How to season firewood

How to season firewood

The most important things to know when preparing wood for seasoning is how to stack firewood for seasoning and why you need to season wood in the first place.

Purchasing wood from a store or supplier doesn’t guarantee that it’s prepared or ready-to-burn.

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Well-seasoned wood logs are easier to burn and longer-lasting. Producing less creosote build-up and help your wood-burner systems operate at maximum efficiency with the lowest emissions. This post answers various Frequently Asked Questions people usually have regarding seasoning and stacking firewood. Including whether or not you need to cover your firewood and what options are available to get the job done right.

Before getting into the basics of stacking firewood, let’s talk cover some common questions surrounding WHY stacking helps the seasoning process for preparing logs.

Dry, seasoned woods burn better and for a much longer time.

How to season firewood

One cord of wood dimensions are 4 ft tall x 8 ft long x 4 ft deep

Learn About Stacking Wood

People often ask why stacking wood is important. The short answer is seasoning. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg! There are many more questions surrounding this topic. We’ll do our best to answer some of your most common questions here in this post.

The main reason to learn how to stack your firewood is to make sure it’s seasoned and ready to burn when you need it.

Whether you purchase a full-face cord or a half-face cord , (or even just small bundles or bushels from the store) you’re going to need an appropriate place to keep it.

We have answers regarding how to choose the right location for your woodpile. But first, let’s talk about WHY you should even bother seasoning wood in the first place. If you haven’t learned about moisture content in wood, then you might want to visit our resource page on how to choose the best wood before proceeding with this post that teaches you how to stack wood and how to season it.

Before you learn the how, let’s discover why firewood must be seasoned to burn.

How to season firewood

Most people don’t know firewood that’s chopped down from a tree usually retains about 50% water. This causes a lot of problems when trying to use it in your fireplace. Instead, individuals need to season the firewood so it dries out and moisture escapes the premise.

At the end of the day, wood burns better and cleaner when it’s dried. Under 20% of water in the wood is prime burning conditions for any fire. However, a lot of people just think they can burn anything in a fire to keep the flames going.

This could not be further from the truth. Wood that’s not appropriately seasoned will cause a build-up of creosote in a chimney or lining. Creosote build-up can be very dangerous because a fire could start and consume a room or an entire home. So, knowing how to properly season firewood is a must when using a wood-burning fireplace indoors.

Wood Properties

Before anyone starts drying wood, you must make sure to understand the properties of wood. Seasoning differs depending on the type of wood. The sap quality in a tree tells a lot of the story. In the winter, sap moves down to the roots; in turn, this allows for trees to lessen moisture throughout.

For example, pine trees take anywhere from half a year to a full year for its wood to season properly. On the other hand, hardwood trees like oak and orange trees need 1 to 2 years of seasoning time.

When understanding wood types, remember a few things:

  • Water on the surface is not the issue with seasoning; it’s the moisture inside the wood that takes the longest to season.
  • Air drying woods like cherry and hickory will not help lessen the content of moisture.
  • Woods like cottonwood and sycamore are greatly benefited from leaving outside to air dry.
  • Understand that wood can be over-seasoned causing the wood to burn less effectively.
  • There are test meters that give a moisture reading for any type of wood.

Gathering Your Firewood

The best time to search for firewood is in the summer. This is the time when you can use the hot weather to your advantage to help season it. Storing wood outdoors can be very helpful if there’s little to no rainfall.

If the possible storage area is too wet to leave the wood, try placing in a dry indoor facility. Heaters can also be placed in a storage room to help relieve the water content. Just be sure that you store it in a dirt room instead of inside a home because termites and other creatures love the shelter that this kind of wood provides.

The last point might be common sense to most, but issues like this happen all too often. Countless people go out to chop down a tree to be seasoned, find one they like, and start chopping.

What they don’t consider is the type of tree they’re cutting down. Unfortunately, a lot of endangered trees are chopped down every year because people don’t think before they act or they have no understanding of the decline of native trees in the area. Either way, do your homework before going out to chop because it could cost you a hefty fine if the authorities find out.

Chop, Chop, Chop

When narrowing your wood down to size, make sure that you cut your pieces no smaller than 6 inches and no bigger than 18 inches. This will help when fitting wood inside a stove or fireplace.

To cut wood, decide on either an axe that is finely sharpened or a chainsaw. Be aware and alert to protect yourself during this step for it can be very dangerous.

If you have any rotten wood, don’t cut it up and pile it to be seasoned. Just throw this wood out; it’ll be no use to you because it won’t be worth the little heat that it might put out during burning.

Further Storage Tips

How to season firewood

As wood is stacked, use stapling bases to keep your wood off the ground. Also, pallet wood can be used as an alternative. Side supports can be added to this pile to prevent the wood from falling all together.

Another ingenious method is to stack the ends of the wood at a 90-degree angle for each layer to make your pile support itself.

Wood Pile Air Circulation

Seasoning wood is only effective when air is able to move around and through the wood pile. The wood will dry a lot quicker when air is allowed into the process. You can use a tarp or sheet underneath the wood to act as a barrier against moisture.

Another way to help season your wood through air circulation is to keep the wood off the ground so air flow can get under the stack. If you choose to use this method, protect against termites and carpenter ants by treating the area.

Lastly, keep the wood away from any wall, so air can move unimpeded. A good rule of thumb is keep your wood 20 feet away or further from any structure.

Protecting Wood Against the Elements

Just because air flow is needed to help season your wood doesn’t mean that you should leave your wood pile out in the cold. When it comes to the elements, rain and snow can be detrimental to your seasoning.

