Seasoned vs. unseasoned firewood; a primer

Myryah Irby

November 11, 2013

By: Myryah Irby, Home Renovation Enthusiast

In: Heating and Cooling

Before I moved to the country, I mostly visited Youtube for novelty purposes. The only even remotely educational uses were directed at my kids: E.g. my youngest learned how to do the robot from James Brown Gives You Dancing Lessons and when she objected to brushing her teeth, a search on the keywords “Rotten Teeth” did the trick. (I’ll spare you the link, but for those those with children in need of motivation, search for a video called “The Good, The Bad, The Rotten”). My daughter's dental hygiene improved immediately.

Indeed, until recently, Youtube was that one site you visited to watch the new Justin Timberlake video, which inevitably led down a rabbit hole of music video consumption that more often than not ended with this psychedelic Earth Wind and Fire video.

And then I discovered that everything you really need to know can be learned on Youtube. Like, actual useful information.

Youtube: the new user's manual

My husband’s nightstand in the country is completely different than his city nightstand. In Brooklyn, it's holding the latest copy of New York Magazine, The Times and maybe a Murakami novel or an autobiography by someone artsy (e.g. Patti Smith or Keith Richards). Up here in the country, you’ll find Black & Decker's The Complete Guide to Decks along with a pile of user manuals for various powertools. He spent every night for a solid week poring over the manual for his new chainsaw.

But that's at night. During the day you’ll find him in front of his computer watching DIY videos on Youtube. Building a deck? Finishing newly installed skylights with drywall? Turning a closet into an office? Watch and learn.

In a previous post, I noted the importance of burning seasoned wood, but I didn’t understand how important it actually is until a few weeks ago when we had a truckload of supposedly seasoned but actually unseasoned wood dumped into our driveway.

The wood wasn't burning well, and once it did burn the temperature wouldn't rise above 300 (if you read this post you'd know that 300-500 is the optimal burning temperature, below that you're producing more creosote). I turned to Youtube. Now I know everything there is to know about seasoned vs. unseasoned wood (thanks, johndeereman2009)! At first I wanted to understand how to stack a wood pile in a way that it doesn’t fall down. That's how I found Mr. Gary Olson’s video: How to stack a wood pile in a way that it doesn’t fall down. I soon discovered a subculture of wood splitting and stacking devotees. Stacking firewood is a whole thing -- it can get pretty fancy. (FYI a person can waste a lot of time watching videos of people stacking firewood). But back to my main point: unseasoned firewood isn't worth a darn!

piling firewood
Here is a picture of our firewood, stacked by me and my muscular husband.

You can't tell from this photo, but the wood in front is seasoned, the wood in the back is not. Once we learned that the seasoned wood that had been dumped in our driveway was actually unseasoned, we found another supplier and ordered a second cord of wood. So you're looking at two cords of oak. Here's a closeup of unseasoned wood:

unseasoned wood
You can tell right away that it's green, full of moisture. It's heavier than seasoned wood, obviously.

And below is a photo of seasoned wood.
seasoned wood with cracks
It's more ashen in color, there are telltale "checks" (cracks).

Some takeaways on seasoned vs. unseasoned firewood:

  • Wood doesn't begin to season until after it’s been cut into rounds and split
  • You can speed up the drying time by stacking in rows in the wind and sun
  • Wood is considered seasoned when the moisture content is at or below 20%
  • Wood that is unseasoned, or green, will look yellowish or whitish and fresher. Seasoned wood will be chalkier in color, with lots of cracks. It should look dried out, and might even be “punky” (i.e. smell rotten)
  • Most wood takes six months to a year to season, but oak can take around two years, because oak wood is special and the grains hold moisture longer
  • Some species require less seasoning, e.g. most Ash, Hickory, and Douglas Fir

  • Unseasoned wood is hard to light, burns inefficiently, smolders, and puts out about half the heat of seasoned wood (this is probably the main point of the post which I maybe should have listed at the top but whatever, I've emboldened it)
  • Burning unseasoned wood produces more creosote and more pollution
  • If creosote is left unattended to it can cause a chimney fire, which can burn down your house
  • You can test firewood with a moisture meter. Just split a piece of wood and test the freshly split side

 stack of seasoned firewood
The wood in the photo above is seasoned. You can see that in some cases the bark is coming apart from the wood. That's another indicator that it's ready to be burned.

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