Ants and punky wood - now what?

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Aug 31, 2020
Southern New England
I live in southern New England. I heat 1250 sq ft almost exclusively with my Osburn 2000 insert. I have a small yard in a residential area and I don’t love keeping firewood stacked in my yard year round, but I’ve learned that I need to get wood in the spring (or sooner) because when you buy “seasoned” firewood it is almost never actually seasoned.

I found a dealer who I think has been fair and honest with me for 2 years. He brings me “mostly oak” for $250/cord. But I just took 2.5 cords from him and upon stacking it I wonder if I’ve been Punk’d. He told me this wood came from “standing dead” trees that were decimated by gypsy moths. At least a third of the haul appears rotten on the outside edge…some splits have a 2 inch depth of this punky, wet-ish, saw-dusty schmutz. It was messy, dusty, and gross to stack. I also found large and nasty black & red ants running around in the pile. I found at least 2 splits with a vile congregation of them…a nest, I presume. I doused them with insecticide and tied them up in a trash bag.

1. Can you tell by looking at the photos how the wood looks? Am I going to get less heat from these punky splits? (e.g. are these 2.5 cords going to give off less heat than 2.5 cords of non-punky splits?)

2. The ants are GROSS. But do I need to worry about them? Will stragglers aside from the throngs I found in those 2 splits infest my other stacks (I have some non-punky splits from another dealer)? Would those in-ground Terro ant baits do any good? Do I need to worry about the ants getting into my house? (the stacks are far from my house…across the yard…but only 10 feet from my detached garage, which was built predominantly from concrete block).

3. Will sitting outside all summer (I tarp the top) help with the punk and/or the ant problem? Or will those issues just get worse?


Ants and punky wood - now what?Ants and punky wood - now what?Ants and punky wood - now what?Ants and punky wood - now what?Ants and punky wood - now what?Ants and punky wood - now what?Ants and punky wood - now what?Ants and punky wood - now what?
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IMHO, it does not look that bad and mostly oak which is great wood, but its going to get worse if you keep it tightly covered like it appears you are doing. Once dry it will be dustier and dirtier than wood from fresh green trees. Punky wood acts a bit like a sponge, but once it dries out it stays dry unless it wetted. In your case, moisture from the wood and the ground will get under the tarps and rise through the stacks and then hit the silver tarp on top and eventually condense and then rain back down in the pile. That will keep the punk and rot going, You need to have a ventilated air gap between the top of the pile and the waterproof cover. If you want the wood to be hidden that can be challenge. If you want to cover the sides with tarps to hide the wood that can work but it slows down drying of green wood as breezes move moisture out of the stack.

BTW, if its green wood freshly cut and split it needs to sit a two year minimum unless you adopt solar kiln techniques. That second year makes a big difference.

Ants generally live in wet wood, dry it out and they will find a new home. They do tend to congregate in rotten trees in winter and will spill out when split but once split and stacked they will be gone. As noted if you keep the wood covered with tarps without ventilation your ant issue may not go away as you are supplying them damp wood. I tend to split my wood in the driveway away from the house and let it sit in the sun for a few hours before stacking it. If there are lot of ants they will try to congregate under big splits. If someone has chickens they love to eat ants and will clean up any they see.

Ants dont eat wood but they love to nest in damp wood, if you have wet wood in your house due to defects or poor carpentry they will find it even if it is in the trim boards on the roof. The new ants are not going to make anything worse than the ants that were around to begin with. I do use a Bayer baiting system in the spring. I squirt it into cavities out of the rain around the house and if there any ants looking for a home they grab the bait and bring it back to the nest and then it poisons the nest. It important to note that if the damp wood remains new ants will follow chemical trails to the dead nest an recolonize it so you need to deal with the wet wood.

FWIW here is my approach that could be modified to add some boards about 6" below the roofing and then a vertical tarp could be hung off it making sure to keep a space between the wood and the tarp. The roofing is an old sign made out of something likeAZEK. That minor slope on top sheds rain and in the winter snow on top of it will slowly slide off the back after a warm day or two. I use scrap wood but you could make it pretty.
top cover.JPG
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I burn stuff like that all the time, no problem...keep it dry (top covered/open sided) and you'll be is a little messier than totally solid wood though. IMO that's still not a bad price for a cord of oak.
That looks like actual season oak, unlike most suppliers who advertise "seasoned" when it really isn't. I burn that stuff all the time, knock off some of the punk on the outside and you're golden. I try to remove the bark from my red oak stacks after a year or so of drying loosen it up, that minimizes the chance of the outer 1/2-1" under the bark rotting and getting punky. I would bet the moisture content on your stuff is 14-16%, ideal. I'm in the camp of burners who don't cover their stacks, I feel that the added wind and sun dries it as fast as covered wood dries, only takes a short time after a rain to dry the top layer or two and the rain or snow doesn't have nearly the time to soak in. Working for me going on 35 years burning.
Thanks, everyone, for the feedback. I’m glad it seems I didn’t get conned. I took a cord (of “mixed hardwood”…I see some maple and birch in there, along with some oak) from another dealer a few weeks prior, and assumed I’d burn that first. But I think come fall I’ll burn the punky oak first. It definitely looks and seems dry (except the rotten sections). I’ve been waiting for the rain to stop and give it a couple days before getting a reading on the moisture meter.

I stack on 2x4s across concrete blocks. I space the rows 4-6” apart, so both ends of the splits are getting SOME air. I tarp over-top, but when we get a stretch of dry days in summer, I pull the tarps for extra seasoning. My detached garage is just begging for a woodshed off the side, but alas, I don’t have the funds for that. And I calc it may only hold 2-2.5 cords. I burn about 4.5, so tarps are still in my future, unfortunately. I’m somewhat handy but I don’t do big projects or serious power tools (a light duty reciprocating saw is the scariest thing I’ll use 🤣), and I don’t think I could build any kind of “roofing” on my own. Oh, I also don’t do ants. So I’ve placed some bait stations after quarantining (for trash day) the splits that seem to have nests.

Thanks again!