Firewood is a lot like money—you can never have enough. Curating your own cache of firewood comes with plenty of considerations, starting with the basics: split wood where the tree is cut so you’re not spending energy carting heavy, freshly cut rounds.
Splitting wood is serious work. Experts agree a wood-chopping block, about 18″ tall and 20″ in diameter, is a must, to keep rounds in place, as are safety boots and glasses. Two old tires, fastened to the top of the block, will corral wood as it’s struck, and you won’t have to pick up pieces after every swing. (A bungee cord wrapped around the log can do a similar job.) When taking aim, keep your eyes on the intended point of impact to help steer the axe, severing off a 6″ chunk.
After the chopping comes the drying. John Keays, the owner-operator of BMC Forestry in Woodlawn, Ont., one of the largest suppliers of dry firewood in Eastern Ontario, says the number one problem cottagers face is “trying to burn wood that is not dry.” Dry times vary among tree species—ash dries in as little as one season, oak can take more than two—but all hardwood should have a moisture content of no more than 20 per cent before it gets burned, he says. (You can read moisture levels with a store-bought meter.) “If you’re cutting your own wood, and you’ve got a limited time to dry, then make sure you’re cutting something that gives you the best opportunity to get the wood down to 20 per cent. It’s gotta be dry.”
Which means it’s gotta be stacked. Wood dries quickest in rows with the ends facing the wind and sun, in a stack four to six inches off the ground and about four feet high, says George LeBlanc, a WETT-certified master technician in Moncton. Never leave freshly split wood in a pyramid pile with a tarp over it, a configuration that prevents drying and creates mould. Once it’s seasoned, keep your firewood out of the elements—the reason for investing in all this hard work in the first place.