function (splits easily). Don't know about your location, but there are a lot of orchards around here, and I get trims from the growers. Most hybrid fruit trees are, I think, classified as semi-hardwoods, unlike, say, timber cherry used in furniture. Problem is that these woods are resinous, should be split (not easy) and need to cure longer than most. Like box elder, yellow poplar is considered a trash tree, and it, too, falls down by itself a lot. It's semi-hard, splits easily, drys well and fairly quickly. I've also used white cedar, cut in winter, and it only needs about a month to dry. In Quebec, years ago, they used cedar exclusively for bread ovens, but, then again, if you've ever been there you'd know why: it's absolutely everywhere.

Ornamental white birch only has a life-span of about 30 years, then it falls over on its own. I've taken down quite a few for homeowners, and if they don't want it, I do. Straight-grained and pretty hard; it burns very well; just strip off the white bark first (very resinous, would stick to your chimney like glue). Most ornamental trees fall into the same category.

As you probably know, in Europe, particularly France, they use tied up bundles or faggots of trims from trees that produce a lot of suckers (Lombardy Poplar, for example). I've done this with lilac to good effect, even pin cherry, and the bundles burn very fast and bright. Pretty well any shrub would do: red dogwood, for example

As you might have gathered, I don't pay for wood. Many times, people are just glad to get rid of it. If you are interested in doing it yourself, I'd advise putting the money you'd spend on wood into a good quality saw, either a Husqvarna or a Stihl, a bit more powerful than you think you need at first. It will pay for itself quick enough. I have a Husky 61 with an 18 inch bar that's ten years old and doesn't miss a beat. I paid about $600 for it, but it's paid for itself many times over. If you're new to it, maybe take a course and learn how to fell and maintain your saw, and safety procedures.

I'd really like to hear a lot more discussion on firing techniques: fire building, woods, curing and so on. My experience is based on indoor wood heating, and I've got a lot to learn yet on firing my bread oven in a regular and predictable way, because it has such a great effect on timing the proofing of my breads.

Hope some of this is helpful.

Jim
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Old 02-17-2006, 07:53 AM
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Jim, thanks for the info. Good ideas. Although we don't have the hardwood diversity here, we do have many species (mahagony, verawood, gumbo limbo, sea grape, citrus, etc). I just need to learn about their burn qualities.

I guess the term ironwood is widely used for hard to cut trees. Below is a pic of Austrailian Pine (our ironwood) here in Florida.

Thanks again!
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Seasoning Green Wood-austpine.jpg  
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Old 02-17-2006, 09:11 AM
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Default Great variety in local wood makes comarisons difficult

[QUOTE=CanuckJim]I'm a little confused about terminology for certain trees. Here in Ontario, what's called ironwood has a smooth, thin, tight, dark gray bark.

(M) Because the Common Names of trees so often overlap or sound similar to totally different trees, probably the best way to be sure we're not comparing apples to oranges is by using their Botanical-Latin names.

<snip>

Speaking of splitting: I ordinarily wait until 4-foot logs, up to 8 inches in diameter, are frozen solid outside before splitting, because frozen wood splits much, much more easily. In summer, I wait a week or two after felling and bucking before going near them. I use an 8 lb. sledge and two aluminum wedges made in Germany.

(M) I was surprised to read that you use 4-foot logs to split. I try to keep mine to 16 - 18 inches as my indoor heating stove won't take much longer than that, and my as yet uncompleted Pompeii Oven will work better with shorter pieces I can shove to the side.

(M) I live in Oregon where the indigenous "hardwoods" (deciduous for the most part) are Alder,(Alnus) Maple, (Acer) Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) and Oak (Quercus) and the "softwoods" (evergreen, mostly) are Douglas, (
Pseudotsuga menziesii Grand, ( Abies grandis ) ( and Cedar),
Thuja plicata

Because I'm just starting out with my wood oven, I've been very nice to the electric company guys (called Hydro here). <snip>

(M) Like you, I live in a rural area but many of our oven builders live in the city so they have neither the option to cut their own trees nor get the "Hyros" to donate wood.

