Difficulty Igniting Red Oak?

Caw

Feeling the Heat
May 26, 2020
283
Massachusetts
Ive been burning mostly poplar, ash, and maple so far this year. All three are 16-20% and get going pretty easily.

This week I've reached the red oak portion of my stack. Its not perfect but its decent at like 18-22%. This is my first rodeo with oak so I expected a little difficulty getting it going but my lord it's a pain in the ass. Once it actually ignites and burns for a few minutes it takes off and cruises nicely but it just doesn't want to ignite. I can load my other wood at like 200-250 with a mediocre amount of coals no issue. If I do that with the oak its a smoke fest and need to jam in kindling or fatwood to give it CPR. I need 300 degrees and a strong coal bed to have a prayer.

The wood isn't THAT bad so my question is oak usually just finicky igniting? I only have a week's worth of this oak ish so my plan is to just mix it with my other species that ignite easier. I'll load the oak in the back/on top and put the maple etc on the coals. The smokey mess going pure oak gives me creosote anxiety!

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kennyp2339

Minister of Fire
Feb 16, 2014
5,498
07462
I burn a lot of red oak and experience no issues, my moisture content is between 14 & 18 % though, sits approx 3 years split and stacked before burning.
 
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Caw

Feeling the Heat
May 26, 2020
283
Massachusetts
I have 2 cords of white/red oak that I CSS in April thats sitting for 2022/23 right now. That should be pretty nice by then.

This is wood I got locally to supplement my first year. It was pretty cheap for about a third of a cord and 18-22% so I figured sure. I didn't expect this much hassle. Im just going to mix it moving forward...it's just annoying. I like going thru the stacks methodically not mixing and matching. I have some 14-16% cherry and another cord of the same maple so ill just mix it in. Its not an issue if I have a layer of the better igniting stuff between the oak and the coals or kindling when starting from scratch.

I will say it burns long, hot, and coals nicely. Its just a SOB to ignite.
 

xman23

Minister of Fire
Oct 7, 2008
2,221
Lackawaxen PA
I burn almost all oak. It's seasoned for many years. If I don't log cabin stack just right, I have cold starts die.
 

orlkc

Member
Nov 9, 2017
54
Eastern MA
Most of what I burn is red oak, and will be for a long time to come given the gypsy moth carnage here. I'm still not three years ahead, so a lot of it is marginal. I find that once the coals burn down enough, I'm better off doing a brand new top down start, ignoring the glowing coals underneath. I don't need to do that once it's cold enough for three loads per day, but I do at two loads per day.
 
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Caw

Feeling the Heat
May 26, 2020
283
Massachusetts
Ok, I'm glad to know it's not just me. Since this post I reloaded with 3 x cherry splits on the bottom and the rest oak and it went a lot better. It still took a little longer than usual but the cherry went right up and got the oak going, no smokey mess. After seeing that I went to the cherry/ash stack and pulled in a few loads to mix moving forward.

Now if only my 5 year old would stop rearranging the wood in the basement/ near the stove! My wife isn't too keen on the different woods yet. She just sees wood near the stove and uses it! !!!
 

neverbilly

Burning Hunk
Dec 27, 2015
158
Arkansas, USA
Most of what I burn is red oak, and will be for a long time to come given the gypsy moth carnage here. I'm still not three years ahead, so a lot of it is marginal. I find that once the coals burn down enough, I'm better off doing a brand new top down start, ignoring the glowing coals underneath. I don't need to do that once it's cold enough for three loads per day, but I do at two loads per day.
Say, what do you mean by 'top down start,' I find your post interesting, as I have observed what I infer is the same 'problem' with oak. Actually, I'll explain... now, this is in a firepit, I wonder if that makes it different... but when I burn a roaring fire, once it burns down, I can never get a good roaring fire again with a super hot bed of coals and I have always wondered why. This is even with me being careful to stack the same wood with plenty of air pockets. Which is what I do when I first start the fire.
 

hickoryhoarder

Minister of Fire
Apr 5, 2013
539
Indiana
I use red oak for kindling, as well as maybe 50% of my firewood. It seems to have a much lower kindling point than hickory, which does need help. If the oak doesn't crackle/pop, to me it means I tried to use it a little ahead -- it needs a couple more months seasoning.

I split the kindling pretty thin, and it still takes 18 months to season.

Generally I think most woods burn better mixed, though I can't explain why. So I try to have cherry, oak, hickory and maple -- 3 of those 4 -- in the stove at one time. It also makes for purtier fires.
 

stoveliker

Feeling the Heat
Nov 17, 2019
267
Eastern Long Island NY
Say, what do you mean by 'top down start,'

 

Caw

Feeling the Heat
May 26, 2020
283
Massachusetts
Generally I think most woods burn better mixed, though I can't explain why. So I try to have cherry, oak, hickory and maple -- 3 of those 4 -- in the stove at one time. It also makes for purtier fires.
I'm finding this too with a lot if my wood. Red/white oak, cherry, poplar, and random uglies this year I'm mixing. Let's me get more mileage out of the softer stuff and avoids the hassle of lighting the oak.

