Firewood Preperation Advice
“Firewood is better than money in the bank”
Knowing how to dry firewood correctly is essential: Every serious wood burner must
understand that wood dries slowly. Good firewood should have a moisture content of
15% to 20% and it takes a long time for newly processed wood to dry to that level
because the moisture content of our native trees is high.
The efficiency losses resulting from burning wet wood can be as much as 30%, so
drying firewood properly prevents a lot of wasted wood and results in wood that
burns much more cleanly!
Here are some handy tips:
- Logs should be cut to the correct length
- Logs should be split to the right size for your stove
- Logs should be stacked off of the ground in single rows in the open in early spring to be ready for burning in autumn.
- Hard species such as oak usually take longer than a summer to dry.
- Bigger chunks of firewood dry more slowly.
- Living in a damp climate such as ours, your wood will take longer to dry.
- If you don’t have an open, sunny location to stack your wood, it may take more than the summer to dry.
- Unless your conditions for drying firewood are optimal, you should prepare your firewood a year ahead.
- Firewood that isn’t dry is slow to ignite.
- It smokes and smoulders in the fire leaving deposits in the chimney.
- It takes a lot of energy to heat and vaporize the water in wet wood.
- Up to 15% of the energy content of green wood can be consumed turning water into steam and superheating it to the combustion temperature.
- Wet wood is so reluctant to burn that part of its potential heat energy is wasted as smoke, and it creates a sluggish fire that will smoulder and make little heat unless the air control is left wide open. But an open air control will cause much of the heat produced to be rinsed out of the firebox and right up the chimney by such a high airflow rate.
- Lights easily
- Burns cleanly and efficiently.
- Will continue to flame even if the air control is turned down for an extended burn.
- Low moisture means less weight.
- The cleaner hotter burn means your chimney will stay clean longer and the stove window is unlikely to soot up.
How to Tell Seasoned Firewood from Unseasoned Firewood
- Dry wood is lighter in weight.
- Dry wood has cracks in its end grain.
- If you bang two pieces of dry wood together, the sound is hollow, whereas wet wood makes a dull thud.
- Firewood darkens from white or cream to grey or yellow as it seasons.
- The exposed face of a freshly split piece of seasoned wood feels warm and dry, but green wood feels cool and damp
- Green firewood sizzles in a fire.
Splitting Logs Makes Excellent Firewood
- Smaller pieces ignite more quickly.
- Smaller pieces dry more quickly than large chunks of wood.
- A log splitter is a worthwhile investment
How to Stack Firewood
Firewood dries fastest if it’s stacked in a single row out in the open where the sun
can warm it and breezes can blow away the moisture. This means the wood should
be stacked for drying away from the house, then moved to the house and stacked
again just before the heating season starts.
It’s a good idea to cover the tops of the piles, although this is not critical until the last
month of drying. If the autumn weather is rainy, as it can be here in Ireland, the rainsoaked
wood will end up in your wood storage area, which won’t be desirable.
You can stack the green wood in a shed to dry, but it will take at least twice as long
For convenient loading, the firebox should be about 3 inches bigger than your
longest pieces of firewood. Don't be misled into thinking a stove that can handle 20-
inch firewood is really bigger or better than one that can take up to 18-inch logs. The
standard firewood length for stoves is 16 inches, mostly because it is the most
practical length handling. Any guy who claims it is easy to lift, stack and load 20-inch
firewood is bigger and stronger than I am. I'm also aware many women are serious
users of woodstoves, and I suspect that, on average, their wrist and forearm strength
is closer to my own than to that of a burly logger.
There are many other features you might wish to consider. These include whether
the stove can be operated with open doors and a fire screen in place (see footnote
on the chart ), whether it has an ash pan, a cooking surface, and aesthetic matters
like color options, plated doors and trim, and pedestal versus legs. None of these
affect heating performance but can influence your enjoyment of the stove.
The 10 reasons to heat with wood
1. It's a renewable energy resource
Wood is energy from the sun, stored by the tree as it grows. When you burn wood
you are releasing this stored energy. In the dark of winter, it's like having a bit of
summer sun on your hearth.