Instead, rain and snow can be directed off your wood with a tarp. Still leave the ends of your wood pieces uncovered, so air can help do the job right.

If you still have bark on your wood, you have two options when protecting it from rain and snow. To use the bark to your advantage, stack the wood with the bark facing up. This will help keep rain from seeping into your pile.

The other option is to place the barked side facing downward into your pile. This will help in the seasoning process, but you’ll need to make sure to tarp the pile when inclement weather comes.

As stated, there are two options that can be used when weather and seasoning collide. Some firewood connoisseurs believe that even if the wood is soaked, it’s part of the natural seasoning process. Sure, your firewood may take longer, but it’ll be all-natural.

The Dryness Check

Many people wonder when the seasoned wood will be done. There are a few ways to check if your wood is ready to be used. First, grab two pieces of your newly seasoned wood and bang them together.

Notice if the wood sounds like it’s “ringing” instead of a “banging” sound. Also, put your wood in the fire. Does it burn in 15 minutes or less? If so, your wood is ready to burn.

Lastly, look for cracks in the wood. This helps show that moisture is no longer inside the wood and it’s starting to crack from the dryness.

Ready to Burn

Depending on how you season your wood will definitely make the process your own. Be patient and enjoy the progression because, in the end, you will have a seasoned wood that’s different and specific to you. Happy seasoning!

Remember, before you start using your fireplace each year, it’s highly recommended to get an inspection and a chimney cleaning to ensure your safety. Homeowners in the Chicagoland have trusted Vertical Chimney Care for over 30 years for all their chimney needs. Contact us today for any of our chimney and fireplace services.

How to season firewoodWood should be as dry as possible for burning; otherwise a lot of the heat in the firebox is used to heat up and evaporate the water in the wood. That means you produce less heat and more condensates in the chimney. Condensates are the cause of chimney fires.

Wood should be well seasoned before it is burnt. That means taking the moisture content down to 25-20% from typical values of 45-30%. Typically that means cutting and splitting the wood into manageable pieces and then air drying for the spring and summer. Ideally you would give the wood even longer to dry (i.e. around 2 years) but often this is not practical. The bigger the pieces the longer they will take to dry (that is one of the reasons why chopping the wood beforehand is a good idea).

If trees are to be cut down for burning then this should be done in deep winter (Nov – Jan) as the tree is dormant and the sap has not yet risen. Once the sap starts rising with the onset of spring the tree’s moisture content increases and it will take longer to season the fire wood.
When the wood seasons it should be protected from direct rainfall and should ideally be on a dry base. The sides of the stack are best left open so that the wind can get to the wood to dry it out. If you are seasoning the wood in a shed then slatted sides will let air through but still contain the wood.
Some people stack the wood in tall rows where it has been cut and fix a small roof over the top and leave it to season like that.
Other people produce a round stack to head height with an outside wall made of split logs and the inside filled with randomly placed logs. A roof can be made for the stack by placing logs bark side up on the top of the stack like roofing tiles. I’ve tried this method before and it certainly looks great.

When buying firewood make sure that you are buying seasoned firewood. That should mean that it was cut and split at least a year ago and then stored so that air and sun can dry it out. Often you will find that the firewood supplier will cut and chop the tree up that day – yes it’s been lying around for a year or two, but seasoned it is not. A good sign to look out for is cracks in the end grain of the logs like this:
How to season firewood

Another good way to tell how dry your firewood is is to use one of our Stovesonline moisture meters.

You can find firewood suppliers in your area by using our firewood supplier search.

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Dunkeswell, Devon, EX14 4RD

As September settles in, nights are already getting cold enough that the morning air has a little bit of a bite here in central New York. Though the wood stove at the heart of my house sits unused, I know in another month it will be time to start lighting fires, so it is perfectly natural to think about the wood I will burn.

But I don’t mean the wood I will burn this year – that is already split and stacked. I mean the wood I will be burning next fall and winter. Freshly cut green wood has so much water in it that if you burn it most of the energy will go to evaporating water rather than generating heat. Further, green wood doesn’t burn clean, leading to pollution and more creosote build up in your chimney.

This means that firewood must be allowed to age. Wood cut in the spring will burn well enough the following fall, but letting a full year pass is better. The most important step in seasoning firewood is time. Even split wood takes a while to dry out enough to be properly seasoned, so don’t rush it! Seasoned firewood burns hotter and cleaner, which means you get much more heat for your work.

But Time Alone is not Enough

While time is necessary to seasoning firewood, time alone is not enough. Firewood left in an uncovered pile will usually start to rot. Even if it doesn’t, it will not get significantly drier. Covering it with a tarp doesn’t help much. While this will keep off rain, it also traps air – and thus moisture – inside, creating a very humid atmosphere, which will prevent the firewood from drying.

Far better is to stack the firewood beneath a cover that sheds rain while also allowing air flow. If you have a big porch you aren’t using for another purpose that might be a good option, but most of us will want a stand alone structure. You can purchase various racks, some of which come with covers. If you only burn wood very occasionally, this may be all you need.

But if you burn a significant amount of firewood, it makes more sense to use a dedicated structure. One option is to look for a car port or similar modular structure on craigslist. Even better is to do what I do and buy a hoop bender and build your own dedicated firewood hoop. (This is a big enough topic to deserve its own post, which I’ll get to soon!)

To summarize: you want your firewood stored in a way that minimizes rain while maximizing airflow.