How to tell when firewood is seasoned

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wood stack

If you heat your home with wood, you probably spend a lot of time preparing for winter. It’s a year-round task because firewood requires anywhere from six months to two years dry out.

Late winter and early spring are ideal times to cut and store wood for the following year. It allows wood to dry over the summer months, seasoning in time for colder weather.

However, if you’re new to burning wood as a heat source for your home, you may not have planned so far in advance. Whether you’re forced to purchase wood from someone else or are planning to cut your own for future use, it’s important to properly season wood before burning it.

Burning green wood can be dangerous. It creates a lot of smoke and may cause a dangerous creosote buildup over time. Learn to tell when wood is seasoned. It will help you properly heat your home and keep you safe.

How to tell if wood is seasoned

  1. Color. Color fades over time. Seasoned wood is less vibrant than green wood.
  2. Shape. Splitting wood speeds up the drying process. If you need wood to burn in the near future, you better your odds by purchasing wood that’s been split. Split wood will also dry out faster than logs in a stack. Logs and unspilt firewood pieces that are touching the ground or near the center of the firewood pile will dry out very little.
  3. Weight. As wood dries, it loses its moisture content and becomes lighter. Softwoods have a very high moisture content when they are green, so the weight difference will be more noticeable than hardwood varieties.
  4. Hardness. Drying wood becomes lighter, making it easier to split or dent. Dry wood is less compressed and weaker than green wood.
  5. Bark. The bark on dry wood is loose. You may notice bare spots on dry logs. Any existing bark can be removed easily.
  6. Cracking. You may notice cracks on dry pieces of wood, extending from the center of the log and reaching out towards the edges. However, you don’t want to use this as your only determining factor. Some dry logs may not crack and some cracked logs may still be too green to burn.
  7. Sound. Wet wood produces a dull thud when struck against another piece. However, dry wood will make a hollow sound when two pieces are hit together.
  8. Smell. Green wood has a stronger aroma. The smell will depend on the type of tree. As the wood dries, the sappy scent will fade to a light woody smell.
  9. Split test. Aside from being easier to split, dry pieces of wood will be dry on the inside. You can check the moisture level of a piece of wood by splitting it open to see if it feels dry to the touch.
  10. Flammability. You can also test moisture level by burning test pieces of wood outside. Green wood will be hard to light. It will smolder and create a lot of smoke, alerting you before burning it in your house.
  11. Moisture meter. If you’re still not sure whether or not wood is dry enough to burn, you can purchase a moisture meter to test the wood. When inserted into dry wood, your meter’s reading should be below 20 percent, ideally between 10 and 20 percent. Hardware stores and woodworking suppliers sell moisture meters.

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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s online content producer. Raised in Portage County, Ohio, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and outdoor recreation.

8 COMMENTS

  1. That is good to know that green wood won’t light as easily as it will smolder and smoke. That is something I would want to test beforehand so I don’t use would that isn’t seasoned. Seasoned wood is something that I would want to have for my firewood needs.

  2. Specific Gravity of wood can be easily estimated. Put a piece of split wood into a 5 gallon bucket of water and see how much of it remains above water level. A dry piece will float higher than a less-dry piece of the same wood. For example, a piece of seasoned white oak should have a specific gravity of about 0.7. That means 70% of it will sink below water level.
    Also, a moisture meter is best used on a freshly split-open log or piece. Measuring a side that’s been exposed to air for awhile will not tell you what the wood is like deep inside.

  3. Thanks for sharing informative information about firewood. It is helpful for us to purchase the right kind of firewood. Last month I bought firewood from “KAMIL SIWARGA WOOD LTD”. But I will follow your tips in the future.

  4. Great go to guide. Particularly liked the section: “How to tell if wood is seasoned”. Got the information I was seeking. Cheers

  5. Informative article but one thing got exactly backwards is about the splitting part. It gets FAR easier to split the MORE seasoned it is. Less moisture means it’s more brittle overall, and in general you can tell how seasoned wood is by looking at the cracks in the split logs…the more seasoned, the more cracks it’ll have as the pieces shrink back as they lose moisture. One half-decently accurate whack with the axe

    With green wood, the wetter wood means it’s got more fibrous strength and they don’t tend to break so easily. You’ll find yourself prying pieces apart even after splitting them and it is night and day different in splitting really good and seasoned wood BELIEVE me here. And anyone who ever has split seasoned vs unseasoned will tell you seasoned is easy compared. Splitting unseasoned wood is a PITA….

    • You know, Kenneth, I have been splitting wood for years and you are 100% correct. I’m not sure if I just mixed it up in my head when I was writing this, but I will definitely update the wording to reflect your suggestions. Thank you for taking the time to offer detailed feedback and bring that to my attention. I’m sure others seeking this information will also appreciate it!

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