5 tips to drying firewood
The art of firewood isn’t cut and dry, here’s how to make your wood dry thoroughly to burn well.
Words: Nadene Hall
1. Cut your firewood in spring or early summer so it gets at least 6-9 months to dry out; if you cut it in autumn or winter, it won’t be dry enough to use until the following year.
Some types of wood like oak or larger cuts of wood can take a year or more to dry.
2. Cut and split your wood into the right size and length for your wood burner first-time. This gives it more surface area so it dries more quickly, plus it means it’s ready to use and you don’t have to process it again.
3. The best place to dry freshly-cut firewood is outside. If you throw it straight into a wood shed, it will take twice as long (18-24 months) because it’s not getting assistance from the sun or air movement.
4. Stack firewood in a single row up off the ground so the sun and breeze can draw the moisture out the cut ends – most wood has a 30-50% moisture content when cut and you’ll need to get it down to around 15-20% before you can burn it efficiently. Wood that’s too wet creates a lot of smoke and if it burns at all it will produce little or no heat.
5. You can leave drying firewood uncovered but it does help if it has something sitting over it acting as a roof, eg a length of roofing iron. These shouldn’t sit directly on the firewood – lay long lengths of timber or old pallets on the ground and on top so any cover you use is sitting up off the firewood.
5 ways to know if your firewood is dry
1. It will be much lighter in weight, and possibly bleached in colour when compared to wood that is freshly cut, plus its bark will usually easily peel off.
2. There may be cracks in the grain at the ends, but this depends on the wood.
3. The cut ends will feel warm and dry, vs cold and damp when freshly cut.
4. Thump two pieces of dry wood together and the sound will be hollow – wet wood will make a dull thud.
5. Throw a small piece of firewood into the coals of a glowing hot fire – wet wood will sizzle, dry wood will catch on fire within 1 minute.
Hard woods vs soft wood
The longest-burning firewood that produces the most heat will be a hardwood. But confusingly that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a wood that is hard to the touch. Balsa, a very light, easy-to work wood, is a hardwood.
Hardwoods are trees that reproduce by producing seed with some sort of covering (eg, acorn, apple), and are deciduous. The wood will be heavier than a softwood and will take longer to season or dry out (around 18 months).
Softwoods are evergreen and their seeds have no covering, eg pine trees. The reason people use them is because they tend to be easier to cut and split, and they dry more quickly (in 6-12 months). However, they burn much faster than hardwoods so you need around twice as much to get the same amount of heat.
Tip: Softwoods have their place – they burn more easily so you can use them as the base wood of a fire to get it hot quickly, then add hardwoods to keep the heat going for a long time.