Winter or summer, it doesn’t matter, it helps to have a good stash of firewood for a nice time spent outdoors by the crackle of flame and enjoying a nice toasted marshmallow, campfire, or cold beer for the adults. Sitting by a campfire is not only one of the most relaxing things we’ve retained since our time as simple cavemen and women, but it’s a good social and bonding experience to share with friends and family.
It’s not hard to start a fire (with some helpful tips on that towards the end of the article), but what is a necessity is the right kind of firewood. The biggest amateur mistake to the building, maintaining, and supplying of a proper fire is not knowing the differences in firewood, how to store it, and why it’s so necessary to season firewood. It might sound as easy as piling on some branches, some logs, and sparking a match, but it’s much more than that.
Knowing how to start a fire is a great survival skill, but in this context, we’re only talking about one for your home fireplace or your backyard fire pit, so the stakes aren’t as high, but still, you have to be aware of the thought and consideration that comes with your firewood choices. So on that note, here are some useful tips on firewood storage, seasoning, and some additional information for you to use as well
How to Properly Store Firewood
The first bit of information you’ll want to know is how to store your firewood. You may see people stack their wood next to their home, and this isn’t bad, but it all depends on where you live, climate, bugs, etc. Storing firewood is pretty straightforward. If you live somewhere that is cold, snowy, or rains a lot, then you want to make sure that it is covered by some kind of tarp, covering material, or an enclosure/roofed structure, and looking at Buy Firewood Direct, you can see what coverings might look like. This is the easiest way to store it, regardless of stacking.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you want firewood off of the ground. Even if you live somewhere dry or warm, there is plenty of potentials for insects or moisture to get onto the firewood. Properly storing your firewood is the first step in maintaining the integrity of your burnable wood material. Some people like to store it in their garage or shed as well, but we will get to that when discussing seasoning your firewood.
Why You Need to Store Firewood
As you can already tell, there are some important reasons for storing firewood well. The problem with moisture in the ground is notable, but none more so than it becoming drenched and soaked from snow, ice buildup and melting, and rain. These are the most damaging elements to ensuring your firewood is dried and properly prepared for a fire. Firewood needs to be about 20% moisture for it to be considered ideal. Wet, green, and “fresh” wood that is recently cut can be up to 60% moisture, which is obviously not going to be easy to burn.
Trying to burn wet firewood is not going to be easy, nor is it going to result in you getting a reasonable burn and fire. Wet firewood will be very hard to light, but it can also cause problems for your firepit or your fireplace. It can leave plenty of residues, primarily tars and creosote, which are messy to clean out of your fireplace/stove and are dangerous. It can also cause the blackening of a window on a stove or fireplace. In short, stored firewood is much more viable for fires and is far less messy or dangerous.
How to Stack Racks
On the topic of storing, stacking a rack of wood is considered the most practical way to store your wood. To properly stack wood, you want to leave space between the back of the piles and any surface it could be up against, and some space between each pile. This allows for air to circulate to dry them and prevent moisture from sticking around. Once again, you don’t want to stack racks directly on the soil. You should put down 2×4’s or palettes to give some space between the ground, this also allows for air circulation.
Remember to keep in mind that you need to still use tarps or coverings to keep it dry from overhead elements like rain. It’s often a good idea to build or buy a dedicated structure that can stand in your backyard to keep the firewood separate from anything. When stacking a rack of firewood, you want to make sure it’s no more than 4-5 feet high for safety reasons and because it becomes harder to maintain a rack that tall.
Issues With Storage
Some issues with storage that you have likely noticed are moisture and elements, but there are also concerns with certain insects and mold. Insects, like termites, carpenter ants, and bark beetles, can damage your firewood so a lot of the general storage tips will help. Keeping it above ground, away from your home (where bugs will congregate and come from), dry, and burning it shortly after bringing it inside your home will prevent them from further damaging the wood.
Moisture can still harm your wood even if it’s above ground, although it will be much harder, mold can grow inside it which damages it structurally. Some issues you will have are crowding your racks, crowding where you store it, and the spot you choose. To dry out wood properly, it needs to sit for a long time, so consider where you’re putting it carefully.
How to Season Firewood
The second set of tips you’ll need are how to season your firewood, which is tightly tied to storage. Seasoning wood doesn’t require any particular set of skills, mostly patience. The best thing to remember when it comes to getting to a point where your firewood is dry and low moisture content (20%). All of the tips you’ve seen thus far are ways to allow yourself to store your wood and keep it dry so you can burn it properly. There are also a lot of things to consider when buying, cutting, and finding the right firewood, so these will also factor into the proper firewood use.
