Five Things to Look for in Milwaukee Firewood for Sale

Jeff SerafinTree Care Products

Firewood for Sale from M&M Tree Care in Milwaukee, WI

Five Things to Look for in Milwaukee Firewood for Sale

If you are going to buy firewood, you want to look for these 5 things:  you want the firewood to be dry, “healthy,” hard, local, and in the right quantity.  So, what do we mean by that?  Well we are glad you asked…

Dry or “Seasoned” Firewood

You already know that fires don’t burn so well when there is a lot of water.  When a tree is first cut, there is a lot of moisture caught in the fibers of the tree.  While you can burn a freshly cut or “green” stick of wood, some of the fire’s energy goes into drying the wood.  That means a green piece of wood won’t burn as hot, the flames will be pretty small, and there will be a lot more smoke.  It doesn’t matter if you are burning wood in your fireplace or in a wood stove, you are not getting what you want out of green wood.

Most wood takes 6 months to 1 year or a season (thus the name “seasoned” firewood) to dry out thoroughly.  Some woods take a lot less time (like ash) while some woods take more time (like oak).  Wood should have less than 20% moisture when you burn it and ideally 15% or less.

Properly seasoned wood is not just a concern about efficiency or flame, having dry wood is also a matter of safety.  When you burn green wood, it does not burn hot enough to burn the creosote and tars out of the wood.  With a cool burning fire, the creosote and tar can begin building up in your chimney and eventually lead to a chimney fire.

How can you tell if the wood is seasoned?

Scratch-and-Sniff.  Split a small piece off and take a sniff.  If it smells fresh and sappy, you have a green stick of wood there.

Look for Cracks. There should be small cracks forming between the center and the outside edge when you look at the end of the wood.

Look for loose bark.  Often the bark will easily peel right off of seasoned wood.  If you have wood delivered and a lot of pieces are missing bark, that is a good sign.

Look for faded color.  As wood seasons, the color darkens from a light cream color to a deeper yellow or gray.

Feel the weight.  When wood is green, the water in the wood makes the wood a lot heavier.  As the wood dries, it stays about the same size, but the water weight is now gone.

Bang two pieces together.  Dry wood will have more of a hallow sound when they are banged together.

Burn baby burn!  The ultimate test is how well the wood burns.  Shave off a small slice about the size of kindling.  If it lights easily and burns “clean,” you have a dry piece of wood.  If the piece does not want to light, if it smokes more than lights, and especially if it makes a hissing sound while burning, the wood is still green.

“Healthy” Firewood

You definitely want “healthy” firewood.  That is not a technical term, so what we mean is, you don’t want your firewood to be rotting, full of bugs, or both.  The bugs are not a big deal if you burn your wood outside like in an outside wood furnace, but if you bring the wood inside, you likely don’t want any passengers on board your wood.  Rotting wood is worse as it both retains moisture and smells pretty skunky when burning the wood.

Remember Hardwoods are for Burning

It is not that you can’t burn softwoods, it is just that they don’t burn very hot and often are the varieties with the greatest amount of sap and tar.  Hardwoods burn slowly, have less smoke, and burn at higher temperatures which make them ideal for watching a fire in your fireplace or for heating your home.  In general, it does not matter which hardwood you choose as long as it is properly seasoned.  You are sure to enjoy a great fire regardless if it is oak, maple, ash, or any other variety.

We Recommend Local Hardwoods

Choosing to buy firewood sourced locally is more of an ethos than about the fire you get.  After all, seasoned oak from Canada will burn about the same as seasoned oak from Milwaukee.  In general, the more local the source, the less transportation will be part of the cost of the wood.  If your firewood only moved 20 miles from its stump to your house, it is only common sense that it cost less to transport than wood from 100s of miles away.

We encourage local firewood because it helps ensure there is no spread of disease to different regions.  Who knows what can be hiding in what looks to be a healthy tree?  If the tree is cut and burned in an area, the risk of spreading something that will harm trees is eliminated.

We also would like to think that you would prefer to keep your neighbor employed over someone 100’s of miles away.  If you are in the Milwaukee area and you burn wood sourced in the Milwaukee area, you are helping someone in the Milwaukee area put food on their table.  That is part of the idea when people think “buy local,” right?

The Right Quantity of Firewood

You obviously want to ensure when you order a face cord of wood, you get a full face-cord.  Around by us most people sell a face cord of wood as a 4’ X 8’ stack of 18” split lumber.  In some places, they sell what is known as a “loose thrown cord” where they basically throw lumber loosely in a box to give what is considered an equivalent to a stacked cord.  A loose thrown cord 16” long takes up 180 cu. ft. of space and 24” long pieces take up 195 cu. ft.

Beyond the cord, you need to ensure have enough wood to get through the winter BEFORE winter starts.  How much do you need for home heating?  That depends on a lot of factors like the efficiency of your stove or wood furnace, how big your house is, how well insulated your house is, the temperature you like to keep your house at, and the weather.

A lot of people in our area report 4-5 cords will heat their 1700-2000 sq. ft. home during an average winter.  Since seasoned wood might be hard to find at the end of winter, you should plan on keeping an extra 20% on hand beyond what you use in an average winter (in other words, if you normally use 5 cords, make sure you start the winter with 6 cords).

If this is your first year and you have no idea of how much wood you will need, remember that seasoned wood properly stored does not go bad.  If you order too much wood, you will have that much more wood ready for the next year.