Purchasing Wood Pellets in Bulk Guide – What you Need to Know

Hi, I’m Chris. I started PelHeat.com back in 2007.

For most people when they start to purchase wood pellets for the first time for their pellet stove or boiler they will purchase them in 20lb or 10kg plastic bags. However, if your going to be using a significant volume of wood pellets every year purchasing in bulk will get you a much better deal.

So with this post, I thought I would write about how to get set up to receive loose bulk wood pellet deliveries. Whether you wish to build your own wood pellet silo as I did or purchase a pre-made wood pellet storage solution.

Bulk Wood Pellet Delivery and Storage Advice

If you have the time I would strongly recommend you watch the video below from the UK Pellet Council on best practice for accepting bulk wood pellet deliveries and silo storage designs. While obviously this video is based on UK examples, the same principles apply to best practise in the US as well. I followed this advice when I designed my own pellet silo which has served me well over the last 8 years.

The Benefits of Bulk Wood Pellet Deliveries

So the first benefit that most people are drawn to is the lower price per ton of bulk wood pellets. However, there are other benefits to bulk wood pellet deliveries.

Convience

Moving from a gas or oil heating system to a wood pellet stove or boiler can be a shock to some people. Especially if they are told that every day they have to pick up one of more plastic bags of wood pellets and empty them into a hopper. Just a few decades ago this would not have seemed a strange concept, especially for those who used coal as their heating fuel. However, in the 21st century, there is a minimum level of convenience that most people expect.

With bulk wood pellet deliveries and suitable storage solutions, a wood pellet heating system can require no more effort than a gas/propane or oil heating system. If a larger enough silo is installed a once annual bulk wood pellet delivery may be sufficient.

Reducing Plastic Waste

The average home will require 4-5 tons of wood pellets annually. Therefore as you can appreciate that’s a lot of plastic bags. Furthermore, when a wooden pallet arrives its also wrapped in a thick layer of plastic film to protect those bag from tears.

With bulk wood pellet deliveries all of this plastic packaging is not required. I’ve sometimes heard of bulk wood pellet deliveries as being bagless deliveries. Plastic waste is a significant issue which needs to be addressed. Especially as in most cases, plastic bags such as these are not easily recycled. So its good to think that with bulk wood pellet deliveries you are not contributing to the plastic waste problem. Many people choose wood pellet heating as a more environmentally responsible heating solution compared to using fossil fuels. Therefore, choosing to go with bulk wood pellet deliveries is the ‘greenest’ way to accept wood pellet deliveries.

Bagged wood pellets
Bagged wood pellets require plastic to protect them from moisture, however this plastic is often not easily recycled.

Reduced Cost per Ton of Wood Pellets

I’m not going state prices of bagged and bulk wood pellets as they would be pretty inaccurate even a few weeks after writing this post. So, what I’m going to emphasize is the cost relationship between the price of bagged wood pellets and bulk blown deliveries.

Typically with bulk deliveries, you are able to get a reduced price per ton compared to bagged wood pellets of between 25-50%. Now, the price you can get often depends on what size of delivery you are willing to accept. For instance, there is usually (depending on the supplier) a drop in price over a certain number of tons. For instance, our last delivery of bulk wood pellets dropped by a further Β£20 per ton as we were able to accept over 8 tonnes. Therefore this leads to an important point. To get the lowest price per ton for bulk wood pellets you really want to install the largest silo you reasonably can.

More Resilience to Supply and Demand Issues

Like any other commodity, the price of wood pellets goes up and down following market supply and demand. There are certain times when supply outstrips demand before demand catches up again. When supply outstrips demand the price of wood pellet falls. Hence if you have a large wood pellet storage silo you can take advantage of when prices are at their lowest. That’s why I built myself a 15-tonne storage silo even though I only use a maximum of 7 tonnes in a year. That way I can have two years of fuel to help avoid price spikes.

Global wood pellet demand has been increasing year on year and in some markets, supply may struggle to meet demand, hence prices increase – Image: canadianbiomassmagazine.ca

Surplus Bulk Deliveries

Another benefit of having the largest wood pellet storage silo you can accommodate is surplus bulk wood pellet deliveries. The best way to describe what I mean by surplus deliveries is to provide you with an example.

I’d already had my annual bulk wood pellet delivery when several months later I got a phone call from the supplier. They had been doing a round of deliveries in the area and had several tonnes of leftover in the truck. Obviously, they don’t want to be using fuel to transport those wood pellets back to the depot. Therefore they offered me a very good price to accept the delivery of these surplus tonnes of wood pellets. Therefore, by having a large storage silo I could take advantage of this deal. I use between 5-7 tonne per year, but my storage room can take up to 15 tonnes at full capacity.

Blown Wood Pellet Best Practice

Whether you intend to bring in a company to install your wood pellet storage silo or you want to go the DIY route is a good idea to make notes on the points below. While the construction of wood pellet storage silo is a relatively simple job, it’s easy for a bad design to lead to bad quality wood pellets. So even if you want to bring in a company to complete the works, with the information below you can check they are doing it right!

Minimise Pipe Length and Bends

When it comes to bulk wood pellet deliveries you want to keep the length of pipework to an absolute minim. Quite simply the longer the wood pellets spend within the pipework the more opportunity there is for them to get damaged. Furthermore, the longer the pipework the higher fan speed required, again leading to a higher likelihood of damage.

The UK Pellet Council states a recommend maximum of 30m of pipework. However, interestingly one UK bulk supplier (liverpoolwoodpellets.co.uk) states that:

“Make sure the access from the truck to the store is less than 18 m. Pellets won’t blow over 20m, it just doesn’t happen.” – Liverpool Wood Pellets

Dust and Bulk Pellet Deliveries

Wood fuel pellets in the US and in Europe are produced to set of standards. These wood pellet grades dictate the density the wood pellets should be produced to, their ash content and moisture content. However, wood pellet grades also dictate that the fuel should have a minimal level of fines (dust). Fines within the pellets reduce combustion efficiency and can even cause some augers in pellet stoves and boilers to become blocked.

Wood pellet delivery pipe work bends
Too many bends and sharp bends in the pipe work will cause your bulk wood pellet delivery to produce excessive fines and broken pellets – UK Pellet Council

When it comes to bulk wood pellet deliveries its very important that the wood pellets are handled with care to avoid the pellets breaking apart and causing dust. The UK Pellet Council provides the following advice:

  • Maximum pipe distance of 30m
  • Avoid pipe bends where possible
  • When bends are required use sweeping bends with a minimum radius of 50cm
  • 4″ Spiral Steel Pipework is ideal
  • Male Camlock fittings with dust caps
  • Visual inspection chamber
Bulk blown wood pellet delivery
By following best practice in the design of a wood pellet store a bulk wood pellet delivery will result in good quality (low dust) pellets in the silo.

Wood Pellet Impact Matts

If you have watched the best practice video above you will have noted what an important role the impact mat plays during a bulk delivery. Without the impact mat, the wood pellets would fly into the wall and break apart leading to lots of fines and dust. The solution is to install a wood pellet impact mat roughly 0.5-0.7m away from the wall of the silo inline with the blown delivery pipe.

Wood pellet impact mat
The impact mat cushions the wood pellets on impact and keeps fuel damage to a minimum and a reduced amount of dust is produced. Image – UK Pellet Council

Now, there are quite a few websites selling impact mats (also called damping mats) and I do feel it’s very important to install one. However, for a piece of rubber and mounting bracket, some companies overcharge. For my own installation, I actually used an old air bed which I mounted to the ceiling as an impact mat. Its worked perfectly well during the 8 bulk wood pellet deliveries I’ve had over the years.

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Wood pellet store ventilation is very important. Many people are not aware that wood pellets off-gas carbon monoxide, and you wouldn’t know in most cases. However, when large quantities of wood pellets are stored in airtight containers/rooms carbon monoxide can build up. There have been instances of fatalities from people opening inspection hatches on a large silo which have not been opened in many months. Therefore it’s very important to ventilate any silo or storage room which accepts bulk wood pellet deliveries.

My storage room is well ventilated, however, as an extra precaution, I’ve also fitted a carbon monoxide monitor which will beep if there is a build-up of carbon monoxide.

Bulk wood pellet carbon monoxide monitor
Its a good idea to have carbon monoxide alarm fitted in your wood pellet silo or storage room which accepts your bulk deliveries

How Long can you Store Bulk Wood Pellets for?

In the past, I’ve been asked how long wood pellets will last in my storeroom. For instance, some people have asked me if wood pellet have a shelf life? The answer is that wood pellets will last pretty much indefinitely as long as you protect them from moisture. So that means your bulk wood pellet storage solution must not only protect the fuel from the rain but they must also be stored in a low humidity environment. If you don’t your bulk wood pellets will absorb the moisture and expand, making them useless.

Bulk wood pellets moisture
If you don’t protect your bulk wood pellets from moisture they will expand.

Are Bulk Wood Pellet Deliveries Available in your Area?

There is obviously no point in spending the time and money to purchase or build a bulk wood pellet storage solution if you cannot actually get bulk deliveries to your location. Whether bulk wood pellet deliveries are available will not only depend on how far away you are from the applicable supplier but also how remote your property is. For instance, if you are based down a narrow track which isn’t a proper road I have heard about cases in the past where some suppliers have refused to offer bulk wood pellet deliveries because of access issues. So if you do live down a small narrow road, check with the bulk wood pellet supplier that access will not be an issue.

Bulk Wood Pellet Deliveries in the US

In the US one of the most popular websites to order wood pellets from is woodpellets.com, however, they don’t actually offer bulk wood pellet deliveries. Information on their website makes it appear that they used to offer a bulk delivery service, however, this has stopped for some reason. The likely reason being a bulk wood pellet delivery wagon is quite an expensive piece of kit. It requires hydraulics to lift the storage bin and a large pneumatic system to transport the wood pellets from the truck to the customer’s silo.

Below are some potential options for bulk wood pellet deliveries in the US if you live within the applicable areas:

Maine Energy Systems (MESys)

As you have probably guessed from their company name MESys are based in Maine on the US-North East coast. MESys offer bulk wood pellet deliveries covering most of the state of Maine.

