Cutting winter firewood is not easy.
In fact, it's actually the hardest and least effective time of year to cut firewood due to weather conditions and the inability to season the wood before use.
However, anyone who heats with wood has probably run out of firewood at one time or another.
It seems like no matter how much you prepare and how much extra firewood you think you have, sometimes you just run out.
A good rule of thumb when cutting firewood is to cut the amount of wood you estimate you will need for the entire year.
Then, cut about 30 percent more wood to allow for unexpected weather conditions and other surprises.
So what can you do when you run out of firewood in January or February when there's still snow on the ground?
Here are a few dangers and suggestions for finding winter firewood.
There are two main factors that make cutting winter firewood difficult…..snow and the lack of drying time to season the wood before use.
Felling a tree is dangerous enough in perfect weather conditions.
With snow on the ground, it reduces your traction and hinders your movement.
It's tough to move out of the way of a falling tree in knee-deep snow.
Plus, once the tree is on the ground, it's now buried in the snow, which makes cutting it up even harder.
Another big disadvantage of cutting winter firewood is the inability to season the wood before using it.
You can't just go out and cut down a live tree, split it up and expect it to burn.
The first year using our outdoor wood furnace, we ran out of firewood in February.
Not knowing any better, I spent all day (and a lot of energy) cutting up a maple tree and dragging the wood out on a sled in a desperate attempt to keep our fire going.
Since the tree was alive, the wet wood did not burn even in the outdoor wood furnace.
I learned a valuable lesson that first year.
Never run out of dry firewood!
This basically limits you to cutting only dead standing trees in the winter if you want to burn the wood immediately…….which is probably the case if you're out cutting firewood in sub zero temperatures.
Most people ponder this question, given the challenge of keeping enough firewood to last throughout the winter.
With the concern of smoke, sparks, and creosote from burning wet wood, burning dry wood is very important.
It is possible to dry winter firewood by following the guide below, although it will be slower in winter than in other seasons.
This is because the sunlight, a key ingredient for wood drying, is insufficient during the winter, although some moisture content is extracted from the wood by the dry winter wind.
One key advantage to cutting firewood in the winter is the lack of sap and moisture inside the tree during the winter months.
In the winter, most of the sap and starches inside the tree are below ground, making the wood have a lower overall moisture content when compared to firewood cut in the spring.
In the spring the sap and moisture is flowing through the tree and the initial moisture content inside the wood is much higher than in the winter.
The best moisture content to burn firewood at is 20% and below.
Dry firewood can be determined using color.
Freshly cut wood is usually brown or bright green.
As it dries, the color changes to dull gray.
However, in the case of a lot of direct sunlight, the color changes to white or light yellow.
The bark, for dry firewood, easily separates when dry.
In fact, a lot of times the bark on dry firewood just falls right off as you handle it.
You can use a knife to inspect the cambium layer between the bark and the wood, which appears green if the wood is still wet.
Sound can also help determine if firewood is dry enough for the winter.
Dry firewood sounds hollow, making a crisp noise when two pieces are banged together, while wet firewood makes a thud that is dull and damp.
Exposure to sunlight, regardless of the season, is critical in firewood drying.
Target the southern wind and place your firewood where it receives the maximum exposure if possible.
To start the firewood stacking platform, you can use logs, cinder blocks, or pallets as your building materials.
The goal is to elevate the bottom row of firewood off the ground to reduce the chances of the wood soaking up ground moisture while still allowing the wind to reach all sides of the wood.
Once stacking is completed, the wood should be covered to prevent snow or rain damage.
Only the top of the stack should be covered for the best results leaving the bottom and side open for airflow.
Rapid drying will occur without the wood soaking up rain and snow from above.
To protect your wood, you can use metal sheeting or a tarp, even though an open-sided shed provides the best protection.
This will depend on the type of wood.
However, firewood may take a minimum of six months to dry and other varieties two years.
As mentioned before though, trees that are felled during the winter have significantly less moisture inside the wood when compared to trees cut in the spring.
However, without the warm sun and summer winds, it's much harder to remove the moisture from the wood after it's been cut, split and stacked.
If not properly stored, firewood can go bad.
Firewood should be stored in a protected and dry place like a woodshed.
Covering stacks of wood is an effective way of preventing the wood from going bad.
Moisture is the main culprit for causing your firewood to go bad.
Wet or moist firewood will often rot or grow mold, making it unsafe to burn.
If your firewood is kept dry, it will last for many years.
Cutting winter firewood can be done, it's just a lot harder.
To make things easier, take the time to cut a little extra firewood this year when the weather conditions better, preferably in the spring.
The cool spring temperatures are great for cutting wood, and the hot summer months are perfect for seasoning it.
If you do run out of firewood, sometimes it's easier to just pay the money and buy enough seasoned wood to get you through the rest of the year, or at least until the snow melts off.