How to Properly Season Firewood for a Cleaner, Hotter Burning Fire

Seasoning firewood is an essential step before burning it in your fireplace or wood stove. Freshly cut “green” wood contains a lot of moisture and will burn poorly, producing less heat and more smoke and creosote buildup in your chimney. Taking the time to properly season your firewood will result in cleaner, hotter fires that are safer for your home.

Why You Should Season Firewood

Seasoning firewood accomplishes a few key things:

Removes Moisture – As wood dries, its moisture content decreases, allowing it to burn hotter and more efficiently. Well-seasoned wood can have a moisture content of 15-20% compared to 30-60% for unseasoned green wood.

Kills Insects – Drying wood deprives insects and larvae of the moist environment they need to survive. Seasoning eliminates bugs like termites, ants, wood borers, and beetles.

Prevents Mold and Rot – Damp wood provides ideal conditions for mold, fungus, and rot. Seasoning creates an unfavorable environment that prevents decay organisms from taking hold.

Produces Less Creosote – Burning wet, unseasoned wood greatly increases creosote buildup in chimneys. Creosote is a combustible byproduct that can lead to dangerous chimney fires. Seasoned wood burns cleaner and produces less creosote.

Creates Better FiresDry seasoned wood ignites faster, burns more efficiently, and provides greater heat output than wet wood. A cord of seasoned wood contains significantly more usable energy than unseasoned wood.

How Long Does Firewood Take to Season?

The length of time needed to season firewood depends on several factors:

  • Tree species – Hardwoods like oak, hickory, and beech take longer to season than softwoods like pine, spruce, and poplar. Most softwoods only need 6-9 months whereas hardwoods need at least 12-24 months.
  • Climate – Firewood seasons faster in hot, dry, breezy regions than cool, damp climates. Seasoning may take twice as long in Pacific Northwest winters compared to Arizona summers.
  • Log size – Larger logs require more time to dry out completely. Split logs season quicker than unsplit rounds. Pieces should be 6 inches or less for thorough seasoning.
  • Storage method – Proper stacking in single rows on pallets or stringers with airflow spacing speeds seasoning compared to tightly packed woodpiles. Covered stacks slow the process.

As a general guideline, softwoods need about 6-12 months and hardwoods 12-24 months to become fully seasoned and ready to burn. Monitor your firewood supply and allow extra time for less than ideal conditions.

How to Tell If Wood Is Seasoned

There are a few simple ways to test whether firewood is well-seasoned or still too wet:

  • Moisture meter – Specialized meters can accurately measure moisture content. Look for readings around 20% or less for seasoned wood.
  • Sound – Seasoned wood makes a clear “clink” or cracking noise when pieces are struck together. Unseasoned wood sounds dull and thud-like.
  • Weight – Dry wood feels lighter and weighs less per piece than wet wood with higher moisture content.
  • Appearance – Check for mold, fungi, peeling bark, and other signs of decay. Seasoned wood has tight bark and no green coloring under splits.
  • Cracks – Extensive cracking and separation in the ends of logs indicates thorough seasoning as moisture evaporates.
  • Burn test – Seasoned wood ignites and burns readily with bright steady flames. Unseasoned wood is harder to light and smolders with wispy smoke.

Best Practices for Seasoning Firewood

Follow these tips for properly seasoning your firewood supply:

Split Logs Completely

  • Splitting wood drastically reduces drying time by exposing more surface area.
  • For quick seasoning, split logs into smaller pieces no more than 6 inches thick.
  • Never burn unsplit rounds. The center will remain wet and promote creosote buildup.

Stack Off the Ground

  • Stack firewood on pallets or stringers to raise it up from the ground surface. This allows air circulation under and around the wood.
  • Keep the bottom row 4-6 inches above ground level and spaced from any walls or structures.
  • Avoid direct ground contact, which will wick moisture back into split logs.

Allow for Airflow Between Pieces

  • Stack firewood loosely in single rows rather than crammed tightly together.
  • Leave 1-2 inches of space between each piece to enable airflow. This exposes more wood surface to sun and wind.
  • An open stacking pattern is critical for seasoning in damp climates.

Shield from Rain and Snow

  • Keep firewood covered and protected from rain, snow, and excessive moisture.
  • Use a woodshed, tarp, or plastic sheeting over stacks to repel precipitation but not trap moisture inside.
  • Preventing re-wetting speeds overall seasoning.

Avoid Shady Areas

  • Place woodpiles in direct sunlight whenever possible. Radiant sun energy helps dry saturated wood.
  • Avoid stacking near buildings, trees and other shade. Limited sun exposure will retard drying.

Facilitate Air Movement

  • Situate stacks in breezy locations to maximize wind exposure.
  • Position rows perpendicular to prevailing winds to circulate air through the pile.
  • Turn pieces occasionally to expose different sides.

Give Hardwoods Extra Time

  • Expect hardwood species like oak, hickory, maple and ash to require an extended seasoning period.
  • Softwoods like pine and spruce often season within 6-9 months if properly stacked.
  • For complete seasoning, leave hardwoods for at least 24 months.