This quick video shows the truck used by MESys for their bulk wood pellet deliveries.

Vermont Renewable Fuels

Again, the area covered by this company for bulk wood pellet fuel deliveries is in the name. They state that they own the only bulk delivery truck in Vermont with certified scales. After deliveries customers are provided with a receipt which states the number of tons delivered.

Vermont Renewable Fuels Bulk Wood Pellet Deliveries
Vermont Renewable Fuels bulk wood pellet delivery truck

Energex – Pennsylvania

Energex provides bulk wood pellet deliveries to most parts of Pennsylvania with their PelletsExpress truck. I’ve reviewed their website, however, they don’t state how many tons the PelletsExpress truck can hold. From the looks of it, I would estimate 4-5 tons. Therefore if you have a particularly large silo it would take a couple of trips to fill it. However, as most homes will only use 4-5 tons over a heating season typically one delivery would be fine.

Energex bulk wood pellet delivery truck the PelletsExpress
The PelletsExpress bulk wood pellet delivery truck from Energex

Sandri Energy

Sandri Energy actually covers a couple of states with their bulk wood pellet deliveries including Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. They also have a range of different sized delivery trucks which include 9 tons, 23 tons and 30 tons. Their trucks use both pneumatic (blown) and auger discharge systems.

Sandri Energy bulk wood pellet deliveries
Sandri Energy bulk wood pellet deliveries for commercial and domestic clients.

Bulk Wood Pellet Deliveries in the UK

In the UK we have a more established network of competing companies offering bulk wood pellet deliveries. Below are details on a couple of options to consider. Prices will obviously vary depending on how close you are to each supplier.

Liverpool Wood Pellets

Despite the name, Liverpool Wood Pellets actually, offer bulk deliveries UK wide. They offer Balcas Brite’s premium wood pellets. Their wagons carry between 15-28 tonnes of wood pellets. They have specific requirements about providing sufficient space for truck manoeuvring and they will only blow pellets up to a maximum distance of 18m.

Liverpool Wood Pellets Bulk Deliveries
Liverpool Wood Pellets actually offer bulk wood pellet deliveries UK wide.

Forever Fuels

Forever Fuels are my current supplier for bulk wood pellets, I’ve been able to get a fair price over the years and deliveries turn up on time. Just like Liverpool Wood Pellets, Forever Fuels also distribute Balcas premium wood pellets to the ENPlus A1 grade. They have depots and offices around the country to provide a UK wide service.

Forever Fuels bulk wood pellet deliveries
Forever Fuels offer a UK wide bulk wood pellet delivery service.

LC Energy

A relatively new player to the bulk wood pellet game and they also only provide deliveries to specific areas of South East England. LC Energy is based in Surrey and provides EN Plus A1 pellets made from FSC certified virgin softwood. They have a fairly detailed FAQ section on what customers should expect to happen during a bulk wood pellet delivery and how to prepare.

LC Energy Wood Pellet Deliveries
LC Energy provide bulk wood pellet deliveries around the South East of England.

Verdo

Verdo has two UK production facilities located in the North and South of the country with a couple of distribution depots in between. They offer UK wide bulk wood pellet deliveries with lorries which carry up to a maximum of either 14, 18 or 27 tonnes. Again, as with the other suppliers their pellets are made to ENPlus A1 standards.

Verdo Bulk Wood Pellet Deliveries
Verdo have production facilities located in the North and South of the UK.

Conclusions on Bulk Wood Pellet Deliveries

If you have sufficient space either within your existing buildings or space outside for a wood pellet silo I would encourage to consider it. While there is obviously an upfront cost the savings on bulk wood pellets over time can be considerable.

Personally, I also like the peace of mind that I have a sufficent supply of wood pellets no matter what the weather holds. When a particularly harsh winter hits you don’t want to be having to buy wood pellets during that winter. Not only may there be issues with supply but the price will likely be considerably more than you would pay when accepting a large delivery during the summer months.

What is the Best Outdoor Pizza Oven for Wood Pellets and whats an Ooni?

Hi, I’m Chris. I started PelHeat.com back in 2007.

I’m into all things wood pellets and I have been for many years. My original interest started in making wood pellets for stove and boilers. However, over recent years I’ve also become more interested in the wider uses for wood pellets. One of my favourite alternatives uses for wood pellets is cooking. In today’s post, we’re going to look at pizza’s ovens which use wood pellets.

Personally, when it comes to the best-tasting pizza’s I don’t feel there is much debate that wood fired pizza’s taste the best. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but if you think otherwise, you’re just wrong πŸ™‚ When it comes to outdoor cooking of pizza’s at home with wood there are a couple of options.

You could go full DIY and build an impressive clay oven! Then again most people don’t have the time and space for such a project. Furthermore, there is the upkeep and maintenance of a clay oven. Let’s be honest, a wood-fired pizza is a treat and not an everyday meal. Therefore, most people are looking for a relatively cheap and easy method to get that wood-fired pizza taste at home.

Best Outdoor Pizza Oven for Wood Pellets
What are your options for an outdoor pizza oven which uses wood pellets?

When it comes to outdoor cooking pizzas using wood pellets there is really only one name out there at the moment, and that’s Ooni (but it used to be called Uuni).

What the heck is an Ooni?

Brief summary of the Ooni 3 portable outdoor wood pellet pizza oven by the BBQGuys.

Ooni does have their own YouTube channel which does have lots of great videos on using the Ooni 3 and lots of tips and recipes. However, I also like the videos by the BBQGuys, they do quick and concise introduction videos to products. They get straight the point on the features and benefits of the Ooni portable wood pellet pizza oven.

The Benefits of the Ooni 3 Portable Wood Pellet Pizza Oven

The Ooni 3 can get up to 500 degrees Celcius in around 10 minutes. Once at this temperature the Ooni 3 can cook a 12-inch Neapolitan-style pizza in around 60 seconds, which is very impressive. The Ooni 3 only weighs 12kg, so can truly be regarded as portable. For instance, you could take it around to family members or friends house quite easily.

How does the Ooni 3 Work?

The wood pellet fire is located at the back of the oven. The heat from the burning wood pellets is pulled over the top of the cooking pizza by the chimney located at the front of the oven. The diagram below from Ooni does a good job of explaining the pizza cooking process in the Ooni 3. However, the diagram doesn’t actually show the pellet hopper which feeds the fire.

Ooni 3 Portable Wood Pellet Pizza Oven
This diagram from Ooni shows how a small amount of wood pellets can good a pizza to perfection.

What’s the History of the Ooni Portable Wood Pellet Pizza Oven?

Ooni (formally) Uuni is based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Their first wood pellet fired portable pizza oven came about through a Kickstarter campaign and was launched in 2012. Since then there has been several revisions of their portable pizza oven, of which the Ooni 3 is their latest model.

In 2017 Ooni launched an Indiegogo campaign to develop another product, the Ooni Pro. This product can use wood pellets, but it is also fuel flexible. So the Pro can use other wood fuels as well as gas. The size and weight of the Pro are increased over the 3 however. Therefore Ooni describes the Pro as ‘transportable’ opposed to Portable.

The Ooni 3 is their portable wood pellet pizza oven, where the Pro is their larger fuel flexible ‘transportable’ pizza oven.

Which Wood Pellets should you use in the Ooni 3?

I discuss this more in the FAQ below, but really you want to use hardwood pellets to get the best flavour into the pizza. Therefore, you want to look to purchase barbeque wood pellets. I recently did a post on the top BBQ wood pellet brands. I would encourage you to check that out. Depending on the type of topping you have on the pizza you can choose the best flavour of hardwood pellets to suit. To say the range of choices and mixtures of hardwood BBQ pellets you could try is vast is an understatement.

BBQ wood pellets
There is a huge range of BBQ wood pellet you could try in the Ooni 3 portable pizza oven.

How much is an Ooni Outdoor Wood Pellet Pizza Oven?

Current prices on Amazon in the US for the Ooni 3 which is their portable wood pellet pizza oven is $275. In the UK the price on Amazon is currently (July, 2019) showing as Β£176 which is the equivalent of $221. Here in the UK, we don’t actually get the say this very often but we’re getting a better deal! Then again, the Ooni headquarters are based in Scotland.

For the Ooni Pro, you’re going to have to spend quite a bit more. In the US that will be around $599, wherein the UK the price is Β£499 ($627). So in the UK while we get a better deal on the Ooni 3 we actually have to pay more relatively for the Ooni Pro.

Alternatives to the Ooni 3 for Cooking a Pizza with Wood Pellets?

I discuss this more in the FAQ section below, but essentially there are no other small portable pizza ovens specifically designed for wood pellets currently available (that I could find.) You can (and should if you own one) cook pizza’s outside on a Traeger grill, as you can see in the video below. Now I think Traeger wood pellet BBQ grills are great, however their not directly comparable to the Ooni 3 when you factor in portability and cost. But if you’re looking for a new grill that can also cook your pizza, the Traeger is worth considering.

If you own a Traeger grill you can use it to cook pizza outdoors with wood pellets.

FAQ

Below I’ll discuss answers to some questions you may have around outdoor door wood pellet pizza ovens and wood pellets you can use with them.

Is there a difference between Pizza Oven Wood Pellets and other Wood Pellets?

There are some websites that are selling wood pellets specifically branded for pizza ovens. The reality is you could use pretty much any wood pellet in an outdoor pizza oven such as the Ooni. However, the question is should you use just any wood pellets?

Fuel for stoves and boilers are produced to various wood pellet standards. These will relate to the moisture content, ash content and density of the wood pellets. Is it safe to use these wood pellets in your outdoor wood pellet pizza oven? Well, if they are from a reputable manufacturer there should not be anything in those wood pellets that are more hazardous than branded BBQ or pizza oven wood pellets. However, you need to think about the main reason you interested in an outdoor pizza oven such as the Ooni, and that’s to produce the best-tasting pizza you can.

Standard fuel pellets are predominantly made from only softwoods such as pine and spruce. Therefore, your not going to get the same flavour in your pizza compared to the wide variety of hardwood pellets which are used to form cooking pellets for BBQ’s and pizza ovens.