<snip>

I'd stay away from "Christmas" trees, especially spruce; just plain too resinous, no matter how dry. Pockets of resin definitely do explode, and it won't do your chimney any good to burn it.

(M) I'm on kinda shaky ground here but at least in my indoor cast iron oven I get a fire so hot that no visible creosote remains from burning Doug Fir, ( Pseudotsuga Menzeisii). I would guess that with the very high temperatures our brick ovens attain that creosote would be a very small consideration. What I've read is that you don't bake a pizza until the black soot has burned off. If I'm not correct, please set me right on this.

<snip>


I'd really like to hear a lot more discussion on firing techniques: fire building, woods, curing and so on. My experience is based on indoor wood heating,

(M) Mine, too.

and I've got a lot to learn yet on firing my bread oven in a regular and predictable way, because it has such a great effect on timing the proofing of my breads.

(M) Right on !

Ciao,

Marcel
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Old 02-18-2006, 08:09 AM
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Well done, Marcel. It would really help if we stuck to the botanical names for the trees we use in a discussion like this. All I have to do now is find my tree book, which is somewhere next to the insect book, under the....

I guess my reluctance about fir stems from the care I take with my fireplace flue; it's always been a mantra with me not to burn resinous woods in the fireplace, because the flue temp never really gets all that high, unlike my wood stove. And, I've seen exploding bits jump the screen onto the pine floor. You're probably right about creosote burning off in the bake ovens we use because of the exceedingly high temperatures. Even so, I try to avoid using it.

Regarding log length: The deck of my AS bread oven is four feet deep by three wide. I begin with a smallish pryamidal fire of mixed hardwood and softwood (short bits, split bits, branches, offcuts from my woodshop), which I light with a propane torch. To make sure there's enough air under this initial fire, I commonly use a piece of 2x4 on edge, front to back, to stack it on. Then, I add a few longer pieces of branch wood, front to back. When this is burning well, I put on several long split pieces of pine or other softwood that reach all the way to the back wall of the oven, then, after the pine has caught, enough hardwood (same approximate length) to almost fill the chamber. Split wood has more surface exposure than wood in the round, so it catches faster and burns better to ash. Having said that, though, my ideal piece of wood is a standing dead maple limb about 3 inches in diameter and around four feet long. I suspect limb wood in the round would be best for a pizza oven, because it tends to burn into dense, long-lasting coals that you can push aside when you bake.

The main point is to get the fire to burn, as David Wing and Alan Scott say in The Bread Builders, "as a wall of flame from the front all the way to the back," so long pieces work best for me and I don't have to mess with the fire as much. Also, you want the heat constantly and evenly distributed from the front to the back of the dome and hearth. But, of course, I'm dealing with a rectangular bread oven of some size, and I rake and brush the oven clean before baking.

In practice, the logs I split are kept to 46", so the ones in the middle don't come too close to the oven door and shoot flame up the chimney or incinerate my draft control door. When the completed fire is burning brightly, after about half an hour or so, I fit the draft control door to really get it burning. All this is approximate right now, because it's very winterish here
(-15C this morning), and dry, cold draft air seems to have a tremendous effect on how the fire burns and how much wood is needed. Thus far, it has taken two complete burns to bring my high mass oven up to heat (dome: 650F, hearth: 750F before resting to even out the brick temps for an air temp of about 550F, depending on what I'm baking; higher for baguette), but that will probably change as the weather moderates. This is nothing like using an indoor woodstove, where conditions are much more controlled and the inside draft air is warmer and perhaps more humid at first. I combine an oven air temperature gauge with readings from the four themocouples I installed to work out the temps.

I now have two separate woodsheds: one is for indoor fireplace and woodstove fuel (cut to approx. 16"), the second is strictly for the oven, and it measures 4 feet deep by 22 feet long by 8 feet high. I'll try to post some pics later today. As a side note, I'm taking my photographs at the lowest resolution the camera will allow, but the files are too large to post here. Just have to figure out how to reduce them.

