Is the struggle of starting and maintaining the flames in your firepit or campfire keeping you from enjoying a cool evening outdoors? Well, you’re not alone. Most people have the misconception that simply chucking in random logs or branches is all you need to start a fire. However, the truth is these are probably damp and the reason for your fire starting struggles.
Because wood comes from trees, they are naturally porous and have efficient capabilities of retaining moisture. After all, trees need water to grow. Therefore, in order for wood to efficiently burn, it needs to be dried. But, how long do you have to wait until your firewood is dry enough to start a fire?
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How Long Does It Take Wood To Dry?
Typically, most types of wood take about one year per inch of thickness to dry out. Given the requirements for proper storage are met, you can expect a rough time estimate of two to three years before the average fire log is dry enough to use. However, there’s also other variables such as humidity levels, stacking order, and wood density that can make the drying process longer.
Note: The type of wood you choose will also affect drying times. Pine and willow tend to dry the quickest while dense hardwoods like elm, ash, and maple, tend to take the longest.
Seasoning Wood – Air Drying
Seasoning or air drying wood is a natural process of reducing moisture content levels in the cells of the wood walls. It utilizes time, space, and natural airflow to produce timber that burns evenly and efficiently. And, while it is labor-intensive and time-dependent, seasoning your own wood does have great upsides such as low costs, availability, and assurance of chemical-free firewood.
Additionally, by seasoning your own wood, you can control the elements that contribute to the process. This way you can guarantee that your wood is properly dried out. If correctly done, you can reduce your timber’s moisture content down to 20% as compared to the store bought alternatives that typically retain 30% to 40%.
Factors That Affect Drying Time
But, before you start seasoning your wood, there are key factors you have to consider. These will determine the speed and efficiency of your drying process, as well as prevent the growth of mold and other moisture-thriving bacteria.
The water of the wood content will play a big role in the length of your seasoning process. Green wood or fresh wood has approximately 50% moisture content, which makes it harder to burn. Additionally, when firewood is not dried optimally, it can emit a lot of smoke is very annoying and can be harmful with prolonged exposure.
A better option would be to source wood from dead trees. These are drier than green wood due to the roots no longer taking in water. You can cut these and burn before chopping into smaller pieces for storing. However, you should avoid using decaying ones as they will produce less heat and burn too quick to be of much use.
Note: The best source for wood with the lowest water content would be pre-dried or kiln-dried firewood. These will significantly reduce your seasoning time and can even be used right off the bat.
Type of Wood
When choosing the type of wood you want to season, you have to determine the time you can allot for it to season properly.
For example, denser wood doesn’t necessarily have higher water content, but it will take longer to season due to surface area. The good thing is it will generally burn longer and produce double the amount of head compared to lighter types of wood.
Location – Humidity and Temperature
When seasoning your own wood, you also have to take into account the humidity and temperature in your area. If you’re in a region that has high humidity levels, naturally it will take longer for your wood to dry out properly.
Note: If you live in a high-humidity region and are considering seasoning green firewood, start the seasoning process as early as possible to prepare for the longer waiting time.
You can also opt to start during the summer to expedite the initial phase of the drying process. Although, it is highly recommended that you opt for kiln-dried wood to avoid any formation of mold or other moisture-thriving bacteria and toxins.
When stacking your wood, it is important that you keep one thing in mind: airflow. That’s why a good rule of thumb before stacking your timber is to chop them down to smaller pieces. The smaller the size, the better it lets air circulate.
Note: If it takes one year per inch of thickness for wood to dry out, it’ll take a one-inch log a whole year to properly dry out.
As good practice, stack your wood loosely and keep it elevated off the ground. The main goal is to provide multiple passages for air circulation and enough breathing room for moisture to escape.
Should Firewood be Covered While Seasoning?
Adequate airflow is key for seasoning wood. But so is keeping that wood dry. If you experience a lot of precipitation, it is worth keeping your wood pile covered.
To maximize airflow, we recommend using a specially designed wood pile cover. These products are waterproof but still allow air to move through the pile thanks to lighter-weight materials and multiple vent slots.
If you don’t have a cover, you can use a tarp instead. If you go this route, opt to cover only the top of the pile with just a few inches hanging down over the sides. This will keep the bulk of the precipitation from soaking into your wood while still allowing airflow through the sides and bottom of the pile.
Kiln Dried Wood
Seasoning your own wood is inexpensive, but it can be time-consuming and lead to an inconsistent product, especially if your wood begins to rot.
A better option for many is to purchase kiln-dried wood.
What Is Kiln Dried Wood?
Kiln-dried wood is lumber or firewood that has been dried in a kiln or large oven. This kiln is heated to between 120 and 220 degrees with low relative humidity.
The hot, dry climate inside the kiln causes the moisture level to drop below 20% in less than six days.
Pros and Cons of Kiln Dried Wood
Kiln drying wood greatly speeds up the seasoning process. It also prevents the wood from rotting due to low humidity and the hastened timeline. All of this leads to a more consistent product than what you typically get from seasoned wood.
Kiln firewood also starts easier and burns better than seasoned or raw wood.
Note: Since it is dried to below 20%, there is less smoke and more natural wood smell, as well. And because the wood hasn’t rotted, it’s denser which means it burns hotter and longer.
Another surprising pro of kiln drying wood is that the process of heat drying kills any insects living inside. This means you don’t have to worry about transferring invasive species or pests to your property when you bring home a bundle of kiln-dried wood.
