No matter which way you cut it, fresh wood just doesn't burn right.
Fresh cut wood has a high moisture content, which makes it hard to get burning. It also gives off more smoke.
Worse yet, unseasoned wood is a major contributor to creosote buildup in chimneys, which leads to chimney fires.
To keep your chimney cleaner and your home smelling less like a campfire, you must learn to properly age your firewood.
Aging, or seasoning, your firewood makes it lighter to carry, cleaner burning, easier to ignite, and safer for your chimney.
Choosing a Good Wood
While you may not always have the luxury of choosing what wood to use, there are some options that provide better results.
For example, oak is a very good choice for wood burning furnaces, because it's dense and it burns hot. But you should season oak for at least a year before using it.
If you're choosing from trees on a wooded lot, cut down the trees that are crowding other trees from growing. Thinning out a crowded area will allow more sun and nutrients for the remaining trees.
Never use wood from a dead or diseased tree as it'll burn poorly. Consider odd, crooked-growing trees that may cause problems. Removing them may benefit the surrounding trees, and the wood may be just fine for burning.
Sizing, Cutting, & Splitting
When you cut firewood for aging, you want the pieces to be uniform in size. If there's too much variation, it won't stack well.
Cutting a fallen tree into logs is referred to as bucking. When bucking a tree, it's standard to cut 16-inch sections.
If you have a 16-inch bar on your chainsaw, you can use it to roughly measure. Otherwise, for a more consistent cut, consider a good measuring tool such as the Mingo Log Marker.
After you finish bucking the tree, you need to split the chunks into manageable sizes. Typically people split logs into quarters. This can be done with an ax, but most people nowadays use log splitters.
For even less work and more productivity, look into investing in a 4-way wedge to split quarters at a time.
How to Stack Your Wood
There are also a few ways to stack wood. You can stack it along a fence line, you can stack it in an open barn or shed, you can use a log rack, or you can build your own Holz Hausen.
So while some people simply stack the wood up along a fence line, it's not the best way to age it. The pieces placed on the ground will get wet, and the ends against the fence wont dry well, resulting in improperly seasoned wood that burns unevenly.
With a log rack, you can keep your firewood off the ground, and both ends of the wood will be exposed to air and allowed to dry properly.
With a barn or shed, be sure it's open enough to allow plenty of air circulation for drying the firewood. Don't place the firewood directly against an inner wall, and consider keeping it raised off the ground with a pallet or a log rack.
Another nifty way to season your wood without a rack or a shed is to build a holz hausen.
Whatever method you choose to use, turn the bark-sides down as you stack, then turn the bark-sides up on the top row. Doing this will allow moisture to escape the firewood throughout most of the cord, while the bark covering the top row will shield the rest of the cord from rain and snow.