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
- Color. Color fades over time. Seasoned wood is less vibrant than green wood.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hardness. Drying wood becomes harder, making it more difficult to split or dent. Dry wood is more compressed and stronger than green wood.
- Bark. The bark on dry wood is loose. You may notice bare spots on dry logs. Any existing bark can be removed easily.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Split test. Aside from being hard 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- How to select, store and season firewood
- How to prepare your wood burner for winter
- Wood stove/fireplace inspection checklist
- Heating with wood: Three mistakes to avoid
- Firewood basics: Tips for drying, storage and safety
- Tips for purchasing quality firewood
- University of Tennessee
- Biomass Energy Center
- University of Tennessee Forest Products Extension
- Forestry Commission of New South Wales, Seasoning of Timber
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