We’ve put our winter coats away (we hope!), the sun is shining and although there are still some cooler evenings, for the most part you are probably thinking you are
done using the fireplace until next fall. So you don’t need to replenish your woodpile until August or September, right? Wrong! Now is the time to put up your store of firewood for next season. Just as you would freeze fresh berries in the summer so that you could enjoy them in the winter, you have to season and prepare your wood in the springtime for it to be usable when you want it.
Seasoning firewood simply means that all the moisture has been removed from it. The drier the logs, the hotter, more efficiently it burns. The logs are also lighter and they produce less creosote. Less creosote means your chimney stays cleaner and safer longer.
Different kinds of wood dry out at different times (ie the denser the wood, the longer the seasoning required). Pine seasons fairly quickly, you can use it within a couple of months. However if you cut oak, you should let it dry for one whole year, not using it until the second winter after you have cut and stacked it. In general, you should allow at least 6 months for your wood to season properly. If you are gathering your own firewood in the woods, it is also easier at this time of year to see fallen branches and trees that you can use. The underbrush hasn’t grown up yet, leaving you a clear view of the ground. If you buy your firewood from someone, make sure to ask them when it was cut.
Once you have gotten all of your firewood, it is important to prepare it properly so that it seasons well. You can’t just dump it in a pile and cut what you need when you need it. Using a chain saw or ax, cut the logs into lengths that fit easily into your fireplace. Ideally that means cutting them into pieces about a foot and a half in length. Splitting them down the length of the log will help them dry out faster.
Stack your firewood in a covered area if possible. You want to keep as much rain from getting to it as you can. Rain = moisture = smoky fires. A wood pallet is ideal as a base. It keeps the bottom row of logs off the ground. Concrete blocks also are a good foundation. Place the logs bark side up, with one end facing the wall or fence. Once the bottom row is complete, the next row should be stacked crosswise to it. This allows the maximum amount of airflow around the wood. Continue stacking the rows perpendicular to each other.
If you don’t have a covered area for your woodpile, choose a sunny area in your yard. You can cover it with a heavy tarp, but don’t make it airtight. After you have weighted down the tarp so that it won’t blow off, cut small slits in the tarp to allow for airflow. This will let moisture out, and keep rain from getting on the wood.
How do you know if the wood is dry enough to burn? You can always check it with a moisture meter – moisture content should be between 15 and 20%. If you don’t have a moisture meter, you can also tell just by looking at it. Properly seasoned wood will turn grayish in color. If you check the ends, there will be small cracks and splits.
A little effort and preparation now will help ensure a warm, smoke free winter.