A Few Firewood Basics

by Daisy

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I thought I’d share some of the scintillating facts I’ve picked up about firewood since we started heating with a wood stove.  I say that intending a bit of sarcasm, but the truth is I really do find this stuff way too interesting.  Here we go:

1.  While every old-timer has his or her list, in descending order, of the best woods for burning, the bottom line is that it’s all about the seasoning (drying).  In other words, the species of tree is far less important than whether or not your firewood was felled, bucked (cut into log lengths), split, and allowed to dry for a whole year or more before you burn it.  This even applies to (insert appalled intake of breath here) softwoods!

2.  Creosote buildup is most likely to occur when wood is burned at low temperatures (trying to burn green wood) than due to the type of wood being burned.  A hot flue is a cleaner flue. Of course, regardless, keep your chimney/flue clean and inspected regularly.

3.  When buying firewood, do your due diligence.  Don’t just ask if the wood is seasoned.  Go to look at the wood in situ if possible.  It’s hard to turn away a truckload of wood sitting in your driveway. What to look for:

  • wood that is graying on all faces, not just the cut ends (they might have bucked it a year ago but only recently split it–not as good–large logs must be split to dry well). You want a dull pile of wood,  not a bright, shiny one.
  • wood that is relatively light in weight for its size (the opposite of how you select a good sweet potato, by the way)
  • the wood has little cracks in the ends from the drying process
  • no fresh-cut smell
  • bark may be beginning to loosen in some types of wood
  • not beginning to rot–that’s seasoning gone too far under the wrong conditions

4.  When buying firewood, make sure that what you are calling a cord is what the seller is calling a cord.  Here is a good discussion of the controversy and a good explanation of what a cord really is.

5.  Finally, have a covered place to store your firewood away from rain and away from direct ground contact.  Don’t store wood right next to your foundation if you have termites in your area.  (And if you don’t have termites in your area tell me where you live so I can move there).

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Angel January 18, 2010 at 10:45 am

I don’t think we have much of a problem with termites in the Pacific NW, but then you have to put up with rain for 9 months of the year. Which would you rather have? 🙂 I grew up here, so I don’t mind the rain, but LOTS of people complain about it.

Kat January 18, 2010 at 11:51 am

No termite problems here, but we do have carpenter ants that come home in the logs. They’ll eat your house down, too. And then there was the squirrel that snuck under the tarp and came home in the back of the truck…

the Bag Lady January 19, 2010 at 8:32 am

No termites here, but (like Kat above) we have carpenter ants. Of course, we also have -40F temperatures on occasion…………

Great tutorial on what to look for in firewood.

Viki January 21, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Don’t move down where I live, we have termites, carpenter ants and bees that love to bore holes in wood. Not to mention fire ants that love to overwinter in dry wood. Love the squirrel hitching a ride.

Darlene January 31, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Make sure you’re not getting “iron oak”. There are some species of oak that will harden to the point of not being able to cut it with any type of saw or ax. I know, I had some. That wood may have come from Live Oak trees – it’s been so long ago and in northern FL that I don’t remember the species, just that we couldn’t cut it with a chainsaw!

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