Saturday, October 17, 2015

Softwood pellet rant (Softwood versus Hardwood)

I am based in Pennsylvania (known in the early days as Penn's Woods) and hardwood forests are abundant. Many people in PA have cut, seasoned, and stored their own wood. Folks who have wood-burning stove's would consider it blasphemy to burn softwood. Many folks who have pellets stoves today are people who had wood-burning stove's in the past, but were drawn to the convenience that pellet stoves offer over traditional wood burning stoves. These old time wood-burning stove guys are typically very reluctant (and vocal) to burn soft wood pellets, and figure they are a second class pellets. That could not be further from the truth. As a general rule softwood pellets contain a higher BTU content per pound that hard wood pellets, and sometimes the difference is considerable. The dynamics of compressing softwood into a pellet form, and then burning it in a stoked flame ends up entirely burning off any of the creosote that is usually associated with burning softwood. I speculate it is the gasification of that very material in softwood that actually lends to the higher BTU content.

Whatever the case softwood pellets typically have higher BTU content then hardwood pellets, and this results in a higher value per bag. I would encourage you to give soft wood pellets a shot in your stove, and I think you will be very pleased. At this point the only reason I burn hardwood is to review it, and I also use hardwood in my wood pellet Grill. I have observed up to 5 to 10 hours more burn time (stove set to low) out of a bag of high-quality soft wood pellets that I get from many of the hardwood pellets I have burned.

Here in Pennsylvania there are some downs sides to soft wood. Since most pellet mills in the state produce hard wood pellets, so when you find softwood here it typically comes from Canada, New England or the south. The thing about a ton of pellets is that they weigh a ton (profound thought of the day). The result is that shipping costs are a significant factor in pricing, so in my area soft wood pellets can cost more than hard wood. The flip side to this is in many parts of the country they are cheaper.

An other small consideration is for whatever reason soft wood pellets come in bags with small holes for breathing, most hard would pellets are in sealed bags. This becomes and issue if you are storing a lot of pellets in a damp area over the summer. The will become a bit bloated and create more fines. I usually have a mix of pellets, and always burn the soft wood first.

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