Sourcing Firewood for Your Mugnaini Oven

The proper firewood choice will make it easier and more efficient to fire your oven. It will also help regulate the oven temperature for various styles of cooking. Double-split, seasoned hardwood is the only sensible choice for cooking. If you have been frustrated with slow starting or smokey fires, it is a good chance the wood you are using is at fault. Following these guidelines will protect your firewood investment and enhance your cooking experience.

Buy it Where You Burn it

From a cost perspective, it makes sense to buy from a local source. The Nature Conservancy also encourages homeowners to buy locally to avoid the spread of invasive infestations. Type “firewood” in a Craigslist search and you will find a variety of suppliers. Look for vendors who sell wood for cooking rather than fireplace use. Today most are familiar with cutting wood sized for pizza ovens or bar-b-ques so be sure to let them know your intended use.

Hardwoods vs. Softwoods

Firewood, regardless of the species available to you, can be divided into two varieties: hardwoods or softwoods. Hardwoods are the best choice for cooking as they are denser, clean burning and provide more heat per volume than the lighter density softwoods. In addition, softwoods are resinous woods that contain sap and oils that will contaminate the chimney’s interior.

The following hardwood varieties are good choices and common to different parts of the country.

  • Oak
  • Almond
  • Apple
  • Ash
  • Cherry
  • Maple
  • Walnut

DO NOT USE the following softwood and/or resinous varieties. They are poor choices and should be avoided.

  • Pine
  • Fir
  • Cedar
  • Redwood
  • Eucalyptus
  • Spruce
  • Pressure treated lumber

Green Wood vs. Seasoned Wood

Firewood that is less than 6 months old is considered wet and referred to as “Green”. Wet wood has up to 45% moisture content! Green wood will not burn and if thrown on a hot fire, it will smoke profusely until the fire dries it out. Trying to burn green wood is not only frustrating and inefficient; it will also produce creosote in your chimney. Creosote buildup is the leading cause of chimney fires. See Essential Chimney Maintenance for details.

Experienced wood burners know that seasoned wood is the best choice for fires. The EPA defines “Seasoned” wood as having up to 20% moisture content. Green wood must be cut, split and left to dry in the open air and sun typically for 6-9 months in order to get seasoned. Sometimes the wood gets baked in a kiln to speed the process.

When buying firewood, it helps to have some visual clues to indicate the wood you are getting is truly seasoned. Seasoned wood will be lighter, may be faded and discolored with splits on the ends, and the bark will pull away or be missing.

Green wood is noticeably heavier, looks clean and may even smell fresh or feel wet. If you have any doubt, buy a smaller quantity to test. If you find you have green wood, just store it for later and find another vendor.

How Much Wood Should I Buy?

If you have a good source of wood, we recommend you purchase as much as you have space to store. This will give extra time for your wood to dry by the time you are ready to use it. Conversely, you may wish to buy a smaller portion first so you have room to make another purchase if necessary.

The standard volume for purchasing wood is called a cord. A cord is 128 cubic feet of stacked wood measuring 4’ tall x 8’ long x 4’ deep. This is a lot of wood so smaller portions are commonly available based on this standard. A Face cord is 1/3 of this amount which is a stack of wood 4′ tall x 8′ long and one piece of wood deep — typically 16″.

What Size Wood do I Need?

When choosing wood for your oven pay close attention to two aspects: the length and the diameter. There is no standard size for firewood but a 16″ split piece with 4-5″ sides is the most common. Wood that is cut for fireplaces may be 24″ long and rather large — too big to hold in one hand. You do have the option of re-splitting your wood once you get home but do not plan on cutting the length down.

Firewood logs are first cut to length and then split lengthwise multiple times. A 16″ long piece split to have 3 – 4″ sides is ideal for most Mugnaini ovens. Your firewood vendor may refer to this as ‘double split’ and ask a premium for the extra work. Having a mix of smaller and larger logs is not a problem as the larger pieces are good for starting a fire and the smaller pieces for controlling the fire while cooking.

Piccolo oven owners should seek out shorter 12 – 14″ lengths preferably cut from smaller sized logs. 16″ lengths can be used if they are not large. Size equals control when you are cooking and too large a log can over fire your oven.

Storing Your Firewood

Once you have made your wood purchase you will want to store it in a safe manner so that it does not get degraded due to weather or lack of air flow. Ideally, your wood will be off the ground, under a roof and in a place that allows good air flow.

Wood breathes out the cut ends of the logs so stacking the wood is appropriate as long as each end can expel moisture. Even seasoned wood will reabsorb moisture so it is important to cover your stack during wet weather. Though not essential, there are various wood storage kits and systems that can be purchased online or at hardware stores.