In conclusion, fuel specifically branded as pizza oven wood pellets will likely be made of the same hardwood species as BBQ pellets. Therefore don’t be under the presumption you should only use specially branded pizza oven wood pellets. Compare prices between the pizza oven and BBQ wood pellets to see where you can get the best deal.

Is there an alternative wood pellet pizza oven to the Ooni/Uuni?

I’ve been doing some research on this, and currently, as of 2019 Ooni have the market tied up. You can cook pizza on a Traeger grill, but its not direct competition for the Ooni. Ooni has a got a big head start in this niche market space with a good product, good reputation and a well-established brand. Though changing the name from Uuni to Ooni has created a bit of confusion.

That is not to say other outdoor wood pellet pizza ovens won’t be available at some point. However, Ooni is offering a well made stainless steel product for a very reasonable price, it’s going to be hard for anyone else to enter the market and take significant market share away from Ooni.

You can potentially use wood pellets in a standard outdoor wood-fired pizza oven. However, it won’t be able to feed the pellets at a slow and steady rate into the fire as the Ooni does. Also, its the portability of the Ooni that really makes it special. Standard outdoor wood-fired pizza ovens are either permanent features made from clay or just generally big and bulky. The Ooni is genuinely small, compact and portable. Therefore when you’re not cooking pizza outside is not taking up valuable space or taking damage from the elements.

Why did Ooni change their name from Uuni?

The reason appears to be due to Google’s autocorrect. People would start to type Uuni into Google, but it would autocorrect to Unni and abbreviation of University. So essentially students need to be blamed for this one. Therefore the name change from Uuni to Ooni is to help people find their products without ending up on student websites. To play along with the mix-up, on their YouTube channel they have Ooniversity pizza cooking videos, nice.

Do Wood Pellets go Bad or have a Shelf Life?

Hi, I’m Chris. I started PelHeat.com back in 2007.

There are many different uses for wood pellets, from being used as a heating fuel in stoves and boilers to the very popular use of BBQ wood pellets. If you’re not familiar with what a pellet is and how they are made you may be asking yourself the question, ‘do wood pellets go bad?’

With this post, I hope to answer that question, as its a more complicated question than most people probably think. The most basic answer is yes, wood pellets can ‘go bad’. However, with this post, I want to talk about the various ways a wood pellet can ‘go bad’. Also what causes pellets to go bad and how to stop it happening.

Finally, I’ll also discuss something that most people are not aware of, some wood pellets are just plain bad, to begin with. So I’ll discuss how you can test pellets to see if they were badly made.

Wood Pellets Gone Bad
The wood pellets on the left have ‘gone bad’ from absorbing moisture, where the wood pellets the on the right still have a good density.

Why can a Wood Pellet go Bad?

There are two main enemies that cause a wood pellet to go bad and that’s moisture and rough handling. I’ll discuss each of them under the subheadings below.

Moisture Absorption

Now, you actually need some moisture to make a wood pellet, however, once the wood pellet has been formed moisture is its enemy. Due to the highly compressed state of a wood pellet and their low moisture content (below 10%) they are naturally seeking out moisture to absorb. That’s why pellets make a such a good animal bedding product for horses.

Therefore, if you don’t keep wood pellets dry, they will absorb moisture and expand. Once expanded they are no longer pellets, just sawdust, and can no longer be used in pellet stoves, boilers and grills.

It’s important to note the main risk to a wood pellet from moisture is not from liquid water. Its water in the air (humidity) which causes pellets to go bad.

Rough Handling

Wood pellets are fairly durable, however, too much rough handling will cause them to break apart and create excessive fines and dust. This dust can cause some pellet stoves, boilers and grills to become blocked up. Therefore, in my post on the top BBQ grill pellet brands, I discuss sieving the wood pellets before they are placed into the hopper.

Can Traeger Wood Pellets go Bad?

Yes, a Traeger wood pellet can go bad if they not protected from moisture and with poor handling. Traeger wood pellets are made in a very similar fashion to others. In terms of leaving BBQ pellets in the hopper of your Traeger pellet grill and going bad, it depends on where you store the grill. Storing the Traeger grill in a garage or shed with pellets in the hopper during the summer months will be fine.

Traeger wood pellets can go bad
Some Traeger wood pellets come in resealable bags where others do not. If you don’t protect your Traeger wood pellets from moisture they will go bad.

However, leaving pellets in the hopper over winter when you’re not using the grill its highly likely they will absorb moisture. Therefore at the end of the grilling season, you should empty the pellets out and store them in a sealed plastic bag. That way you will able to use those barbeque pellets again next year no problem.

How do you Stop Wood Pellets going Bad?

So, to maintain the shelf life of a wood pellet the first issue to address is moisture. Pellets typically come in plastic bags to protect them from moisture. However, what if you don’t use the whole bag in one go? Some stove brands state to never use a previously opened bag of pellets in a stove. This advice is given by Clarry and their portable pellet stove.

Reseal or Tie Open Bags of Wood Pellets

Some BBQ wood pellets such as those from Traeger come in resealable bags. If the bags aren’t resealable you can use a cable tie or wire ties to close up the bag. Also, if there are any tears in the bags make sure to use some tape to cover up the holes.

Keep Wood Pellets in a Low Humidity Environment

So, resealing bags is good, however, if you store them in a high humidity environment moisture could still get into the wood pellet through small gaps. Therefore, try not to store your wood pellet bags in a damp garage or shed, they may still go bad.

Be Gentle when moving your Wood Pellet Bags

Now, good quality wood pellets will not break apart easily when moved around, however, you don’t want to be too rough. Being too rough will increase the percentage of fines/dust in the bags. Another reason to be gentle is otherwise you may tear a bag, and then there are the issues of moisture penetration.

Some Wood Pellets are just Bad to Begin With

Up until now with this post, we have been discussing how to keep a wood pellet from going bad. However, some wood pellets are just made poorly in the first place. For heating fuel, there are various wood pellet grades. These grades will test the ash content of the wood pellets, but also their moisture content and density.

How to test if a Wood Pellet is Bad?

There are a couple of quick little tests you can do see if you have good or bad pellets:

Place the Wood Pellets in a Glass of Water

The most basic test is to take some pellets and drop them in a glass of water. If the pellets sink to the bottom they have been produced to a high density, and can generally be regarded as a good pellet with regards to compression.

Glass of water test
Wood pellets that sink in a glass of water still have a good density and have not gone bad.

You have to be quick with this test though, as they will instantly start to absorb the moisture. Also, don’t leave the wood pellets and water in the glass (like I did). As they absorb the moisture they will expand. The expanded pellets in the bottom of the glass were quite hard to get out. I had to use a knife to scrape out the material, I just couldn’t get it out with my fingers.

The Snap Test

The second test is what I call the ‘snap test’. You want to pick up a wood pellet and place horizontal force on it. A good wood pellet will break into just two pieces with a ‘snap’ sound you should be able to hear. A bad wood pellet will crumble into several pieces and produce small bits and dust, as shown in the diagram below:

Snap Test
The ‘snap’ test will show if the wood pellets were produced to a high density and durability and whether they are good or bad.

The Shine Test

This is the simplest of all the tests, you just need to look at the wood pellet. However, it’s not the most conclusive, therefore I would always still perform a Snap Test to judge them as good or bad.

Shine Test
If there is a shine then the natural lignin within the wood was melted to properly bind the pellets together.

A good wood pellet has a nice smooth surface, with minimal if any cracks. A shiny pellet is the sign of a good quality product. A dull pellet with surface cracks indicates its not as durable and therefore probably a bad batch of pellets.

Do Pellets have a Shelf Life?

So you now know that a wood pellet can go bad if they are not protected from moisture and are handled too roughly. But what about their shelf life? Even in ideal conditions will a wood pellet eventually break apart?

Well, I’ve still got a small sample of the first wood pellet I made back in 2007. They have been kept in a plastic container with the lid on. These pellets still have a nice surface shine with no cracks. They even still pass the snap test. Therefore, if you are able to keep wood pellets away from moisture they don’t have a shelf life. They will maintain their integrity and density.

My first good quality pellets
These are the first ‘good’ wood pellets I made back in 2007, and even today in 2019 they still have a good surface shine.

Conclustion on Wood Pellets going Bad and their Shelf Life

So in conclusion, if you protect your wood pellets from moisture and handle them with care they won’t go bad and can have an unlimited shelf life. If you would like to learn how a wood pellet is made I’ve got various posts for you to read. I also have lots of articles on burning, cooking and the various other uses for wood pellets, just check my homepage and search box at the bottom. Thanks for reading πŸ™‚

Top Brands of Wood Pellets for your BBQ Grill or Smoker

Hi, I’m Chris. I started PelHeat.com back in 2007.

Ever since I first tried wood pellets on my propane gas barbeque grill with a little cast iron smoker pot I’ve been amazed by the range of flavours on offer. Now, I know a lot about how wood pellets are made, and their various uses. But the popularity of barbeque wood pellet grills and smokers has even taken me by surprise.

With this post, I thought I would provide a rundown of the top brands of wood pellets for your BBQ grill or smoker. I’ll briefly cover how wood pellets for BBQ grills are made and the differences between them and standard fuel pellets.

Wood Pellets for BBQ Grills and Smokers
Wood pellets for BBQ grills and smokers have grown significantly in popularity.

Introduction to Wood Pellets for BBQ Grills and Smokers

If your new to the concept of using wood pellets for your outdoor cooking needs, the video below from the BBQGuys provides an excellent and brief introduction:

The BBQGuys have a produced a great short introduction video to the using wood pellets in BBQ grills and smokers.

Now you have seen the brief introduction video above I want to go into more detail. However, if you want to just jump straight to the top brands of wood pellets for your grill or smoker, use the links below:

Top Wood Pellet Brands For BBQ’s and Smokers

What are BBQ Wood Pellets and how are they made?

