……is that the firewood supplier is likely to tell you it’s well-seasoned when it really isn’t. But you’re standing there shivering in the snow, eye to eye with that load of wood, and you know better. “Why that’s been standing dead for two years!” he might exclaim. Or, “I felled those trees two years ago,, and just cut them up and split them for you this morning. They’re plenty seasoned, little lady.” The truth of the matter is that standing-dead, storm-downed and felled trees don’t season at the same rate as wood that’s been split and stacked or piled where the sun and air get to it.
With a bit of practice you can learn to recognize seasoned wood when you see it. One telltale sign is that the bark has loosened its hold, or has already been knocked off with handling. Also, the log ends have darkened, dried out and started to “check” (crack), not to be confused with the deeper split marks from an axe.
A well seasoned firelog will be lighter in weight than a partially-seasoned or “green” piece of the same size and species. When it really is well seasoned, expect to pay more. Cutting trees down, transporting handing and working up wood is a risky, labor-intensive pursuit; any do-it-yourself woodbumer will testify to that. The more times a supplier has to handle it and the longer he ties up space storing it, the more he’ll charge. And rightly so.
Last year in the early fall, my son-in-law Tommy pulled in my farm lane with a big pick- up load of firewood from land he’d cleared of hardwood trees a year or more earlier. He dumped it in a pile by the shed, at which point my son Joel took over. He split the larger pieces and stacked it all under one of the open ends of my woodshed.
One year later, Tommy’s wood was well-seasoned and perfect for burning, ready to produce good, efficient and non-creosote-producing heat–if I managed my fires properly. (Even seasoned wood generates some creosote in a fire starved for air.)
This fall my son Tim and wife Jane, as one of their chores for the family’s annual “work day at Mom’s,” gathered a pick-up load of storm-downed limbs from the side of my lane. They worked it up with chainsaw and splitting maul, then stacked it in the woodshed to start the seasoning process
Tim promised to bring me another truck full soon. The seasoned load he delivered a month or so later was from his own holz hausen, a traditional German firewood-curing stack he and Jane had built only six months earlier. These well-engineered round woodpiles, which speed the seasoning process, are not all that hard to construct and can hold several cords of wood. (Your local chimney sweep may have the directions for this.)
Last winter I was close to running out of seasoned wood and ordered some through a local classified ad. After quizzing him as to what his fire-wood “looked like,” I told the man to come on. He brought me a good mix of well-seasoned hardwoods and softwoods. But you can’t count on that! So get to know some of your local sellers. See what type of operation they run, then order your firewood in the spring or summer, at least a year ahead of when you intend to burn it.
Around here it’s more often sold by the truckload than by the cord. If the seller describes it as “a face cord” (as much as a well-loaded 3/4-ton pick-up truck can carry), it should measure 4 feet high, 18 inches (or firewood length) deep and 8 feet long, tightly stacked. A full cord measures 4x4x8 feet, or 128 cubic feet.
You’ll find a variety of prices with any serious professional cordwood supplier, depending on type (softwoods, hard- woods, in-betweens), quantity ordered, time of year, split or unsplit, dumped or stacked… and combinations thereof. Prices will vary tremendously from area to area.
You say you’re in a bind now, and it’s winter? Seek out the species that require less seasoning, such as Hickory, Osage Orange, Douglas Fir, and most Ash. And better planning next time!–Jay HensleyReprinted with permission, from the November 1998 issue of SNEWS, The Chimney Sweep News, and independent trade magazine of chimney service professionals. Jay Hensley, editor/publisher