Brush up on your firewood storage skills, including tips on seasoning firewood and which woods burn best.

Who can resist a crackling fire on a chilly fall night? Autumn is the perfect time to light a fire in a backyard fire pit and break out the hot dogs and s’mores. It’s also the right time to finalize firewood stacks if you supplement your home heating with a wood burning stove.

In my neck of the woods in Central Pennsylvania, many homes have wood piles, a true winter store laid up for the cold season to come. Whether the flames dance in a wood stove or wood-burning fireplace, the secret behind good fires all winter long is properly seasoning and storing wood. These two factors greatly influence how well wood burns, as does the type of wood you choose.

Seasoning Firewood

Fresh cut firewood is green and has a high water content—at least 60 percent. Green, unseasoned wood is tough to ignite, and if you do succeed it doesn’t burn well or produce much heat. Burning unseasoned wood also adds to creosote build-up in your flue, which isn’t the safest situation.

Seasoning firewood is a process that takes from 6 to 12 months. The result is wood with a moisture content of 20 percent. The end goal of seasoning is wood that burns strongly, safely and produces heat.

The first step in seasoning wood is splitting logs open. A tree trunk is a giant straw that moves moisture back and forth between roots and leaves. Splitting a log open exposes the moisture-laden innards to air and light, which helps to dry the wood.

If you’re buying firewood, it’s cheapest to purchase unseasoned wood and season it yourself. Aim to buy wood in spring or early summer, stack it, and it will be plenty seasoned for winter burning. Remember to buy wood locally—from within a 50-mile radius. This helps eliminate the chances of transporting pests to areas where they may not currently reside. If you’re buying seasoned firewood, the most important chore becomes stacking it properly.

Stacking Firewood

The goal when you stack firewood is to help wood continue to dry. Follow these tips to make the most of your firewood storage.

  • Firewood storage should expose wood to sunlight and air movement, so choose a spot in the sun, if possible. Storing wood under a tree that drops its leaves in autumn works, too, because that spot is sunny for part of the year.
  • Choose a site for storing firewood that’s not against a building, such as a shed, garage or house to minimize the risk of termites or other wood-infesting insects attacking your buildings. Many municipalities have fire codes that define how closely wood can be stacked near structures.

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