If you have a fire place or a wood burning stove and use it regularly, properly seasoning or drying your firewood is a must. Burning unseasoned firewood can be a hassle in the short term and dangerous in the long term. Freshly cut wood can contain up to 50% moisture and when burned can create a lot of smoke, low fire and heat output, and short burn times. Over a long period a substance called creosote can build up in your chimney and can be potentially dangerous.
Creosote is a black oily substance that builds up around the inside of a chimney or flue that is caused by burning wet wood at low temperatures. The low heat causes incomplete combustion of the oils in the wood, which are then carried up the chimney as a gas by the smoke. As the gas cools it condenses around the sides of the chimney causing the build up over time. If enough creosote accumulates it can cause smoke to back up into the house and even ignite, potentially causing a house fire.
To prevent this you must reduce the moisture content in the wood to around 20%. This ensures that the oils have not fully evaporated, which help the wood burn at a higher temperature. This will allow the wood to burn hot enough to completely ignite the oils reducing the creosote build up.
Here are the steps involved in properly seasoning your firewood:
1. Selecting the right wood
Not all wood is the same. Some are harder with more knots, some burn hotter, and some smell different while burning. Knowing what kind of wood you are using is important in knowing how long you need to season it. For example, oak is a very good type of wood for burning. It is dense, burns hot, and you should season it at least a year before burning. Check out this quick guide on Best Wood for Fires.
You will first need to select the tree you are going to fell. You want to make sure it is not dead and rotting as it will not burn well, and there will be a lot of mold and bugs living in there. It is a good idea however, to remove it to allow for healthy competing trees to grow. You will want to select trees that are crowded or inferior that are competing for sunlight and soil nutrients. This will allow the healthiest and most productive trees to thrive.
2. Cutting and Splitting
After your tree comes down you're going to want to remove the limbs and cut it into chunks, also known as limbing and bucking. The most important thing here is to make sure you get the right length and are consistent. Uneven lengths will make your cords unbalanced. Sixteen inches is pretty standard, if you have a 16" bar you can use that to measure, otherwise you can use a tool like the Mingo Log Marker.
Once you're done bucking the tree, you're going to want to split the chunks into manageable pieces. There are a few different ways you can go about this depending on the amount of wood that needs to be split. You can use a traditional splitting maul, which is good if you have minimal work as it requires a lot of energy. There are manual log splitters that require less energy but are more time consuming. And then there are gas or electric powered hydraulic log splitters which will be your best bet if you have a lot of wood to split.
Now that you have enough pieces of the right size and type of wood, it is time to stack them up. This part is where you are not going to want to get lazy and pile your wood up like this:
The wood in the middle of pile will mold and rot before it has time to dry. You also want to keep the wood off the ground so it doesn't absorb moisture. Stacking in rows with a couple of feet between them to allow wind and sun light to dry them out is ideal. Getting a log rack is great for keeping the rows nice and neat.
The size of your stack is dependent on how much space you make available but wood is measured in cords. A cord of wood is 4' x 8' x 4' and is 128 cubic feet. You can even get artistic with it if you want!
After you have it all stacked up, you're going to want to cover it. Using a tarp secured to the top works perfectly. Make sure you don't cover everything, you want the ends of the wood exposed to help dry it out.
Most wood takes 6 months to a year to completely season depending on what type of wood you're burning, so you're going to want to plan ahead for that. You will know your wood is seasoned when it looks like this:
Once it is a darker color with cracks on the ends it is probably good to go. Another way to check is by burning a piece. If it doesn't ignite well and hisses then it is too wet to burn.
So there you have it! Seasoning your firewood will make your life easier if you are the kind of person who burns it on a regular basis. Take these steps and apply them properly and you will have plenty of great burning firewood to last you for many winters!