I will run good maple or ash solo though as I think they are kind if a jack of all trades. Light fast, gets hot, and burns long.
 

stoveliker

Feeling the Heat
Nov 17, 2019
267
Eastern Long Island NY
Maple works solo for me, but the red oak I have now is 4-5 years old and runs well too. Lights off like a rocket (if sufficient coals are left) and lasts long. These are mostly 4-5" rounds that were split in half.
 

Caw

Feeling the Heat
May 26, 2020
283
Massachusetts
Yeah I'm looking forward to having some really old oak. This is only a couple years old. Ideally I'd wait longer but you gotta use what you have years 1/2 and work on getting ahead.

My wife will be thankful for the endless stacks of wood in the yard in a few years! !!!
 

stoveliker

Feeling the Heat
Nov 17, 2019
267
Eastern Long Island NY
Yeah I'm looking forward to having some really old oak. This is only a couple years old. Ideally I'd wait longer but you gotta use what you have years 1/2 and work on getting ahead.

My wife will be thankful for the endless stacks of wood in the yard in a few years! !!!
I know. I got ahead by 3 yrs this year. So I'm still burning mostly 2.5 yr old maple, and whatever I could scrounge. Cherry from a neighbor and that oak from a colleague - this was already years old.

Other than that some cedar and sassafras (seasons fast) .

Just keep going, and you'll get there.
 

John Mc

Member
Aug 8, 2012
4
Vermont
Oak seems to take longer time to dry than most species. If you are checking moisture content, try measuring in the middle of a freshly split piece (or cut a piece in half). I don't bother to measure moisture with a meter anymore, since I can generally tell when wood is ready to burn. However, years ago I did some experiments with various methods of cutting and storing stacking wood to determine what would work best for my needs. During these experiments, I cut open a lot of wood to measure the interior moisture content. I particularly remember some Oak that measured around 17% on the ends of several pieces, but was up over 25% when I cut them in half and measured the inside. Oak in that condition is hard to get started.

Properly dried Oak lights much more easily. There is more to properly drying oak than simply the amount of time. Oak holds a lot of moisture when green. It does very little drying when left in long lengths (i.e. 3-4 ft or more). Cut it to stove length, split and stack up off the ground where it is exposed to the sun and wind. Stacking in single rows will dry significantly faster than stacking in blocks of multiple rows. The key is getting good airflow around the wood so that any moisture which evaporates off is carried away, rather than creating a high-humidity environment around the wood.

Most firewood species when stacked as noted above in my area I can get down well below 20% moisture content over one good summer of drying. For Oak, I generally need two summers (not much drying happens over the winter around here, and spring tends to be wet).
 
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Caw

Feeling the Heat
May 26, 2020
283
Massachusetts
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We have 8 single stacks of about a cord each going then 2 more cords stacked on my makeshift pallet woodshed for this year. We are drying baby! ::-)

Stacks face west so where I am that gets the afternoon hot sun and prevailing wind. It dries well. I just need a few years to really get ahead. Im pretty happy overall this year though, I scrounged a lot of long standing dead ash, a little oak that we are discussing now, and bought a cord of maple to jump start us.
 

Tar12

Minister of Fire
Dec 9, 2016
1,669
Indiana
No trouble here at all with Red Oak,White Oak and Black Oak..it is all well seasoned from 3-4 years and takes right off...in fact I have the stove shut down and cruising within 15-20 minutes...
 

Caw

Feeling the Heat
May 26, 2020
283
Massachusetts
I think its pretty clear that 2 year oak is finicky even around 20%....mine is just not quite there yet. Once you get past that magic 3 year mark with proper racking its like rocket fuel. Glad I have a few racks full for 2022! :)
 
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Tar12

Minister of Fire
Dec 9, 2016
1,669
Indiana
I think its pretty clear that 2 year oak is finicky even around 20%....mine is just not quite there yet. Once you get past that magic 3 year mark with proper racking its like rocket fuel. Glad I have a few racks full for 2022! :)
Locust is even worse if not quite ready! I have some here that is at the 2 year mark and I have to put in a row of the oak on coals to get it to take off and cruise!
 

Stinkpickle

Minister of Fire
Jan 13, 2015
523
Iowa
I think its pretty clear that 2 year oak is finicky even around 20%....mine is just not quite there yet. Once you get past that magic 3 year mark with proper racking its like rocket fuel. Glad I have a few racks full for 2022! :)
Oak can be weird. I have some 4-year-old burr oak that's completely dry, but it just burns slow. It ignites fine, no hissing or steam, but it burns with low blue flame and little smoke in an open fire pit. It burns for LONG time, so I use it in my smoker, but I mix it with hickory to keep things lively.
 

stoveliker

Feeling the Heat
Nov 17, 2019
267
Eastern Long Island NY
Oak can be weird. I have some 4-year-old burr oak that's completely dry, but it just burns slow. It ignites fine, no hissing or steam, but it burns with low blue flame and little smoke in an open fire pit. It burns for LONG time, so I use it in my smoker, but I mix it with hickory to keep things lively.
I've noted the same; gnarly pieces seem very dense. Nice for a long hot BK heat.
 
