Let’s be honest: when the outdoor temperature is 95 degrees in the shade, most folks are not in the mood to have a warm, cozy fire inside their home. So, it makes sense if gathering firewood is the last thing on your mind during the month of August. But if you haven’t yet started stockpiling wood for the upcoming winter, you should probably hop to it as soon as possible!


In order to burn at optimum efficiency, most kinds of wood need to age (read: dry out) for about six months to a year. Using fresh wood that is still moisture-packed typically results in a fire that fizzles out quickly, doesn’t produce much heat, and belches out a lot of smoke. Wood gathered during August probably won’t be completely “ripe” by December, but it’ll still be better to use than a batch of wood that’s only been sitting out for a few days.

But how does one “care for” firewood, anyway?

You can’t just leave logs randomly strewn about all over your lawn—not only will that (probably) get you in trouble with your local Homeowners’ Association, but it won’t help the wood dry correctly, either. Aging firewood isn’t particularly difficult or complicated, but it must be done properly to see good results. Here are some tips for doing so:

Know Your Wood

First things first: back in February, we discussed the different kinds of wood that people typically use in their fireplaces, as well as the pros and cons of each. Not all wood burns equally bright or hot, and not all of them emit the same kind of odor. It’s important to know the differences before you obtain (or purchase) one type or another. In short:

  • Wood from fruit or nut trees usually creates fragrant fires.
  • Wood from “softwood” trees creates fires that crackle and pop, as well as smaller flames and less intense heat.
  • Wood from “hardwood” trees creates fires that emit a substantial amount of heat and last a long time.

Hardwoods generally take significantly longer to dry than softwoods—around 24 months instead of 6 to 12 months. If you’re a fan of hardwood fires, then you’ll need to start prepping very far in advance! Any type of wood will usually work when the chips are down, but if you have certain expectations for the fire you’d like to create (e.g., you want for it to heat your whole house, or you want for it to make noise and create ambience, etc.), then choose your wood accordingly.

Pick a Good (and Convenient) Location

You’ll need to decide from the get-go whether you want to store your firewood indoors or outdoors. Firewood that’s kept indoors will have an easier time drying out and will be better protected from the elements. You don’t have to worry about a rain shower or snow storm wrecking five months of drying efforts in about five minutes! However, not everyone has enough space in their basement, garage, or backyard shed to store large amounts of wood, and you also run the risk of bringing termites or other pest insects into your home. Storing wood outside, on the other hand, typically eliminates the issue of limited space and pest infestations, but the wood is at the mercy of whatever nature decides to throw at it—even if you go the extra mile and cover the pile with a tarp of some kind. There’s no real “right” or “wrong” decision, here; you’ll just have to pick the one that’s best for you and your home.

One more thing to consider: firewood tends to be heavy and cumbersome, and you’ll probably find yourself having to carry large amounts of it by hand from your pile to your fireplace (or stove). That one spot at the very edge of your property line may seem “perfect” for your wood pile, but are you really going to want to have to dash there and back multiple times when it’s 28 degrees and/or snowing outside? You don’t have to store your wood directly adjacent to your fireplace, but you should probably try to at least limit the distance between Point A to Point B!

Keep it Off the Ground

When wood is stored outside, it’s especially important for the stack to be elevated by at least a few inches. Otherwise, you run the risk of the bottom layer absorbing moisture from the soil, which can lead to the wood rotting (and possibly harming the layers above it). Treated 4×4 boards are inexpensive and work beautifully for this task! If you have no choice but to put the stacks on the ground, at least try to put them on gravel or some other area with good drainage.

Let it Breathe

Whether you decide to use a tarp or a specially designed firewood cover, you don’t want for the wood to be sealed air-tight. Air flow is absolutely necessary for the wood to dry properly, even if you’re planning to store it indoors! Tarps should be draped only over the top of the stack, leaving the sides and ends mostly free. And if you’re using a commercial firewood cover, make sure that it has mesh panels or open areas so the air isn’t blocked out completely—some of these products are only designed to keep dry wood dry, not to allow “fresh” wood to become dry!

Stack with Care

Different firewood aficionados swear by different stacking techniques, so how you choose to do it (and whether or not you want to invest in a wood rack/cradle or just create end “pillars” with perpendicularly stacked logs) is up to you. Regardless, please keep in mind that your firewood pieces probably won’t all be exactly the same size, which means that your stacks may not be totally level or even. Thus, it would be unwise to stack the wood haphazardly or with no regard to size.

If at all possible, put larger logs at the bottom, and rotate the individual pieces as needed while you’re stacking so that they fit together better. And remember that the taller you stack your piles, the less stable the resulting “tower” will be. Consider making two five-foot stacks instead of one 10-foot stack, and always take from the top instead of the bottom or middle!


For some people, stacking and aging wood is a very satisfying (perhaps even fun) aspect of having a wood-burning fireplace or stove. Other folks see it as a chore to be undertaken out of necessity, or an inconvenience to be avoided completely by buying pre-prepared cords of wood when needed. Hey, no judgements—it’s your fireplace, after all! But if you’re planning to prepare your own wood this year, please try to do so safely and correctly. At the end of the day, properly maintained firewood can be the difference between a beautiful, brilliant fire and a disappointing, smoky mess!


Photos courtesy of Anna Lauk and Hanneke Perik on FreeImages