Home » How To Tell If Your Firewood Is Dry: A Definitive Guide

How To Tell If Your Firewood Is Dry: A Definitive Guide

If you burn wood in your home for heat or even if you just like enjoying an evening around the fire pit, you will surely appreciate the benefits of having dry firewood.  Well seasoned wood builds a hot, clean burning fire with very little smoke.  

However, deciding when your wood is actually dry can be tricky.  Ideally, firewood should have a moisture content of 10-20%.  Burn it too early and you’ll end up with a smokey fire that puts out a fraction of the heat it should.  That is a major problem.  Not only will you need to burn more wood to get the same amount of heat, you are also ramping up the amount of creosote that collects in your chimney.  

As important as burning dry wood is, not everyone knows how to ensure that their collection of firewood is thoroughly seasoned.  For those who want the quick answer, here it is.

Visually, seasoned firewood will have a dull, faded color, obvious cracking on the cut ends and bark that is easily separated from the wood.  In addition,  dry wood will feel lighter and make a sharp, hollow sound when two pieces are banged together.  However, a moisture meter is the most accurate way to tell if your firewood is completely dry.

But it takes more than this short answer to confidently tell when firewood is ready to burn.  Keep reading and I’ll make sure you find out everything you need to know.

How long does it take to season firewood

Whether you buy firewood or cut and stack your own, you want to get the most from every piece.  Otherwise, all the backbreaking work you put into managing your stash of firewood is for nothing.  

To get the most amount of heat with the most efficient burn possible, you need properly seasoned firewood.  It is an established standard that well seasoned wood should have a moisture content below 20% before you burn it.  Anything higher than that decreases the efficiency of your fire. 

Since green or wet firewood usually has a moisture content ranging from 60% to over 100%, it’s going to take some time for it to dry out.  How long you may ask?  

As a general rule of thumb, it takes 12 to 18 months for hardwoods like oak and maple to dry out enough for clean burning.  Softwoods, such as pine, may only require 6 to 8 months of seasoning time before reaching a moisture level below 20%. 

Of course, that is the simple answer.  The time required for your wood to dry depends on the kind of wood, the condition of the tree, how you stack it and the time of year.  By far, the type of wood you are trying to dry has the biggest influence on how long it will take to fully season.  

Use the chart below as a guide to determine when your wood is properly seasoned and ready for the fireplace. 

Is it bad to burn wet firewood

There is a very good reason to learn how to tell if your firewood is properly seasoned.  It’s because burning wet wood is a bad idea.  Especially, in an indoor fireplace.

Compared to well seasoned wood, wet wood generates significantly less heat when burned.  Wet wood also generates more smoke and steam vapor that will condense in your chimney forming a dangerous creosote layer.  Ultimately, burning wet wood is a bad way to warm your house and increases the likelihood of a chimney fire.

While wet wood is certainly bad to use for indoor fireplaces, it is possible to burn damp wood in an outdoor fire pit.  I still don’t recommend it since you’ll end up with a lot of smoke.  

5 easy ways to tell if your firewood is properly seasoned

Deal with enough firewood in your life and eventually you’ll gain a sixth sense about it.  Everything from the species of wood to the amount of seasoning still required will be revealed to you with a quick glance. 

Unfortunately, not all are as keenly aware about the state of their firewood.  For those of us who do not have the time or inclination to become a wood whisperer, we need a more definitive guide on how to tell when our firewood is done seasoning.

Luckily, there are a few easy ways to tell when your wood is ready for the fireplace. 

1. Bark is falling off

The outer bark on a fresh cut tree stays tightly bound to the cellular structure of the wood beneath for many months.  Once your firewood drys out and the cells contract, the bonds holding the bark to the wood start failing.  At this point, the bark falls off naturally or is easily peeled away.

Keep in mind that this is only one indication.  After all, bark also falls off a fallen tree that is left lying on the ground.  That doesn’t mean the wood is dry.  Just that the cells in the wood are dead, causing the bark to detach.  Therefore, the bark test is most useful if you know that the tree was cut, split and stacked in a dry place immediately after felling.    

2. Color has faded or changed

Among the more subtle ways to test if wood is fully seasoned is by checking the color.  This, of course, is easier for those who gather their own firewood than those who buy pre-cut firewood.  Mainly because you will know what color the wood was when it was green and wet for comparison.

Either way, many species of wood undergo a color change by the end of the drying period.  Some types of firewood have more dramatic color changes than others.  Red oak, for example, develops a rich reddish brown color when dry.  When red oak is still wet, it’s color is somewhat pale.  Seasoned maple and pine, on the other hand, fade in color compared to green wood.  

Once you get familiar with the color variations of the wood you commonly burn, you’ll eventually pick up on what to look for.  By itself, color is not the best indicator of dry wood.  Cut firewood left out in the rain also fades in color too but it obviously won’t be dry.  Again, color change is just another tool in your arsenal.

3. Cracking is apparent on the cut ends

An easy way to quickly gauge whether or not your wood needs more time to dry is by checking for visible cracking on the ends.  Take a look at the cut ends of your firewood.  Well seasoned wood will show a checkered pattern of cracks where the wood grain has started to separate.  

This cracking only happens as cells in the wood dehydrate and contract, thereby pulling apart from one another.  Both green wood and rain soaked firewood do not show cracking.  Moisture in the wood causes swelling that closes these cracks.  

4. Light weight compared to green wood

Weight is a pretty fool proof technique to decide if wood is dry.  When all the other indicators signal that your wood is properly seasoned, weight is a good final test to confirm.  

