The Firewood Supply: Chopping and Stacking Wood (Part 2)

By , September 4, 2014

Previously, in The Firewood Supply: Chopping and Stacking Wood (Part 1) we discussed finding the right length of wood for your particular stove. Now we’re ready to split and stack your firewood for seasoning.

I used to split my wood rounds as soon as I’d cut them. I did this to ensure that they dried as quickly as possible. Obviously, smaller pieces will lose moisture faster than whole or half rounds.

However, I’ve changed my ways. By cutting wood almost year ’round, I gain more time to dry wood before use. Generally, I chop my rounds in half, and stack them to dry.

This offers a couple of advantages. First, it defers most of the splitting to the winter months, when I tend to need exercise. The splitting effort warms me as I work; in winter, I don’t get uncomfortably hot while splitting, and the cabin feels even warmer when I go back inside. If the weather forecast sounds like it’ll be unpleasant for splitting wood, I hurry out and chop up several days’ worth of rounds ahead of time.

Second, leaving the splitting till later focuses my effort on cutting rounds. I like chopping too much—it’s way too easy to get caught up in splitting the rounds, rather than cutting them in the first place. Deferring the pleasure of splitting till winter keeps me on task during the crucial drying months!

Finally, I suspect that I can store more wood in our shed if I keep the rounds more whole. I haven’t looked into the mathematics of this, but I seem to finish the heating season with more wood in the shed if I split the rounds less before storing them in the available space. This seems a bit counterintuitive; I could be wrong on this.

Heating with a woodstove requires several sizes of wood. Burning smaller pieces provides more heat faster, so small pieces are good for cooking or warming the room in a hurry. Bigger chunks burn more slowly, for a longer, sustained heat. If they’re dry enough, I’ll leave smaller-diameter rounds whole for the longest burning, such as overnight. The smallest size becomes kindling. You’ll need a good mix of all of these sizes.

Conveniently, unless you’re an expert at splitting, not every blow of your axe creates the intended result! When I quarter rounds, I always end up with some kindling. That’s no problem; I just sort it as I go. We keep buckets handy to catch the chips and slivers that inevitably accumulate around the chopping block. We use them in our water heater, but they also work as fire starter. For more details on kindling, see our post, The FIrewood Supply: Cutting Kindling.

Once you’ve chopped the wood, it should be stacked. If you can, stack your wood loosely under a roof. If you have to stack it in the open, cover it against wet weather with clear plastic rather than tarpaulin. Evaporation is key to seasoning, and clear plastic allows the sun’s heat to penetrate to the wood, while a tarp deflects it. Make sure your wood is up off the ground to keep it from absorbing moisture, and to increase airflow underneath. If you can, position your stacks where they’ll get a lot of sun and wind.

I think that wind is more necessary than sun for drying wood. Either one or both will speed the drying process. If I know it’s not going to rain for a day or two, I spread my wood out on our rocky beach, where it gets sun, wind, and heat radiated back from the rocks. The wood dries noticeably in a short time (see A Day at the Beach: Passive Solar and Wind Power at Work).

I also chop my wood and stack it in the forest near where it was cut. If I can get a good, level pile built off the ground (on a pile of branches, or a rick of cut poles) it can dry until it’s lighter to carry or sled down to the cabin if there’s snow.

In a future post I’ll talk more about how to stack wood for best storage and drying.

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