As someone who lives in a climate prone to cold weather and snow, one item comes to mind when staying warm is a priority. It’s firewood! Colorado winters just wouldn’t be the same without it. Yet some people pass on it because of the work or they just aren’t certain what to do.
Freshly cut wood is referred to as ‘green’ (unless it is a snag). This green wood is typically cut into logs that are 16″ – 18″ in length. (This is a length that works well for most wood-burning fireplaces.) These logs are then stacked and allowed to cure (dry) for at least one year. This is due to the fact that green wood can have up to 100% moisture content according to Cornell Cooperative Extension.
If you are buying firewood, ask the supplier if they have cured their wood or if it is sold green. If they are selling green wood, plan on curing the wood at least for a year before you use it. Green wood does not burn well. It is hard to catch it on fire and even then, it may sputter out before burning completely. Green wood also produces a lot of smoke and does not produce as much heat. While a lot of smoke may be fine for an outdoor campfire, it is problematic if burning in an indoor fireplace. Ideally after a year, the moisture content will be below 20% and will burn quite nicely.
Once your logs have cured, it is now time split them. (You can tell that the wood is dry enough because there will be small cracks visible at the end of the logs radiating out from the center of the log.) While an axe is traditional, it can be quite tiring unless you are used to splitting wood by hand. One tool that will make quick work of this task is using a log splitter. This device is powered by hydraulics and the only hand labor is positioning the log to be split.
In the photo to the left, you can see that the business end of the splitter is axe shaped. The hydraulics press the axe head down, splitting the log in half. You can split the log as many times as you like, though as an example, this log was split twice, resulting into four pieces of firewood.
Once the wood has been split, it is now time to stack. Since you have gone to the trouble of curing the wood, do not stack it directly on the ground where it can come into contact with moisture. We use scrap pieces of lumber that we place in two parallel rows 12″ apart. The firewood is stacked so it spans both pieces of lumber. Continue to stack the pieces of wood so they fit snugly together. For stability, we typically don’t stack the wood higher than 4′.
Also, think about where to place the wood pile. Are you going to place it in a protected location? Near the house? In a shed? To help reduce the risk of insects or rodents from getting into you home, do not stack the wood pile immediately next to the house. (Wood piles make a great home for mice, spiders, and beetles.) Though you can stack a small pile there for immediate use.
Finally the task of stacking is complete! But to further protect your dried wood (if it is not stored under a roof), consider placing a tarp over the top. The tarp will help shed rain and protect against snow.
In the photo to the right, the tarp has been pulled up to show the wood stored below. Even though there is snow on the ground, the wood is still dry and ready to be used.
So friends, don’t be afraid of firewood. Have the logs cut to a proper length for your fireplace, allow them to cure for at least a year, use a log splitter to ease the task of log splitting, and store in a dry location (or use a tarp). Then when cold weather rolls around, you can simply gather up pieces of wood (a wood basket makes this easy) and bring into the house.
Now kick back, open the flue, and strike a match. It is time to enjoy a fire!