Fundamentals in firewood

Drying firewood is important because burning seasoned wood is the key to a good fire. Dry wood produces the most heat, starts easily and is better for your chimney. When firewood is not seasoned properly many problems may arise.

First and foremost, fires will be hard to light and keep lit. Do you really have time to fiddle with the wood stove all day? That’s an aggravation most people don’t need.

Secondly, wood only begins to burn after the moisture is gone. Wet wood gives off less heat because a lot of the energy from the fire is spent removing the excess moisture from the wood. Don’t waste energy drying firewood while it’s burning in your wood stove or fireplace.

Last but not least, creosote will build up much faster in your chimney when you burn wet wood. This will put you at much greater risk for a chimney fire. This is a potentially dangerous situation that should be avoided.

Cut your wood early

It’s best to cut your firewood trees at least a year in advance. If you are trying to burn wood 4 months after cutting it, you’re being a little unrealistic. A good rule of thumb is to always be a year ahead. If you can’t be a full year ahead, you should at least cut your trees in the spring or early summer to give them a good 6-8 months to season.

It’s pretty simple to learn how to cut firewood. You just need to have the right equipment and the knowledge. We’ll start off with the basic steps that will take you from a tree in the woods to wood in your stove.

Identifying the right trees

Whether you own a woodlot or just have some trees on your property, you probably have some firewood trees. But how do you determine which trees to cut down? It’s important that you choose a species that will suit your wood burning needs.

If you are only looking to have the occasional campfire outdoors, just about any species will do. But if you are using wood to heat your home, you will only want to use the best firewood species that will burn long and hot. So time to learn some basic tree identification skills if you’re going to learn how to cut firewood on your own property.

Tree ID is not always an exact science and it can be tricky at times. Luckily you’ll only need to learn a handful of species for the purpose of cutting firewood. Some trees have leaves and others have needles. Generally speaking, deciduous trees (the ones that shed their foliage) have leaves. Most trees with needles keep their foliage year-round. Trees with needles are typically referred to as Evergreens. Most of the best firewood species are deciduous.

Felling your trees

The most difficult part of learning how to cut firewood is dropping or felling trees. It is NOT something you should initially try without the supervision of a professional. It is extremely dangerous and should not be attempted without proper safety gear and basic knowledge of felling techniques.

In firewood cutting, you should be familiar with how to use a chainsaw. A chainsaw, like many pieces of equipment should be respected but not feared. Chainsaw safety is paramount when cutting firewood. Without the proper knowledge, a chainsaw can be a very dangerous implement.

The most important thing is that you protect yourself with the proper gear. Chainsaw chaps, helmet and eye protection are the three items you should always wear while cutting wood. It is also a good idea to wear chainsaw safety boots or at least steel-toe boots when cutting.

5 Keep it Simple Rules to Staying Safe

Avoid Kickback

Kickback is what happens when the top part of the bar tip is used when cutting. When this happens, the saw flies back towards you. You can’t stop it by being a tough guy and muscling it away from you. Truth be told, it happens too quickly to be able to react at all.

The secret to avoid this from happening it to never use the top half of the saw tip. If you are a total beginner, it may be a good idea to not use the tip of the saw at all.

Luckily, saws made today all come with a chain break feature. The chain break is the lever at the top of the saw that stops the chain from moving. When the saw kicks back, the chain break is engaged from coming in contact with your arm. Make sure your chain break is functional. If you are using an older saw, it may not have a chain break.  Be extra careful if you are using a saw without one!

Maintain Good Footing

Pretty obvious, huh? Well, a lot of chainsaw safety revolves around using common sense. Is is really a good idea to be using a saw with razor sharp teeth when you can’t even keep your balance? Of course not!

Being off balance is a recipe for disaster. If you have to cut on steep or slippery ground, take your time and cut deliberately.

Don’t be a Cowboy

A chainsaw is not meant to be swung around like some kind of a lasso. Smashing your saw into wood isn’t going to make it cut any faster. Use the saw properly and let the machine do the work for you. Chainsaw safety is about using the saw properly, not looking cool in front of your friends and neighbors.

Have your chainsaw working properly

When a chainsaw isn’t properly adjusted, a dangerous situation can happen in an instant. For example, I’ve used chainsaws before that simply wouldn’t idle. They would stall out unless you continued to rev the engine. If you have a saw with a similar problem, get it fixed before trying to use it. It simply isn’t worth the risk of running around with a chainsaw like that.

Another important factor is to have a properly sharpened chain. A chain has cutting teeth and rakers. When the rakers are set too low, the saw becomes very aggresive. This can cause kickback and generally unsafe conditions. If you don’t know how to properly sharpen your saw, take it to a professional and have extra chains around to swap when one becomes dull.

Mind your surrounding

Pay attention to what you are cutting. Especially when bucking up firewood that is already on the ground. Is there anything behind it? Rocks, another log, another person? Be mindful of these things and you’ll be on your way to safe and productive experience.

