Skip to Content

Seasoned vs. Unseasoned Wood: 5 Key Differences

Temperature Master is an Amazon Associate. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. We may also earn commissions if you purchase products from other retailers after clicking on a link from our site.

Did you know that all the neatly stacked piles of firewood at the hardware or grocery store might have taken years before they could sell it? Every piece of wood needs to be ‘seasoned’ to burn correctly. But what’s the difference between seasoned and unseasoned wood? 

Seasoned wood has been cut, split, and left out to dry for a few months to a few years. It has a moisture content of 20% or less. On the other hand, unseasoned wood is freshly cut wood that isn’t dry enough to burn efficiently. It has a moisture content of 60% or more. 

Maybe you got a new house with a fireplace; perhaps you have a wood stove, maybe you live in the woods and want to cut down trees for your fireplace or woodstove. For whatever reason, you need to know the difference between seasoned and unseasoned wood, and luckily, it’s all in the article below. 

How to Tell if Firewood is Seasoned

We’ll go into more detail about the fundamental differences later, but the main characteristics of seasoned wood are: 

  • A moisture content of 20% or less
  • A dry, chalky appearance 
  • Cracked and split at the edges
  • Generally smaller and lighter because there’s not much water in the wood. 
  • A slightly bitter or ‘punky’ smell. 

What Is Unseasoned Firewood?

Also called ‘green’ wood, unseasoned wood is freshly cut wood with a much higher moisture content, around 60% or above. Because it is so much wetter, it’s much harder to ignite and burn. All commercially available wood is already seasoned, but if you want to make your own firewood or buy it directly from a distributor, you’ll need to know the difference and danger of burning unseasoned wood.

Generally, unseasoned wood is much heavier because it holds much more water. It usually has a slightly more yellow or white appearance and can smell fresher or even sweeter than dried wood. Most distributors are confident in what they sell, but you should still check that you’re getting your money’s worth. You don’t want to end up burning a bunch of unseasoned wood by accident. 

Temperature

Unseasoned wood burns at half the temperature of dry wood, so it might not get hot enough to provide sufficient heating to your home or wood stove. Additionally, because the wood holds much more water, there’s less combustible material resulting in inefficient burning, leaving you with large pieces of useless lumber. 

Pollutants

Unseasoned wood smolders and smokes more than regular wood and can be harmful if inhaled. It also produces more creosote, an ashy substance that can be harmful if it builds up in a chimney or woodstove. It hardens and becomes oily over time, and if left unattended, creosote buildup can cause a chimney fire and burn down your whole house. 

What Is Seasoned Firewood?

Closeup on electric floor standing fan in the modern living room in sunny hot summer day.

Seasoned firewood is essentially dried wood. Trees are cut down, split, and left to dry out from a few months to a few years. Seasoned wood is generally lighter and smaller than unseasoned wood because it doesn’t hold as much water. It can smell somewhat rotten, but not necessarily putrid like a fungus or mold on a rotten tree in the forest. 

There’s a lot that goes into seasoning wood; it’s a laborious and dangerous process. If you’re reading this and want to make firewood or are just a curious person, the next few paragraphs will explain the intricacies of seasoning wood.

Felling

If you want to make firewood yourself, you need to cut down some trees. This process is referred to as ‘felling’ a tree. Standing dead trees with signs of decay like peeling bark or brittle branches are generally chosen for firewood. The treetops might be able to burn almost immediately after falling, or at least sooner than the bottom 6-8 feet. 

It can be very dangerous and even fatal to cut down trees yourself. It might even be illegal if you don’t own land. There are plenty of places that provide necessary and life-saving steps you need to take before attempting to cut down a tree, like this Firewood For Life article.

Even professional loggers take an abundance of caution when they’re working. So please, be safe. 

You can buy seasoned or unseasoned wood from many suppliers locally or across the country. You can even buy ‘semi-loads’ that you can split into whatever size you want, and that brings us into the next section.

Splitting

Splitting wood into smaller pieces helps dry it out faster because there’s more surface area for air and sunshine to come in contact with it. This can also be dangerous, as you’ll need an ax or chainsaw. Again, stay safe and follow professional instructions when doing anything potentially dangerous.

Stacking

To stack wood properly, you’ll need to elevate it and separate the wood from buildings and each other to provide airflow. Uneven dryness is a hassle and lengthens the already months or years-long process. 

There are plenty of videos and instructions across the internet, like this video from the youtube channel Anne of All Trades. She shows how to do most of the things explained above, with the addition of cute dogs. 

Drying

People agree that the spring is the best time to start seasoning wood so that it will be ready just in time for winter, but there’s a lot of variation in drying time depending on where you live and what type of wood you have, but the majority of woods take around 6-12 months to season. 

Artificial Seasoning

Timber companies might season wood in a large kiln. Artificial seasoning gives much more control in temperature and humidity, but there’s still a lot of variation in drying time depending on the size and type of wood. 

Wood Types

Closeup on electric floor standing fan in the modern living room in sunny hot summer day.

Cherry wood can take as little as three and a half months. Rock Elm, Balsa, and most Pinewoods take around six months on average. Chestnut and Redwood take about a year, and woods like Maple and different types of Oak can take up to 2-3 years. All of these are averages. It can take much less or much more depending on the humidity and overall wetness of your area. 

As mentioned above, wood shrinks and weighs less after it’s dried because there is little to no moisture left. Wood, with a moisture content of 20% or less, is considered seasoned. Moisture meters like this one can be used to gauge the exact level of moisture before burning it to avoid releasing pollutants into the air (and your lungs). They cost anywhere between $20-70 dollars on Amazon. 

After you (or a professional) cut, split, and dry out the wood, congratulations! You have seasoned wood ready to burn. Seasoned wood burns at different temperatures depending on their porosity, but in general, you can expect a most up to 1,100 ℃ (2012 ℉). 

After you (or a professional) cut, split, and dry out the wood, congratulations! You have seasoned wood ready to burn. Seasoned wood burns at different temperatures depending on their porosity, but in general, you can expect a most up to 1,100 ℃ (2012 ℉). 

Conclusion

Seasoned wood can be identified by its color, smell, weight and texture. Wood needs to dry out to  a moisture content of 20% or below to be considered seasoned; the average drying time for most woods is 6-12 months.

Unseasoned wood has a moisture content of 60% or more, because it holds so much water, it burns at half the temperature of seasoned wood and produces more harmful smoke and pollutants, specifically creosote. 

It is difficult and even fatal to produce firewood. Seek professional advice if you want to make your own. Stay safe when making and burning firewood.