When the leaves begin falling and the cool winds start to blow, the thought of cozying up next to your fireplace makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it? Do you know what would be even better? If the fireplace had a fire in it. In all seriousness though, preparing to make that scenario into a reality means that you'll need one thing, and that is firewood. Don't know much about firewood? Don't worry, we've got you covered. Whether it be for your wood stove or your fireplace, for just relaxing or for whole house heating, this little guide will tell you everything you want to know about firewood, so let's get started!
The Fine Art of Firewood Linguistics
Here's some of the most important firewood lingo you'll need to know to get you through our guide (and hopefully even further):
Cord: Cord is the unit of measurement. When purchasing firewood you purchase it by the cord. A cord is 8' long x 4' high x 4' deep. To visualize this, keep in mind that a typical full-size pickup bed (leveled) will hold about ½ a cord.
Face Cord or Rick: This is another measurement similar to a cord. In this case, a face cord or rick is 8' long by 4' high x however deep you or the person cutting it has chosen. There's no standard length, it often goes by the length or depth of your fireplace or stove.
Seasoned: When used in reference to firewood, "seasoning" or "seasoned" is simply the term used for dry wood. The word "dry" or "seasoned" can be used interchangeably as they have the same meaning.
Kiln Dried: This firewood is wood that has been baked in a kiln at 200 degrees to remove moisture quicker than allowing it to dry naturally. It's of course much more expensive than firewood that naturally seasons.
Green: This term is used when describing firewood that has not been seasoned or kiln dried, meaning it's still full of moisture.
Compressed Firelog: A compressed log is not real firewood, it's sawdust that's been compressed into a log and held together with some type of resin.
Creosote: Creosote is a byproduct produced from the tar or resin in the firewood. When too much is built up in a chimney or stove pipes a fire can start within them. Note: Use a creosote cleaner (comes in different forms) to clean your stove or chimney before using it each winter.
What You Need to Know Before You Shop
When you're ready to buy firewood, you need to first decide on when the wood is going to be used. If it's for this season, you will need to look for seasoned firewood. If you are pre-buying it for next season, it can be green wood. One quick note: if you are buying it for next year, don't be tempted to use it immediately because when wood is not fully dry it can smoke, smolder, and produce less heat, all of which will lead to more creosote and more creosote means more chances of a big fire in your chimney or pipes and that's not a good thing.
Here are some more tips for buying firewood:
- If you're just buying firewood for an occasional cozy fire, use a softwood like fir
- For a fire intended for heat, use oak or other hardwoods because they burn hotter and longer
- Buy logs that are stacked stacked straight across, not criss-crossed (as you won't be getting as much firewood as you paid for since it leaves more air gaps)
- Buy seasoned wood to use this year
How to know if it's seasoned:
- Seasoned wood looks dark or gray when compared to green wood which looks clean and white
- If you split a piece of seasoned wood it's white inside
- Knock two pieces together -- you should hear more of a ring instead of a thud
- It will have cracks (called "checks") running through each piece
- The bark should be falling away and not tightly attached
- Firewood that's ready to burn should have 20% or less moisture content (a firewood moisture meter can determine moisture content)
What You Need to Know Before You Chop
If you're ambitious and are going to be chopping your own firewood, there's a few things to consider before your first chop. One of the most important to begin with is whether or not you want softwoods or hardwoods.
As mentioned earlier, hardwoods burn hotter and longer and are best, but they take much longer to season. In fact, they can take on average a year or more than softwoods to fully dry.
Here's some tips for chopping firewood yourself:
- The best time to cut into hard or softwood trees is when the sap has migrated to the roots, which is after it's shed all or most of its leaves.
- Cut down a mixture of both hard and softwood trees: Use the softwoods for kindling and fires that you just want to enjoy and the hardwoods if you're using the firewood to heat your home.
- Split wood will dry better
- Use a wedge, not an axe, to split the logs
- Use healthy living trees when at all possible because they are better protected from fungus and insects
How Much Wood Does a Woodchuck, or a Person, Need?
Knowing how much firewood to cut or buy really depends on two things. The first is how often you'll be using your fireplace or wood stove, and the second is how cold is it going to be. To answer these, here's some examples to help you:
Example 1: You're using a wood stove or other wood furnace to heat your home with. For this you would use hardwoods, which are more expensive, but they will burn longer and hotter than softwoods so the cost works out some in the end. For this scenario you will need at least one cord of seasoned hardwood. If it's going to be a cold winter, you may need at least 2 cords.
Example 2: You have a fireplace and use it to sometimes warm up the room and other times just for the ambiance. For this you can use seasoned softwoods, and shouldn't need more than a ¼ cord, or you could get as much as ½ cord for an extra cold winter.
If you have a fire only a handful of times, consider using compressed fire logs instead of buying firewood, or purchase small firewood bundles from your local home building supply store.
Whether you buy it or you're cutting it yourself, you'll need to have a place ready to store it. This can be a shed, or just a designated area in your yard that can hold your wood stack. Keep it up off the ground by using a few logs to hold the stack. This will help keep air flowing through it and allow it to fully dry.
One thing is for sure when storing firewood, and that is unless you love termites, ants, spiders, mold and fungus, you should never store your firewood in your house, not even your basement. Actually, even if you love those things, you still shouldn't store the firewood in your house because your house won't love them as much as you do.