2. An Earth- friendly choice
When fuels burn they release carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases
responsible for global warming. Trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, so when
you heat with wood, the carbon dioxide is released, then absorbed again by young
trees. Because trees recycle carbon dioxide, wood burning just warms you, not the
3. You're in charge
Stop writing checks every month to the energy utilities. Do you really want to leave
something as important as staying warm in the hands of a faceless corporation?
4. No more freezing in the dark
When a storm interrupts the electrical supply, all the conventional heating systems
are useless, but the woodstove keeps you warm and cozy and safe. Now a power
failure isn't so much of a drag: You get to use the candles.
5.Warms you like no other
The radiant heat from a stove or fireplace is like the rays of the sun. It warms you
through and through.
6. The romance of the flame
The soft glow of firelight is the favorite setting for an intimate conversation. It's the
place where friends and family gather to talk and laugh in comfort.
7. Raise your energy I.Q.
Each log you place on the fire is a visual reminder of the environmental impact of
keeping your family warm. It's the wood heat way of knowing.
8. Heat a space, save some energy
That stove or fireplace in the living room keeps you warm and cozy in the place you
spend your time. The basement and bedrooms stay cool. Regardless of what you
pay for energy, space heating with wood clips 25 percent right off the top.
9. Invest in your community
Spend a buck on oil, natural gas or electricity and you feed a corporate giant. Spend
a buck on firewood and you feed a neighbor.
10. It's cheaper!
Wood is the cheapest heating fuel you can use if you don't live in a large city. Some
people actually think the only reason we heat with wood is to save money. Poor
souls, they miss so much of what is good in life .
Considering the amount of work involved in full-time wood heating, it just makes
sense to burn efficient fires. The payoff is lower cost if you buy your wood and less
work if you process your own. When you make smoky fires a thing of the past, you’ll
never again worry about flammable creosote causing chimney fires, and you’ll need
to sweep the chimney less often. The door glass of your stove or fireplace will stay
clear longer, and there will be less chance of smoke roll-out when you open the
Let’s see: lower cost, less worry, less maintenance and better indoor air quality. Do
those advantages make it worth your time to try out some new wood heating skills? I
The secret to high efficiency wood heating is to pay attention to the smoke. When a
piece of firewood is heated, it begins to smoke. The smoke is made up of sticky tar
droplets and some combustible gases. If a piece of wood were heated and allowed
to smoke until only charcoal remained, more than half of its energy content would be
gone — up in smoke, you might say. It is important to burn the smoke because any
that escapes from the firebox unburned is wasted fuel that will stick in the chimney
as creosote or be released as air pollution. Wood smoke is not a normal byproduct of
wood combustion, it is waste. Visible smoke at the top of a chimney is always a
sign that energy is being wasted.
Tips for Lighting the Fire
Starting a wood fire can be a frustrating experience, and when a fire fails to catch it
can even be embarrassing if anyone is watching. But, by using the right techniques
and materials, you can have complete confidence that every fire you light will take off
immediately and burn reliably.
First, consider a key rule that applies to all wood burning: The wood must be dry. No
fire will light and burn reliably if the wood is damp. By dry, I mean that the wood’s
moisture content must be less than 20 percent.
Is the wood dry enough to burn? Here are several ways you can tell:
- Look for checks or cracks that form at the ends of the pieces as wood dries.
- Consider the color. Wood darkens as it ages, from white or cream color to gray or yellow.
- Split a piece, and if the fresh surface feels warm and dry, it is dry enough. If it feels cool and damp it is too wet.
- Bang two pieces together: seasoned wood sounds hollow, wet wood sounds dull.
- Burn some: wet wood sizzles and bubbles at the ends and dry wood doesn’t.
Here's a link to the Teagasc webiste on Wood Energy in Ireland: http://www.teagasc.ie/forestry/docs/advice/Teagasc_wood_energy_guide_edition3.pdf