So essentially, barbeque wood pellets are produced from the sawdust of various different species of hardwood. Through heat and compression in the pellet mill, a pellet is formed. One of the leading brands in barbeque wood pellets for your grill or smoker is Traeger. They even produce their own fuel for their grills. Many people are curious about how Traeger wood pellets are made. I would encourage you to view my post on Traeger wood pellets which also includes a video.

Making_Traeger_Wood_Pellets
My post on how Traeger wood pellets are made shows how they use Soybean Oil to aid the process.

Are Barbeque Wood Pellets the same as Heating Pellets?

So to look at them you would presume they are the same product. They look very similar and they are both used to generate heat. However, there are some important differences between barbeque wood pellets and heating pellets for stove and boilers.

Wood Pellet Raw Materials
There are some important differences between wood pellets used or heating and smoking food.

Softwood vs Hardwood

Typically wood pellets used in pellet stoves and boilers are made from softwood residues. This will include pine and spruce sawdust. There are premium grades of heating fuel pellets, but they are not made to a food grade standard. Furthermore, with softwoods your not really going to be getting great flavour which is the main reason to cook with BBQ wood pellets.

Harwood Pellets produce the Best Flavoured Food

Barbeque pellets are produced from various hardwood residues which include:

  • Alder β€“ Great for cooking birds and salmon
  • Apple β€“ Works well with pork, seafood and lamb
  • Cherry β€“ A good allrounder
  • Hickory β€“ Works well pork and BBQ ribs
  • Maple β€“ Nice for cooking vegetables and cheese
  • Mesquite β€“ Particularly suited to red meats
  • Oak β€“ The ‘Foundation’ of BBQ wood pellets
  • Pecan β€“ Best suited to for cooking poultry
  • Walnut β€“ Especially nice for game and red meats

Full Flavour or Blended?

So you may have noticed above, I describe Oak wood pellets as the ‘Foundation’ of barbeque pellets. The reason being, their flavour is the most subtle. You can cook pretty much any type of food with Oak, and get just a mellow smoky flavour. The other varieties of hardwoods will produce a more intense flavour.

Flavoured Wood Pellets

You can purchase bags of just flavoured pellets, made from just Apple, Alder etc. Flavoured bags are more expensive than blended bags. There will be no oak pellets within flavoured bags, unless its Oak flavour obviously. Oak wood pellets mixed in with flavoured grill pellets are regarded as ‘filler’ and are called blended pellets.

Blended Wood Pellets

As you properly guessed, blended bags are a mixture of oak pellets and other flavours. Typically you will be looking at a blend of around 70% oak to 30% of a different hardwood species.

Should you Choose Flavoured or Blended?

If you’re using a small smoker pot on your propane gas grill I would just go with flavoured pellets. If you own a full on wood pellet grill such as a Traeger, it depends on your cooking style and personal preference. It depends on how you’re cooking the food and the intensity of the flavour you prefer.

As you’ll recall from earlier in the post. Smoking food will use around 1lb/h, but full heating cooking/chargrilling will use around 3lb/h. Therefore using flavoured pellets when chargrilling will not only be expensive, you might not be able to tell the difference between cooking with blended or just pure oak pellets.

The Benefits and Issues of Bark in BBQ Wood Pellets

Some smoking pellets are produced with the bark left on the logs. Now, for wood pellets used purely in stoves and boilers, bark can creates issues. Leaving the bark on the logs will increase the ash content of the fuel. However, when it comes to barbeque pellets bark can also improve the flavour.

Some pellet grills are able to deal with the high ash content, but some aren’t. There are cases where the burn pot can fill up with ash and the fire either stops or runs poorly. Therefore, before you purchase several bags of a particular smoking pellet brand (especially those that contain bark) its best to try a bag in your grill first to see how well they run.

Avoid Smoking Pellets with lots of fines (dust)

So dust in your bag of grill pellets is also known as fines. This is material which did not form properly into a wood pellet. Some pellet grills run poorly if there are too many fines, blocking up the feed auger from the hopper. Therefore instead of just tipping you bag of wood pellets straight into the grill hopper, I do have some advice.

Place a large cooking sieve over a bucket, tip the bag of pellets into the sieve and give a quick shake. The fines will drop out into the bucket. Then tip the pellets out the sieve into the pellet grill hopper. You can then dispose of the fines on your garden. Problem sorted.

A large cooking sieve can be used to separate BBQ pellets from their fines (dust)

If you want to check the quality and density of the wood pellets you have purchased you can do what I call the ‘snap test’. Just follow the diagram below:

How To Test Wood Pellet Quality
The ‘Snap Test’ you can see if you have purchased good quality grill pellets.

Should you only use Traeger Wood Pellets in Traeger Grills?

Technically Traeger state in their product manuals that only their own brand of wood pellets should be used in their stoves. Now, you obviously have to take that statement into context. Traeger obviously only wants to you only purchase their wood pellets.

Traeger Wood Pellet BBQ Grill
Traeger do state to only use their own grill pellets in their products.

However, Traeger also doesn’t want you to use wood pellets with an ash content that’s too high or contain lots of fines. You can use other ‘quality’ brands of smoking pellets in your Traeger grill without complications. However, just remember my comments above about separating out the fines and the ‘snap test’.

How many Wood Pellets does a Smoker or Grill Use?

Well, this really depends on how you’re using the smoking pellets. Are you using a small cast iron smoker pot on a propane gas grill, or do you own a full on a wood pellet grill? With a small cast iron smoker you will be able to improve the flavour of your food, however, your not getting the ‘full effect’. On a proper wood pellet grill from a brand such as Traeger, you will be able to achieve that fully developed wood smoke flavour.

With a smoker pot, you will just be using single-use 1lb/450g single-use bags at a time. You can get hold of a whole range of single-use BBQ wood pellet bags, however, I would encourage you to try and the Jack Daniels pellets from BBQr’s Delight. I personally really liked using Jack Daniels pellets and I cooked some excellent smoked chicken. The strange thing is though, I don’t actually like drinking Jack Daniels whiskey?!

Jack Daniels BBQ Wood Pellets for Grills and Smokers

With a proper pellet grill which is using just wood pellets to generate the required heat, the usage will obviously be a lot higher. However, wood pellet usage will also depend on how the grill is used. For instance, Traeger state with their grills while smoking a grill will use around 1lb per hour. However, if the barbeque is turned up to full heat the grill will use up to 3lbs per hour.

Is Cooking with Wood Pellets Safe?

The ‘safety’ question is a pretty big question with lots of discussions around the safety of consuming smoked and grilled food. With this post, I’m not going to get into the full discussion on safety. However, what I will say that safety is another reason to only use branded and reputable hardwood pellets for cooking.

For instance, I once read a storey about a wood pellet fuel manufacturer who got caught making wood pellets from trees that were contaminated from the nuclear reactor explosion at Chernoble in Ukraine! Therefore the customers of those wood pellets were burning wood which was slightly radioactive! Whilst obviously an extreme scenario, the point being you want to be able to trust the wood pellets your cooking your food with.

Top Brands of BBQ Pellets for Grills and Smokers

Hopefully now for those of you who weren’t familiar with the details on wood pellets for grills you have a bit more knowledge on the subject. Now, let’s talk about who are the top brands on the market today. Please note the order below is not a ranking, all of these brands produce reputable products and I encourage you to try them and choose a product which suits your own preferences.

BBQrs Delight Wood Smoking Pellets 

So I thought I’d start with the first brand of smoking pellets I personally tried, and that’s BBQrs Delight. Specifically their variety flavour tester pack. With this pack, you get 1lb bags of their various flavours including Apple, Hickory, Mesquite, Cherry, Pecan and Jack Daniel’s. All BBQr’s Delight pellets are made in the USA. This pack serves as a good introduction to trying smoking pellets along with a smoker pot on your existing propane gas BBQ.

BBQr's Delight Smoking Pellets Variety Pack
To anyone who’s looking to try smoking pellets for the first time, I think the BBQr’s Delight Sample Tester Pack is a good place to start.

Traeger Grill Pellets

Whether you own a Traeger grill or not, they produce good quality hardwood pellets which can be used on any grill. They offer a considerable range of flavours including, Apple, Alder, Cherry, Hickory, Maple, Mesquite, Oak and Pecan. They also offer two blended products called Turkey and Texas Beef Blend. Again all Traeger products are made in the USA from sustainably sourced materials.

Traeger Grill Pellets
Traeger offer a wide range of full flavour and blended grill pellet products, all produced in the USA.

CookinPellets.com

Now, CookingPellets.com have a very specific product tag line, ‘No Fillers!’. They offer a very popular ‘Perfect Mix’ 40lb bag made of Hickory, Cherry, Hard Maple and Apple. They don’t produce blended products, in fact, they don’t actually offer Oak or Alder grill pellets at all. CookingPellets.com has a strong following, and their products have a 4.5/5 star rating on Amazon out of over 1,200 reviews which is very impressive.

CookinPellets.com Grill Pellets
Perfect Mix from CookinPellets.com is a good all rounder for cooking on your pellet grill.

If you just want to get up and running with your new pellet grill, a bag of Perfect Mix is a good place to start. In the future, you may wish to try your own mix of flavours.

RecTec Grill Pellets

RecTec like Traeger produce both grills and their own wood pellets. The Ultimate Blend grill pellets from RecTect are an Oak and Hickory blend. You can obviously use these wood pellets on any grill, not just a RecTec, even a Traeger.

RecTec Grill Pellets
RecTec are another pellet grill manufacturer who offer their own brand of barbecue wood pellets.

Louisiana Grills Pellets

So Lousiana Grills just like RecTec and Traeger offer both grills and pellets. Louisana Grills produce some very nice top end stainless steel pellet grills which I want to write a post about when I get round to it. In terms of the grill pellets they offer, their ‘Competition Blend’ appears very popular. They describe the Competition Blend as being the perfect mix of sweet, savoury and tart. I’ve yet to try them, so I’ll have to take Louisiana Grill’s word for it. They are a blend of 50% Mapel, 25% Cherry and 25% Hickory. Again, all the wood is sourced and processed in North America.

Louisiana Grills Wood Pellets
Louisiana Grills Competition Blend is a popular choice among barbecue professionals.