Making the cut

Tree logging is easy if you know what you’re doing. Otherwise cutting down trees is one of the most dangerous tasks on the planet.

Evaluate the lean of the tree

Gravity will always rear its ugly head when you are tree logging. If you are inexperienced, only pick trees that have no lean or a lean in the direction that you want the tree to fall. Plan an escape route while scoping out the lean of the tree. Your escape route should be at a 45 degree angle from the hinge going away from where the tree is falling. You need to get to safety in a hurry if something goes wrong.

Cut your notch

Cutting your notch is important because it will determine the direction that the tree will fall. A notch is the wedge you cut in the front of the tree. You can cut it several different ways, but we won’t get into too much detail here. I’m just trying to give you the basics. The most important thing is that you cut it facing the direction that you want to tree to fall. It should be about 1/3 of the diameter of the tree. Make sure that you don’t cut past the notch, there should be no wood that is cut past where you removed the notch.

Please note, cutting trees less than 15 cm in diameter generally doesn’t require using a notch. A simple back cut will suffice.

Making your Back Cut

The back cut comes from the opposite side of the tree and will create the hinge which will control the tree as it falls down. The back cut should be at the same height as your notch, give or take an inch in either direction. Preferably, if you are inexperienced at cutting trees, putting your back cut an inch or two above your notch isn’t a bad idea. This will help prevent the tree from kicking back towards you as it falls. Whatever you do, don’t cut all the way through to your notch! The hinge is where you get your control and it is created by stopping your back cut before you get to your notch. Generally speaking, you want to leave at least 10% of the diameter of the tree as your hinge. But honestly, it will vary with the health and species of the tree. The best advice is to make your back cut and slowly test whether the tree is ready to fall over. You can always cut more wood, you can’t undo what has already been cut.


Once the tree has started falling, stay out of the way! Trees have a tendency to spring up at you when cutting on uneven ground. They can also get hung up on other trees and swing sideways. Until you have learned how a tree will react, it’s best to follow your escape route once the tree starts falling. Also, once the tree starts falling-STOP cutting the hinge. Remember, it is what controls the tree as it falls.

Splitting Firewood

There are several different options to help you get the job done. You can use an axe/maul (the old fashioned way), or use a wood splitter to get the job done much faster and easier (but without the satisfaction of doing it by hand). Either way when learning how to cut firewood, it’s important to split the wood properly. Unless it’s small wood, splitting is necessary for wood to burn properly in a normal wood stove or fireplace. It’s easy to become frustrated while splitting firewood by hand. First of all- it’s hard work! But if you’re doing it incorrectly or with the wrong tools, it can be near impossible.

The most important factor is whether you are using the right tool for the job. Splitting wood with a thin axe may not be the best way to go about your business. Why? Because the more cheeky or thick axe is the better for splitting. This is why a maul is often times used to split wood. If you are not familiar with a maul, it is a heavy axe that is shaped almost like a wedge.

Sometimes using a thin axe will work. For example, if you are splitting ash or pine(which splits easily), you will be more efficient with a thin axe. Because the thinner axe is also lighter, you will be able to split longer without becoming fatigued.

Choosing the right spot to split the wood will help you too. Knots make it difficult because they hold the wood together. If possible try to split around knots, you’ll save yourself time and aggravation.

The size of the wood is also a factor. A large diameter log is going to take greater effort to split open.

Stacking up the chops

Firewood stacking is an important part of the storage process. Proper stacking allows the wood to dry quicker and easier. This will ensure that your wood is ready to burn in a timely manner.

Common Problems

The most common problem that people seem to run into when stacking firewood is having unstable piles. Seriously, do you really want to stack the wood more than once?  Instability and stacking your firewood too high usually leads to problems.

2 Simple and Effective Methods

The easiest and most simple method to stack firewood properly is to arrange the end pieces in a criss-cross pattern. Similar to building a log cabin, each row is perpendicular to the row beneath it. It is, however, important that you find similarly sized pieces to ensure stability. Once you have done this to the end of the stacks, you can fill in the middle of the stack with the normal method of stacking.

This method is nice because it doesn’t require additional materials and it is quick and easy to do. As long as you do it properly!

The second methods is to drive a couple of posts into the ground at the ends of the pile. This will allow the wood to rest against the posts and remain stable. Just make sure that the posts are secure in the ground. Also, you may want to put additional supporting posts in front or behind the pile to add side support to the stack.

Don’t Forget!

The most important reason for stacking firewood is to speed up the drying process. For that reason, it’s best to arrange your stacks one length of firewood deep. Stacking 3 or 4 rows deep will lessen the effects of the wind and sun drying the firewood. Use a little common sense and remember that the more sun and air circulation your wood gets, the quicker it will season.

Remember, you never want to stack firewood directly on the ground. This will cause the wood on the bottom of the pile to decompose and stay wet. You can use dimensional lumber, pallets or even posts to do the job.

More information on firewood can be found here – It’s really you

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