Editor’s note: Read part 1 in this series here.
Once firewood has been selected and split, it is time to stack, store and eventually burn it. While stacking can seem like a fairly straightforward concept, it can be too easy to stack improperly and have the wood not dry well or worse yet, come tumbling down and cause injury. Storing wood well is fairly easy once stacked. In no time you will be ready to relax and wait for the arrival of the cooler months.
For a log to burn properly, it must be seasoned well. To do this you want to stack your logs in a way that allows plenty of dry air to circulate. In other words, the more air you can pack into a stack, the better. Choose a place in your yard that is sunny most of the day. Wood stacked in the shade will have a much harder time drying and may never reach its best burn potential. In planning the direction of your stack, determine where the prevailing winds flow from and stack your pile so that the wind flows through the stack. Generally in most of North America, winds move from west to east, so orient wood with the cut ends facing west. Place your logs on some sort of base to prevent bottom rot (yellow mold or white fruiting fungus) from ruining your logs. Wood racks can be purchased and can be quite useful depending on how much wood you have to stack. Concrete blocks can be a good option if you have them. Treated two-by-fours also work well. Wooden pallets are another option, although they are generally untreated and may fall victim to bottom rot after a few years. In short, keep your logs off the ground and try to provide a level, solid, water-resistant base to stack them on.
While there are a number of different stacking options, I’ll share two more popular kinds. First, you can stack your logs one on top of the other in a long even stack between two vertical posts. Logs are often seasoned this way between two trees in the woods before being brought down to the yard. If you don’t have available trees, sink two log posts the distance apart that you want your stack long. Then pile your logs up evenly in the gap. The second option is to criss-cross your logs, every layer running the opposite direction in a circular or square shape. This is a more compact log-stacking option and you may sacrifice adequate drying. Evaluate your needs and space and determine which works best for you. Be sure to stack firmly and check that your logs are supported well as they tend to shrink and shift a little as they dry.
Once stacked, storing wood is pretty easy. If your wood is outside and unprotected by a roof, stretch a tarp over the top. Optimally, the wood should dry for at least six months. When freshly cut, wood has up to a 100 percent moisture content. About half the weight of a freshly cut log is actually water. Over six months of drying brings the moisture content down to about 20 percent. This makes the wood much more affective as a fuel source. If you live in an area with low precipitation, your wood will dry faster if you leave the bark-less sides of your logs turned up and out. However, if you live in an area that gets a lot of rain and snow, it’s best to keep the bark sides out to form a water-resistant barrier. The goal is to keep the logs exposed to air and sunlight while protecting them from moisture. It’s a game, but the more attentive you are, the better seasoned your logs will be and the better they will provide a more efficient burn come winter.
If you are storing your wood indoors, be sure to check that there is adequate ventilation and that any wildlife has moved out. The best way to achieve this is leaving the logs to dry in the woods for a while. As the aromatic oils in the logs dissipate, the bugs, salamanders and centipedes go elsewhere. Do watch out for recluse spiders as they can deliver a very dangerous bite. They are timid, so a watchful eye should be all you need to avoid them. Don’t use insecticides on your logs as these can turn into hazardous fumes when burned. If possible, try to store logs in a well-ventilated area. With such high moisture content evaporating out of the logs, it won’t take long for mold and mildew to appear. Using a dehumidifier or a fan at a window can be a great option and may help your logs dry faster.
Wood burns best when it has a moisture content as low as 20 percent or less. You should be able to tell the difference between well-seasoned wood and fresh wood. Seasoned wood will be lighter, have cracks forming in it and will make a hollow sound when smacked together. Fresh wood makes a thud sound and is a lot heavier. If you’re still unsure, you can purchase a wood moisture meter to check your logs before you burn.
To start a fire, use newspaper or kindling (small pieces of very dry sticks or twigs). Light these first and then place logs over top one at a time. You can also have a natural gas or propane log lighter installed in your fireplace by a professional. Proper airflow is important to having an efficient burn, so you will want to remove the ashes regularly as they build up. Be sure you understand how to use the vents and fans in your stove’s design to achieve the most efficient burn. Do not burn plastics, treated or coated woods, colored-ink boxes, or woods created with glue (like particle board). These can release harmful chemicals into the air.
Keep all flammable items (drapes, furniture, books, newspapers, etc.) well away from your fireplace. Place carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in your house on all levels and rooms. Ensure children understand fire safety and if little ones are around, block off their access to the fireplace. Never leave a young child and a fireplace unattended. Also, keep a current fire extinguisher easily accessible near the fireplace.
Sitting back and watching a fireplace flicker and spark is one of the joys of the cool season. The above advice should help you make the most of the experience this year and for many years to come. And if a winter storm knocks out the power, you can rest in peace knowing that your family won’t suffer for lack of heat. You may even have the neighbors stop by. Pull out some mugs of hot chocolate and enjoy!
Do you have firewood seasoning tips? Share them in the section below: