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Lets talk wood

Post in 'The Wood Shed' started by Frostbit, Aug 17, 2009.

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  1. Frostbit

    Frostbit Feeling the Heat

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    I have a question or two about wood. Wood cut to burn. In my case, black spruce. One question is "seasoned" wood. I understand seasoning of wood is the process of getting the cellular bound water out of it. Specifically, I cut standing dead trees, so, if the tree is dead (no sign of green needles), does it need to be "seasoned"? My contention is its basically ready to burn. "Wet" wood, such as what I have already split and put away that may get rained on, I get that it needs to be dry.

    Next question, I also cut and bring home driftwood, again black spruce, that has been brought to my Bering Sea beach shores by ocean storms. I would suspect it is mostly green, river bank trees uprooted by the mighty Yukon during spring break-up. It flows out to the sea, where currents carry it to me. Naturally, when I find these nice spruce trees, they are devoid of all bark (mostly), and any limbs. They are also "wet", having been soaked first in fresh river water, then ocean salt water. The difficulty for me is determining if and when they were live, green, trees. Some wood after split dries rapidly, falls below the 15% on the moisture meter, shows no sign of sap, .....so is it ready to go in the stove? Other pieces stay exceptionally heavy for a long time. These, imo, were live, green healthy trees lost to the river.

    I have searched and read several threads here on "seasoned" and "dry" wood, and it appears some, like I, get the two either confused or associated together.


    I expect to hear from the "don't ever burn salt water driftwood" crowd, etc, but bear in mind this is what I have to work with. I want to use the trees I cut myself, but my "woodlot" is 80 miles from where the stove is, and another 12 miles roundtrip via ATV just to bring out one load. Let that all soak in while pondering the fact that home heating fuel is $5 a gallon, and sans a wood stove, Dec/Jan/Feb/March are all 150 gallons per month usage times.

    I'll be pleased to read what others have to say. Thanks in advance.

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  2. Slow1

    Slow1 Minister of Fire

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    My understanding is that it really is fairly simple - if you cut a fresh split, check the mc in the middle of that fresh split and get at or below 20% then you are good to go (obviously if the outside is covered with 2" of snow and ice you ought to dry it off first). Time since the tree died and whether it was vertical or horizontal for any given length of time doesn't really matter in the end. All those details are good ways of trying to guess if the wood will be at that magic 20% number or not, but if you have the moisture meter and use it, then you can know.

    Only other bit I've picked up here that may apply to your situation is that standing dead (and likely your driftwood) may have radically different MC levels from one end to the other so you should probably check more than once on each tree.
  3. zzr7ky

    zzr7ky Minister of Fire

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    Hi -

    In my experiance up the Yukon and Tanana rivers, you'll get pretty good at guessing pretty quick. Sorting wood as it is stacked into stuff that's ready now and stuff that needs to season.

    I stack so the Now wood is on one spot one year and the 'season more' wood is next to it. The next season it's reversed. Stakcing so the wind can get though helped.

    All the best,
    Mike
  4. Todd

    Todd Minister of Fire

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    I agree with Slow1, a moisture meter is a great tool for this. Also if you have the room try and get 2 years ahead and you won't have to worry if your wood is dry enough.

    If I had to burn saltwater drift wood I think I would wash the rounds off with fresh water before splitting since most of the salt will be on the outside anyways. It may prolong the life of your stove some.
  5. Backwoods Savage

    Backwoods Savage Minister of Fire

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    Frostbit, I hear your pain with the wood gathering. It certainly must be a challenge.

    You might want to post this in the Wood Shed part of hearth.com or maybe the mods will move it there.

    On seasoned vs. dry. It is the same thing. On standing dead wood, almost all standing dead wood we cut it does still need to be seasoned. This is not to be confused with a pile of wood that has been cut, split and stacked and then gets rained on.

    Here in Michigan, we do not worry at all about our wood getting rained on; that is, wood that has been cut to length, split and stacked. The only time we worry about rain or wet wood is if a tree is down and laying on the ground. Then it will go bad quite fast. If that wood can be off the ground, then it won't rot like it would in contact with Mother Earth. That is why, if we are to fell a tree but not cut it up right away, we try to fell it in a way to keep the wood off the ground. Naturally, you can't keep the whole tree in the air but you can lay some old logs (that you don't want for firewood) crossways and fell the tree right onto those logs, keeping them off the ground.

    Also, after we stack the wood (in spring) we do not cover the stacks but leave them open to allow for maximum evaporation of the moisture that is in the wood. In late fall or early winter we then cover the top of the wood pile; never the sides or ends. That wood can then sit there for years without rotting or going punky. (At present we have a 7-8 year supply on hand.)

    Now lest I disappoint you, I would advise against burning driftwood. The salt will wreck havoc with metal.
  6. wendell

    wendell Minister of Fire

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    As was said, standing dead in no way means the whole tree is ready. The outer branches may be close but the trunk most likely will not be (an of course, this depends on the type of tree). I processed an elm last month that had been standing dead for several years and the trunk was still at 37%.

    It sounds like the effort to get good wood may warrant using the driftwood while knowing that you will need to replace your stove and chimney not too far down the road. If you don't have an expensive stove, it may still be much cheaper than collecting your own or running your furnace.
  7. quads

    quads Minister of Fire

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    My definition of seasoning: Drawing the moisture out of the inside of the piece of wood.
    My definition of drying: Also keeping the moisture off the outside of the wood.

    I don't concern myself with the moisture on the outside of the wood. The rule of thumb that I use: It doesn't matter if it's green, standing dead, laying dead, or whatever, cut it, split it, stack it, and forget about it for at least two years. Three years is better. If it's all different "seasoned" or "dryness" now, in three years it will all be evened out and ready to burn. Many times I have cut down trees that have been dead standing for years and had a lot of moisture inside, so you can't always depend on that anyway.

    As for burning wood that has been soaking in saltwater, I can't really help you with that. I'm a long ways from any saltwater. But, if it's all you have, then it's all you have! What choice do you have but to burn it? Even if it does mean you have to replace your stove sooner than otherwise.
  8. madrone

    madrone Minister of Fire

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    I've been surprised at the amount of moisture inside an uncut/unsplit round that was dead a long time. Softwoods are easier to burn a little wet. If you go straight from standing dead to stove, just make sure you check/clean that chimney.

    My understanding of the concern about saltwater in the wood is corrosion of the stove and chimney. I have no idea how fast that would occur. I wouldn't be surprised if it happened in a few years burning driftwood, but maybe it would be 10 years. But I don't have any experience or particular knowledge, other than my metal working. Saltwater is great for rusting steel in a hurry. I guess you'd have to balance the possible cost of repairing or replacing the stove or chimney against the savings by burning driftwood. Not sure how you calculate that.
  9. d.n.f.

    d.n.f. New Member

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    Not sure what the argument is but I thought you were not supposed to burn salt water wood. My previous stove had some warning in the manual about not burning it. Something about it releasing salt or something and rusting out your stove??

    Might just be an old wive's tale but who knows?

    Get a moisture meter. I have split some heavily cracked wood that I would bet money that it was dry and still got high readings.
  10. Frostbit

    Frostbit Feeling the Heat

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    I am very aware of the stove manufacturers warning of not burning driftwood. Jotul spells it out in my manual, like all the others do. I'll inspect more often and act accordingly. This is not new to me, or anyone else from these parts. Most stove users burn driftwood, which is many's only option given where we live. Fuel oil is $5 a gallon. What else can one do?

    I have a moisture meter.
  11. Skier76

    Skier76 Minister of Fire

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    I'd love to see some pics of your woodlot. Sounds like you're out in an amazing part of the country.
  12. burntime

    burntime New Member

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    The saltwater will corode the heck out of the chimney in short time. Pay the oil man, it will be cheaper in the long run. I asked hampton (my insert) and they told me you can ruin a chimney and stove in 1 season. Hardly worth it. Good luck...
  13. Vic99

    Vic99 Minister of Fire

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    I took a 24 inch standing dead white pine 2 weeks ago. The pine has been dead at least 2 years. Sometimes when I hit the rounds with the maul, water sprayed the area.

    Moisture meter is a great tool. Good luck.
  14. Frostbit

    Frostbit Feeling the Heat

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    No stove manufacturer, Hampton included, is going to recommend salt water driftwood consumption. However, folks here have been burning said wood for eons. No one I know has had that rapid of a deterioration of a stove or chimney. I know of several installs 15-20 years old, all still original.

    At $5 per gallon for heating fuel, my stove and stack will have paid for itself in two seasons.
  15. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    There is no such thing as seasoned wood. Wood is either wet or it is dry. If you get a reading from the outside and inside of the splits in the 20% or so range it is dry wood as far as burning in an EPA certified stove is concerned. 15% is golden.
  16. quads

    quads Minister of Fire

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    It takes as many as 8 "seasons" give or take to get the "wet" out of the inside of a piece of firewood. Hence the term "seasoned".
  17. JotulOwner

    JotulOwner Feeling the Heat

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    Regarding burning (saltwater) driftwood, I read the following from the internet. You can decide.... :

    The reason not to burn driftwood is that when organics such as wood are burned in the presence of chlorides, dioxin is created in the flue gas. Dioxin is referred to as a persistent, bioaccumulating toxin, meaning it doesn't decompose, and it builds up in the tissues of the organisms that ingest it. Specifically it can concentrate in mother's milk. It has been associated with various cancers.

    Chemically, salt is sodium chloride, so salt-water driftwood is a big source of dioxin when burned. Other sources include the burning of plastics like PVC — poly vinyl chloride. There have been major efforts to ban the burning of salt impregnated wood along the coast of British Columbia. The forest industry would float logs down the coast to the big sawmills, then they would burn the resulting scrap in teepee burners. The dioxin emissions were spectacular. The risk of dioxin emissions when plastics are burned is one big reason why disposing of trash in burn barrels is also strongly discouraged. The dioxin story goes to show that some things about wood heating are not intuitive at all.

    — John Gulland, Mother Earth News contributing editor and co-host of www.woodheat.org
  18. Frostbit

    Frostbit Feeling the Heat

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    You 'da man, Bart. THAT, is what I was fishing for.
  19. firefighterjake

    firefighterjake Minister of Fire

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    Re: Standing dead wood. I've always maintained there is dead wood . . . and then there is dead dead wood.

    As Bart mentioned the real fact of the matter is that the new stoves burn best with 20% or less moisture. How you get to that point doesn't matter . . . you may have a standing dead tree that is dead dead as I had several last year which were pretty much ready to go after cutting them down and splitting (a bunch of dead elm that had been dead for years). Conversely, you may have a standing dead tree that still has a high level of moisture in it to burn efficiently (as I have had this year in cutting down some more dead elm which were not as dead as last year's dead dead elm.) And even with live trees there are mitigating factors in terms of time . . . the species and its innate water content, how small you cut and split the wood, how you stack the wood, where you stack the wood, etc. . . . all factors that determine when the wood is really ready to go into the stove.

    For many folks, it's easier to simply figure that you should have your wood cut and split for a year or better to achieve the 20% figure . . . but again this isn't a hard and fast rule. Truly, a moisture meter is really the most effective way of finding if your wood is at that optimum number . . . but for me, I'm just cheap and lazy so I just plan on having the wood cut and split a year ahead of time.

    I'm also like Backwoods . . . I don't get too worked up about passing showers, rain or even snow . . . although I did cover my stack last year and will be putting most of my wood into a shed this year just because it's easier to not have to push aside the snow-covered tarp or knock snow and ice off the wood.
  20. mn_jon

    mn_jon Member

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    The ammount of time spent in the saltwater should have an impact also. As would the type of wood. And if it is exposed to rain & snow, wouldn't some or much of the salt get washed off ? I guess I have more questions than answers. Would like to see just how much salt is in the wood, and how deep it gets into the wood. It really sounds like a CYA statement from the stove mfg. I would let it sit exposed to rain for awhile then split it and stack it. What choice do you have really? It's awful that fuel oil is so expensive in a place with an abundance of oil. I know you're in a remote area , but 5$ a gallon ? I'd burn just about anything first.



    good luck



    Jon
  21. Ratman

    Ratman Feeling the Heat

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    Answer to Question 1 (seasoned wood)
    BrotherBart nailed it again - no such thing
    There are too many confusing definitions associated to "seasoned wood".
    My take on it is to save the $ on a MM and woodknock by taking two pieces from the same batch and knocking them together. If you hear a hollow sound the wood is ready to burn (seasoned = please forgive me) and can be brought inside.

    Answer to Question 2 (ocean driftwood)
    Based on your current state concerning distance and availability you have answered your own question.
    Common sense is telling you there is an exception to the stove manufacturer's "wood not to burn rule" and if it works for your environment then it works, period.

    I am impressed with your work ethic Frosbite.
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