Everything You Need To Know About Firewood Seasoning
It’s a winter wonderland outside, but when you are relaxing in your home, you want to keep warm and toasty. Turning your heater on for prolonged periods, however, can make a huge dent in your budget.
Seeing those heating bills go through the roof during cold season becomes problematic. And the ever-rising fuel prices are not helping your case either.
So why not go back to good old firewood burning? Whether its a cord or a face cord, It’s a sensible and natural option, not to mention it will help you save a couple of hundred dollars from using an electric or gas furnace. And besides, the sound of crackling fire just feels more organic.
But don’t just go out there and grab the nearest stump, then throw them in your fireplace. Heard about firewood seasoning? Seasoning your wood is an important prep for proper heating of your home.
No, we’re not going to bathe wood in salt and pepper as you might think. Seasoning firewood is air drying it, leaving it practically bone dry. You can perhaps call it aging as well, as dryness would typically result in an aged appearance.
Seasoning wood takes some time, spanning 6 months to a year. And there’s a whole world of difference between a well-seasoned and unseasoned log.
You see, free water exists in the nooks and crannies of the wood surface. Then there’s water in its cellular structure, too. Fiber saturation is achieved when wood naturally loses its moisture after being chopped off from the tree. In this state though, there is still about 30% water content left in the wood.
While wood after fiber saturation can be fired up, it is more difficult to achieve it, let alone keep the fire alive, literally. Your wood and pellet stove works extra hard to burn firewood because it has to dry up the remaining water in its cell walls.
Why You Need To Season Your Wood
When your firewood is properly seasoned, your burner is more efficient at providing ample heat in your home. Seasoned firewood burns much easier and safer. Moisture from wood that has skipped the seasoning process can cause the build-up of a chemical compound called creosote.
Creosote is highly combustible and becomes a fire hazard as it accumulates in the flue. Ironically, it happens when unseasoned or wet wood gets burned. Worse, any glass window nearby is blackened with soot. And before you know it, too much smoke has engulfed your house, enough to alarm your neighbors to call 911.
A piece of wood that’s properly seasoned has nearly 20% or less moisture remaining. And this is what we want. This wood is dry enough that it would have eliminated any pre-existing mold growth. As you know, mold thrives in moist environments, and having them around can potentially be a health concern. Burning wet and unseasoned firewood, which often has some mold on it, will then spread mold spores in your home.
Buying Seasoned Firewood
Since seasoning wood is time-consuming, you need not worry because you can purchase seasoned wood from local home improvement or grocery stores. It is usually sold by the cord, or a stack of wood measuring 8ft. x 4ft. x 4ft. (length x width x height).
Despite this option, however, the wood sold at stores may not have been seasoned very well. Felled trees after being “dead” for years cannot be considered dry and seasoned as chopped wood that has been exposed to air and sun for at least half a year.
Knowing Your Seasoned Chops
So how can you tell if your firewood is truly seasoned? Here are things to look out for.
Sapwood and heartwood
When you look at the wood’s cross-section, a seasoned one has cracks from the inner portion up towards the outer layer. You must note however that not all wood that has this situation means it’s a seasoned one. You should consider the succeeding factors as well.
As wood ages and dries, it loses its original green color and transforms into dark yellow or gray. When it’s all bright and vibrant, it’s highly likely it’s not seasoned.
Freshly cut wood generally smells sappy with varying degrees depending on its tree type. When it’s all dried up, you will definitely get that sharp wood aroma.
With lost moisture, seasoned firewood will weigh noticeably much lighter compared to an unseasoned one.
Loosened or unattached bark
Bark overlays the wood and keeps the moisture within. Dried and seasoned wood will usually no longer have the bark, especially if store-bought. But, if it does, you will be able to easily take it off with its loose attachment.
Strike two pieces of dried wood with one another and you will get a hollow sound. With wet wood, however, it will have a light dull thud.
You can just buy this and check if your wood moisture is 20% or less. Alternatively, you can just fire up the wood and see if it lights in no time, which it should if it’s seasoned right.
You can find them on Amazon here, Moisture Meter.
Why It’s Better To Season Your Own Wood
For those of you who love DIY or simply has time to spare, it is recommended to do the seasoning of firewood yourself. You can get green, unseasoned wood at your nearby store, or cut the oak tree in your backyard. It is more cost-efficient and this way, you are guaranteed of seasoned wood. And besides, readily seasoned logs may run out of supply when you actually need them.
Things to remember
While we have stated that seasoning should be done for at least 6 months to 1 year, there are different factors you must consider as well. One of them is the type of tree being used. Elm trees, which are commonly utilized as firewood, take longer to season at about a year because of its dense wood.
Birch and maple firewood would take lesser time, on the other hand, having a diffuse-porous structure and belonging to the hardwood variety.
These types of wood will season at a faster rate and generate more heat because of their higher BTU than softwood and ring-porous trees like pine.
Climate also affects the rate of seasoning. When you season in a place where the weather is damp or humid, it will take much longer.
How to season your logs correctly
Three words: cut, split, stack. Below are detailed tips on DIY seasoning:
- Cut your wood length according to the size of your fireplace. Rule of thumb dictates that wood should be shorter by 3 inches against your stove.
- Split wood to speed up drying time. Doing this adds surface area, which lowers the density and results in a faster drying process.
- Remove the bark to release water content from the wood cell walls.
- Stack and air dry for at least 180 days in an open, sunny area with air flow and low humidity. Do it longer than 6 months as much as possible. Start during springtime so that it will be ready shortly by fall.
- Make sure there is a top cover for the wood while keeping the sides fully open.
- Keep wood elevated from the ground.
Next time, you will be equipped to battle the cold with your natural heating using seasoned firewood. Remember that after seasoning your wood, it must be used within five years as it loses its efficiency thereafter.