Having a good supply of firewood is necessary for a healthy and long-lasting fire. You can’t just use any regular freshly cut firewood for this though. It is very important to have perfectly seasoned firewood for the best possible quality of fire. Let’s take a look at how you can correctly season your wood.
Find out the species of the wood you are dealing with. This will largely determine the time it will take the wood to get seasoned. Stack the wood elevated from the ground, in a place with good airflow, with the bark facing downwards. Avoid storing the logs in a dark damp location to prevent degrading.
What is Seasoned Firewood?
Seasoned wood that the particular wood has been dried over a prolonged time to remove as much moisture as possible. Freshly cut wood can have a moisture content of as much as 50% and it is recommended that you don’t burn firewood if the moisture content is more than 20%. Through proper seasoning, the firewood will have a moisture content of around 15%-20%
Properly seasoned firewood will not only produce a much cleaner fire with less smoke, but it will also be much easier to burn and it will produce a much higher heat output which is measured in BTUs.
With unseasoned firewood, the moisture within it makes it harder to catch fire, the extra moisture also affects the combustion process, producing a lot of smoke.
How to Season Firewood
The first step in seasoning firewood is the wood selection. Some wood species, mostly hardwood, are much easier season. If you don’t have a choice when it comes to selecting the wood species, find out the specific species you are dealing with.
If you know the species you are dealing with, estimating the seasoning time will be much easier. Some species can take upwards of 2 years to properly season while some can be seasoned within 6 months.
Cutting and Splitting the Firewood
Once you have the firewood, the first step is to cut it into proper sizes according to your fireplace size. For example, if a fireplace measures 17 inches from the back to the front, the length of the logs should be less than 17 inches. I would suggest using 14-inch ones in this case, to leave a bit of a wiggle room for building the fire.
It is very important for the firewood to be even in shape and size, this will ensure that all the wood seasons evenly. You can cut the wood using either a regular chainsaw or an electric chainsaw.
Once you have the logs, split them at least into quarters or in four parts, using an ax. It should be noted that the smaller the firewood pieces are, the after they dry. But you cannot cut them too small as they won’t be suitable for long-form fire, but rather for kindling.
Because trees are in various shapes and sizes, there is no fixed rule if you should split the logs into 4, 6, 8, or even more pieces. Just make sure that they can fit into your fireplace without any trouble and try to keep the splitter logs of similar size.
I try to keep the height and the width around 3X3 inches. Of course, the size of split wood is abstract, but 3×3 is just my preference.
Stacking and Curing the Firewood
The final step is to properly store the firewood so that they are protected from weather, at the same time, drying up most efficiently.
A lot of people choose to stack, or even pile up the firewood next to a fence line, into a closed area with no airflow, etc. There are multiple problems with this approach.
For example, when just leaving the wood next to a fenceline, the firewood won’t be protected from the outside elements like rain, moisture, or snow in a suitable way.
One of the factors would be the wood pieces touching the ground. In this case, the wood at the bottom of the stack won’t be able to season properly because of the moisture and insects within the ground.
Make sure to leave about half a foot worth of space between the logs and the ground to ensure proper airflow and protection of the lower logs. Rack up the wood pieces in a criss-cross pattern to allow for proper airflow. You can do this by placing a rack below the firewood.
Although there are other methods of stacking firewood, the criss-cross pattern is one of the most popular methods. Criss-cross style firewood stacking would mean stacking one log length wort of wood in one direction, whereas the other layer would be laid in the opposite direction. This is also the fastest way to season firewood naturally, as the airflow between stacked layers would be best.
You can also use parallel stacking, which is highly common, if not more common. Parallel stacking is also used when there is the necessity to measure the amount, or volume of the firewood. (measured in cords)
Parallel stacking is used for measuring because it leaves less air space between the logs, thus resulting in a more accurate number.
Another thing to pay attention to while parallel stacking the wood is the typical wind direction in your area. It is important if you are storing or seasoning the wood outdoors as parallel stacking the wood towards the wind can reduce the seasoning time a lot, in my experience.
With criss-cross stacking it is not as important because of the stacking style, the airspace between the logs is a lot bigger when compared to parallel stacking.
Try not to cover the logs with anything as it can slow down moisture evaporation, although this might be inevitable if you don’t have proper indoor space, especially during winter, spring, or autumn.
If you do have to cover the stacks, it is better to make sure there are at least 5-6 inches between the roofing material/tarp and the logs to avoid trapping the moisture too much. The trapped moisture will make the wood prone to degrading. It can start growing shrooms, moss, or mold.
If possible, do not cover the sides of the stacks to ensure that even after covering the stack from the top, the airflow beneath the cover remains.
As an extra tip, if you are storing the wood in an open area, and you do not have a wood rack or side beams for support, use criss-cross stacking to support the sides of the stack.
How Can You Tell if Wood is Seasoned?
If you are not experienced with handling seasoned firewood, it can be difficult to know when the wood has been properly seasoned or not.
The first thing which you should look out for is the appearance of the wood itself. The firewood should be pale in color with some cracks within it. If the firewood has bark on it, then it should come off easily.
When wood is seasoned, most of the moisture within it will evaporate. This reduces the weight of the firewood. Unseasoned firewood is much heavier than seasoned firewood.
When firewood has been properly seasoned, knocking on it should produce a clear knocking noise. On the other hand, if you knock on unseasoned wood, it produces a dull sound.
You can also get the moisture content of the firewood tested using a moisture meter. It is an electronic device that is used for measuring the moisture levels of certain substances. The moisture meters should be available to buy in most hardware stores.
Before measuring the moisture content, make sure the device is set to measuring firewood. This setting is usually displayed by a tree symbol.
The moisture content should be anywhere between 15-20%. If you need more information here is an article discussing the moisture content and seasoning in greater detail.
Once you have selected the wood you want to use as firewood, cut them into sizes according to your fireplace dimensions, and split them four ways. (It is not a fixed rule, rather make sure the logs are around the same size after splitting) Stack them up in a criss-cross pattern, lifted off the ground by a few inches in a well-ventilated space that is not dark.
I am the guy behind Theyardable.com. I grew up on a homestead and I am here to share the knowledge I have and things I learn while living in the countryside.