How to Tell if Wood is Dry Enough to Burn

Dry Firewood

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How do you tell if the wood is ready to burn? Using firewood to warm the home requires a lot of preparations to be done on the wood before it is ready for use. You do not just burn any piece of wood. Green wood, for example, contains lots of moisture that make it difficult to burn, leading to excessive smoke buildup.

Moisture also decreases wood consumption. 25 percent of energy is wasted in burning moisture instead of sustaining the flame and providing warmth.

If you are looking for wood for your indoor furnaces and stoves, you need adequately seasoned wood. Experts say the ideal water percentage in furnace-ready wood should be below 20 percent. To reach this level of seasoning, most woods take 6-24 months. Splitting the wood into small pieces and stacking them up above the ground may help accelerate the seasoning.

Recognizing Dry Wood

Wood changes in characteristics as it loses moisture and dry. When you compare dry and green pieces of wood from the same tree, you will find that dry wood has the following characteristics:

Dry Wood
CC0 Public Domain
  • The logs become light in color and weight – dry wood is less vibrant in color and weighs less than a recently cut wood of the same tree type.
  • The bark becomes loose and tends to peel off easily.
  • The sappy aroma disappears.
  • Cracks appear extending from the center towards the end of the logs.
  • Hollow cracking sound when you strike two pieces of wood together. Greenwood, on the other hand, produces a thudding sound.
  • Dry wood is hard to split, unlike green wood, but it is easy to light, producing minimal smoke.

You can also check for the moisture content. You can do this by hand, just split open the wood, then check if it’s dry to the touch, or using a moisture meter.

What is a Moisture Meter?

A Moisture meter reads the moisture content in a piece of wood. You just insert it into the wood, and it will reveal to you what percentage of the wood content is moisture.

For a wood to be considered dry enough for burning, the moisture meter reading should be somewhere between 10 and 20 percent. Reading above 20 show the wood is not yet ready for indoor burning.

Using a moisture meter is the fastest way to determine the moisture content in wood. You can get these devices from local woodworking suppliers and hardware stores. Moisture meters fall into these two categories:

  1. A pin-type moisture meter

Pin-type wood moisture meters have electrodes that penetrate the wood to measure electrical resistance and gauge the moisture content. Wood doesn’t conduct electricity, but water does, so the dryer it is, the more the resistance and vice versa.

  1. Pinless moisture meter

These types of wood moisture meters use electromagnetic sensors to scan the wood’s surface for moisture. The advantage is they are non-damaging since they don’t penetrate the wood. They also give a more detailed picture of the moisture content in the wood. Best for use in exotic hardwood for decorative purposes.

Here’s a look at an example of a pin-type wood moisture meter.

The MMD4E Digital Moisture Meter

The MMD4E is a general pin-type moisture meter that can be used to keep track of the percentage of moisture in wood and building materials.

The MMD4E has pins on the tips, and in the packaging, there’s an extra set of pins to go along with it. You just stick the device into the wood surface or building lumber surface to get the moisture content reading.

Using the MMD4E is very easy. It has two modes for building materials and wood. One button, powers on the device, then another button switches between one mode to the next.

As you use the device, it will tell you if the moisture content is low, medium or high and display the percentage on the screen. When using the moisture meter for wood, the range is 5 to 50 percent with an accuracy of plus or minus 2.

The MMD4E is a great hand-fitting device. The whole unit is about 6-inches in length, 1-inch thick, and 3-inches on the broader side. It is compact and pocket-fitting so that you can take it out with you to different wood suppliers stores.

The MMD4E comes with a battery and powers on quickly. Readings, take less than a second once you poke the pins into the logs. When using the MMD4E on wood surfaces, however, don’t expect the device to be 100% accurate. Here, you just want to be able to tell if the wood is still very wet, pretty close to being dry or dry enough for burning.

The MMD4E will alert you to this using both audio and visual signals. Green, red and yellow LED lights to indicate low, medium, and high moisture content, respectively. There’s also a beeping sound that gets faster the wetter the wood is.

Other features of the MMD4E include a hold function so you can freeze a reading. There’s also an auto-power off feature and a low battery indicator. Readings are 8mm large, so you can see from afar without straining your eyes. And when it comes to the pins, the MMD4E features stainless steel pins that don’t damage easily, but in case they do, there’s an extra set of replacement pins you can screw in and continue operations.

In case of false, moisture content readings, you can take your device for replacement under the 1-year warranty guaranteed by the manufacturer. The MMD4E moisture meter is available on Amazon at around $40.

Alrightie loves; everybody can tell if a piece of wood is soaking wet, but using a moisture meter will give you a variation of reference between all your different types of woods, so you know which one is ready for indoor burning. The ideal moisture content in woods to be used in indoor furnaces should be between 10 and 20 percent to prevent excessive smoke buildup. Get your MMD4E moisture meter now; it is affordably priced and easy to use.

13 Comments

  • I will just mention that “kiln dried” firewood means that someone has burned fossil fuels to get your firewood dry. For anyone looking to burn firewood to reduce their carbon footprint this is counterproductive. I know that it’s not everyone’s primary concern, but food for thought when simply buying a year earlier and leaving the wood to sit more or less accomplishes the exact same thing without the waste.

    Enjoying the site.

    Reply
    • YES! Thank you. (I’ve just stacked my lumber in the top of my garage, to be dried next summer in the heat.)

      Reply
    • John, 99.9% agree with you unless waste heat is used for the drying process. Life these days needs more thought on the environmental impact on eveything we do from what we eat and its carbon foorprint to transport and heating,

      Reply
    • Not that I care about carbon footprint, but there are solar kilns and wood-fired kilns, so not all use fossil fuels.

      Reply
      • I was wondering whether we shouldn’t be concerned with limiting our axe usage. I mean, the more we split wood manually, the more energy we’ll use. The more energy we use, the hungrier we’ll get. I am concerned we will eat too much and therefore require more food to be produced which would require more trucks to replace the food we consumed. Those trucks will burn fossil fuels which will do something really bad. Then we’ll all die.

        I’m really freaked out right now.

        Reply
  • Thank you for the review. Your article clearly covered the subject making the purchase decision that much easier. Very much appreciated!

    Reply
  • How about soaking axe in container of oil to reenforce junction point ,where most breaks happen?

    Reply
  • I’m trying to find more information on a small axe I have. It’s made in Germany, about 24” or so long, and it’s a hand written brand that looks like Tltis. But the internet has not helped so far

    Reply
  • I have become a Collector of old vintage axes since last year, so I thoroughly enjoyed your article. I have an Original Iltis Ox-Head Brand axe with a 7” x 5” cutting edge. Not sure what the head weight is. I have a Hults Bruk vintage axe with a 1.5 pound head. A Sater Banko vintage axe that was my Father’s. It was made in Sweden. It has a 3 pound head. I recently hung another “Made in Sweden” vintage axe head, but I cannot find any axe makers marks or logo. It has a 3, with Made in Sweden under it. I assume it’s a 3 pound head, but curious about which company made it. It is older, but it cleaned up very well and you can tell it’s very good steel. Comments?

    Reply
  • Hi John. Enjoyed your critique of the Fiskars hatchet. I have been in Wilderness Search and Rescue for about 45 years and have carried a hatchet (as needed) since my Boy Scouts days. I own both the Fiskars 28″ axe and the X-7. Both work very well to clear trails. I am wondering if you would be willing to perform and post the exact same handle test on your $ 150.00 hatchet for us as a comparison? Should my X-7 fail, I do plan to use my 21″ bow saw, Laplander folding saw and my K-Bar BK-2 as “plan B”. Thanks again…. Mike

    Reply

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