What Size Should You Split Firewood? | A Quick Guide to Optimal Stacks


Axe with logs in background

We all know that splitting firewood is necessary to make the logs small enough to handle. But is there an ideal size to cut them to? Are there consequences from having logs that are too thick, long, or left whole on your fire’s efficiency and performance?

Firewood should be split is 3-6 inches wide and 16 inches long, which is optimal for household fires and stoves. Thinner firewood will burn too quickly while thicker logs take too longe to season (dry out). Outdoor fires have fewer log size restrictions and any size firewood can be burned.

There is a lot more to having optimal firewood stacks than just size. If you want to know more about getting the most out of your splits, please read on.

Optimizing Your Firewood Splits

Splitting your firewood to the correct size has several advantages over using whole logs. In fact, this preprocessing is almost essential for indoor firewood.

There are several manual methods for splitting firewood too, and choosing the right way and tools can save time and energy.

Additionally, it is essential to know what type of wood your splitting, how long the drying process takes, and how to tell if your wood is dry. Fully seasoning your firewood can be vital to your health as unseasoned wood produces carcinogens.

How to Split Firewood to the Correct Size

There are two main methods for manually splitting firewood; using a maul or using wedges.

1. Splitting Firewood with a Maul

A maul is a specific type of ax, that is thicker, heavier, and wedge-shaped. Axes themselves are used to chop wood, not split it, though if that’s all you have, it can be used.

You need to chop, or saw longer pieces of wood to around 16-inches long. Do make your cuts flat so the wood can balance the logs for splitting. You need a chopping block, e.g., a tree trunk that ~6 feet tall. This height is optimal to avoid back strain.

Place your chopped log on the block and inspect the grain. If cracks are present, you want to split your log along them as these weaker areas will fracture easier. Control the maul with small, precise swings. You should never need to bring the maul above your head. Allow the weight of the maul to produce the required force instead of speed.

An alternative method is to use wedges with a sledgehammer instead of a maul.

2. Splitting Firewood with Wedges

Wedges are mostly used for difficult to split logs including those that have knots or large diameter. Start by tapping the wedge into the center of the grain before hammering the wedge into the log. If a single wedge doesn’t split your wood, add another, but closer to the edge.

What Is the Optimal Size to Split Firewood?

Split firewood that is 3-6 inches wide and 16 inches long is typically optimal for indoor use in stoves or fireplaces. A maximum width of 6-8 inches is tolerable for this purpose.

Outdoor fires have far fewer log size restrictions imposed and technically any size of firewood can be burned. Even so, I recommend always splitting your wood in the same range regardless of what the intended use it. You never know when you may decide to repurpose it for another use.

What If I Split My Wood Too Thin or Thick?

  • Since thinner firewood will burn too fast, it’s best to repurpose splits that are too thin as kindling.
  • Thicker logs take longer to season (dry out), therefore, aren’t recommended either.

Is It Better to Split Wet or Dry Firewood?

Even though the primary reason for splitting wood is to hasten the drying process, it is actually easier to cut through dry wood. This is because the moisture in wet (green) wood creates resistance that makes the process far more taxing. However, most people slit their wood directly post-harvest to reduce drying time to produce safe firewood quicker.

How Do I Dry My Split Firewood Rapidly?

If you need firewood quickly, you can assist in the final stages of wood drying by bringing your wood indoors a few days before use. Spread the logs as much as possible to assist in airflow, i.e., don’t stack the wood. Turn the logs frequently too. It’s best to put them near a heat source/existing fire to assist in evaporating the moisture before use.

What’s the Best Way to Stack Split Wood for Seasoning?

The main consideration in stacking firewood is to increase airflow and keep the stack dry. Build your stack on dry ground, and stack the wood by alternating the layers of bark up and bark down. This should create an uneven, but stable pile, with plenty of gaps for the air to circulate.

Don’t make the stack too deep, about 6 feet wide is recommended so the center of the stack can dry too. As most wood is split in the spring and left to season until the fall when it is needed, try and expose the stack to sunlight when you can. Cover the stack with a tarp when it rains.

The Importance of Seasoning Your Firewood After Splitting

Before burning wood after splitting, the wood needs to dry out completely before it should be used to build a fire. This is especially important for indoor use.

Burning wet firewood produces smoke during combustion, releasing more carcinogens, pollutants, and particulates into the atmosphere. It is essential if you are burning unseasoned wood to have a functioning fireplace to prevent you from inhaling these contaminants.

What is a concern, is the build-up of creosote inside of your chimney as it’s is the main cause of chimney fires.

