If you’re having a tree cut down, you can be left with a load of valuable wood. A full size tree can leave enough firewood to last for years on end. But, as you may well know, firewood requires time to “season” or dry out. Otherwise, if you throw a wet, green log on the flame, you’ll get steamy smoke instead of heat. So, how do you best prepare your firewood? And how long will it take until that old tree in your yard is fodder for smores? Well, we have the answer to those questions and more in today’s article. But, before we dig in, let’s address another topic that you may be curious about — the differences between softwood and hardwood.
First Thing’s First: Hardwood or Softwood
In general, hardwoods are more valuable for fires. They produce more heat, and they tend to last longer when on fire. Essentially, they’re more calorie-dense, which means that they can produce and sustain higher temperatures. So, if you like lazily tossing a log on the fire every half hour, preferring a long, easy burn, you’ll enjoy hardwood.
Softwood still has its benefits. Softwoods dry out faster than hardwoods, so if you’re impatient to find wood, softwood may be the way to go. That said, softwood still takes a chunk of time to dry (softwoods tend to dry in half of a year to a year, while hardwood can take a year and a half or more).
Diversifying your wood pile can be a pro technique to build the perfect fire. When you begin to build, utilize softwood to start — I stick to thin branches of dried pine, and some pine needles to give the stack a quick start (dried pine needles are just short of lighter fluid in their potential to ignite quickly). Then, when your softwoods are smoldering hot, you can toss on a few cuts of hardwood to sustain a long, consistent burn.
A note on creosote: If you’re burning wood in a fireplace or wood stove, you should be wary of creosote — that stuff that can build up on the surfaces of your chimney or chimney pipe. Creosote is unburnt wood material that can stick to these surfaces, and with enough buildup, that creosote can ignite… and that’s downright dangerous. It’s important to keep an eye on creosote buildup, and to have your chimneys cleaned regularly to avoid the dangers of a house fire.
In addition, you can be smart about the wood that you utilize in your fires. There’s a myth that softwoods produce more creosote than hardwoods. The thinking is this: Softwoods, like pine, tend to have more sap, which can cause creosote buildup. However, both hardwoods and softwoods produce creosote in similar amounts. The key to reducing creosote production is actually in seasoning your wood. Make sure your wood is thoroughly dried before using it. Any impatience could leave moisture buried deep within the wood grain, and that moisture will only aid in the production of creosote. Regardless of the wood you burn, make sure that it is completely dry.
Now, let’s delve into properly drying and seasoning your wood…
Cut & Split
As limbs start falling from your tree, it’s time to consider the size of the logs produced. Be sure to make cuts in relatively small sections. Aim to make cuts every foot or so. The shorter you cut your sections, the more surface area you’ll expose, and ultimately, the faster your wood will season.
Once you have all your sections cut, it’s time for splitting. If you can, you should split your wood right away. That may be downright impossible if you only have an ax and green, moist wood. However, if you have access to a splitter, then use it. Splitting your wood right away can reduce drying time significantly. Again, you’ll have more exposed surface area, which means that your wood will dry out faster. You don’t have to go overboard trimming every limb down to twigs, but a short cut and thorough split can shave a month or two off that drying time.
Time to Dry
Drying wood is a passive process best achieved by harnessing nature. You’ll want to have a wood stack that captures plenty of sun and plenty of airflow. Opt for a location that’s away from walls, shade trees, and the like. And whatever you do, don’t put your wood pile somewhere where it will get wet — if you set up a pile in line with some lawn sprinklers, for instance, your wood won’t dry out. You can even place your woodpile on or near concrete to get a little bit more solar gain.
While you might be tempted to toss all of your wood into one big heap, you should be tactful with your stack to ensure that it dries. Stack your wood in one row if you can, since layering will restrict air flow between logs. Also, consider raising your stack off the ground. An old pallet can work wonders to season lower logs more quickly. Leaving your wood stacked directly on the ground will make the bottom layer moldy, and full of pests — that’s enough to ruin an entire layer of logs.
Also, consider building a roof or placing a few boards above your logs — your roof protection should not rest on the logs since it can restrict airflow and sun. A roof structure mitigates moisture collection caused by rain. Rain can slow your drying time, and a bit of preparation can keep that added moisture flowing away from your freshly cut logs. Do not use a tarp since it collects moisture and dew, and it can extend your drying time.
When Is My Firewood Ready?
Technically speaking, the moisture content of your wood should be down to around 15 percent before it’s ready to burn efficiently. Now, you may be wondering, how can I tell if my wood is at 15 percent moisture content? Let’s put science aside and take a look at some common sense techniques. First of all, you should be able to feel the difference in your wood. Does it have cracks in it? Is it easy to chop with an ax? Does the wood sound hollow when you knock on it? Does the wood produce little smoke when it’s tossed on the fire? If you can answer yes to these questions, your wood is ready.
Again, softwood tends to season in six to 12 months, while hardwood usually takes about 18 months to dry.
A Bit About Able
Here at Able Tree Experts, we’re experts about all things tree. We provide a variety of tree services, including tree removal. So, if you’re looking to turn that old, overgrown tree into next year’s firewood, we can help. Get in touch with us today to get started. We also have plenty of firewood if you can’t wait all year!