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Get The Best Burn — Fall 2009 | Out Here Magazine

Season and stack your firewood correctly

By Dirk Thomas

Illustration by Tom Milner
Brought to you by USSC

Properly seasoned firewood burns easier, is more efficient, and generates less creosote in your stovepipe or chimney.

The process requires time — generally about a year — and good storage.

"Seasoning" simply means reducing the moisture content of wood from 50 percent — when it's green — to between 15-20 percent.

Wood loses nothing else of consequence during seasoning; just water. The time required for seasoning wood is quite variable, greatly affected by weather and storage.

People have successfully dried wood in two hot, dry, and windy weeks. They also have left wood in a heap in tall grass for a year and still found it so damp that it's difficult to burn.

You can't change the weather, but you can store your wood properly. Here's how:

  • Allow air circulation. Moving air is the most important agent in wood drying, so don't cover the sides of your wood stack. Orient the long dimension of your pile to face the prevailing wind.
    A Vermont forester put it succinctly when he said, "Pick the best place to hang your laundry — dry and windy. That's where to pile your wood."
  • Protect your wood from rain and snow. An open-sided woodshed with a roof that extends well beyond the wood is the best bet, but if you have to cover your wood with a tarp, construct some sort of frame so the tarp isn't lying on the wood and impeding air circulation. By covering only the top, you do allow some wind-driven precipitation to get at your wood, but the benefit of moving air more than compensates for this.
    Once the wood is dry, though, you might want to cover it completely. I do this in mid-November to avoid bringing snow-encrusted wood into the house.
  • Pile wood up off of the ground. Moisture attacks from below as well as from above. Wood piled directly on the ground stays wet, and you paid as much for the bottom foot of your woodpile as for the top foot, so why ruin it?
    An open-slatted floor in your woodshed keeps wood elevated and allows air circulation. Pallets are a good alternative.

Dirk Thomas, a Vermont writer, authored the books The Harrowsmith Country Life Guide to Wood Heat and The Woodburner's Companion.



  • Support both ends of your woodpile with posts. If that's not feasible, criss-cross piling the ends of each tier works fairly well.
  • Firewood is not symmetrical, so compensate for all of those odd shapes by fitting them together as you would a crossword puzzle.
  • If you live where frost heaves — where alternate freezing and thawing lifts the soil up out of the ground — wait until very late spring to stack wood. Otherwise, you'll end up stacking it again.