Anybody that heats their home with wood spends a lot of time prepping for winter. Cutting, splitting, stacking, and seasoning wood is a year round struggle. You have to start early in the spring to make sure your wood is fully seasoned for winter and that might not even be enough time to fully dry out the wood. How can you tell if firewood is seasoned?
Firewood can take 6 months to 2 years to dry out and properly season. The easiest way to tell if firewood is seasoned, is by looking at its color. The color will fades from green to yellow to gray to darkish brown as it dries out. If the wood looks faded and burns easily it should be properly seasoned. You will also notice the ends will crack/split, bark will fall off, and the wood will get lighter.
It can be difficult to tell if wood is seasoned by sight alone. I’ll go into a few of the other ways to tell if your wood is fully seasoned.
How Do I Tell If Firewood Is Ready To Burn?
Wood burned inside your home should be dry and seasoned for at least 6 months (sometimes 1-2 years). That gives the wood enough time to dry out so that it’s easy to burn and you won’t run into other problems. Why does wood need to be properly seasoned?
Damp wood burns at a lower temperature, which isn’t that big of deal outside, but it can be a serious problem in the home. It results in incomplete combustion, extra smoke, dangerous creosote buildup in your chimney, and decreased air quality in the home. So avoid burning unseasoned wood!
The easiest way to tell if your firewood is ready to burn is by using a moisture meter. I’ll go into testing with a moisture meter in the section below or you scroll down to learn a few other ways to tell if your wood is seasoned.
Seasoned Firewood Moisture Content
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell if wood is fully seasoned by sight alone. The color will fade, cracks will form on the ends, and bark will fall off, but that’s not a full proof method. I recommend buying a wood moisture meter so you can test the exact water content of the wood. They’re really not all that expensive (check them out on Amazon).
I picked up the Tavool Moisture Meter a few years ago when a pipe burst in my basement, but it works just as well on firewood. Wood is good to burn if the moisture content is under 20%. The optimal level is anywhere between 10-15% and you don’t want it to get drier than that. Firewood can get too dry and burn way too fast so you don’t want it to get drier than 10%.
A moisture meter is really easy to use. Just take the prongs on the end of the meter and push them into the wood. Turn it on and it will tell you the moisture content from about 6%-60%.
Other Ways To Check Wood Seasoning
Buying a moisture meter might be the easiest method to check for seasoned wood, but it’s not necessary. The following tips should help you learn to tell if wood is seasoned. After a little while you will know instinctively whether or not your firewood is ready to burn.
- Fading Color: The color of your wood will slowly start to fade over time. It will go from a greenish hue to yellow in the first season (about 6 months). After that it will transition to gray and eventually brown. If the wood was properly stacked/covered and the colors faded it’s probably fine to burn.
- Split Wood Seasons Fast: Split wood will season much faster than large logs and rough cut timber. If you cut, split and stack firewood in the spring it should be ready by winter. Piled up wood and large logs may never season before they rot.
- Hardness: Wood will get harder as it goes through the seasoning process. As the moisture content leaves the wood the grains will compact and make the log stronger. You might want to check out my post explaining why it’s better to split wet firewood than dry.
- Seasoned Wood is Lighter: This will be a hard one to judge without having a side by side comparison. As wood dries, it loses its moisture content making it much lighter. The weight difference can be huge when comparing green soft woods to properly seasoned firewood.
- Loose Bark and Cracked Ends: Bark will start to loosen up and fall off. You’ll start to notice bare bald spots on dry logs and the bark should fall off to the touch. At the end of the seasoning process the logs may even start to crack as they compress. This isn’t the best test since some cracked logs may still be too wet to burn.
- Flammability: How long does it take to light a fire? Does the wood burn really fast? Wet wood is hard to light and it burns at a low temperature. So all green wood does is smoke and smolder making it obvious that it’s not fully seasoned.
- Sound: This is another one that’s hard to tell without a trained ear. Dry wood makes a hollow thud when you bang them against each other. Green/wet wood makes a hard dull thud. Almost like somethings smacking into a piece of mud.
How Long Does Firewood Take To Season? What’s The Fastest Way To Season Firewood?
The entire seasoning process can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years depending on where you live and how you store the wood. Storing the wood in a covered shelter with the sides exposed will speed up the seasoning process.
There are 3 main keys to quickly seasoning firewood. You need to get the wood up off the ground to reduce moisture and rot. Cover the top of the wood with a tarp, canvas cover or some type of wood enclosure. Leave the sides open to allow adequate airflow.
Build Or Buy a Firewood Rack
I would always recommend buying a commercial firewood rack or building your own. Firewood rack brackets and covers are cheap so you’ll spend less than $50 on the entire setup. A firewood shed will be a $200-300 so that’s more of a commitment.
There are a lot of commercial firewood racks out there and unfortunately most of them are junk. Your best bet is to make your own out of pressure treated 2×4’s and a set of firewood rack brackets (my favorite). You don’t need to use the brackets, but making your own will come out to about the same price with the high price of wood.
Just about any canvas cover will fit a commercial firewood rack and they’re not very expensive. I’ve been using the REDCAMP 8ft firewood cover for the past few years and I really like it. I usually leave the sides open during the summer and only close it once the weather turns.
Can I Cover Wood With a Tarp?
You can always use a tarp to cover up your wood, but I still recommend getting your wood up off the ground. Go to your local supermarket and grab a few wooden pallets out of the trash. They make an excellent base for any firewood rack.
Pay attention to the way you cover the wood with your tarp. You want to allow even airflow so leave the sides exposed (only cover the top). Look at the picture above to get an idea of what I’m talking about.
Can Firewood Be Over Seasoned?
Yes firewood can be over seasoned, but it will take a very long time. It will take at least 5+ years for wood to dry up enough to cause problems. You can still burn it, but the logs won’t last very long on the fire.
Once the moisture content drops below 10% the wood will start to burn fast and hot. That’s nice for a burst of heat, but you’ll go through logs fast. I recommend using the oldest wood first so that you don’t run into seasoning problems.