How and Why to Season Fire Wood
Why should I season my firewood?
Wood stoves are a great way to warm your home and can be better for the environment when compared to heating your home with fossil fuels or electricity, depending on how efficient your stove is at combusting the wood you burn in it and where your wood comes from. Wood stoves are only able to operate at peak efficiency when the fire inside can reach the appropriate temperature to combust all of the wood. Creosote can be created when not all of the wood and the gases created from the heat of the fire are not combusted and collects as tar on the relatively cooler surface of the chimney walls. Depending on how often you use your stove, how much wood you burn and the quality of the wood, creosote can build up rapidly over time. Because it is extremely flammable, it can cause a chimney fire, which could damage your chimney and cause a house fire.
Burning only seasoned wood can greatly reduce the buildup of creosote. This works by allowing as much water as possible to evaporate from the wood before using it in a stove. If one were to attempt burning “green” wood or wood that has not been seasoned properly, it will not burn properly, leading to a smoldering fire that smolders giving off lots of unburned gases that promote the creation of creosote. The moisture in the wood causes this by absorbing heat from the fire and evaporating or boiling away. This might not seem like a big deal, but it cools the fire and prevents it from attaining a proper temperature to combust all of the material.
How do I season my firewood?
I won't go into details about the different species of trees that give off the most heat when burned in a stove. I will say that the best tree for obtaining your firewood from is a standing dead or recently and naturally felled tree. This means that it has had little or no contact with the ground and any moisture therein and thus the wood will have little decay. It is best to harvest this kind of wood early in the year as soon as you are able to in the spring so that you may be able to use this wood in the coming winter.
After you have chopped, sawed and split your wood, find a dry and perhaps covered location to stack your wood and allow it to dry. If the location you'll be stacking your wood has bare earth instead of a concrete floor, it will be best to stack the wood upon something such as wooden pallets. These can be found for free from some stores such as Lowe's or Home Depot, just ask. On a side note, the broken or damaged pallets that they might have are a good source of kindling, just saw them up and burn them. Yes, they do have nails but you can either cut off sections that have nails or burn the wood with them and simply use a magnet to remove them from the ashes.
Whether stacking the wood on pallets or concrete, space the wood out evenly to leave gaps for air to flow between the pieces to help speed the seasoning process. The best way is to stack the wood in alternating perpendicular layers. Lay the first layer down, leaving gaps between the individual pieces of wood, then lay a second layer upon the first but arrange the layer perpendicular to the first. Keep changing the orientation of each new layer as compared to the last until your pile is sufficiently high, you run out of wood or stacking it any higher might compromise its stability.
Leave the wood like this for approximately six to nine months or when the wood is sufficiently dry. To determine if it is finished seasoning, take two pieces of the wood you have stacked and bang them together. If the noise they make is a dull thud, they still have a significant amount of moisture content in them. If the noise sounds hollow and you can tell a difference in the weight of the wood as compared to when you first stacked it, then it has probably dried sufficiently and is ready for use.
A bonus to seasoning your firewood is that the wood is dry and will catch fire more easily. Also, because there isn't as much moisture in the wood to absorb heat from and cool the flame, your fire will be hotter and you can reduce the amount of wood you have to burn in your stove. And since your fire will be hotter, you will see less accumulation of creosote!