This post was most recently updated on August 7th, 2021
If you have a wood fire and are new to the world of firewood, you might be wondering what is seasoned firewood? Seasoned firewood is dry and burns hot and cleanly. Knowing how to tell if your firewood is properly seasoned is easy with these 7 tips.
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What is seasoned firewood?
Seasoned wood has been allowed time to dry out and it is more efficient to burn. Seasoned wood will have a moisture content of under twenty percent and it takes on an aged look about it. Properly dry wood puts out very little smoke and basically no soot or ash as it is burning so hot that most of this is also burned through.
Kiln dried firewood is super dry and burns very efficiently, but it is also the most expensive way of seasoning firewood.
Burning seasoned wood is easy and pleasant. It catches fire quickly, burns hot and cleanly and will keep you nice and warm.
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Can I burn Unseasoned Firewood?
Burning unseasoned, or green firewood has several issues. The first problem with trying to burn unseasoned wood is simply trying to get it to burn.
If you have every tried to start a camp fire with green wood then you will know what I mean. Green wood smolders, smokes and goes out quickly. Whereas properly seasoned firewood will catch quickly and burn cleanly.
If you try and burn most wood types when they are green, the fire will smolder and smoke rather than burn. Burning green wood creates creosote which is the thick, black tarry soot that builds up in your chimney. Not only is this bad for the environment, it is also highly flammable and it is the major cause of chimney fires.
Cleaning your chimney at least once a year will help keep the levels of soot down to a safe level as long as you only burn well seasoned, dry wood. If you have to burn green wood for whatever reason, you will need to clean it much more often.
How do you know firewood is seasoned or dry?
Seasoned firewood has a moisture content of 20% or less. This number measures the ratio of the amount of water to wood in a percentage figure.
Whether you are cutting and drying your own wood, buying green and seasoning wood yourself, or buying ‘dry firewood’ from a retailer, there are several ways to know if what you have is properly seasoned firewood or not.
1. The Sound
If you use long loose arms and tap two pieces of wood together, the resulting sound will help you work out how dry the wood is. Dry wood makes a hollow, higher pitch ringing “tink”, with kiln dried wood making the clearest and highest sound. Wet wood makes a dull, lower pitched short “thud”.
Look at the ends of the wood. Dry, well seasoned wood will have some cracks developing. Wet wood is usually still solid and un-cracked.
3. The Colour
Seasoned wood takes on a dull grey colour, while wet, fresh wood is either tan, brown or creamy white depending on the typed of wood.
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Wet wood weighs as much as twice as much as dry wood does. So dry, well seasoned wood will be lighter to lift than wet wood. This can be harder unless you have a similar sized wet log to compare with, and weight can vary depending on the density of the wood too. Balsa wood or willow will be very light compared to a more dense wood like oak or eucalyptus.
Using a small hatchet, knife or axe, cut the log so you can smell it. Sniff the freshly cut piece; if there is a strong aroma, it’s still too wet to use. Also, if you notice the cut piece is damp, that’s also a good indicator it should not be burned yet.
6. Loose Bark
Once wood is well seasoned, the bark will lift off with ease. If the bark is hard to remove, the wood is still green and needs to dry longer.
7. Moisture Meter
The most accurate way to check how dry your wood is is to use a device called a moisture meter.
How to use a moisture meter on firewood
The very best way to check if your firewood is well seasoned or dry is to use a moisture meter. These are small, hand held devices with a screen that will show you the exact percentage of water left in your firewood.
You can get cheaper ones for around $20, or you can get pinless ones that you can then use on other items like furniture without damaging them for around $50.
Ideally, your firewood would be 20% or less. 15% is even better for a nice, hot, efficient fire.
Moisture meters usually have two metal pins that you push in to the surface of the wood a small distance (1mm is usually enough) and it will show you the readout.
The best place to check the moisture levels of your firewood is in the center of your log. To do this you need to split your log in half with a hatchet or log splitter and test in the center.
You do not have to do this with every piece of wood, checking 2-3 pieces from a variety of places in your stack should give you a good idea on how your overall pile of wood is drying out.
Tips for ensuring your wood is dry before you need it
Now that you know what seasoned wood is, and why you need it, here are some tips to help ensure you get your wood dry before you need to burn it.
One of the biggest problems with ensuring your wood is dry before the cold weather sets in is timing.
While we are out enjoying the Summer, the last thing on your mind is going to be cutting and stacking firewood.
All too often we only start thinking about it as the weather cools down, at which point it is too late to get your wood dry in time.
The best time to cut and split your wet firewood for next winter (or better yet the following year) is actually the Spring. Spring time the weather is not too hot to be working doing physical labour and it allows plenty of drying time before Winter.
Set a reminder on your phone every year to remind you to start thinking about cutting the firewood in Spring time before it gets too late.
The smaller you split your logs, the faster they will dry out, but the faster they will burn too. For optimal balance between the two, aim for a log diameter of 10cm/4 inches.
Cut your wood to the right length too, you need it to fit well in your fire for optimal efficiency.
Weather it first
Once you cut your wood in Spring time, you can leave it out in the weather for the wind and sun to dry it out, and the rain to help wash away some of the sap.
Wood that has been exposed to rain will dry faster than wood that hasn’t (once it is moved out of the rain) due to the lower sap content that remains. Sap slows down the drying process.
Keep it off the ground
The inside of wood looks like a bunch of tiny straws all tied together, this is because the major job of the trunk is to get moisture and nutrients up and down the trunk.
This ability doesn’t go away just because you have harvested the tree for firewood. Wood wicks up water if it is sitting in it, and it will hold on to it if it isn’t removed from the damp ground.
Laying some pallets, or slats of wood under your wood pile will help sure it doesn’t get wet feet.
So what you really need is a firewood rack. This gives you somewhere to stack your freshly cut wood and allows air to circulate to help the drying process.
If you are wondering if the firewood that you have cut, or purchased is dry enough to be called properly seasoned, I trust this article has helped you work this out.
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