Safe Wood Stove Use: Why And How To Season Your Wood

24 June 2015
 Categories: Construction & Contractors, Articles

If you are concerned about the environment and the amount of money spent on a monthly basis to heat your home, then it may be in your best interest to invest in a wood burning stove. Wood is a natural and renewable resource, and about 10 million Americans use wood for heat during the cold winter months. Wood can even be burned cleanly as long as you invest in a newer stove model, and these products also allow you to enjoy more efficiency with a 70% rating. Even with the benefits of using a wood stove, many people are still weary of adding one to the home. This is often due to safety concerns. A wood stove can be quite safe as long as you are burning cured wood. Keep reading to find out why this is and how you can season your wood properly.

Wet Wood and Creosote

One of the greatest benefits to installing a wood stove in your home is the fact that you have the option of cutting trees on your own property to use for fuel. However, you cannot burn the wood right away due to the amount of water that lies within it. If you do, it will not alight and it will smolder instead. The smoldering will continue until the water has fully evaporated from the wood. In some cases, you can see the water pooling on top or sides as loud sizzling noises are heard. A great deal of energy is expelled to release this water. Not only does this greatly reduce the efficiency of your heating source, but it increases the risk of a chimney fire.

Creosote Formations

Chimney fires occur when a carbon-based substance called creosote builds on the inside of the chimney or stove pipe attached to your wood stove. Creosote forms when the gasses released by the wood compress together as they move through the chimney. This creates a black and sticky material. Creosote will form in a chimney no matter what, but much more will deposit if you burn unseasoned wood.

This happens, because the smoke released is cooler than it normally would be. The smoke cools down even more as it rises and it is much more likely to solidify on the inside of the stove pipe. You can stop creosote from forming as rapidly by making sure released smoke is hot, and burning dry and seasoned wood is the only way to ensure this.

Seasoning Your Wood

Seasoned wood is dry wood that has been allowed to sit for at least four to six months. Most wood contains around 20% water by mass, and a large portion of this water releases as it sits in a dry area. To make sure that water evaporates relatively quickly, you need to split the wood. This increases the surface area, and pieces that are about 12 to 14 inches long and three to five inches wide are a good size. When pieces like this are split, stack them on one another along an open area of your property to expose them to as much air as possible. A tarp over the top of the stack may be needed to keep rainwater from seeping into the dry wood. 

Checking the Wood

After the wood has sat for several months, pick up a piece to see if it feels significantly lighter than a recently split piece. Water is relatively heavy compared to the cells or tissues that make up the wood, and a seasoned piece will generally weigh about two-thirds the weight of a green piece.

Also, the wood may start to form cracks or opening along the ends as the tissues become dry. You can check for seasoning as well by dropping the piece of wood on a hard surface and listening to the sound it makes. Wet wood produces a dull sound, because water prevents sound waves from moving through the wood tissues. Seasoned wood creates a high-pitched resonant sound with more of an echo.