How to Select, Split, Stack and Store Firewood



For wood-burning fireplace and stove owners, splitting and stacking wood is an important skill to know. Whether it’s your first time stacking a woodpile or you just want a refresher course on proper splitting technique, we've got a number of helpful tips on the best way to stock winter wood.

Are You Cutting Wood From a Fallen Tree?
If you’re starting your wood pile right from the source – a fallen tree – there are a few things to keep in mind when doing the initial cutting. First, the timing: cut your firewood at least six months ahead of when you plan on burning it. The ideal time to cut firewood is in the late winter and early spring months. This allows for the maximum drying time. 

Next, cut the ends of the logs as flat and square as possible so that they can stand sturdily for splitting. For this, we recommend the STIHL Pro Splitting Axe or STIHL Pro Splitting Maul. If the wood has branches, cut toward the opposite direction they are pointing. Remember, the shorter the log, the easier it will split. Look for hairline cracks on the log and direct the swing of your axe to strike these cracks. This will reduce the splitting effort. Try to avoid cutting through knots – knots and branches change the direction of the wood grain in the log and make splitting more difficult. Try to align the strike of the axe so it does not split through the knot.

Wood Burning Safety
Burning firewood creates many byproducts, including smoke, water vapor, various gases, hydrocarbons and tar. Over time, these materials can accumulate in your fireplace and increase your risk of danger, including chimney fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. Always keep your fireplace chimney well ventilated and have it cleaned. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Fire Protection Association, and the American Lung Association recommend annual maintenance and inspection of your home’s heating systems, fireplaces included.

Wood Selecting

Purchasing Firewood

Buying firewood is a convenient option for those who enjoy wood fires but don’t have the time or means to cut and season their own. Buying the right wood in the right amount, however, does require some research. Wood vendors sell all year, but tend to charge more during the colder months due to higher demand. Plan ahead and buy in the late spring and summer months. Ask if the wood is “ready to burn” and has been properly seasoned. Fresh wood requires at least 6 months of seasoning time before it is dry enough for optimal burning.

Wood Amounts

Firewood is typically sold by the cord. A cord of firewood, when stacked, will measure around 128 cubic feet (8’ long x 4’ high x 4’ deep). This includes wood, bark and the space between wood pieces. Depending on the type of wood and how it is stacked, the actual cubic feet of wood found in a cord can vary significantly. If that is more wood than you need, you can buy a “face cord” or “rick” of wood instead. A face cord is approximately a third of a cord, measuring 8’ long x 4’ high and is as deep as the individual logs.

Wood Types

Get more burn for your buck by selecting the right kind of wood for your fire. Softwoods, such as pine, fir, spruce and redwood will burn quickly and you might find yourself filling the wood rack more often. Hard woods such as oak, eucalyptus, beech and birch will burn longer and “cleaner,” leaving less creosote residue behind. NOTE: Trees with gnarled, knotted grains, such as hickory and elm are more difficult to split.

Wood Splitting

Prep Work

Before splitting logs into firewood, make sure to have adequate space for the task. Choose an open outdoor area away from people where there is plenty of room to swing an axe. Set up the chopping block on a flat surface to allow for good footing. The block itself should be low to the ground and not come up any higher than your knee.

Measuring

Now it’s time to measure the logs and cut them to the desired length for splitting. These lengths of wood are referred to as “rounds”. If possible, try to split rounds when it's cold out for the cleanest cut. A splitting axe like the STIHL Woodcutter Splitting Maul can handle many of your standard splitting tasks. For larger logs, the STIHL Pro Splitting Axe and STIHL Pro Splitting Maul can provide extra power and feature protective steel sleeves on the handles to help prevent breakage.

Swing Technique

When you’re ready to chop, keep both hands firmly on the handle of the axe. Place a round on the chopping block so that it stands firmly and is located as far away from you as possible. That way, if you miss the round, you are more likely to hit the chopping block. Remember to keep both arms straight when swinging the axe and pay attention to your distance from the wood. Also pay attention to the position of the handle as the axe enters the wood round – it should be horizontal. If your hands are above or below the axe handle, reposition yourself and try again.

Chopping Tips

Aim the axe for the center of the wood round and try to split along the grain. If you are trying to split larger chunks of wood, you may find that the wood does not split completely and the axe stops midway through the wood. If able, lift the log with the axe handle and turn the axe over. Then, swing the reverse side of the axe (called the bit) into the chopping block. The weight of the round will often finish the split.

Wedges

For larger rounds, STIHL recommends using a STIHL Splitting Wedge, paired with either a STIHL Pro Splitting Maul or STIHL Woodcutter Splitting Maul. These mauls feature heavier bits and a flat side for driving in wedges. Wedges and mauls are great tools when dealing with large, dense or gnarled wood.

NOTE: As always, wear protective work wear and eyewear to help protect against flying debris.

Wood Stacking

Groundwork

With splitting complete, it’s time to stack. But what’s the best way to stack all those wood pieces? There are a few options. Depending on the amount of wood, a pre-built wood rack might be a quick and easy option. If you choose a pre-built rack, purchase one that is sturdy and will keep your wood pieces elevated off the ground. Regardless of what type of woodpile is built, be sure that the ground is level and dry. If stacking wood outdoors, choose an area that has proper drainage so that water does not pool around the woodpile. Also choose an area that keeps the woodpile out of direct rainfall, such as under an overhang. If the wood must be stored out in the open, place a tarp over the top of the pile.

Stacking Technique

Try to stack your wood loosely enough that air can blow through. And remember, wood pieces will shrink and shift as they dry throughout the year, so make sure that all pieces are well-secured within the pile and can allow for some minor shifting. To help prevent rotting, try placing a base of treated two-by-fours under your pile to elevate it off the ground. This will prevent moisture from being absorbed into the base and wood stack. Shipping pallets, while great base structures, are made from untreated wood and will typically rot after a few years.

Wood Pile Structures

There are several established types of firewood structures you can choose. Ultimately, your storage space will determine which structure works best for you. Regardless of what structure type you choose, ensure your stacking technique allows for proper airflow and is stable enough to allow for significant settling – wood pieces shrink as they dry.

The most basic structure is the “simple stack”, which consists of rows of wood pieces with a vertical stop at one or both ends of the stack. This stop can be either a 2x4 board, or even a column of wood pieces arranged in perpendicular rows.

Another popular structure is the “round stack”. This approach consists of vertical rows of wood in a circular configuration, meaning one end of the wood pieces all meet in the center of the circle in a starburst pattern. This type of stack is more compact, but the reduced airflow can add to overall drying time.

Wood Storing

Storing Tips

However the wood is stacked, expect the wood to dry for at least six months before it is ready for the fireplace. Freshly cut wood can have up to 100% moisture, which means around half of its weight is water. The ideal moisture content for firewood is around 20%. How do you know if the lumber is ready? Seasoned wood will turn gray, but color is not the only indicator. Look for hairline cracks along the edges. Seasoned wood will also weigh less and make a higher-pitched sound when knocked together. Unseasoned wood will make a low “thud” when banged together. If at all possible, keep the lumber pile sheltered from precipitation, while still exposed to airflow and sunlight. Tree bark is a natural moisture barrier, so arrange the lumber to maximize evaporation. If a lot of rain is expected, arrange the wood pieces bark side up. If there is a lot of ground moisture from snow or standing water, arrange wood pieces bark side down.

Firewood 101: Get tips and techniques

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