How to season wood for your wood burning stove

How to season wood for your wood burning stove

Seasoned wood, as its name suggests, has been cut and stored for several seasons – ideally for six to twelve months. It’s important to season wood so that it dries out properly, reducing its moisture content to around 20 percent. Seasoned wood burns with greater efficiency, giving you less smoke and more heat for your fuel budget. Most importantly it burns cleaner and more safely since the seasoning process dries out the moisture that causes byproducts like tar.

How to season wood for your wood burning stove

This step-by-step guide will cover each stage of creating seasoned wood for your wood burning stove.

1. Splitting firewood correctly

There are several ways to split logs for firewood, using either a chainsaw, a manual log splitter (the safest and easiest) or hand-splitting with an axe. However, when we say “axe”, you actually have a choice of tools – the wood splitting axe, and the wood splitting maul. A wood splitting maul has a much thicker head, which applies outward pressure to prevent the head from sticking in the wood and to cut the wood more easily.

First step: always use protective goggles! Now set up your chopping stump on hard ground, stand your log section upright, and look for existing cracks in the woodgrain for the best place to aim your strike. Aiming for the outer edge of the log, raise the maul over your head in both hands and bring it down quickly into the wood, bending knees and back to transmit as much energy as possible into the split. Focus on speed rather than strength in your strike, and the maul will help to do the hard work for you.

2. Leaving the wood to dry out

To stack your wood for drying, first put on a good pair of gardening gloves to avoid countless splinters! Set any small pieces of wood to one side for kindling, and begin to stack the split wood against a wall. Or, if it’s to be free-standing outdoors, ideally on top of a row of pallets to help it dry. Working from left to right, the idea is to stack small, medium and large pieces into three separate sections of the woodpile, up to about chest height.

3. Seasoning the wood

To season your wood for the recommended twelve months, you’ll need to keep it dry, sunlit and with good airflow between the pieces. (This is where cutting the wood as small as possible will help it to dry out more thoroughly). You don’t need to do anything to the wood for it to season naturally – just keep it raised off the ground, have a wood store or a tarp pegged down over the top to protect it from soaking in the rain and make sure that there’s good airflow between the pieces to dry it out.

4. Building a wood store

Pre-made wood stores are widely available and essentially amount to slatted walls, tanalised support beams and a sloped roof to keep the rain off your firewood as it seasons.

But a wood store or log store is also a simple enough DIY project, and can even be made cheaply (and with the environment in mind) using old beams, paving slabs, wood pallets and 90-degree screw brackets. Plus, pallets also give you the advantage of modular construction!

Paving slabs form the perfect foundation, where you’ll need to set out a pair of pallets for the base of your double-bay wood store. Four more pallets can be stood upright and screwed in place around the edges of your base, forming the first walls of your wood store while leaving the front wide open. (It’s worth putting in extra screws to secure these walls since there’ll be a lot of outward pressure exerted by the stacked firewood once it’s in place).

Secure another pair of pallets or a double pallet on top of these walls if you’d like to add a second floor to your wood store, and simply repeat the process of walling off the second floor using four more pallets secured vertically. You’ll need sturdy, bracketed beams to form a secure outer skeleton and central support posts for your wood store, against the weight and outward pressure of your stored firewood. Finally, secure laths to form the angled roof of your wood store, and weatherproof its top using bitumen roofing, slatted planks, feather-edge boards, corrugated roofing or even a wind-secured tarp.

5. Using a wood store

A wood store is ideally placed against the back of a garage or at the corner of two outdoor walls so that you can keep the rain off but a breeze blowing in. Stack the wood in your wood store from left to right, graded horizontally into large pieces, medium and small, so that there’s no need to upset the finished stack when you need to take pieces of a particular size. Ideally, your stacked would shouldn’t be neat or tightly packed, since airflow between the irregular pieces is key to its drying and seasoning. Then comes the easy part – you simply leave the wood to season out in the elements, generally for six to twelve months to reduce its moisture content to that golden 20 percent.

Why it’s important to use seasoned wood in your wood burning stove

Seasoned wood’s lower moisture content of 20 percent gives you the most heat, the most longevity and fuel efficiency, and the least smoke and creosote byproducts during the wood’s combustion, to the benefit of your home and the environment. Wood with a lower moisture content than 20 percent burns faster and hotter still, but this may actually give you less fuel efficiency, and means that you’ll need to replace burned fuel more frequently than necessary – so properly seasoned wood of around 12 months is often the ideal recipe.

The wood’s moisture content regulates how efficiently it burns, which is why seasoning the wood is so essential. A wood moisture meter will give you a precise reading of your firewood’s moisture content, just by sticking its two pins into the wood – but it’s also quite easy to tell that wood is seasoned properly by its dark cracked look, its lighter feel, its easily peeled bark, and its more hollow sound when pieces are banged together.

Disadvantages of burning unseasoned wood

Green, dried and unseasoned wood has a higher moisture content. This moisture causes it to burn inefficiently, and at cooler temperatures, giving you much more smoke and much less heat than burning seasoned wood.

Because it doesn’t combust as fully as seasoned wood, the water vapour in unseasoned wood also tends to mix with gases and waste particles as it burns, forming creosote. Smoke from a cooler fire condenses faster, which can form a buildup of creosote inside your wood burning stove. This oily buildup of creosote forms tar, which can line the inside of your wood burning stove, its pipe and its flue. This tar can prevent woodsmoke from leaving the flue effectively – but the tar buildup itself can also become a serious fire hazard. For this reason especially, it’s important to burn only properly seasoned wood.

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