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Getting The Most Out Of Your Firewood (Part 2)

Image source: WorldForestIndustries.com

Image source: WorldForestIndustries.com

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.

Stacking

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.

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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.

Storing

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.

Burning

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:

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3 comments

  1. This is our first year in AK where we’re using our woodstove as our primary heat source. It hasn’t gotten really cold yet, but so far we’re really enjoying the quiet crackling of a warm fire over the constant noise of our far more expensive pellet stove.

    The pellet stove worked great last year, but it is very noisy. The woodstove obviously requires more attention and of course, there is the matter of cut/haul/maul/haul/stack etc. We’re looking at all of the work involved as our own personal workout with nothing but the great outdoors for entertainment.

    I’d like to add one more plus here as I’m using the top of the wood stove to dry squash/pumpkin seeds for eating, bones for making bone meal to use in making dog treats and banana peels for making tea and adding to bread as they’re an excellent source of potassium. It also keeps my kettle warm so hot chocolate is quick and easy.

    One note, we started out with a 6 lb. wood handled maul and we managed to “break it’s neck” as we “learned” about mauling wood. We’ve now moved on to a fiberglass handle with an 8 lb. head. It’s much quicker with the extra 2 lbs., but we needed to work up to swinging that weight anyway. The one concern with the fiberglass handle is that we have to keep it in the house so it won’t shatter. There are some pictures on our blog with DH showing his swing. Anyway, I say “we”, but I confess that I’m not much good at “mauling” so I leave it to DH and I’m perfecting my “hauling”. ;>)

  2. Ah yes, the wonderful world of wood heat is upon us again. As I wood (snicker) rather be living in an area that the only wood I have to deal with is picking up the palm leaves that fall into my yard, unfortunately that is not where my family is so,,, here I am in the north woods. As I watch my neighbors having 2-3 visits by their friendly (and hungry) propane companies throughout the long winter months here in Mich. I get this feeling of being blessed that for the last few years we have been able to keep our annual propane bill right around $400.00 to $450.00 a year and that is with a gas water heater. And again feeling blessed that we have had some friends that are willing to barter with scratching each others backs with helping each other get our stockpiles built up. Since I do not have the fortune of having my own supply of woods on my property, I have had to purchase my wood, but since I try to buy my whole stock at one time, I have been able to bargain with my suppliers with an average of $35.00 to $40.00 a face cord since I get a large quantity all at once, so that bill hasn’t been too bad. Now for the topic at hand…. I have found that the best place for me to stock my pile (with a little common sense) is as close to the door as possible. So I lay out pallets along side my pole barn, and prior to stacking, I get the 3 to 6 month insect spray, and spray along the base of the barn to keep unwanted guests from inviting themselves into my work and storage area. Then I take a good quality tarp (it’s worth the extra money in the long run) and I sandwich one of the long end sides of the tarp between 2 1x4s. (actually 2 sections of this since my pile is about 24 ft. long, and then roll it once or twice around the wood to distribute the pressure points evenly, and ensure a solid hold. Then I screw it to the side of the barn at the required height of my pile. Then I screw in a couple hooks to bungee my rolled up tarp out of the way until the stack is in place. Once it is in place, I release the tarp over the pile and again sandwich the tarp at the bottom end with 2 2x4s (for the extra weight) to keep the wind from blowing my tarp away from doing it’s job. I make it a little longer on both ends than my pile is so that the overlap makes up for some of the drifting, blowing snow. And if you stack it ac-cord-ingly (sorry, the coffee is working) lol) you can have tilt to it so that the runoff from the roof is allowed to do the same on your tarp. Now since I try not to have too much wood in the house at one time, (bugs) I want to be able to have a somewhat large stockpile real close to the door, so I have found that the old porch swing metal frame that was still good after the swing wasn’t comes in real handy for a wood rack. It serves well for a couple reasons. Reason #1 is that you can stack quite a large amount very quickly knowing that the sides of the frame will keep in from falling. If you are doing it up against your vinyl siding, you might want to place a piece of plywood, or even paneling against the vinyl first, so as to not damage your siding. Also a good idea to spray for bugs there first also. Reason #2, is that the top of the frame serves well as a place to attach another tarp and then sandwich some lumber to the bottom of that also for the wind barrier. If your tarp has the grommet holes, you can also bungee it down tight. I found that on my frame, I had to either cut the back legs down, or block up the front legs to put the top of the frame tight to the house to keep the snow from coming in from behind. I choose to block up the front to not lose storage height. That also served 2 purposes. One was to get my tilt, and the other was to give me something to attach the frame to, to keep heavy winds from stealing my whole idea. Lol Well, as we found out last winter, mother nature can sometimes be a little shy on mercy, so I hope someone can benefit a little from something I have found that has made it a little better for me. Even though I “wood” (ok, sorry, if I don’t joke a little I start crying, lol) rather be talking about how to attach my hammock between two palm trees, it is what it is! Good luck, and stay warm.

  3. We have recently started up a business selling firewood. I love that I came across this article. We will definitely be stacking the wood bark down, we didn’t know that bit of info!

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