There’s no better feeling than reclining in a comfortable armchair on a cool winter night listening to the crackle of a warm fire at your feet. A fireplace is a beautiful way to provide warmth to your home during those chilly nights and a necessity for places where there is no electricity or central heating.
The problem with using firewood is that a lot of people think you can walk into the forest, chop down a tree or two, split it up and then throw it into the fireplace. The only thanks they received for that was a smelly, smoky, poorly burning fire that leaves nasty residue in the chimney place.
Wood that is meant to be burned requires quite some time to dry out properly, a process known as seasoning. Freshly cut wood usually has a moisture content of about 30-60% depending on the species. Wood meant to be used as firewood should have a moisture content of at most 15-20% if you want a clean, smokeless flame that gives off enough heat.
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So how do you dry out freshly chopped wood?
There are a couple of tips on how to do this naturally, but bear it in mind that it can take anywhere between 6 months to over a year, depending on the type of wood to be used, to properly dry out firewood.
Below are a few basic guidelines you should follow on how to dry out firewood:
1. Purchase the wood on time: Drying firewood naturally takes at least half a year, so obviously you’re not going to get the wood during autumn or winter. It is advisable to purchase the wood during spring or early summer to give it ample time to dry out naturally with the aid of the elements.
2. Split the wood into smaller chunks: With an elementary grasp of science, you can understand this concept. The more the area of the surface of a liquid is exposed to air, the faster it evaporates. This also applies to dry firewood.
By splitting the logs into smaller chunks you’re exposing it to more wind and sunlight, therefore speeding up the drying process tremendously. Unsplit logs can sit for over a year without drying, especially certain hardwood types such as oak.
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3. Stack the wood properly: A lot of people just throw their firewood into a pile behind the tool shed for 6 months, only to discover that the wood at the center of the pile isn’t properly dried and in some cases may even be moldy and termite infested.
Proper wood piling is an integral part of drying the wood. There are different techniques to this, but the main principle behind it is to stack the wood in such a way as to allow adequate airflow throughout the entire pile as equally as possible.
4. Let nature do the work for you: While it may seem somewhat obvious to dry out firewood in the open, some people believe this exposes the wood to moisture and would rather cover it up with a tarp. I assure you that doing this will only cause more harm than good as this traps moisture within the wood and can predispose it to mold and rot, not to mention the fact that it just won’t dry. Let the sun and wind do the work for you.
Drying firewood out in the open exposes them to helpful rays from the sun which speeds up the drying process via evaporations, as well as the drying effect of the wind on the surface of the wood. If you’re worried about things like rain or ground moisture try covering the pile with a simple roof to keep off the rain or snow, especially during the winter.
Remember, don’t cover up your woodpile completely. Make sure there is enough space between the top of the woodpile and the roof of the shed so that air can circulate properly.
5. Elevate your firewood: Lifting your woodpile off the ground is a great idea for various reasons. It helps you avoid potential problems such as termites, ground moisture, and even mold. If your woodpile is adequately elevated you won’t have to worry about it absorbing moisture from the ground after rainfall.
Build a platform to elevate the firewood about eight to twelve inches off the ground. It’s also a good idea to build it like an open pallet or with some boards to allow air circulate freely underneath the pile as this helps speed up the drying process.
6. Stack your firewood away from walls or natural windbreaks: Try to avoid stacking the firewood too close to a wall or anything else that may impede airflow from any particular direction to ensure all parts of the woodpile are adequately exposed. Failure to do this may lead to one end of the logs drying, while the other end may still contain moisture.
7. Use a firewood kiln: Now this may seem a bit like cheating, but it’s are a lifesaver for those who can’t wait half a year for their firewood to dry. Firewood kilns can rapidly dry firewood in about 4-6 days, ensuring that you have a constant supply of firewood all year round. While this isn’t available to most people, it is a good way of drying your firewood in a pinch if it’s available to you.
How can you tell if your firewood is adequately dried?
- The firewood should be lighter in weight since it has lost its moisture content.
- The wood should appear darker, though some species of wood bleach when dried.
- The bark should easily break off. If it doesn’t cut some off with a knife and check the nature of the wood beneath it.
- You may notice cracks in the grain of the wood.
- The wood should make a hollow sound when struck together. Wet wood gives off a duller note.
- Cut off a piece of the wood or bark and smell for sap. The fresh scent of sap should have disappeared if the wood is adequately seasoned
Toss a piece into a fireplace with hot coals. Dry wood should catch within a minute or two, wet wood just sizzles and gives off smoke.