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Make the Most of Your Fire Pit with Real Firewood

Lucy Mercer
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Gathering around the glow of a fire pit in the evening fosters coziness and comfort. There are many ways to achieve the heat and warmth of a fire, from gas to charcoal to electric, but nothing satisfies the primal love of flame quite like a real wood fire.

If you have in mind that you would like to keep firewood on hand to burn in your fire pit (or fireplace), know the No. 1 rule: Make sure you have dry, seasoned wood.

Use only seasoned wood

Unseasoned, or green wood, will smolder when you try to burn it. Experienced fire builders will tell you that planning ahead makes for a winter’s worth of warmth from your fire pit and fireplace.

Some folks buy their firewood more than a year in advance to properly season the wood. Oak, one of the very best woods for fires, takes two to three years to dry.

The best time to cut wood is in the spring. Stack it and shelter it and let summer’s heat dry it out.

If you’re not cutting your own firewood, order early from a local fire wood dealer. Waiting until late summer lessens your chances of getting seasoned wood, and even if you’re able to get it, you will pay a premium price for it.

Well-seasoned wood will be cracked on the ends, free of sap, and feel light for its size.

Knock two pieces of firewood together — well-seasoned wood makes a high-pitched sound; green wood makes a dense thud.

Choose the right kind of wood for your fire

Hardwoods like oak, beech and birch burn longer and cleaner. Softwoods like pine, fir, cedar and spruce burn quickly.

You’ll need more of the lesser quality wood to keep the fire going and will probably deal with more creosote residue in the chimney and firebox.

For a comparison of various woods, check out this list of firewood BTU ratings.

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Buying Firewood

Purchasing firewood can be a guessing game in part due to terminology. The commercial standard for firewood is a cord, which is 128 cubic feet of stacked wood, 4 feet high by 4 feet deep by 8 feet wide.

For home use, you can buy a “face cord,” which is about a third of a cord. Firewood for home use is cut to a standard 16 inches; a face cord will yield about 240 pieces of firewood, enough to burn one or two fires a week throughout the winter.

The Home Depot sells firewood in bundles and by the pallet. Stop by your local store for more information.

Remember that if you buy too much firewood, as long as you keep it covered, it will be dry for next winter. If you run out, it’s a starting point for calculating the next year’s requirements.

Cutting firewood

Start with a downed tree. Cut the logs flat and square for easy splitting. These are called “rounds.”

Use a splitting maul or splitting axe and a chopping block. If you’re splitting a lot of wood, look into purchasing or renting a log splitter from The Home Depot Tool Rental Center.

Set up in an outdoor area with plenty of room to swing an axe. Place the chopping block on a flat surface, low to the ground and no higher than your knee. A splitting wedge helps break down larger rounds. As always, wear gloves and protective eyewear.

Remember that shorter logs are easier to split, and purchased firewood is usually cut to 16 inches in length.

Look for cracks in the wood and swing the axe to strike the cracks. Be careful of wood with knots; the grain changes direction, making splitting more difficult.

Storing Firewood

Firewood should be stored in a sheltered area like a covered porch or woodshed. Deck boxes and firewood racks make ideal storage systems for firewood, too.

Choose a firewood rack with an open design that provides ventilation for seasoning your firewood. It will keep wood off the ground and free from moisture and insects, making it more efficient and ready to burn.

Keep a few days’ supply of firewood by the fire pit or fireplace in a smaller, more decorative log rack.

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