Preparing Firewood for (Next) Winter

Cut and season firewood in the spring for a roaring fire next winter.

Firewood is seasoned to remove moisture before it is ready to be burned.

Chopping Firewood

Firewood is seasoned to remove moisture before it is ready to be burned.

Photo by: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo by Mick Telkamp

Firewood is seasoned to remove moisture before it is ready to be burned.

As the snow fades away and spring begins to blossom, the time has come to turn our attention not just to the garden, but to firewood. While it may feel strange to prepare for next winter when temperatures are just starting to rise, early spring is the ideal time to stock the woodshed for fall weather that will arrive all too soon.

Why now? It’s possible that on the heels of harsh winter weather, trees on your property may have come down and the need to chop wood is one of unsolicited availability. Clearing the back 40 may be an imperative, but even if you’re sourcing wood elsewhere, getting an early start on preparing firewood for your fireplace or wood-burning stove is essential to ensure you’ll be ready to heat things up when the time comes.

Green (freshly cut) wood retains a lot of moisture. It’ll burn, but it won’t burn well. Inefficient, smoky and likely to release a lot of creosote (tar), green wood is not fireplace-friendly. "Seasoning" is the process of allowing wood to dry over a period of months to reduce the moisture content so it will burn cleanly and efficiently. Seasoning takes time, and filling the woodshed at least six months in advance is strongly advised.

Are you ready to face (next) winter? Knowing the ins and outs of sourcing and storing firewood makes it easy to stay warm and safe without the significant expense of purchasing preseasoned firewood in the fall.

  • Selecting the right wood is important to maximize the efficiency of a wood-burning stove. Look for dense hardwoods found in your region. Walnut or oak are long-lasting and burn hotter that softer woods. Fruit trees like apple or cherry also do well and can produce a pleasing aroma when burned.
  • Buying precut wood is a time-saver, but it is important to know what you’re getting. Check with the seller to see what types of wood are included and be clear on how much wood you’ll receive. A cord of firewood is 4-feet tall, 4-feet deep and 8-feet long, A “face” cord is 4-feet tall and 8-feet long, but only as deep as a log. Depending on the log size (commonly 16 to 18 inches), a face cord may only offer a third the firewood as a full cord and should be priced accordingly. Firewood is also sometimes sold by the amount that fits in a truck bed, which can make it difficult to gauge compared to traditional measurements.
  • Cutting firewood yourself is the cheapest way to source firewood. Felling trees may be better left to the experienced, but cutting logs to size yourself reduces expenses considerably. Using a chainsaw, cut logs to length and use an axe to split logs to a manageable thickness. For larger jobs, mechanical log splitters are available at many tool rental facilities. Check your fireplace or wood-burning stove to determine appropriate log dimensions.
  • Storing firewood to season requires a location where wind and sunshine can help dry the wood. Construct an open shed or use a tarp to shield wood from rain, and use pallets to keep the wood from resting on the ground. Firewood should be stored away from the house to prevent termites or other pests from migrating into the structure.
  • How long to season firewood depends on the climate, type of tree and the age of the wood. Although some wood may require less time, at least six months is considered a reasonable amount of time for the moisture content to drop from the average 50 percent in freshly cut trees to 20 percent or less (for ideal seasoning).

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