Why Seasoning is Important
Seasoning is important because storage is the way it becomes seasoned. The two aren’t very mutually exclusive. Seasoned firewood is dry, properly cut, and it has sat for enough time to reach the point of preparedness. It can take anywhere from 6 months to 1 year for firewood to be properly seasoned if stored properly. Sometimes, if stored improperly, firewood can take longer. It also depends on the kind of wood you’re using as some are denser and not as conducive to fire use.
It’s also a good way to start building up a large supply of firewood for future seasons. If you have a good place to store it that can stay dry and/or warm you’ll be able to use it for winter seasons and fires during fall/spring/summer. If you live somewhere that is warm year-round, you get a lot more leeway in this regard. Seasoned wood takes a lot less time and you have fewer worries to look out for like snow or rain, or even it touching the ground (sand is dryer than soil, etc.). The more wood you can season, the more self-reliable you’ll be with your stash.
Problems With Burning Unseasoned Wood
The problems of burning unseasoned wood were mentioned, but we’ll go into further detail. Unseasoned wood can pose some dangers that aren’t as noticeable for outdoor fires as they are for indoor fires. Creosote and tar build-up can coat the inside of fireplace chimneys and stovepipes. This blocks the airway and causes smoke to have a harder time flowing through and can spark from the flames. In less harmful ways, burning unseasoned wood can be a nuisance too.
The smoke it produces can be green, blue, or very dark, which smells bad and billows tremendously. It stings when it gets in your eyes and it can coat your stove or furnace and make it much harder to clean. These are more annoying than dangerous, but it still goes to show why it’s important to be patient and let firewood season over time.
Best Firewood Options
Now that you know how to store and season firewood, you need to know what firewood to choose. Not every type of wood is going to be considered firewood, so here we will outline some of the best firewoods and some of the worst so you can be sure not to waste too much time seasoning bad wood. Some good firewoods include:
It’s good to remember that oak and maple are examples of hardwood, which burns the best and provides longer and hotter fires. While softer woods like fir and cedar are going to be cheaper (if you buy them) and have their own problems. Many of these woods, like balsam, can cause that creosote build-up and have a much more smokey burn so they are better for outdoor fires and not as suitable for cooking food over because of the smell/taste it’ll leave.
Some of the worst woods you can use for fires are ones you should always avoid. They provide very little benefit and will be more trouble than they are worth, even if they’re easier to find. They include:
- Painted wood
- Treated wood
- Varnished wood
Some of these woods are dangerous because they will create toxic emissions (painted, treated, varnished wood) that are dangerous to inhale and are irritating to eyes and noses. They may also simply be of poor quality that takes a long time to burn and provide very little benefit for a fire. It’s best to avoid these types of wood altogether.
How to Split Wood
The next thing you will want to know is how to split your own wood. It can be advantageous to buy wood from a store because it saves a lot of time, takes less effort, and the wood is already seasoned, but it’s still good to know how to do it yourself. When looking for firewood to cut down and use, you’ll want to consult any local bylaws that may prohibit you from simply walking into the woods and taking swings at any trees you find. It’s also good to brush up on what trees are and look for the ones listed that are best for firewood.
Splitting wood is usually done with either a woodcutting ax or a wood splitter. You should place the wood on some form of the flat-topped stump to prevent it from falling over or getting jammed into the ground. The ax or splitter should come down with extended arms in front of you, feet shoulder-width apart, and focused on the weak points. Brute force isn’t always necessary, but a good swing with the correct placement will do the job. It’s also a good idea to create kindling, which can be made from smaller pieces of wood that are chopped into fragments and can be used to build the base of your fire.
Fire Building Tips
Lastly, building a fire will require kindling (smaller split pieces of logs, dry grass brush, newspaper, cardboard) and the right structure. The most effective methods for a fire are the teepee (facing logs upwards with kindling in the middle) or building a semi-teepee with a square base of logs. Either way, you want oxygen to flow in to allow for the flame to catch and to blow or fan into it, but not so open that wind can put it out. This is the simplest explanation, but it also requires practice too.
Knowing how to properly store and season wood is going to allow you to use better fire, build better fires, and get more use out of them. The right storage and season, along with knowledge on splitting wood, finding the right wood, and how to build a basic fire, will allow you to make the best kinds of outdoor campfires or heat your home in your furnace or stove.
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