It’s running late into the summer and you don’t think you’ll have enough firewood to get you through the winter. Do you cut down a tree and hope it seasons through the winter or is it time to order a truck load of firewood. I’ve ran into that scenario countless times since I started heating my house with wood. Will the wood dry throughout the winter and get you through a chilly spring or is all hope lost?
Does firewood dry in the winter? Yes properly stacked and covered firewood will dry in the winter, but it will be a slow process. Don’t expect your wood to be dry by the following spring or summer. Sunlight is one of the key ingredients when drying firewood and that’s in short supply. Dry winter air will help, but melting snow will be a serious problem if the wood isn’t covered.
Having a stack of green wood as winter rolls around isn’t ideal, but there are ways to work around the problem. Burning wet wood can pose a handful of problems. It’s hard to light, there’s endless smoke, and it burns cold, but any fire is better than nothing.
Dealing with a winter shortage can be a challenge, but sometimes that happens. Keep reading to find out how I speed up the drying process and handle wet wood in the winter.
Drying Firewood In The Winter
Nobody wants to run out of firewood in the winter, but even the most well prepared outdoorsman can run into a wood shortage. What should you do if wood is running low as December rolls around? Can you go out and split some more wood and hope that it dries enough to burn? How hard is drying firewood in the winter?
Drying firewood in the winter is easier said than done. Freshly cut green firewood starts off with a moisture content in the 35-45 percent range depending on the type of wood. You need to get that moisture level down below 20% (10-15 is perfect) to have a successful fire.
I recommend picking up a cheap moisture meter so you can make a judgement call and see how much water is in your wood. You can use any cheap meter, but I really like the Klein Tools meter that I bought a few years ago. Just set it on the wood and it will tell you exactly how much water is in it.
There are ways to burn freshly cut wood, but it will be a serious challenge. You need to do your best to lower the moisture content down. Start the seasoning process as soon as possible.
The Easy Way To Light Wet Firewood
Throughout the years I’ve tried every fire starting method I can think of. Only one of them works regardless of the moisture content and I’m not talking about gasoline. Go out and buy yourself a propane torch to help light up wet wood.
I use a cheap propane torch (like this one) on all my campfires, but you need something smaller for indoor use. That’s where my Benzomatic torch comes into play. Just strap on a portable propane tank and you have the worlds best fire starter. If it’s hot enough to melt metal, it’s definitely hot enough to light wood on fire.
You need a lot of direct heat when trying to light a fire using wet wood. Using a traditional fire starter alone won’t cut it. I place a few homemade wax fire starters in the bottom to get prolonged evenly distributed heat and then use a propane torch to slowly burn off some of the water.
It might take a few minutes, but the wood will eventually light up if you keep the torch on it. You won’t have the prettiest fire in the world and it’ll be kind of smoky, but any fire is better than nothing when it’s cold outside.
Don’t Bring The Wood Inside
Whatever you do, don’t store the wood in your garage thinking that it will dry faster. You need to stack the wood outside and take advantage of the sun, breeze and dry winter air. That’s the only way you’ll end up with useable firewood in a reasonable time frame.
It probably won’t be completely seasoned in 6 months like during the summer, but you’ll be well on your way. The wood doesn’t have to be perfectly seasoned. All you need is for it to get close to that 20% moisture level where it’s easier to light.
That’s easier said than done, but the following section will teach you the best way to season firewood in the winter.
Seasoning Firewood In The Winter
The seasoning process doesn’t really change because a little snows on the ground. You still have to understand the four basic principles to seasoning firewood. Raise the wood up off the ground, leave the sides open for airflow, cover up the top, and maximize sunlight. Your wood will dry in no time if you account for all four of those factors.
- Raise The Wood Off The Ground: Raising firewood up off the ground increases airflow, reduces moisture, and keeps bugs and other pests away. This is the single most important step to follow when stacking and seasoning firewood. You can stack the wood on pallets or pressure treated 2x4s, but I recommend building or buying a commercial firewood rack. The firewood rack brackets (my favorite) that you use with 2x4s are well worth the price. It takes less than 5 minutes to screw the rack together and you can swap out bad boards every couple of years to make the rack like new.
- Leave The Sides Exposed: It doesn’t matter how you cover your wood as long as the sides are exposed to promote airflow. I would estimate that the sun does 70% of the work drying and the wind accounts for the other 30% in the winter. Covering up the sides will slow down the drying process and trap in moisture. The sides will dry up in 2-3 days if they get a little snow on them.
- Maximize Sunlight: Trying to maximize sunlight in the winter is easier said than done. In Ohio we average 321 hours of direct sunlight throughout the entire winter (89 days total). That’s less than 4 hours of direct sunlight per day on average. We only have 12 sunny days throughout the entire winter. No wonder people are so crabby around here.
- Cover The Top: I don’t care how you cover the top of your wood pile. The vast majority of people cover their firewood with a tarp (like in the picture above). You can also build a small firewood shed or buy a cheap cover off of Amazon. I bought a REDCAMP firewood cover for my cabin a few years ago and it’s still standing strong. It was surprisingly affordable and there’s a size to fit any commercial firewood rack.
How Do I Protect Firewood From The Snow?
Getting a little bit of snow on your firewood isn’t that big of a deal. The wood will eventually dry as long as the pile is covered. It will eventually stop snowing and the snow will melt. Your wood should dry after 2-3 days exposed to the sun.
You might want to check out another one of my posts explaining how to protect firewood from the snow.
Snow really isn’t a problem, but you need to watch out for leaves. Make sure you clean up any leaves that fall on the top of your wood pile. Leaves work as an insulator trapping in moisture, which will eventually cause the wood to rot away. Burning rotten wood won’t make you sick or anything, but it completely ruins the woods integrity. The wood will burn fast and produce lots of smoke.
How Can I Tell If My Firewood Is Dry Enough To Burn?
The easiest way to tell if your firewood is dry enough to burn is to use a portable moisture meter (my favorite). You can pick up a cheap meter for $15-30 on Amazon if you don’t have one. If the moisture reading is below 20% (10-15 is optimal), it’s ready to burn. You will need to use lots of kindling and a propane torch if it’s in the 30+ range.
There are a few tricks to tell if your wood is seasoned without a moisture meter. You need to have a keen eye and pay attention to the little details.
- Easy To Light: The easiest way to tell if wood is close to being seasoned is to try and burn it. If the wood is easy to light on fire than it’s probably close to being fully seasoned.
- Color is Fading: Fresh cut wood starts off with a slightly green glow and the color will slowly start to fade into gray then brown.
- Losing Bark: Bark will start to fall off as part of the natural degradation process. Without access to a water source the wood will slowly dry out and die.
- Cracks Form Along The Side: Cracks will start to form along the length of firewood as it slowly starts to dry out and contract.
- Wood Feels Light: Remember that freshly cut wood has a 35% moisture level. That’s a lot of water spread throughout the log. Think about how heavy water is. A gallon of water weighs about 8.5 pounds.
- Sounds Hollow: Smoke a few logs together and listen for the sound. If the logs sound hollow then it’s close to being dry. Wet wood will sound like a muffled thud. Almost like something slapping against a puddle of mud.
Don’t worry if your wood isn’t properly seasoned by the start of winter. It will slowly dry over the course of the next couple of months even in winter weather. You can always order a load of seasoned firewood if trying to light green wood starts to get annoying.