Seasoned firewood. A little salt and pepper usually will do. Melt some butter in the pan with a clove of minced garlic, then baste the firewood with the melted butter mixture…
Just kidding! If you’re looking for different firewood options for your fireplace, outdoor fire pit, or wood stove, then you’ve definitely heard of “seasoned firewood.” But what does that even mean?
Seasoned firewood is wood that’s been left out to dry for a long period of time, allowing the moisture from the tree’s cells and it’s sap to evaporate from the wood. The ideal moisture content for any wood that you burn is somewhere between 15%-25%, so seasoning your firewood is the drying process to get it to that point.
In most conversations, the word “seasoned firewood” can be used in many different ways. When people talk about seasoned firewood they talk about firewood they’ve seasoned themselves or they received from a friend down the road. A lot of times there is very little quality control and the wood that you may think has been seasoned may still be pretty green with a lot of moisture left over.
Step 1: Understanding the Wood
Be the wood. Well, you don’t actually have to do that, but you should understand a few basic properties of your wood. How long you need to season your firewood largely depends on the type of tree. For example, with deciduous trees (those that shed its leaves) the sap moves to the roots for the winter. So when the tree is cut during the winter, the moisture content will be much lower and, therefore, will need to season for a shorter period of time.
A good rule of thumb is that softwoods, like pine, only require about 6 to 12 months to season. Whereas, hardwoods, like oak, need about two years! But once again, the duration of the seasoning process should be as long as it takes to reach an appropriate moisture content.
Step 2: Sizing, Cutting, and Splitting
Cut the wood to length
The wood needs to be the right size for your stove, fireplace, or furnace. I like to recommend cutting your wood so that it is about three inches shorter than the firebox width or length, depending on how you like to load your wood. This is for two reasons:
- It’s no fun jamming long pieces of wood into a fire
- Smaller pieces are easier to handle and dry quicker.
Be sure to cut your wood to equal size to maintain consistency. Once you have your trees ready to be sized and cut, it’s important to act quickly. If you cut and pile firewood right away you can prevent (for the most part) any mold that may grow on your wood.
Splitting Your Wood
There’s some debate between whether you should wait to split your wood to let it dry a little bit. I think it comes down to personal preference. Most of the time, splitting wet wood is a lot harder than splitting dry wood, but split wood tends to dry faster. Split wood has less bark so the moisture is able to escape easier. Some types of wood are actually easier to split when wet, like oak! If you want an easier cut, just do a little research to decide which ones are easier to split wet versus dry.
Whenever you choose to split your wood, you should make sure it’s split to the proper size too. For most wood stoves, the best size is no more than six inches measured at the largest cross-sectional dimension. Whereas the length of wood requires consistency, I like to recommend that you split wood with inconsistencies sometimes. This way you can have some smaller pieces for kindling and building up the fire.
When splitting wood, be sure to keep these considerations in mind. You don’t want your ax or splitting maul to send wood pieces back into your eye. Or worse (maybe), you don’t want the ax to slip and hit you or someone else.
- Wear the necessary safety gear – protective goggles, steel toe shoes, and gloves. Don’t wear loose clothing or jewelry.
- Have a clean workspace – I like to split wood in an open field away from my house and cars.
- Practice the Right Splitting Technique – always aim at the front and center of the log because overshooting can cause the handle to hit the log. And that can definitely hurt.
- Keep your ax sharp – You need to keep your ax or maul in good shape. That means sharpening and also keeping the handle in good shape too.
How to Tell When Wood Is Seasoned?
We know that burning greenwood is not a good thing and can be dangerous. Here’s how you can tell when the wood is seasoned properly:
- Color – seasoned wood is much less vibrant than greenwood
- Weight – Seasoned wood doesn’t have as much moisture content and is much lighter than greenwood
- Hardness – drying wood makes it much harder.
- Bark – the bark on dry wood is loose, or maybe not even there.
- Cracks – You should be able to see cracks on the dry pieces of wood, extending from the center of the log and reaching towards the edges. You should know that not all dry logs will crack, while some green logs will crack.
- Sound – wet wood will produce a dull thud when struck against another piece. Dry wood will sound hollow.
- Smell – greenwood will smell stronger. As the wood dries, the sappy scent fades to a light woody smell
- Split test – you can split the wood to see if it feels dry on the inside. You should also be able to see if the wood is easier to split. Remember, most dried out wood is easier to split than greenwood.
- Flammability – Greenwood will be hard to light. It will smolder and create a lot of smoke. This tells you that it needs more time
- Moisture meter – The easiest and last of all is the moisture meter. This easy tool will allow you to check the moisture percentage within the wood. So when in doubt, or even much before that, use a moisture meter!
Drawbacks to using Seasoned Firewood?
Okay, so now that you spent two years of your life reading this whole guide and preparing your firewood to be able to burn properly in your house, now’s the time to learn the downsides of using seasoned firewood. There are a lot of inconsistencies in naturally seasoning your firewood. And because of this, here are some of the most common issues that I hear when it comes to seasoned firewood:
- The smoke smells bad – you may get a musty smell in the wood when you burn it. This is from the moisture that is still in there.
- Bugs, mold, and fungus – As firewood sits outside and air dries, it can attract bugs, mold, and fungus. You don’t want that in your fire and definitely not in your house.
- It takes so long to season – it can be hard to wait two years for anything to happen. Until then, you’ll need to buy your firewood already seasoned.
To altogether avoid either of those problems you can buy kiln dried firewood, which is fully seasoned firewood that’s been dried in an oven. Kilns allow the person drying the wood to control the environment, such as temperature, humidity, and steam levels. Most importantly, though, the kiln allows the wood to dry to the ideal moisture content much faster than simply air drying.
Where to Buy Seasoned Firewood in Roanoke, Lynchburg, & Blacksburg
If you’re not up to doing it yourself, no worries. You can always look out for someone that seasons firewood. Just be careful, and refer back to this guide when you need to verify that the firewood is in good condition.
- Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace – Buyer Beware
- Thompson Firewood – 540-816-5015
- Etter Tree Service – 540-342-8031
- Brooks & Co Tree Service – 540-929-4346
- Jay’s Tree Service – 540-589-3642
- Smith’s Sawmill – 540-230-1007
- American Mulch – 540-381-7830
- All Seasons – 540-922-2475
- Bradshaw Firewood – 304-952-0853
- Gallion Ridge Farms – 540-392-3638
- Curb Appeal Landscaping & Tree Service – 434-546-0335
- The Tree Man – 540-427-1945
- Aqua Pros – 540-389-1387
- Plow and Hearth – 540-265-5910
- Dixie Products – 540-342-6787