Drying, also known as curing, is essential to creating high-quality oak firewood. Like all types of firewood, oak contains lots of moisture when initially cut and harvested. It may still burn, but it won’t burn efficiently, resulting in less heat and more smoke. By curing oak firewood, however, moisture is removed so that it burns better. So, how long does it take oak firewood to cure?
Moisture Content Green vs Cured Oak Firewood
The primary purpose of curing oak firewood is to lower its moisture content. Curing doesn’t remove all the moisture but, rather, lowers its moisture content to a level that’s more appropriate for burning. Too much moisture in oak hinders the combustion process, causing excess smoke to be produced. When you burn wet wood — whether oak, hickory, cherry or any other variety — you’ll probably notice a significant amount of smoke in the air. Therefore, it’s recommended that you burn cured oak firewood in your fireplace, fire pit or stove.
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Freshly harvested oak firewood, also known as green wood, has a moisture content of about 75% to 80%, according to The University of Tennessee. In comparison, cured oak firewood has an average of moisture content of about 15% to 20%. Expressed as a percentage, moisture content refers to the weight of moisture in wood relative to its dry weight. Green oak firewood with 80% moisture content means that moisture accounts for 80% of its dry weight. With curing, the moisture content of oak firewood can be lowered to 15% — sometimes even lower. It’s an important process that turns otherwise moist wood into dry firewood that’s ready to burn.
Oak Firewood Takes Longer to Cure Than Softwoods
Because it’s a hardwood, oak firewood takes longer to cure than softwoods. As we discussed in a previous blog post, hardwoods are generally denser and heavier than softwoods. The dense nature of hardwoods like oak means it takes longer for moisture to escape their pores. This shouldn’t prevent you from using oak firewood, however. Oak, like most hardwoods, offers a superior level of warmth and longevity. A hardwood-burning fire will produce more heat and for a longer length of time than a softwood-burning fire.
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Curing Oak Firewood By Air Drying Takes About 6 to 24 Months
When using the air-drying method, you can expect oak firewood to take about six to 24 months to fully cure. If your oak firewood is still green and has a high moisture content of about 70% to 80%, allowing it to air dry for six months to two years should result in a moisture content of 20% or lower. Of course, there’s a big difference between six months and two years. You can speed up the process, however, in several ways.
Splitting Oak Firewood Makes It Cure Faster
Attempting to cure full oak logs isn’t recommended. Because of their large size and minimal exposed surface area, full logs take longer to cure than split firewood. If you’re going to cure oak firewood yourself, always split it first. The easiest way to split firewood is to use a hydraulic wood splitter. If you don’t have access to a wood splitter, you can split the logs using an ax instead. Regardless of which method you use, splitting oak firewood will make it cure faster.
Stacking Oak Firewood Properly Makes It Cure Faster
In addition to splitting it, you can also make oak firewood cure faster by stacking it properly. When stacking firewood for the purpose of curing, you should arrange it so that it consists of alternating horizontal and vertical rows. This method allows air to pass more freely through the wood, thereby drying it faster. If your oak firewood is placed side by side in a uniform pattern, the lack of airflow will hinder its ability to dry, resulting in a longer curing time.
Covering Oak Firewood Makes It Cure Faster
Don’t forget to cover your oak firewood while it cures. You shouldn’t place it in your garage, basement or any other enclosed area. Oak firewood should be exposed to the outdoor air when curing. However, you should construct some form of roof or cover over your oak firewood to protect it from the rain and snow. Without cover, rain and snow will saturate your firewood and negate your curing efforts.
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Climate Can Affect Oak Firewood Curing Time
It’s worth mentioning the climate can affect the curing time of your oak firewood. If you live in a region with a humid climate, it will naturally take longer for your oak firewood to cure than it would if you lived in a dry region with low humidity. Humidity variations between the different seasons can also affect the curing time of your oak firewood, as the dry winter air can expedite the curing process.
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