Suffolk Escape News

The Suffolk Escape Firewood Journey
Apr 19, 2023

The Suffolk Escape Firewood Journey

Here on the farm at The Suffolk Escape we have a plentiful supply of wood which enables us to heat both our holiday properties and our home in a sustainable way.  We thought we would share the process we go through to produce the firewood we burn and hopefully you may learn something along the way.

Where We Source Our Wood

All of our firewood comes from either our farm or our neighbours but neither more than a mile from the destination where they are burnt, so a very local source.  Unlike the misconception some could have, we are not felling perfectly good trees just because we want them to burn. Most of the wood comes from coppicing, thinning, or removing dead trees.

Coppicing is the process of cutting younger trees down every 20yrs and then letting them regrow on the stool (stump) then harvest again and again.  Many of our most ancient woodlands have been managed this way for hundreds of years and is a productive way of sourcing sustainable timber.  It is also hugely beneficial for the ecology of the woodland as opening up the wood encourages fresh plant growth, and this habitat brings along all manner of insects and bird life.

Thinning is the removal of needed trees to aid the wider woodland, hedge or river. Here we have to thin the Alder trees along our stream as if they get too big they can fall over and block the water. We also must thin out some of the younger trees in our new woodlands. We plant new woodlands densely but as they grow, to ensure their health, we have to remove the weaker, smaller trees but also ensure we keep a varied selection of strong, healthy trees.   

We are also helping our neighbouring farmer thin out one of his ancient woodlands which has been over-run by Sycamore trees. This species, a relative of the Maple, grows very fast and can outgrow other traditional native species. It dominates the woodland canopy, blocking out light for other trees to grow, but due to this lack of light it stops growth of plants and shrubs that create the habitat for insects, birds and other wildlife.  It also helps to ensure that the ancient traditional trees in this woodland can grow without competition and provides more chances their seeds may grow too. 

Dead trees always need to be removed to ensure safety around footpaths, roads and also due to the damage they can do to other trees and the rivers should they fall over in a storm. Sadly, at the moment, due to Ash Dieback  (Hymenoscyphus Fraxineus), we are having to fell a large number of diseased Ash trees.  It is very sad for us going out around the farm and week by week seeing more Ash trees dying of this disease. There is no treatment or effective way of protecting them and once identified it is best to remove them. 

Creating Firewood – The Process

The first job is to safely cut the trees down with chainsaws ensuring we minimise damage to other trees around.  Once the trees are down, we cut off the branches that are too small to be used for firewood and they are burnt or left in stacks making a great habitat for wildlife. We then take the lengths of timber and cut them with a chainsaw into the lengths we need for our woodstoves.  

From there, we split the round log into pieces. This is to make it easier to burn on the fire as the open fibres will burn better, but also most importantly, it allows the wood to dry much better.  The bark on the outside of a log acts a bit like a jacket and keeps the moisture in but we want to dry the wood so that it burns better. Therefore, by opening the log up it speeds up this drying process. In species such as Oak, an unsplit piece of wood may hardly dry out if left whole and species such as Alder, which holds a lot of water, could even rot away. 

We do also have a “cheats” method, should we have a large amount of timber to get cut and split, which involves hiring in a firewood processor machine.  This will cut the log in to the desired lengths, split them and then carry them up into a trailer via an elevator, all with just one man operating it.  This saves days and days of work.  We have a big pile we will be doing this with in the spring to create a large supply for our biomass boiler. 

As mentioned, drying wood is absolutely key before trying to burn it.  A typical tree when cut down may have a moisture content (amount of water inside it) of 30-40%.  We don’t really want to burn any wood with more than 20% moisture as it will be using so much of the energy produced by the fire to push this moisture out.  As we all know, it’s not easy to burn wet paper, cardboard, leaves. The same applies to wood, you lose so much of the effectiveness of the fire as it is working to get the moisture out rather than creating heat. However, a low moisture content log will catch fire much quicker and focus on putting out heat plus gives off a lot less smoke.

You will often hear the term kiln dried and air-dried logs.  Kiln dried logs are put in a type of oven to bake out the moisture and gives an efficient dry log that lights easily and gives you maximum return of heat from that log.  Here, we air dry our logs for approx. 12 months. This means stacking them in a shed that can breathe with slatted sides or we stack them outside and cover them with a roof of sorts. It is important the wind can blow through them to slowly dry them out, hence the slatted or open sides to the store.  For us to get best use of the shed, we hand stack our logs as once stacked it takes about a quarter of the space as it was just a loose pile of logs. 

Where Our Logs End Up

We have two key uses for our air dried logs – one is in our biomass boiler at our self-catering holiday barn and the other is the wood burning stoves in our self-catering log cabins, and at our and my father’s home too.

The biomass boiler (big log boiler) at the Sheepyard barn uses 50cm long logs which we burn once a day and this heats up a huge tank of hot water. We can then tap off from this to provide all the underfloor heating, domestic hot water, heat the hot tub and even heat the indoor swimming pool! All from trees within a mile of the property…that is certainly a sustainable way to heat a building!

The log cabins each have a traditional wood burning stove to give them a cosy feel in the winter months. We supply our guests with the dry logs, which helps ensure the stoves are easy to light for beginners and also very efficient. We also have a wood stove in our own home, as does my father who lives on the farm too, so we also benefit from sustainable heating. 

The final way we use the wood is in our wood fired ovens both at home and at our Sheepyard Barn holiday property. These are a great way to cook, not just for pizzas, but we cook full roast dinners, curries, breads, amazing fish and vegetables. This really is the ultimate in sustainable cooking using wood cut just a few metres away which is in the case of the Ash we are currently burning in our home oven.  


Flames SEB CVB_5932 Wood-Stove



Preparing logs 2 – Sept 20 Chopping logs Firewood for processing – Feb 2020