Louisana Grills also offer grill pellets in the flavours of George Pecan, New England Apple, Pensylvania Cherry and Texas Mesquite.

Camp Chef Premium Grill Pellets

I must admit, until recently I wasn’t familiar with Camp Chef, but they are another grill manufacturer who also sells their own brand of BBQ pellets. I’ve not seen enough reviews or feedback on their products to provide much insight.

Camp Chef only currently offer either Applewood or Hickory grill pellets. However, I’m sure their range of products will increase in the future.

Lumber JackΒ Grill Pellets

If you want to try a range of grill pellets Lumber Jack like BBQr’s Delight offer a starter pack of 7 flavours in 1lb bags. Apple, Cherry, Pecan, Hickory, Mesquite and Maple. They also have a blended bag which contains a mixture of Maple-Hickory-Cherry.

Lumber Jack Grill Pellets
Lumber Jack offer a range of pellet grill flavours in 1 lbs bags.

I’ve not tried Lumber Jack grill pellets as yet, but there is something that potentially concerns me. Don’t get me wrong, I think the use of brown paper bags looks great and is more sustainable than using plastic. However, if you have read my post on keeping wood pellets dry, a brown paper bag is not going to provide much protection. For instance, I would not keep them in a garage or shed which gets wet and humid.

Pit Boss Grill Pellets

Finally, we have the range of barbeque and smoker pellets offered by Pit Boss. They also offer a range of grills comparable to that made by Traeger and RecTec. Pit Boss grill pellets are provided in 40lb bags and importantly they have a resealable top to protect the wood pellets from moisture. Sourced from North American forests they offer a competition blend of Maple, Hickory and Apple. They also offer individual flavours and have produced a handy chart to choose your flavour:

Pit Boss Grill Pellets
Pit Boss offer their blended Competition grill pellets along with their individual flavours including Whiskey.

Conclusions on the Top Brands of Wood Pellets for your BBQ Grill or Smoker

So as you can see, there are a considerable number of brands who now offer BBQ wood pellets, and the list is growing. If you own a propane gas grill and you want to try smoking pellets for the first time starter pack sets from either BBQr’s Delight or Lumber Jack is a good place to start. Thinking of purchasing your first pellet grill? Then trying a competition blend would be a good next step. If you get more into your outdoor grilling that’s when you could start to look into purchase pure 100% flavour bags and making your own blends and mixtures to suit your own taste preferences.

Outdoor grilling with hardwood chips has been popular for decades, however, there could be a steep learning curve. Controlling the temperature using hardwood chips was reportedly a true challenge. However, hardwood pellets have made it possible for the average homeowner to get some of that great wood taste.

Thanks for reading, I hope you found this post interesting. Please feel free to check out my other posts about making, burning and the other many used for wood pellets.

What are the Challenges when Making Wood Pellets from Logs?

Hi, I’m Chris. I started PelHeat.com back in 2007.

Over the years I’ve processed many different sources of woody biomass into pellets. However, I must admit processing logs into wood pellets presents one of the biggest challenges, especially on a small scale. You are dealing with wood in its rawest form, therefore it requires the most processing before you finally get a good quality end product. Logs have to go through various size reduction processes before the material can enter the pellet mill. Furthermore, with logs, the issue of moisture content is front and centre. So let’s get into it!

Making Wood Pellets from Logs
Making wood pellets from logs presents many challenges

What will the Wood Pellets be Used for?

Before you even start to think about processing logs into wood pellets and purchasing equipment you really need to understand your end user/customer. You need to appreciate how you prepare the logs for making wood pellets affects the quality of the end product. Material preparation is one of the most important aspects of how to make wood pellets.

Are you Making Wood Pellets for Pellet Stoves and Boilers?

Wood ash
Leaving the bark on the logs will mean a higher ash content for the wood pellets produced.

If so you need to understand the combustion devices your wood pellets will be used in. You see, processing whole logs (bark and all) will produce something called a standard grade wood pellet. These types of wood pellets will produce ash content between 1-2%. They can be used in some pellet boilers, but very few pellet stoves. Therefore producing standard grade wood pellets limits your potential customer base. Furthermore, your customers will expect to pay less for standard grade wood pellets over premium grade wood pellets.

What are Premium Grade Wood Pellets?

Premium grade wood pellets are designed to work with all pellet stove and boilers. They also demand the highest price point. Premium grade wood pellets are evaluated on their density, durability, fines (dust) content and their ash content. With a premium grade wood pellet the ash content must be below 1%. Now, this is very significant if you intend to use logs to make wood pellets. As the bark on the surface of the logs produces a lot of ash during combustion. Therefore if you are aiming to produce premium grade wood pellets it will involve more material processing to remove the bark.

Are you Making Wood Pellets for BBQ’s?

BBQ Wood Pellets
The flavour produced from BBQ wood pellets can actually be improved by leaving the bark on the logs

While still obviously a fuel pellet, making wood pellets for BBQ’s and smokers has different requirements. The quantities of wood pellets being burnt are significantly less than that used in a pellet stove or boiler. Therefore, the issue of ash content and ash build up in the burn pot is not of concern. With wood pellet BBQ’s the main emphasis is obviously on producing food with the best flavour possible. Therefore when it comes to making BBQ wood pellets from logs you may actually want to leave the bark on the logs. The bark can actually produce some of the best-flavoured wood smoke.

Are you Making Wood Pellets for Animal/Horse Bedding?

Another growing market for wood pellets is that of horse bedding products. Consumers like the benefits that wood pellet bedding provides over using sawdust or straw. The absorbency of the wood pellets means the bedding doesn’t have to be changed as frequently. Furthermore, the lower dust content of wood pellets over other products means a healthier environment for the horses. When it comes to making wood pellets to be sold as a horse bedding product, obviously ash content is not of concern. Therefore you would not have to remove bark from the logs before processing.

How do you Remove Bark from Logs?

So let’s presume you have assessed your customer’s requirements and you intend to produce premium grade wood pellets. Therefore you are going to need to remove the bark from the logs before any further processing. You can’t chip the logs and then decide you want to make premium grade wood pellets. At that point, its too late, and there are no processing methods available to remove bark from wood chips. If you are producing wood pellets on a small scale for personal use you may look at hand tools such as a bark peeler or bark spade. However, this is extremely labour intensive and not really a practical option to take. The video below shows the effort and skill it takes to peel logs by hand.

The next step up from using a manual hand too to remove the bark from logs is an electric hand-held tool. Essentially its a special blade fitted to an angle grinder. If you are thinking of making wood pellets on a small scale from logs this is a far more practical option than using a manual hand tool.

If you’re looking for even more automation with your pellet making setup you could look into purchasing a proper log debarking machine. These machines have a conveyor on which the logs are loaded and rotated against a toothed debarking wheel and then dispatched out the other side. If you looking to install a small to medium sized pellet plant making premium grade wood pellets, this is probably the way to go.

Using a Suitable Wood Chipper to Process the Logs

So whether you are processing logs with the bark removed or not, the logs will need to be chipped. Chipping is only the first stage of the size reduction process when it comes to making pellets. After chipping we then need to process the chips through a hammer mill. However, the size of chips is also important, as it affects how well the hammer mill performs. For small logs you could consider something like the PTO log chipper as shown in the video below:

Whatever chipper you use its important to get chips to a sufficiently small size. Hammer mills generally perform better when the chips are around 1 inch in diameter. Processing larger chips than this through the hammer mill can often lead to potential issues, even damage to the hammer mill. Also, properly reducing logs to a small enough particle size can even help to avoid issues such as blocked pellet mill die.

The Moisture Content Issue with Logs

Processing logs to a suitably small particle size for making wood pellets is one issue. However, another significant issue is the moisture content of the logs. What is commonly referred to as a ‘dry’ log for stoves probably still has around 20% moisture content. When it comes to making wood pellets, you really want a raw material between 12-15% content. Therefore when it comes to making wood pellets from logs your almost always going to have to have some sort of drying setup available.

Conclusions on Making Wood Pellets from Logs

To process logs into wood pellets obviously involves more time, effort and equipment than many other woody biomass materials. Therefore you need to do your calculations to make sure it makes financial sense to process logs into wood pellets. For BBQ pellets due to the significant profit margins, it does make financial sense. However, when making fuel pellets or animal bedding pellets you really need to make sure you have done the cost per ton figures correctly. Furthermore, if you are having to transport the logs over a significant distance to the pellet mill or pellet plant, those costs can be significant. Anyway, I hope you found this post useful. Please make sure to read my other posts on the pellet making process. πŸ™‚

What is the Perfect Moisture Content to Make Wood Pellets?

Hi, I’m Chris. I started PelHeat.com back in 2007.

Making wood pellets on a small scale is a challenge, this is just a fact. There are many different variables which you need to be in control of to produce good quality wood pellets. When you start to learn about how to make wood pellets you will notice the issue of raw material moisture content gets mentioned a lot. There are two main challenges. First, trying to figure out what is the perfect moisture content for the raw material to produce the best quality wood pellets. Secondly, how do I get the raw material to that perfect moisture content?

Generally, when it comes to making wood pellets I’ve found a moisture content of 12% works best most of the time. However, for different species of wood increasing the moisture content slightly up to a maximum of 15% moisture sometimes has benefits. You only really know once you start to process the raw material through the pellet mill. You’re looking for a shiny wood pellet with a smooth surface that breaks off cleanly when leaving the pellet mill. This tells us the natural lignin within the wood has been heated sufficiently to bind the wood pellets together. It should be noted that making wood pellets from logs presents a significant challenge when it comes to material moisture content.

The Challenge of Controlling Moisture Content on a Small Scale

Infrared Moisture Meter
Infrared Moisture Meter – MoistTech

With large scale wood pellet production plants, they have a lot of equipment and a lot of automation. For instance, they can have equipment such as infrared moisture meters constantly scanning the raw material to asses its moisture content. They then have large batch mixers which help to prepare the raw material to the ideal moisture content. Using peristaltic pumps if they need to add moisture they can precisely add in just enough moisture to produce good quality wood pellets very consistently.