There are only two real drawbacks of kiln-dried wood.
One, most people do not have the means to kiln dry at home, which means you have to purchase kiln wood from a retailer. This brings us to downside number two: this wood can be a little pricey.
Kiln-dried wood, on average, costs about 10 to 30% more than commercially seasoned wood. But, because this wood burns longer and cleaner, you can often get away with buying less.
Where to Get Kiln Dried Wood
Unless you have your own kiln or a very, very large oven, the only way to get kiln-dried wood is to purchase it.
Many home improvement stores, like Lowes, Home Depot, and Ace, sell bundles of kiln-dried wood.
If you’re after a rick or cord of kiln-dried, you’ll have to seek out specialty bulk wood retailers. A quick Google search of “kiln dried firewood near me” should tell you if you have any local options.
Why Drying Wood Is Important
If you’ve ever tried to build a fire out of fresh, green wood, then you already know why drying wood is important.
The first thing you probably noticed is that wet wood is hard to ignite. Dry wood, on the other hand, starts up easily without the need for added fuels. Because burning diesel, kerosene, and other ignitors puts off extra pollutants, it’s best to skip these if possible.
If you struggle to start a fire in your fire pit even with dry wood, you’ll want to check out this article.
Dry wood also burns more efficiently. When there is a lot of moisture trapped in the wood most of the heat generated by the fire goes toward evaporating the water. That means less heat is available to warm your home or campfire.
Note: Wet wood also releases an excess of smoke. This is bad enough to deal with when sitting around the campfire, but it’s much worse if you’re burning those logs in a fireplace inside your home.
Not only does all this extra smoke put more pollutants into your home’s air, but it also releases an excess of creosote. This flammable byproduct can build up in your chimney and increase your risk for chimney fires.
Dry wood puts off less smoke, less creosote, and burns longer. This makes for a more enjoyable campfire and a much safer option for wood stoves and indoor fireplaces.
How Do I Know When Wood Is Seasoned?
If you don’t have the money or means to buy kiln-dried firewood, then seasoning your own wood at home is a good option. Remember, this can take years to do, but if you have the space and the lumber, it is a great, cost-effective option.
Since drying times vary based on environment and wood size, it is important to be able to identify when your wood is fully seasoned. Here are the most important signs that your seasoning wood is ready to burn:
- The ends are dark in color and beginning to crack. As wood dries it will change from green or light tan to a darker brown and the ends will crack apart.
- It will be lighter in weight. As the water inside evaporates, wood will become noticeably lighter.
- It will make a hollow sound. When you hit two pieces of dry wood together, they’ll make a light, hollow noise. Wet wood, on the other hand, will produce a short, loud thunk.
- The bark will slough off. The bark on fresh wood is hard to peel. By contrast, the bark on dried logs comes off easily and in large chunks.
- It won’t smell as much. Wet wood smells moist and sappy. That sappy smell is replaced by a more neutral woody smell as it dries.
- The inside will look and feel dry. If you’re still not sure if your wood is ready, try splitting a piece in half. If the inner wood is splintery, dry to the touch, and doesn’t smell moist, you’re good to go.
Can You Speed Up Firewood Seasoning?
Seasoning wood can take a while, but there are some simple things you can do to help speed up the process. Here are some of the best tips for reducing the amount of time it takes to season firewood.
- Split the logs. It takes one year to season every one inch of wood thickness. By splitting your logs in half you will cut your drying time in half as well.
- Stack for airflow. Tightly packed wood stacks look pretty but they reduce airflow and thus lengthen the seasoning process. Instead, stack in a way that creates air gaps between the logs. A criss-cross stacking formation is one great way to accomplish this.
- Use a roof instead of a tarp. We talked about the importance of keeping your wood dry. Unfortunately, this process can also cause seasoning to take longer since covers and tarps reduce airflow. One way to circumvent this problem is to build a roof over your woodpile instead.
- Use placement and direction to your advantage. The more sunlight your woodpile sees, the faster the wood will dry. If possible, place your pile in a sunny location with one broad side facing south.
- Stack wood off the ground and away from walls. This goes back to allowing maximum airflow. Keeping the wood off the ground using pallets or a firewood rack will help air get under it and keep the lowest logs from rotting.
- Put the wood inside for the winter. Wood dries fastest outdoors thanks to the sun and wind. But if your winters see a lot of snow accumulation, moving the stack into a garage or shed for the season will actually help speed the drying process.
- Tap into electricity. If you’re really desperate to hasten the seasoning process, you can use fans to increase air circulation and dehumidifiers to reduce humidity. Both of these work best when the wood is stacked in a shed or enclosed space.
- Use a greenhouse. Greenhouses protect the wood from the elements while still allowing in the sun. They also tend to get pretty warm inside during the day. Tarp the bottom of the greenhouse to help keep humidity levels down (or set the house on a concrete pad) and use a solar fan to create air circulation.
Patience Is Key When Seasoning Wood
As you can see, seasoning wood at home is a bit of a process. And under normal conditions, it can take years. But by taking the time to cut and stack your wood correctly and employing some of our other tips above, it is possible to speed up this process.
Of course, if you don’t have the time or means to season your own wood, kiln-fired wood is a great alternative option. This kind of firewood is more expensive but it also burns more efficiently and requires little time investment on your part.
If you still have questions about how long it takes to dry wood or how to season your own timber, be sure to post a comment in the box below.