Mastering the Flames: A Guide to Safe and Sustainable Burning

Mastering the Flames: A Guide to Safe and Sustainable Burning

Successful and responsible fires to you! 


Using firewood for heat and cooking goes back almost to the beginning of humanity.

As basic as fire is, there are a few pointers that can make your fireside experience much more enjoyable!

Assuming you are burning firewood in a fireplace or wood stove, here are a few tips:

  1. Make sure your fireplace, or stove, is in good condition and clean. It goes without saying, but safety first!  Check the brand and model (if available) and read the instructions and cautions.
  2. Burn seasoned firewood, preferably hardwood. More on this later.
  3. NEVER burn magazines or any printed paper or boxes in a fireplace.
  4. Do NOT spray insecticides or chemicals on firewood.
  5. NEVER use any kind of accelerants, gasoline, lighter fluid indoors. Even outside, never add these to any fire. 

 Sure, most of the above is common sense (the exception being identifying seasoned wood).

First, let’s look at how firewood dries and what dry firewood really is. Firewood may be dry on the outside, but horribly full of moisture inside the pores of the wood itself. This moisture is a real problem. 

We call this firewood “green” or closer to the state when it was growing and full of moisture. Burning “green” firewood causes a whole list of problems and should ALWAYS be avoided. 

Here are the reasons to avoid using green firewood:

  1. Modern stoves will not perform with high moisture of “green” firewood.
  2. Fires are MUCH harder to start! Don’t spend your night trying to light the fire!!!
  3. Since the fire must evaporate the moisture out of the firewood, you will have a lot of extra smoke to contend with. This smoke not only makes you a bad neighbor, but there is also no reason to add unnecessary particulates (smoke) to the environment.  A fire with seasoned wood will emit almost no smoke once it is started.  Be a good neighbor!
  4. Excess smoke will build up in your fireplace and in your flue. Flue fires are not cool……


There are two types of firewood that you can safely buy; a description of each below:

  1. Kiln dried is the best way if it is properly done. Kiln drying is a process of heating the firewood with airflow moving through it to establish a deep evaporation of the moisture inside the firewood. A good Kiln dry would include a moisture test to ensure that the center of the firewood is 20% or less.
  2. Seasoned” (here we go… trying to define “seasoned” is like trying to nail down the wind.) Let’s start with what we know the desired outcome of seasoning is, which is an internal moisture content of no more than 20%.  Simply, get a moisture meter, split a piece of firewood in half and measure the moisture.

If you don’t have a meter laying around, there are a few general ways to tell if your firewood really is seasoned:

  1. Elements. Seasoned firewood has been exposed to the elements and will be gray and more aged looking. Also, the ends of the firewood should have some cracks or small splits that occur naturally as the wood loses its moisture and shrinks.
  2. Size! The larger the logs, the longer it takes to season. Split logs season much faster than whole logs. A tree can be cut down for a year, but just recently cut and split and still have high moisture content.
  3. Smell (don’t laugh). Seasoned firewood should have almost no noticeable smell. Smell comes from evaporating moisture. If there is moisture, it’s not dry! (Stating the obvious here; if it’s wet, it’s not dry).
  4. Weight. We can’t give you ounces of weight per cubic inch or meter, but pick up a chunk, does it feel weighty like steel, or light like a baseball bat. The extra weight is moisture!
  5. Sound. Grab a couple of pieces and smack them together, what does it sound like? A sharp smack again like a baseball bat, means it’s drier.  If they sound more like a thud, most likely it needs more time to cure.

I will add a shameless plug; The Woodhaven standard cover is designed to promote natural curing. It keeps the top dry and allows for airflow through the firewood.  Full covers can be used during the burning season of Kiln or well-seasoned firewood.  We also sell moisture meters if you are interested!


We hope this helps you in your burning season and that we all can be good neighbors!


Don Alexander 

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