On a small scale, the wood pellet making process is very different. Infrared moisture meters are not viable due to their cost. There are various handheld moisture meters on the market, however, you have to be careful. Some moisture meters do not produce accurate results for sawdust and wood chips. On a small scale often the best option is the dry weight test.

What is the Dry Weight Moisture Test?

Weigh Scales
Small weigh scales used for jewellery work well to measure out small 100g of material.

First, you need some accurate weigh scales that can measure grams (g). I appreciate not everyone uses the metric system, using a weigh scale that can accurately measure ounces is also suitable. Measure out 100g (remember to discount the weight of your container). You then need to dry the material on a low to moderate heat source. You can use a microwave if you’re careful. Frequently measure the weight of the raw material until its weight remains constant. Once its weight stops dropping you have then reached 0% moisture. The difference in weight from start to finish is the percentage (%) of moisture the raw material contains.

So for example, if your raw material now weighs 88g the difference from 100g is 12g. Therefore the moisture percentage of the raw material is 12%. For many woody biomass materials 12% moisture content is often the perfect moisture content to make wood pellets. However, we will get onto that later. One word of caution when drying the raw material. Make sure you do not go beyond 0% moisture and start to burn the raw material. This will mess up the calculation and make it appear that the raw material contains more moisture than it really does.

Is 12% Moisture Content Perfect for Making Wood Pellets?

Wood Pellets
Wood pellets produced with a raw material moisture content of 12%

Quite often I’ve found that a consistently prepared woody biomass raw material at 12% moisture produces the best results. Now consistency is another important aspect of the pellet making process. For instance, let’s say the batch is fairly consistent at 12% moisture, but there is a pocket of the material above or below this. Well, when that pocket of material enters the pellet mill a couple of things could happen.

From Wood Pellets to Dust

So the pellet mill maybe happily processing the material into wood pellets at 12% moisture, then a dry pocket of material enters the machine. The lack of moisture will affect the compression within the die. It will also affect the ability of the pellet press to generate sufficient heat and pressure. This could potentially lead to the process stopping, as the rollers cannot gain traction on the material. Or, instead of wood pellets being produced only dust may emerge from the pellet mill.

Too little moisture when making wood pellets
If the material does not contain enough moisture the roller will struggle to gain traction. Potentially no wood pellets are produced only dust (E)

Lots of Steam and Blocked Pellet Mill Die

If the pocket of raw material is considerably higher than 12% moisture content there is a possibility that this could lead to a pellet mill die blockage. The first you thing you will notice is considerably more steam emerging from the pellet mill. You will then start to hear the pellet mill motor struggling. With an internal combustion engine, you will hear the motor start to labour. If it’s an electrical motor you will see a spike in the amps the motor is using. If this continues then is likely the engine will stall or the electric motor will trip its breaker.

Too much moisture when making wood pellets
Too much moisture will lead to lots of steam (A) coming from the pellet mill and either a blocked pellet mill die, or poor quality wood pellets (E)

Lower Wood Pellet Durability

The previous two examples above of either dust or a blocked pellet mill die are at the extremes. The other possibility is just reduced wood pellet quality. You may notice that the pellets produced do not have a shiny surface, or they are emerging from the pellet mill with small cracks. These lower quality wood pellets will have lower durability. They will break more easily producing fines (dust). The consequences for the end users could be significant. For instance, with wood fuel pellets fines will produce more ash content during combustion. It will also produce more smoke. For animal bedding products it will be detrimental to the animal’s health. Wood pellets for horse bedding is a premium product. However, customers purchase them for the lower dust content compared to wood shavings. Therefore, if the wood pellets contain a lot of fines then this will lead to frustrated customers.

How To Test Wood Pellet Quality
By applying horizontal force you can test the durability of wood pellets

Drying Woody Biomass on a Small Scale

With large scale pellet plants, rotary dryers are used. However, on a small scale, rotary dryers are just not viable. Another option that is available is pipe dryers, also known as flash dryers. This option is used more frequently for making wood pellets on a small scale, however, there are some downsides. Flash dryers are often made up a solid fuel stove, large fan and a long section of snaking pipework with a cyclone separator at the end. The fan pulls the smoke from the stove through the pipework along with the raw material you are trying to dry. How successfully it does this depends on the moisture content of the raw material to start with.

Rotary Dryer
Rotary dryers used on large scale wood pellet plants

Drying Retention Time

The raw material is pulled through the pipework and dried in one single pass. However, the retention time is very low, as the raw material is carried in the hot smoke for only a second or so. Now if the raw material is below for example 25% moisture content this may be sufficient time to dry the material to below 15% moisture. However, if the raw material was produced from virgin wood above 50% this would not be sufficient drying time. Therefore it would require multiple passes through the dryer to get to a moisture content below 15%.

Flash Dryer
A typical example of a flash dryer

However, repeatedly passing material through the dryer is also likely to lead to a raw material below 12% moisture. Therefore the process is not that efficient and can lead to wasting fuel overdrying the raw material. Furthermore, passing a fairly dry material through the flash dryer also carries significant fire risk.

Flash Dryers Lack of Precise Process Control

Large scale rotary dryers have the benefit from a controlled retention time as the operator can either speed up or slow down the rotation of the dryer. There are blades within the rotary dryer which moves the material from one end of the dryer to the other. This lack of precise process control trying to dry woody biomass on a small scale is often why it’s important to only source a dry material to process into wood pellets.

Conclusions on the Perfect Moisture Content to Make Wood Pellets

You will not know what the perfect moisture content is for your raw material until to have tried to process the raw material. It’s best to get the raw material to an average of 12% moisture and see what happens. On a small scale, it’s unlikely that dryer than 12% will produce good quality wood pellets. However, slightly higher than 12% up to 15% may produce better results. It comes down to trial and error. However, it is worth noting when making wood pellets on a small scale, pellet binders can provide a useful helping hand to smooth out the process.

What are the Best Raw Materials To Make Wood Pellets From?

Hi, I’m Chris. I started PelHeat.com back in 2007.

Before you can make wood pellets you obviously have to have a source of raw material to process. A question I’ve been asked repeatedly over the years is ‘what is the best raw material to make wood pellets?‘ Well to answer that question we need to think about what the wood pellets will be used for. For instance, will the wood pellets be used for heating fuel, animal bedding or BBQs?

Your choice of raw material is probably the most impact factor that will dictate how successful your project is. For instance, is your raw material free or will you have to pay for it? Are there sufficient amounts of this raw material close to where you will make the pellets? How reliable is the supply of this raw material? Resolving all these questions should be the first thing you do before you purchase any equipment such as a pellet mill. Furthermore, how you prepare that raw material can also influence potential issues such as a blocked pellet mill die. Below I’ll go through the different potential uses for wood pellets and how that will influence your choice of raw material.

The Best Raw Material For Fuel Wood Pellets?

Wood Pellet Raw Materials
Your choice of raw material will dictate the quality of the wood pellet fuel

In terms of making wood pellets to be used as fuel, you need to focus on the end user and their pellet burning appliance. For instance, will end user be using a small pellet stove or large industrial pellet boiler? Pellet stoves are generally less tolerant to higher ash content wood pellets, where large scale boilers have systems to deal with higher percentages of ash content.

What Effects the Ash Content of Wood Pellets?

The amount of ash produced from burning wood pellets depends on the chosen raw material

The ash content of the pellets is primarily impacted by the choice of raw material. For instance, if you want to achieve the highest standard of wood pellets then you want to avoid wood bark. Wood bark increases the ash content of the wood pellets over the ‘premium zone’ of 1-2%. Therefore if you wish to make wood pellets from logs, you first need to remove the bark. However, if your raw material is wood chips, removing bark is not going to be possible. Therefore, your available raw material will dictate which end users can use the wood pellets for fuel. It will obviously also impact the value per ton of the wood pellets.

There are small pellet stoves which can handle ‘standard’ grade wood pellets with an ash content over 2%, however, it is a small percentage of the pellet stove market. Therefore if you are looking for your largest potential customer base you will need a raw material with little to no bark.

Avoid Making Wood Fuel Pellets from Processed Materials

Chipboard waste is not a suitable raw material for making wood pellets

Over the years I’ve often been asked if materials such as MDF and Chipboard can be used to make wood pellets. While these materials can be processed into wood pellets, I would not recommend that you do so for fuel pellets. The emissions generated from burning these wood pellets can be quite dangerous, and potentially illegal. This also includes making wood pellets from painted wood.

The Best Raw Material For Animal Bedding Wood Pellets?

Animal Bedding Wood Pellets
Horse Bedding Wood Pellets – Image: Tractorsupply.com

With animal bedding wood pellets, ash content is obviously not a concern. Therefore it is possible to use logs and wood chip which still contains bark. The absorbency of the pellets is not dictated by the source of wood. However, there are other factors to consider. As stated above with fuel pellets, do not use processed wood as the raw material. Using such a raw material could create health complications for the animal. Therefore you only want to use virgin raw materials. This could be logs, wood chips, shavings or sawdust.

The Best Raw Material For BBQ Wood Pellets?

BBQ Wood Pellets
BBQ Delight Wood Pellets

Particularly when it comes to BBQ wood pellets no form of painted of processed wood should be used. The smoke from BBQ wood pellets provides the food with a great flavour, but you don’t want that flavour to be toxic chemicals. In terms of the type of wood you can use for BBQ wood pellet there are many to choose from. It could be Apple, Cherry, Oak, Hickory and Alder to name just a few. In terms of bark with BBQ wood pellets its a bit different, it can actually provide a benefit. The bark of the wood can produce some of the best flavours in the food. Wood pellet BBQ’s don’t actually burn significant amounts of wood pellets, therefore there are less potential issues with ash build up.

IMPORTANT: Avoid Contaminated Wood!

Contaminated Wood
Contaminated wood is not a suitable raw material for making wood pellets

So above we talked about avoiding processed/painted wood. Well, there is another raw material you should also avoid. If the raw material may be contaminated with stones or metal you should not consider processing it. Even small pieces of stone or metal can cause serious damage to a pellet mill. Best case scenario is some minor damage to the rollers and die which will need replacing. The worst-case scenario is it could cause significant and expensive damage to the pellet mill drive system/gearbox and pellet mill motor.

