Winter is coming! For some folks, perhaps it is already here. If you’re living in a place where wood heat is a primary or supplemental heat source for the winter months, firewood is a big deal.
The Best Kind of Wood to Burn
The best kind of wood to burn will depend on where you live and which kinds of trees are available. Generally speaking, hard woods, like oak and cherry, burn longer and put off more heat, and softer woods, like alder, will burn faster. If you’re burning soft woods, you will need more wood. If you’re burning hard woods, you will get more “bang for your buck,” but you will want to be sure to have a lot of kindling on hand because hard woods can take longer to ignite and get burning. Hard woods can also take longer to dry and season and are notoriously more difficult to split. If you have access to a wood splitter, this shouldn’t be an issue, but if you are splitting your wood by hand, you will want to be sure to have some wedges and a sledgehammer if you are processing a lot of hard woods and larger rounds.
In many climates, you will end up with a mix of hard and soft woods, which can be ideal. You can get the fire going by burning softer wood and then put on a log of hard wood to maintain the blaze. If you are using a mix, you can incorporate this into your stacking strategy so that when you bring wood from your stack to your stove or fireplace you will have a variety of wood in each load to make the process of getting the fire going and keeping it hot much easier. If fire is your only heat source in the colder months, getting a fire going quickly and efficiently can make your living space much more comfortable.
How to Test if Your Wood is “Good”
Regardless of what kinds of wood you plan to burn, it is crucial that the wood is properly seasoned. The amount of time it takes a piece of wood to dry depends on several factors, including the type of wood, the climate (colder, moister climates mean longer drying time), how large the log is, and whether the tree was alive or dead when it was cut.
Two good ways to test whether a log is dry are by the weight and by the sound it makes when it hits another piece of wood. Dry wood will be lighter and make a hollow springy sound, whereas wet wood will simply thud. If you’re buying wood from someone else, it is not always easy to tell how dry the wood is just by looking. The sound test can help confirm that the wood is, in fact, dry and ready to burn.
Ideally, wood should be dry and well-seasoned before you stack and store it. For those who plan to harvest their own wood, it is a good idea to plan your wood situation well in advance. You will want to cut and buck up your rounds as early in the year as possible and give the wood time to season during the summer before you split and store the wood.
Tips and Tricks To Store Wood The Right Way
When it comes to storing firewood, there are a lot of tips and tricks that can make the process go smoothly and ensure that you’re getting the most out of your wood. The two most important factors to consider, however, are safety and airflow.
When you’re stacking your wood for storage, you will want to make sure the woodpile is stable and accessible. A haphazard stacking job can lead to a precarious wood pile that comes crashing down, possibly on top of you, which nobody wants. Failure to maintain proper airflow can also lead to moisture accumulating within your stack, which can result in wet, moldy wood waiting for you in the middle of your wood stack: not a pleasant discovery in the middle of December!
There are a lot of techniques for wood stacking, and the best one for you depends on your environment and situation. Storing your wood in a shed or covered area is ideal, particularly in places with moister climates. Generally speaking, simply throwing a tarp over your woodpile is not the best approach to storing wood that you plan to burn during the current season, particularly in wetter and windier environments. Tarps can blow away, rip, and leak. If tarps are all you have, you can set up a makeshift shed with tarps fairly easily. Consider setting up some corner posts around your woodpile and suspending one tarp securely above the pile at a slight angle to direct rainfall away from the wood and using the remaining tarps to protect the sides of the pile. Use some pallets or 2×4’s to keep the bottom layer of wood off the ground to prevent water absorption and keep some ventilation beneath the stack.
If you’re creating a freestanding woodpile that is not braced on any side, creating a stable wood stack is particularly important. One of the most popular, tried-and-true methods for stacking wood is the “log-cabin” technique. Basically, this means alternating between vertical and horizontal pieces on a row-by-row basis. The alternating pattern will leave space between the logs to allow for air to pass through, preventing moisture buildup, and also provide a stable foundation for the stack. As you use the wood, you will want to work your way down from the top, row by row.
If you’re stacking your wood between walls in a dry, covered area, such as in a shed, you may find that a tighter stacking technique will maximize the amount of wood that you can fit in the space while still allowing for adequate airflow. In this case, you may want to stack your wood so that it is all facing the same direction, rather than alternating. Because the stack will be supported on three sides, your main stability concern in this situation will be the pile toppling forward, towards you. This can be avoided by making sure the pile is not top-heavy. Be sure to arrange the stack evenly, avoiding pile-ups on either side or in the center of the stack. Always pull logs from the top of the stack and work your way down, rather than attempting to pull wood out from the middle.
It is a good rule of thumb not to stack wood in piles that are taller than you are. Reaching up to pull wood down from over your head is not recommended, as pieces can dislodge and fall.
There is a certain artistry to fitting the pieces together, but it is also not rocket science. For many people relying on wood heat, the journey from the wood stack to the fireplace is a daily one, and creating a stable stack with proper airflow is something that will make this trek much more pleasant.
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