Creosote is an all-encompassing term for carbonaceous chemicals produced by the burning of plant-based materials, like wood. When you burn wet wood, you increase creosote. Although chimney cleaning is essential maintenance, you must be more prudent about doing so if you frequently practice the burning of wet firewood.

The inefficiency of an unseasoned firewood fire is what makes it so dangerous. The inefficiency is derived from significant energy used to burn the water in the wood into steam. It’s this reduced heating power that causes the incomplete combustion and additional production of creosote.

How to Know If Your Firewood Is Properly Seasoned?

There are a few clues that can help you determine if your firewood is fully seasoned:

  1. Inspect the ends – Dry wood has cracks on the end (known as checks in the industry) from the wood shrinking during the drying process. Wood shrinks about twice as much along the growth rings as it does across them. This uneven shrinking is what produces the cracks. You should also notice that the bark is missing or is easily removed, this is a clear indication that the wood is seasoned.
  2. Check the color – Color is a good indicator of the wood drying process. You’ll find that your wood is no longer white, cream, or light brown as it was when freshly cut. Now, it will appear gray, yellow, or a deeper brown. You can also see if the color of the wood is even. If the center of your wood is a noticeably different shade, then the center has yet to dry.
  3. Bang two logs together – If you hear a hollow sound instead of a thud, you know the wood pores are filled with air rather than water. As you do this, also appreciate the weight of the logs. If your logs feel light, then significant water content has evaporated.
  4. Use your nose – Seasoned wood will not smell like wood any longer; its the moisture that creates the distinctive scent.If you aren’t confident in your manual inspections, you can purchase a moisture meter. They operate by measuring the electrical impedance; the higher the impedance, the drier the wood, as water conducts electricity. Their low cost has drawbacks though, as they are best for thinner pieces of wood, and may not reliably measure the moisture content in the center of your 6-inch split log.

What If All My Logs Are Wet?

If you have wet logs and must have a fire, start with your driest wood and place your other logs near the fire to dry as much as possible before use.

Once the fire is roaring, use your wet log. This will give your fire more energy and reduce creosote formation.

Why Even Bother Splitting Firewood?

There are 3 main advantages to splitting your firewood instead of using whole logs:

1. Splitting makes it portable

Most logs are far too big and heavy for people to carry manually, and you want your firewood to be portable.

Commercially, wood is sold by the cord, which is 4 feet x 8 feet x 4 feet, or 128 cubic feet and can weigh several tonnes depending on the hardness of the wood. Also, it’s worth noting that pre-split firewood is sold in a green state, shortly after it has been cut down.

This means the wood has a high moisture content of 100% (100% means that half of the total weight of the wood is water). This increases the wood mass significantly, bringing the weight of a cord of wood in the region of 4,000-5,000 pounds.

2. Split wood seasons faster

For wood to be considered dry, the moisture content should be around 20% (commercial firewood is ~8%) which can take up to two years if the logs are left whole.

Splitting the wood can reduce this seasoning or drying time by half by breaking the insulating bark and exposing the internal grain. This is because of the increase in surface to air ratio which allows moisture to evaporate through the wood pores more easily. The smaller the pieces, the faster the wood will dry and be suitable for burning.

Seasoning time is highly dependent on the species of wood used. A softer wood like pine or fur can dry in six months if split, whereas split harder woods like oak require at least a year to dry.

3. Split logs burn better

Splitting wood isn’t just beneficial to drying, but also the eventual burning of your firewood. The bark of many species is fire retardant, especially in the most common hardwoods. Therefore, while it will still ignite, whole logs require more heat to start and maintain a fire.

Through exposing more of the internal wood, your fire will require less energy to burn. Most bark falls off or is easier to remove from dried split wood.

Bottom Line

There’s nothing like keeping your house or cabin warm in the winter using firewood that you chopped yourself. Not only is the smell of the fire addictive, but it’s also just plain satisfying to have the fruits of your labor put to good use.

As long as you stick to the correct sizing range for your splits and allow ample time for drying, you and your loved ones can safely enjoy the warmth with peace of mind.

Related Questions

Is it ok to stack firewood next to a house? You should not stack firewood up against or too close to a house. The logs might contain harmful bugs like termites. Also, in the event of a wildfire, having seasoned (dry) wood up against your house could be dangerous.

How far away from a house should you stack firewood? Firewood should be stacked at least five feet from any structure. Ideally, you would want them to be stored as far away as possible, within reason. Just remember to not store it too far away or else you might regret having to carry it far.

Jim James

Jim James spent most of his childhood outdoors fishing on lakes in his area. Due to his scouting background, he has always been interested in survival, camping, and the outdoors in general. Jim is a best-selling author and has a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. He lives with his family in Charlotte, NC.

Recent Content