Ideally, You Want To Find a Dry Raw Material

Wet Wood
Wet wood as a raw material creates significant challenges

If you have a large pellet plant and dryer, you can process wet (above 15% moisture) wood into pellets. However, it still costs money to do so. On a small scale, however, there are very limited options to dry wood to below 15% moisture content to process into pellets. Therefore really you need to find a dry raw material. Now back 20 years ago there used to be clean/dry sawdust freely available. For some companies, it was even regarded as a waste product. As such, they would actually pay to have it taken away. Well, times have changed, and most companies who produce such material today realise its value. Therefore now they are either processing it themselves into wood pellets or briquettes, or they are charging for it.

A Local Source of Raw Material to Make Wood Pellets

You want to find a local raw material to avoid high transportation costs

When it comes to a wood pellet businesses the most significant costs are haulage of the raw material and finished wood pellets to customers. Those that have gone out of business it has often been due to increasing transportation costs. Searching further afield to find suitable raw materials and having to transport wood pellets over longer distances kills profit margins. Therefore finding a suitable source of raw material local to where you intend to make the wood pellets is vital.

Conclusions on the Best Raw Materials To Make Wood Pellets From

Really before you even consider purchasing a pellet mill or pellet plant you need to be confident in your raw material. First, you need to find a raw material that will suit your end users. You then want to make sure it’s not processed wood, it’s free from contamination and ideally dry. Finally, the location of the raw material and how you will get it to your pellet mill/plant is important. Keeping transportation costs under control will be vital to the success of your project.

Do you need to use Binders/Lubricants to Make Wood Pellets?

Hi, I’m Chris. I started PelHeat.com back in 2007.

So if you’ve started looking into how to make wood pellets, you may have come across the discussions over the use of binders. So in this post, I’ll discuss what binders are and if you’ll need them to make wood pellets.

What is a Pellet Binder?

A pellet binder is an additional material which will be mixed into your raw woody biomass material to aid the process of making pellets. A typical example would be a form of modified corn starch in powdered form. The benefits of using a binder can be increased pellet mill productivity, improved pellet quality, improved roller and die life and finally reduced energy consumption. Pellet binders can also help to provide lubrication to the process and reduce the likelihood of a blocked pellet mill die.

Water and Vegetable Oil for Making Pellets

So first and foremost before using a pellet binder, your attention should focus on water and vegetable oil. If the pellets are exiting the pellet mill in a dry crumbly form adding in a small amount of water to the process can improve pellet quality. The additional water will do two things. It will increase the compression within the die and also increase temperature. This in term will help to melt the natural lignin within the wood to help the pellets form. However, adding too much moisture can generate too much pressure, leading to a blocked pellet mill die.

Adding in small amounts of vegetable oil into the pellet making process can help to lubricate the pellet mill die. This can avoid a pellet mill die blockage by keeping the compression generated under control. However, adding too much vegetable oil will significantly reduce the density of the wood pellets produced. Therefore their density will not be sufficient to withstand packaging and transport. So the addition of vegetable oil should be used sparingly and with care.

What Different Types of Pellet Binder Are Available?

In the feed pellet industry, there are many different types and brands of pellet binder available. They not only aid the pellet making process but they can also add nutritional value to the feed pellets. However, with wood pellet production, if a binder is used more than likely it would be a form of modified corn starch.

Matam Inc Pellet Binders

Pelletbond Pellet Binder
A bag of PelletBond pellet binder

One manufacturer of modified corn starch pellet binders is Matam Inc with its product PelletBond. It is designed to act as both a wood pellet binder and pellet mill lubricant. The further benefits of the pellet binder being reduced pellet mill energy consumption and increase productivity simultaneously. This product can be particularly useful when trying to make wood pellets with a small pellet mill. The reason being with a small pellet mill it’s harder to get up to the optimum operating temperature to make wood pellets.

Borregaard Pellet Binders

Lignotech Pellet Binder
A 25kg bag of Lignotech pellet binder

Another pellet binder manufacture is Borregaard with its product Lignotech. This product is heavily used in the animal feed pellet industry, however, it could also potentially be used in wood pellet production. The pellet binder comes in 25kg brown paper bags and its in the form of a powder. Therefore to be able to use this pellet binder you need a way to add in very small and precise amounts of powder into the raw material and pellet mill.

Kiotechagil/Anpario Pellet Binders

25kg bag of Mastercube Pellet Binder

Kiotechagil developed a pellet binder called Mastercube, however, it now appears to be produced by Anpario. This pellet binder can do some of the work of producing the pellet chemically instead of purely mechanically with the pellet mill. Therefore, again this presents the benefit of reduced pellet mill energy consumption. Mastercube is produced from plant gums and mineral hardeners. It can help to produce a harder more durable pellet while improving pellet consistency. Mastercube is a popular pellet binder for animal feed pellet plants. However, for wood pellet production I would use a modified corn starch product such as PelletBond.

How Much Binder is Required When Making Wood Pellets?

Typically between 1-3% of the raw material to make wood pellets is made up of a binder when making wood pellets. Therefore the actual impact on cost per ton is very minimal.

Small Pellet Mills Benefit Most From Pellet Binders

Typical small pellet mill from China

So as you may have gathered from the information above, pellet binders make the process of making pellets simpler. It can take some of the work away from the pellet mill to aid in the process and make good quality pellets. This is a particular benefit for small pellet mills, particularly those purchased from China. For the following reasons:

Small Pellet Mill Operating Temperatures and Binders

To produce good quality wood pellets the pellet mill die needs to get over 80 degrees Celsius, this can be quite tricky for small pellet mills. Therefore, adding in 1-3% pellet binder into the raw material mix can be the difference between a small pellet mill making wood pellets at all.

Small Pellet Mill Dies for Wood Pellets

How To Avoid a Blocked Pellet Mill Die
Pellet binders are particularly useful with poor quality pellet mill dies

When you purchase a small pellet mill from China, for instance, the machine arrives with a single die. Now, really to make wood pellets you want a pellet mill die with a specific compression ratio to suit that raw material. As this is not provided with many small pellet mills from China, you have to work with what you’ve got. Therefore, through using a pellet binder it’s possible (partially) get around the issue of a die not being ideal for making wood pellets.

Furthermore, the dies that come with small pellet mills from China are often drilled to a poor standard. Rough die holes mean a high likelihood of a blocked pellet mill die. Therefore, a pellet binder can also help to lubricate the process and reduce the odds of a blocked die.

Conclusions on Pellet Binders for Making Wood Pellets

Large scale wood pellet manufacturing facilities do often use a small percentage of a pellet binder such as PelletBond, however, it is more of optional extra. With their equipment, they are able to control the pellet making process precisely in terms of particle size and importantly moisture content. On a small scale, however, it is much more difficult to keep the variables under control at all times. For instance, even when using a binder the moisture content of the raw material is very important. When it comes to making wood pellets on a small scale the use of a pellet binder is less of an option. In fact, I would say if you intend to purchase a small pellet mill from China, for instance, a pellet binder is essential to make wood pellets.

How do you Avoid a Blocked Wood Pellet Mill Die?

Hi, I’m Chris. I started PelHeat.com back in 2007.

When it comes to making wood pellets the biggest problem that you will come across is a blocked pellet mill die. In this post I wish to explain some of the most common reasons a pellet mill can become blocked and how to go about fixing the issue. First I’ll provide some highlights on how to avoid a blocked wood pellet mill die.

How To Avoid a Blocked Pellet Mill Die (Highlights)

  1. Prepar the Pellet Mill Die

    A polishing material needs to be processed through the pellet mill to prepare a new die or to clean up the holes within an older/used die.

  2. Prepare the Raw Material

    If you wood is too moist (above 15% moisture content) or the particles are too large (above 6mm) this could also lead to a pellet mill die blockage.

  3. Start by Feeding the Pellet Mill Slowly

    Until a pellet mill die is up to its optimum operating tempreture (80 degrees celcius +) its very easy to feed in too much material which will lead to a die blockage.

So the above is the ‘highlights’ of what leads to a blocked wood pellet mill die, now let’s discuss the above points in more detail.

1. Preparing the Pellet Mill Die to Avoid Blockages

Wet Wood will lead to a Pellet Mill Die Blockage
Using wet wood in the pellet mill is likely to lead to a die blockage

So something worth noting is that it’s just as easy to block a new die as it is to block an older used die, but for slightly different reasons. A new die (particularly if purchased from China) will have imperfections within the die hole from the drilling process. The hole may appear smooth on its inner surface, however commonly the drilling process will also create small scratches. Even these small scratches can create enough resistance during making pellets to lead to a die blockage. Remember, if the pellet mill rollers cannot generate enough force to overcome the resistance of the die holes, that leads to a blockage.

An older die which was previously used to make wood pellets but has been left idle for more than a few days can create a different issue. Moisture within the air or from a previous production run will lead the die forming rust/corrosion on the inside of the die holes. This again makes the inner surface of the hole rough, which means the roller cannot generate enough force to push the material through the die, leading to a blockage.

How do you Polish a Pellet Mill Die?

How To Avoid a Blocked Pellet Mill Die
Even with a new pellet mill die, you want to run a polishing material through the machine to avoid blockages.

So to resolve the issues noted above of a rough surface within the pellet mill die holes, we need a polishing material to pass through the machine. This will typically be a fairly loose biomass material (I prefer using wheat bran), about 10-15% vegetable oil and about 1-2% fine sand. You mix this material thoroughly and slowly process it repeatably through the pellet mill several times. This polishing material will help to clean up the surface of the die holes and remove corrosion.

Pro Tip: Use a polishing material sparingly as if used too often reduce the life of the die and rollers by wearing away their surface. Once the inlet tape on a die has warn away the compression ratio on the die will be unsuitable to make good quality pellets.

2. Preparing the Raw Material

So we have addressed the first issue which can lead to a block pellet mill die by polishing the die holes so they are nice and smooth. Now we need to examine the raw material to make wood pellets.

What is the Particle Size of your Wood?

