Yes, there's an art to stacking -- and even buying -- firewood, so it dries quickly and burns brilliantly come fall.
Stack firewood in a crisscross pattern so it dries efficiently. Photo: _boris, Flickr
In my city world (I live in NYC), the prep for the cooler days of fall and winter is simple: swap clothes in the closet and add a few extra blankets on the bed. In other parts of the country -- including Maine, where my husband's family lives -- people prepare months (even years!) in advance to heat their homes
come fall and winter.
In the spring, my father-in-law has wood from his wood lot chopped and stacked to dry, so he can use it as firewood through the fall and winter. Burning his own firewood helps reduce the frequency that he needs to use his furnace (which burns ever-expensive oil).
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I was surprised to find out that there's actually a method to stacking firewood: the piles of wood don't just look neat for the sake of neatness. Here's how to stack firewood the right way -- and why you should.
Why stock up on firewood ahead of winter?
Firewood must be dried for months before it can be used. When wood is freshly cut, it's considered "green", which basically means it's still full of water. Green firewood will burn unevenly
. Damp firewood also produces more smoke than dry firewood. You can tell that firewood is dried when you see cracks along the cross-section of the log. It's standard to chop wood in the spring or early summer so it has time to dry before cool weather begins. My father-in-law has stacks of dried firewood in his basement that are ready to go for next
winter -- the winter of 2012!
How do you buy firewood?
If you don't have access to your very own wood lot (like my father-in-law does), you can just buy firewood, which sold by the cord
. A cord of firewood equals 128 cubic feet. Bear in mind, hardwood makes the best firewood
(think hickory, oak, maple, beech, birch, ash and cherry). Firewood is considered seasoned
when the moisture content has dropped down to about 20 percent; that's when the wood will burn most efficiently. If you're buying wood and having it delivered to your home, the firewood is most likely already seasoned. But it's still a good idea to check over the wood: make sure you see cracks in the center of the logs, which is a telltale sign that the wood has lost a lot of moisture. The bark also gets loose as the firewood dries.
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Once you have your firewood, how do you stack your logs?
: Here's an easy way to visualize how to stack a woodpile. As highlighted in the Old Farmer's Almanac
, the space between each log should be "large enough for a mouse to run through, but tight enough to prevent a cat from chasing it", notes Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook
. It's important to stack your woodpile with the right spacing between logs. Using that care helps protect firewood from excess dampness and mold.
: Stack your firewood outside, and be sure to pick a sunny spot. Air and sun will help season the logs. You also want to avoid stacking the wood directly on the ground. Use a base that's at least a few inches from the ground to support the stack of firewood. If the wood is directly on the ground, you run the risk of insects and moisture accumulating. You can use cinder blocks for the base. Cover the woodpile with a tarp during any damp weather. Since the tarp can trap moisture, you also don't want the tarp touching the logs directly. Instead, use rocks, bricks, or something sturdy to keep the tarp lifted over the logs. Remove the tarp on sunny days, which will help the logs dry faster. You never want to stack green firewood in your basement; there's not enough ventilation. You can store firewood inside your house only once it's completely dried.
: Crisscross the layers of the logs. Alternating the direction of the logs helps create a sturdier pile that won't topple -- this method also helps with ventilation.
Got any firewood tips for us? Let us know in the comments!