Not all firewood is created equal

Published 6:29 am Monday, December 11, 2017

Fires in the fireplace or outside in the fire pit are intrinsically connected to our visions of nestling in for a long comfy winter. Let the winter bring its ice and snow if it wants. Inside, we have a fire to snuggle up to.

But not all firewood is created equal, and there are some important things to know before lighting just any old wood. First, different species of trees provide different amounts of heat. Wood is made up of air and wood fiber, or cellulose. Since the cellulose burns, but not the air, look for the heaviest or densest firewood per unit volume. The best woods would be oak, hickory and black locust. Yellow-poplar, silver and red maple are not as dense and will provide much less heat. On the other hand, they are great woods for starting a fire.

Freshly cut wood contains a lot of water. Seasoned wood refers to wood that has been given the time for some or all of that water to evaporate. It usually takes between six and 12 months for wood to cure. If you burn it too soon, when it’s still green, most of the heat generated will go into evaporating that water, rather than heating your room. Burning unseasoned wood can also be dangerous, as the smoldering fire that is generated can cause a creosote buildup in your chimney. Burning pine logs, with their heavy resin, can result in the same problem. Over time, that buildup can lead to a chimney fire.

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If you’re seasoning your own wood, cut it first to a length that fits your fireplace, remove the bark, and split the logs for faster drying. Stack it off the ground in an open area with good airflow. Pallets make a good base for this. Air dry it for a minimum of six months.

If you are buying your wood from a vendor, ask what tree species the wood comes from and how long it has been seasoned. Wood that has been properly seasoned has a gray, weathered appearance and large cracks in the ends of the logs. Even if you’ve bought seasoned wood, storing it correctly – stacked off the ground and covered with a tarp to protect it from rain – will prevent the wood from reabsorbing water.

Be aware, too, of unwanted visitors that can hitch a ride on your firewood. Buy firewood where you burn it. Moving infected firewood, especially ash, can spread invasive species, such as the emerald ash borer, a destructive species that originated in Asia. More than likely you won’t see the adults, which are three-eighths to one-half-inch long and very narrow. But larva and eggs could be out of sight inside the logs.

For more information, contact the Bell County Extension office.

Stacy White is the Bell County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. Educational programs of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin. Source: Laurie Taylor Thomas, UK extension forester