Hammer Mill Screens
Use a 5mm hammer mill screen to produce 6mm wood pellets.

You need to make sure your woody biomass has been properly processed through a hammer mill with a 5mm screen. This is to ensure that the particles you are placing in the pellet mill (with a 6mm die) are smaller than the diameter of the die hole.

Pro Tip: You also need to make sure there is no contamination within your raw material (stones/metal). These cannot only lead to a die blockage they can also cause some serious damage to the pellet mill itsself. This could include a damaged gearbox or motor.

What is the Moisture Content of your Raw Material?

Pellet Mill Die Blockage Due To Moisture
If steam (C) cannot leave the pellet mill, it will be absorbed by the raw material. This will likely lead to a die blockage.

As you may know from reading the main how to make wood pellets page, knowing and controlling the moisture content of your raw material is vital. The general rule to make wood pellets is you want the raw biomass below 15% moisture content. However, the material also needs to have a consistent moisture content throughout the batch. Taking a sample of raw material which is not consistent may produce a reading between 12-15%, which will produce good pellets. However, if there is a section of material above this, say 20%+, this could easily lead to a pellet mill die blockage when it enters the pellet mill. Therefore preparing the raw material to have a consistent moisture content throughout the batch is essential. No only to avoid blocking the pellet mill die, but to produce consistently good quality wood pellets.

Pro Tip: Even if you have a raw material prepared with the ideal particle size and moisture content, a pellet binder should be considered. A pellet binder can aid the process and reduce the chances of a blocked pellet mill die.

3. Feeding the Pellet Mill Slowly to Avoid a Die Blockage

Blocked Pellet Mill Die
Feeding a cold pellet mill too quickly will also likely lead to a die blockage.

Good quality wood pellets are only produced once the pellet mill and die get up to operating temperature, which is over 80 degrees Celsius. At this point, the natural lignin within the wood will melt and bind the pellets together. However, before the pellet mill reaches this operating temperature it is very easy to block the die if the raw material is fed into the die more quickly than it can process the material. You want to make sure there is sufficient material in front of the pellet mill rollers, but not to completely cover them.

Pro Tip: The pellet making process creates heat, which releases moisture from the raw material. Filling the pellet mill processing chamber with raw material stops this moisture escaping (steam). This steam is then absorbed by the incoming raw material, which means a raw material above 15% moisture, leading to a die blockage. Hence, only feed the pellet mill at a rate which it can process.

As the temperature of the pellet mill rollers and die increase the productivity of the pellet mill will also increase. At this point, you can increase the rate of raw material feed into the pellet mill. However, you still don’t want to over feed the pellet mill to stop steam escaping. Even at operating tempreture this will still likely lead to a die blockage.

What do you do once you have Finished Making Wood Pellets?

Ok, let’s presume you have finished making wood pellets. You obviously want to leave the pellet mill in a condition that means the die is not blocked for the next production run. Therefore for the last few minutes of operation add in quite a bit of vegetable oil into the mix. This will leave a soft oily material in the die, and make it much easier to start making pellets again next time.

Pro Tip: If you are leaving the pellet mill for more than a few days you will need to run the polishing material through the die again. This will clean off any corrosion/rust which has formed in the die holes.

What happens if you don’t keep your Wood Pellets Dry?

Hi, I’m Chris. I started PelHeat.com back in 2007.

If you own a pellet stove, boiler or BBQ or you’re looking to purchase one there is a very important lesson to learn. You must keep your wood pellets away from moisture and dry. Otherwise, you will end up with a wet mush that can only be used as mulch on your garden.

To emphasise this point woodpellets.com have produced the video below. It shows what happens when wood pellets come into contact with water. Now, granted the video below is an extreme example. I’ll talk about more realistic wood pellet moisture issues below. However, first please watch the video to see what will ultimately happen if your wood pellets are exposed to moisture.

Watch what happens if you don’t keep your wood pellets dry and they get wet.

As you can see in the video, after pouring water onto the wood pellets after just two minutes they start to puff up and expand. After three minutes the wood pellets in the base of the bag (which have absorbed the most moisture) are now just sawdust. Four minutes later due to the expansion of the wood pellets, the bag is becoming ‘like a brick’ and taut. After just five minutes the wood pellets are mush. With a cut in the bottom of the plastic bag, the wet expanding wood pellets pour out.

Why do Wood Pellets Expand when in contact with Water?

The reason wood pellets expand when they come into contact with water is due to how wood pellets are made. First, the raw material is dried to a moisture content suitable to make wood pellets, typically between 12-15%, and then compressed in the pellet mill. Typically, with a suitable compression ratio to produce premium grade wood pellets, the sawdust will be reduced in volume roughly 6:1.

Pellet Press Die Hole
Wood pellets are made to a high density and with a low moisture content, therefore they search for moisture to absorb.

Due to the low moisture content of wood pellets (below 10%) and their high density they now have hydrophilic properties. What that essentially means is that wood pellets are highly absorbent and are searching for moisture. This is true for other biomass fuel pellets, such as grass pellets and hemp pellets. The hydrophilic properties of wood pellets mean they can also be used for other purposes besides fuel. However not all wood pellets absorb moisture (more details below).

Liquid Water is not the real Problem, its Humidity

So as I mentioned previously, the example in the video of pouring water on a bag of open wood pellets is an extreme example. The real problem with wood pellets is humidity. Many people store their 40lb bags of wood pellets in their basement or a shed. While these environments are protected from the rain they tend to be quite damp and humid. Therefore if bags of wood pellets are left open or there are tears in the bags the wood pellets will pull the moisture out of the air. Eventually, the wood pellets will expand back into sawdust. While it won’t happen in 5 minutes as with liquid water, the wood pellets will eventually expand and break apart.

Damp Basement
Avoid keeping bags of wood pellets in a damp basement if possible

What happens if you use Damp Wood Pellets in a Stove, Boiler or BBQ?

There are some pellet burners manufacturers who will tell you to never use open bags of wood pellets in their equipment. For instance, Clarry produces a portable pellet stove, and their advice is to discard open bags of wood pellets. However, if wood pellets are stored in a low humidity enviroment they will maintain their density. For instance, my wood pellets are just stored in my custom silo room loose, however, its a warm environment with low humidity.

Pellet Stove Auger Wood Pellet Fines
Fines from damp wood pellets can create problems for augers in some stoves, boilers and BBQs. – Image: stovesonline.co.uk

There are a couple of reasons manufacturers are concerned about users putting damp wood pellets in their equipment. First, damp wood pellets will struggle to ignite and will also create more smoke, ash and potentially even creosote. Also, while damp wood pellets are not sawdust mush (yet) they do break apart more easily. Damp wood pellets have a reduced density, and they produce more fines (dust). This dust can be an issue for some automated feed augers depending on their design and quality. Cheap augers with underpowered motors can block up with the fines.

Which Wood Pellets Don’t Expand in Wet and Humid Environments?

So both soft and hard standard wood pellets will expand when the humidity of the environment in which they are stored is too high. However, there is a type of wood pellet which won’t expand and turn to mush. Amazingly, you could even leave these wood pellets out in the rain and they would be fine! They are called torrefied wood pellets, and through a process called torrefaction, the wood becomes hydrophobic.

Torrefied Wood Pellets
Amazingly you don’t need to keep torrefied wood pellets dry, you could leave them out in the rain and they wouldn’t expand!

A stated above standard wood pellets are hydrophilic, which means they attract and absorb moisture. Torrefied wood pellets are hydrophobic, so they repel moisture. The process of how torrefied wood pellets are made is very interesting, and I encourage you to read my post on them. Unfortunately, currently, there are very few manufacturers of torrefied wood pellets. So for the moment leaving your wood pellets out in the rain and then putting them in your pellet stove is not an option.

How can you Test if Wood Pellets are Damp?

So how can you test if your wood pellets have started to absorb moisture from humid air? Well, first the appearance of the wood pellets will change. A quality wood pellet will have a smooth and shiny outer surface. If you can see lots of cracks on the surface of the pellets that’s a good indication they have started to absorb moisture.

The second test I like to call the Snap Test. Essentially you put the wood pellets under horizontal force. A good quality wood pellet will break cleanly into two pieces and with an audible ‘snap’ sound. Wood pellets which have started to absorb moisture will break apart into lots of smaller pieces and create lots of fines (dust).

How To Test Wood Pellet Quality
The ‘Snap Test’ will be an indicator if the wood pellets have been stored in environment with a high humidity.

However, not all wood pellets that don’t pass the snap test are damp. During the wood pellet production process if insufficient moisture is present the natural lignin within the wood will fail to bind the pellets together. However, if we presume the wood pellets you have purchased had passed a premium grade test they should also pass the snap test if they are not damp.

The Absorbency of Wood Pellets does have its Benefits

While the moisture absorbency of wood pellets is not a positive feature when it comes to combustion, there is an application where it is a benefit. Using wood pellets for horse bedding is growing in popularity. Typically wood shavings and straw would be used as bedding materials. However, they can contain quite a large amount of dust which is bad for the health of the horses and can cause respiratory issues.

Wood pellets (made to a certain quality) have a very low percentage of fines (dust). And the high absorbency characteristics of wood pellets means the bedding needs to be changed less frequently. However, wood pellets are very hard to start with. Therefore, best practice is to actually add some water to the bedding to start with. However, these damp softer wood pellets can still absorb a lot more moisture.

Horse Bedding Wood Pellets
Best practice for using wood pellets as horse bedding is to actually wet them before use – Image: sorbeohorsebedding.co.uk

Conclusions on Keeping Wood Pellets Dry

When it comes to storing bags of wood pellets do make sure to tape up any tears in the bags to avoid moisture getting in. Also, try to avoid keeping bags in a damp basement or shed where possible.

Wood Pellets
Remember, wood pellet which are not damp will be shiny and snap neatly.

When it comes to combustion performance of wood pellets, just remember water doesn’t burn very well! Moisture will mean its harder to ignite the wood pellets, more smoke will be produced and therefore potential issues with creosote.

I hope you found this post useful. Please check out my other posts on the home page about making, burning and the other uses for wood pellets. πŸ™‚