There is some variance between the recommendations for wood types in The Bread Builders and Alan Scott's own plan book, but this probably has to do with the differing dates of writing, editing and publication, plus species availability in different locations---recommendations on hardwoods versus semi-hardwoods versus softwoods, that is. It appears from photographs that Alan Scott himself burns a lot of eucalyptus (in the myrtle family) that was imported into California from Australia and has spread everywhere on the central CA coast. I've turned some on the lathe, and would call it a semi-hardwood (although it's a type of pine) and quite oily. Others there (Tim Decker, for example, pictured at the end of The Bread Baker's Apprentice) use Live Oak, a hardwood much beloved by Acorn Woodpeckers.

Alan Scott recommends a "bright" fire, meaning lots of flame, I take it. But I've found it all really comes down to BTUs, PLUS brightness, PLUS the air temp and humidity outside the oven. If I can get it and it's well seasoned, hardwood gives the best heat per pound of wood, but softwood burns the brightest, so I mix the two. As you might expect, semi-harwood is in the middle, you just need a bit more of it than hardwood. I'm finding that this mixed method works best--for now, at least.

You're absolutely correct, Marcel, you want the oven white hot, meaning all the soot has burned off. In my experience, this won't happen, or at least not as quickly or reliably, with wood that isn't well seasoned. You can even drop the temperature you have already achieved by adding green wood.

David should look into the botanical names for the trees he'll be using in Florida. There are many, many types of mahogany, and they range from hard, oily and dense (South American) to soft, dry and open grained (the wood used for "mahogany" baseboards, door trim, etc. Asian?). I'm familiar with the gumbo limbo from around Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. I don't know what its burning characteristics are, but you might try tying up bundles of thinner branches, letting them dry and using them. The Australian Pine you mention is, I believe, related to eucalyptus, which is also defined as a type of Australian Pine. You've got quite a bit of it down there, it's semi-hard, so maybe zero in on it. But, because it is oily, it will likely have to cure one season if it's cut live. Standing dead is best. Citrus would work; it's usually semi-hard, but careful to cure it well or it won't burn brightly. By the way, when I'm talking about green wood, I'm referring to sap content, not necessarily water content. If dry wood gets rained on, it will dry fairly quickly when covered and well ventilated.

There are other avenues, of course. Most of the time, the pallets used to deliver brick, block, cement, etc. are made from oak because they must be strong. If you are up to the task of breaking them up and pulling the nails, they're quite dry (sap) and work very, very well (if so, to save your back and knuckles, invest in a long handled nail puller, not a claw hammer). Often, you can get pallets free from some companies that bring in a lot of materials to their warehouses (Home Depot?). Don't forget large scale woodworking shops. They have to get rid of their offcuts somehow, somewhere. To them, they're in the way, and you'll probably find a mix of hard and softwood. In cities, they probably have to pay for disposal. If you're not a wood afficianado, the heavier of two pieces of wood of the same approximate size will be the hardwood. Also, in cedar areas, there might be milling operations that generate a lot of slab wood with the bark on it. It's useless to them, so maybe strike a deal with one of them. An electric chainsaw or sabre saw would do nicely to cut cedar slab to length. Don't, please, use a circular saw. Way too dangerous because of kickback. As well, don't forget new housing developments. There's almost always a dumpster full of offcuts. It will be mainly spruce and likely wet (sap), but, hey, it's free, and it will get you started. Talk to the site supervisor. They normally have to pay per pound to get rid of it. Split anything wider than a 2x4. My general rule is not to burn anything painted, or anything with glue in it, like plywood, and nothing pressure treated.

Across the board , I've found there's a great deal of uncertainty, not to say confusion, out there (both in books and on the web) regarding oven firing, firing times for different sorts of ovens, best wood types, curing, coking, brick temperatures, etc., etc. Maybe we might all think of coming up with some sort of collective document on these topics that would help us all out, whether we bake pizza or bread, small oven or large? My career has been highly varied, but I have written several and edited many, many books on many subjects, and I'd be willing to help out. The chapter I'm thinking of is called "The Scavenger's Apprentice." Just a thought . I've been heating with wood a long time, but firing my brick oven is very different, so I'm still at the learning stage.

It's very cold here today, so I've had some time on my hands until it warms up and I can go split wood. This has been fun, and I hope it helps.

Jim
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