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John Mc

Member
Aug 8, 2012
4
Vermont
I think its pretty clear that 2 year oak is finicky even around 20%....mine is just not quite there yet. Once you get past that magic 3 year mark with proper racking its like rocket fuel. Glad I have a few racks full for 2022! :)
That is completely dependent on how you store it. Cut, split, and stacked off the ground in single rows exposed to the sun and wind, and two summers of drying time (as little as 1.5 years of calendar time) and I can have the interior of my red oak pieces well below 20% to the point where they will burn easily and cleanly. (I routinely get between just a pint and a quart of creosote out of my annual cleaning of my 20+ foot long flue.) I cut to 16" lengths, and do tend to split my pieces smaller than most (since that burns more efficiently) - the short lengths and small splits also contribute to easier drying. The oak still does burn slowly and last a long time - that's the nautre of this species as firewood, and one of the reasons it's great for those colder winter days.

If I stack multiple rows close together, or a single row stacked in my woods, two summers is likely not enough. Likewise, if I stack it right into the lean-to off the back of my garage while still green, it will not be ready after two summers of seasoning (even though my lean-to is open on 3 sides - it's just too sheltered for the wind to carry the moisture away.)

My methods work for me here in the Champlain Valley of Vermont. Your mileage may vary in other parts of the country or in other micro climates. Whatever leaves you with wood dry enough to burn cleanly and efficiently in your situation is good. Just doe yourself and your neighbors a favor and don't burn incompletely seasoned wood.
 

Caw

Feeling the Heat
May 26, 2020
283
Massachusetts
That is completely dependent on how you store it. Cut, split, and stacked off the ground in single rows exposed to the sun and wind, and two summers of drying time (as little as 1.5 years of calendar time) and I can have the interior of my red oak pieces well below 20% to the point where they will burn easily and cleanly. (I routinely get between just a pint and a quart of creosote out of my annual cleaning of my 20+ foot long flue.) I cut to 16" lengths, and do tend to split my pieces smaller than most (since that burns more efficiently) - the short lengths and small splits also contribute to easier drying. The oak still does burn slowly and last a long time - that's the nautre of this species as firewood, and one of the reasons it's great for those colder winter days.

If I stack multiple rows close together, or a single row stacked in my woods, two summers is likely not enough. Likewise, if I stack it right into the lean-to off the back of my garage while still green, it will not be ready after two summers of seasoning (even though my lean-to is open on 3 sides - it's just too sheltered for the wind to carry the moisture away.)

My methods work for me here in the Champlain Valley of Vermont. Your mileage may vary in other parts of the country or in other micro climates. Whatever leaves you with wood dry enough to burn cleanly and efficiently in your situation is good. Just doe yourself and your neighbors a favor and don't burn incompletely seasoned wood.
Side track question - where on Champlain? I grew up summering in Ferrisburg on Long Point. Beautiful part of the country!

I do single stacks, 16' across about 6-7' tall. Each rack holds just about 1 cord. This oak im using isn't mine, its from a neighborhood friend and I'm sure he didn't stack is super efficiently.

Here's part of my collection:

16095185382535129219793890834760.jpg


Stacks facing west into the afternoon sun and prevailing wind. Its a pretty good spot. Once its getting pretty dry ill move this wood to the side of my house where I have six 48 x 48 pallets set up as a pseudo wood shed. Less sun/wind but still gets a bunch and easy access from the house:

16095186725211758999301741058562.jpg


Thats my son's wood collection in the foreground lol. I also have a couple more stacks in the woods as I ran out of room. Those are just gonna be dry when they are dry, I keep my extra quicker drying stuff there like maple and ash.

Plan is to add two more big stacks in the sun and ask the wife for forgiveness after. :)
 

PA. Woodsman

Minister of Fire
Feb 26, 2007
2,164
Emmaus, Pennsylvania
Gorgeous pictures and scenery and woodpiles. Those two by fours on the right side of that one rack look like they are holding off from breaking by a thread!
 

John Mc

Member
Aug 8, 2012
4
Vermont
Side track question - where on Champlain? I grew up summering in Ferrisburg on Long Point. Beautiful part of the country!
I'm right next door to Ferrisburgh in Monkton.

BTW, a few years ago someone stumbled across a some historical documents which indicated that the original spelling of what everyone had been calling Ferrisburg was actually Ferrisburgh, with an "h" on the end. So the town officially renamed itself to that original spelling.