University of Missouri Extension

G5451, Reviewed August 1996

Preparing Wood for Your Wood Stove

Bruce Cutter
School of Natural Resources

This guide describes one strategy for people who cut and burn one or more cords of wood yearly. If you cut and prepare wood, have a plan, whether it be this one, a modification, or one of your own. A well-planned, one-person operation reduces the work required to produce a cord of well-prepared firewood. It also should increase the efficiency of your stove, reduce creosote production and reduce air pollution.

Logs or cutting stock

Logs should be cut in multiples of the desired final length. For example, 16 inches, plus or minus 2 inches, is a popular length that will fit most stoves. When cutting logs, remember that they can't be very long if one or two people do most of the handling. Although it works well in conventional fireplaces, cut out crotch wood. Do not accept elm unless that is all you can get and you don't mind a lot of extra effort when it comes to splitting the wood. Shorten the length of elm cordwood by 2 inches or more.

Cutting to length

Large diameter pieces of wood should average 16 inches in length. You will need a sturdy sawbuck (which you can make) with cross pieces 16 to 20 inches apart (Figure 1). The last cut on any log should be made between the cross pieces; first, a down cut until it just starts to pinch and then an up cut to sever the two parts. Be sure your sawbuck allows clearance from the bottom for your saw.

Sawbuck Figure 1
Use a sturdy sawbuck.

Many have had good luck with an electric 14-inch chain saw for bucking the logs. Electric saws are inexpensive and have the advantage of turning on and off easily. The motor provides ample power and has proven to be a sturdy machine.

As an option, you may choose to cut firewood length logs with a gas-powered field saw. Instead of using a crossbuck, cut logs on the ground and simply roll them half a turn for the final cut.

Splitting your wood

Splitting wood requires more skill than any other step in preparing stove wood. To do a good job, you must become fairly skilled (accurate) at swinging a splitting maul. You must also become skilled at interpreting the knots and cracks in a piece of wood to determine where to hit a log for the best results and with the least amount of effort.

There are a number of splitting tools on the market today. For limited production (less than 10 cords per year), studies have shown the best results are achieved with a standard 8-pound splitting maul.

It is also important to have a splitting block. One suggestion is to treat the block with a wood preservative and bury it with the top protruding about one inch above the ground (Figure 2). Another idea is to use two auto tires. Placing the tires over the block holds wood pieces in an upright position and prevents split pieces of wood from flying off.

Splitting block Figure 2
Bury the splitting block so that it protrudes about 1 inch above ground.

Before starting to split the wood, decide on a maximum single cross-section dimension (Figure 3). It is probably a good idea to make this dimension slightly less than the smallest dimension of your stove door. Let's assume that a 6-inch maximum splitting dimension has been selected. This means that all round pieces greater than six and up to 12 inches in diameter should be split into four or more equally sized pieces. It is also a good idea to split pieces less than 6 inches in diameter because this increases the exposed area of the wood. Thus, wood dries faster and burns better. Pieces three inches and smaller should be used unsplit. Pieces wider than 12 inches need splitting off at the outside edge (Figure 4). Split the remaining core piece so the chunks do not exceed the maximum size specified.

The maximum single cross section dimension Figure 3
Before splitting your wood into bolts, decide on the maximum single cross section dimension.

Split pieces off the outside first Figure 4
With pieces large in diameter, split pieces off the outside first.

Splitting strategy

Observing grain direction and knot placement for the easiest way to split wood is called reading the wood.


If the smallest dimension of your stove door is 6 inches, split your wood following these guidelines:

If you determine that your maximum splitting dimension is 8 inches, it would be necessary to substitute 8 inches for 6 inches and 16 inches for 12 inches in the above listing and so on for other maximum dimensions.

Stacking and drying

Stack cord wood in a sunny spot where the wind can move freely through the stack. It is nice to cover the wood pile, but frequently this is not practical.

Fresh wood often has a moisture content of 50 percent or more. Optimum moisture content is 20 percent or less. It takes a minimum of one drying season (spring through fall) to dry. Therefore, the wood planned for winter use should be stacked by spring. Many people have poor results with their wood burning stove because their wood is too green. Frequently, they wait until late summer or early fall to stock their wood supply. If buying wood, assume the wood is wet. Therefore, buy wood in the spring, stack it and let it dry for the winter.

Operating the stove

It is not the purpose of this guide to discuss this topic. However, after doing a good job preparing the wood, a good, safe operational stove technique must be developed. For the best results in terms of efficiency, buy a small stove and burn hot; that means a fire is maintained and it is cut back to a smolder as infrequently as possible.

G5451 Preparing Wood for Your Wood Stove | University of Missouri Extension

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