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Main Content

How to Prepare Your Firewood

Some people like to cover the drying woodpile with a tarp or shed.

Properly seasoned firewood burns easier is more efficient, and generates less creosote in your stove pipe or chimney. Wood heaters can only operate with high efficiency and low emissions if your wood has the right moisture content.

"Seasoning" simply means reducing the moisture content of wood from 50 percent - when it's green - to between 15-20 percent. Properly seasoned firewood has a moisture content of less than 20%.

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 the 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. Follow these steps to correctly prepare firewood for the seasons to come:

  • Split wood to the correct length and size appropriate for your wood burning stove.
  • Stack firewood so that it is exposed to sun and wind for drying.
  • Leave wood stacks for at least 6 months while the wood cures.
  • Cover the wood stacks with a tarp or shelter to prevent rain from soiling wood.

Cut the Wood to Length and Size
The wood should be cut to the length to fit your stove, fireplace or furnace. Next, split the wood to the proper width for your burner. For most efficient wood stoves, this is no more than 6 inches measured at the largest cross-sectional dimension.

Expose Firewood to Sun and Wind
Once cut to size, the moisture must be removed from the bark. In order for wood to be below 20% moisture content by winter, the wood must be allowed to dry in the sun and wind. Place the wood in single well-spaced rows for best results.

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. 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.

Keep your woodpile from toppling
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.

Let the Wood Stand for at Least 6 Months
Wood stacked by early spring should be ready to put away for winter use by October.

Cover Firewood with a Tarp or other Shelter
Some people like to cover the drying woodpile with a tarp or shed. The theory is that the wood will dry faster because rain will not soak the pieces as they dry.

Recommended Safety Gear for Cutting Firewood
Before you make that first cut, it is important to consider a few safety precautions that can save your limbs or your life. Modern chainsaws are equipped with many safety features, but they are still dangerous in the hands of an inexperienced cutter.

The following list provides some basic safety guidelines:

  • A helmet system provides protection for the head, ears, and eyes all in one.
  • Safety goggles and ear protection is also available.
  • Proper clothing is an important safety feature to remember. A long sleeve shirt, jeans, and boots shield the body from flying chips and debris.
  • Additional safety apparel such as gloves, vest, and protective chaps, also provide added protection when you are working.