When to Start Seasoning Firewood

Ideally, firewood should be split, stacked, and exposed to drying conditions as soon as possible after being cut. Here are some guidelines on timing:

  • Green wood – Split and stack immediately after felling trees or acquiring unseasoned logs. This starts the seasoning clock.
  • Winter heating – Have wood split and stacked by early spring to dry all summer for burning next winter.
  • 1 year ahead – For thorough seasoning, process firewood at least 12 months prior to burning.
  • 2 years ahead – Allow extra time for larger logs and dense hardwoods. Process them 2 years before the intended burn season.
  • Year-round heating – Maintain a constant supply by seasoning new batches continuously to replace what gets burned.
  • Buy early – If purchasing firewood, order it split and delivered early in the year to give it time to dry properly.
  • Avoid “seasoned” claims – Firewood for sale is often falsely labeled seasoned. Inspect it and allow extra time for additional drying.

With some foresight and planning, you can ensure properly seasoned and dry firewood ready for clean, safe burning each heating season. Allow extra time for larger diameter hardwood logs. And start the seasoning process as early as possible.

Storing Seasoned Firewood

Once firewood is fully seasoned, keep it stored in a protected area away from rain, snow and ground moisture:

  • Woodshed – A weather-proof woodshed is ideal for keeping seasoned firewood dry and ready to burn.
  • Covered stack – Cover seasoned stacks with heavy plastic, tarp or metal roofing for outdoor storage.
  • Dry place – Avoid low or damp spots. Use pallets to keep wood off wet ground.
  • Garage or carport – A covered garage area works for small quantities of firewood storage.
  • Shed or barn – An old outbuilding makes an handy place to store and keep wood dry.
  • Avoid plastic tarps on ground – This traps moisture and re-wets seasoned wood.
  • Rearrange periodically – Shift stacks around to expose all sides to airflow. This helps release any residual moisture.
  • Check moisture content – Re-test with a moisture meter before burning to confirm dryness.

With a good seasoning process and covered dry storage, you can enjoy burning high-quality firewood that provides great heat for your home and family.

Frequently Asked Questions About Seasoning Firewood

Q: How long does firewood really need to season properly?

A: Most softwoods like pine only require 6-9 months of seasoning as long as pieces are split small and stacked in dry conditions. Hardwoods need at least 12-24 months to fully dry out for burning. Larger diameter logs require longer – up to 36 months.

Q: Can I speed up the seasoning process?

A: Yes, there are ways to accelerate drying. Splitting wood into smaller pieces speeds seasoning. Elevating stacks off the ground and allowing maximum air circulation between pieces is crucial. Covering the top while leaving the sides exposed helps too. Avoiding any direct ground contact or moisture re-absorption will reduce drying time.

Q: How do I know when firewood is ready to burn?

A: Seasoned firewood will have cracked ends and feel lighter when lifted. It will make a clear “clink” sound when pieces are struck together. The wood will burn readily without sputtering and popping. Ideal moisture content is around 20% or less. Testing with a moisture meter can confirm.

Q: Do I need to season wood for an indoor wood stove?

A: Yes, seasoning firewood properly before burning in any wood stove or fireplace is highly recommended. Unseasoned wood decreases heat output while increasing creosote buildup and emissions. Taking the time to dry wood always results in better performance.

Q: Can I burn treated lumber or painted wood?

A: No, you should never burn treated wood or lumber, plywood, painted or stained wood, or household trash in stoves or fireplaces. These release toxic chemicals when burned. Use only natural untreated seasoned wood for burning.

Q: How can I estimate cords of firewood in a stack?

A: There are some rules of thumb that help estimate cords. A stack that measures 4 feet high, 8 feet long and 4 feet deep contains approximately 1 cord. Similarly, a stack with dimensions of 2 feet high, 4 feet deep and 8 feet long is also 1 cord. Loosely stacked wood takes up more space per cord than tightly packed wood.

Q: What type of wood provides the best heat for heating my home?

A: Hardwoods like oak, hickory, and beech release the most BTUs of heat energy when burned. Fruitwoods like apple and cherry produce nice coals and good heat as well. Seasoned softwoods light easily and are good for milder weather, while hardwoods are best for colder winter use. Always use dry, seasoned wood for cleanest burning and heat efficiency.

Following proper seasoning and storage methods for your firewood supply will help ensure great results in your wood stove or fireplace. Allow sufficient time for thorough drying based on climate, wood type, and size. With properly seasoned logs, you’ll get beautiful fires that burn hot, safe, and produce less smoke and emissions.

Laura Kassovic

Laura Kassovic, a former engineer at Intel SOC, now dedicates her efforts to mentoring startups in the realms of Wearables and AI. As a co-founder of New Tech Brake, she spearheads a wireless sensing solution enterprise catering to diverse applications including product development, research, location tracking, and people monitoring, as well as asset and cargo supervision. The platform empowers developers to craft an array of innovations such as fitness trackers, temperature-monitored cargo systems, medical trial tools, smart running garments, or even straightforward transmission of unprocessed accelerometer data to cloud-based repositories.

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