Moisture accounts for a large portion of the weight of most types of wood, usually 60-80%.  Dry firewood should have a moisture content of 10-20% which means there will be a significant weight difference between similar sized wet and dry pieces.  It helps to have some green wood handy when testing your pile of seasoned wood but after awhile you learn to tell without comparing.  Try using a kitchen scale to get a better idea of the weight difference too.

5. Moisture meter

Without a doubt, a moisture meter is the best way to check if your firewood is dry and ready to use.  I like the other tests listed above to get me in the ball park but I use the moisture meter to confidently say when my firewood is truly dry.  

As I said before, wood with 10-20% moisture content burns the most efficiently and with the least amount of smoke.  The only way to measure the dampness of your wood accurately is with a moisture meter.  They are relatively inexpensive and easy to use too.  Once you have one in hand, just press the measuring pins into the wood to get the moisture reading.  

General Tools Digital Moisture Meter found on Amazon works perfectly for testing firewood.  I find it to be super accurate and reliable.  It’s also pretty cheap for the functionality you get from it.  Any serious owner of firewood should have one, so check it out.

Pro Tip:  Before testing firewood with a moisture meter, split a piece to expose a fresh internal portion of the log.  This will be the area with the highest moisture.  This is also a good idea for those of you who buy firewood.  Split a log and test it for dryness before accepting delivery.

What is the fastest way to dry firewood

It could be that you just don’t have the time to wait for your firewood to season naturally.  Maybe you cut and stacked your wood a little late this year.  Or maybe you got a couple cords of maple delivered that were greener than promised.  In either case, you have the same dilemma.  Cold weather is coming and your wood isn’t quite below the 20% moisture mark.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to speed along the process.  Plus, I will throw in a few tips to help you prepare for next year so you’ll have plenty of seasoned wood to keep you warm.

Can you dry firewood with a fan or dehumidifier

To get firewood to dry really fast you need three things: heat, low humidity and plenty of air flow.  So, it’s no wonder lots of people think a fan blowing on their firewood will speed along the process.  And they aren’t necessarily wrong.

During the summer, high heat and low humidity in most of the country means your properly stacked firewood will dry in a hurry.  Air flow is less of a factor.  However, once fall arrives, fresh cut wood is not going to dry very fast.  Lower temperatures and slightly higher humidity slows the process down.  If you increase the air flow with a fan it may give you a little bit more drying power.  Add in a dehumidifier to get an even bigger boost.

Obviously, there is a limit to how well a fan really works for drying firewood.  Some would even argue that the effects of a fan is so minuscule as to hardly be worth the trouble.  But I know enough people who have tried it to realize that the idea has some merit.  

For a small stack of wood stored in a covered wood shed, a fan will work to speed up the drying process.  Generally, the relative humidity should be 80% or lower for it to have any effect.  Your firewood should be loosely stacked for optimal air flow and placing the fan so it blows on the ends works best.

Will firewood dry in a pile

Cutting, splitting and stacking firewood isn’t easy and you aren’t the first person to leave your wood piled right where you split it.  Why not throw a tarp over it and call it good.  It will dry right?

Here’s the thing, firewood left in a pile on the ground will take much longer to dry than nicely stacked wood.  Even if you throw a tarp over it.  There just isn’t enough air flow throughout the entire pile to efficiently season the wood.  Instead of waiting 6-8 months for it to fully dry when stacked and covered, it may take 12-18 months, if at all.

Not to mention, a pile of wood on the ground means there is always some wood in contact with the ground.  That is a recipe for trouble.  Not only does the wood stay moist, it also becomes a haven for insects and fungus that will ruin a good pile of firewood.  Make sure to check out my article discussing all the best ways to prevent pests in your woodpile.

Do yourself a favor, and don’t let all that hard work of cutting and splitting go to waste.  Take the time to stack your wood in a dry location, elevate it off the ground and top it with a cover.  It will dry much faster than it would in a pile.

Does split wood dry faster

To get the fastest drying time possible for your firewood, split it into smaller logs.  Full rounds cut from the tree will hold moisture for a long time.  You need to expose as much surface area of the wood as possible to speed up the seasoning process.    

Should I cover my firewood 

You need to keep your firewood out of the elements in order to get the fastest drying time possible.  Wood that constantly gets rained on is never going to be dry enough to burn when you need it.

All of your firewood needs to be covered with a waterproof cover.  Keep in mind that you only need to cover the top and partway down the sides of your firewood stack.  Just enough to keep rain from soaking all the wood.  Do not completely cover wood that is still green or you will trap in moisture, which actually extends the drying time.  There always needs to be sufficient air flow through your firewood stack to ensure every piece seasons all the way.

Best time of year to cut and dry firewood

The best way to make sure you have well seasoned firewood for the winter is to give yourself plenty of time to let it dry in the first place.  

While anytime is a good time to cut firewood, the absolute best time is winter through early spring.  This gives your wood a chance to season during several months of summer heat.  Sunshine and wind are the best way to expedite the drying process of firewood.  By late, fall most types of wood are adequately dry for efficient burning.

Parting words

Don’t under estimate the importance of burning dry wood.  You’ll get a warmer, more efficient fire while producing less smoke and creosote build up.  Hopefully, you are now armed with the knowledge and tools you need to be an expert at differentiating properly seasoned wood from wood that needs a couple more months to dry.  

In the end, my biggest piece of advice is to get a moisture meter.  It will save you a lot of time and trouble when wood dryness is questionable.