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Split Firewood or Whole Logs

The term “split firewood” refers to whole pieces of wood that have been cut, or split, into multiple smaller pieces. Whether it’s a hardwood like oak and cherry or a softwood like pine, all trees have bark covering their exterior. You can think of bark like the skin of a tree. It serves as a protective barrier between a tree’s interior and its surrounding environment. Without bark, trees would be vulnerable to dehydration, pests, fungal disease, and extreme temperatures. Splitting firewood involves cutting what are called rounds, typically along the grain so that they are only partially covered with bark.

There are different ways to split firewood, the most common of which include cutting rounds with an ax or running them through an electric or gas-powered log splitter. Using an ax is obviously more labor intensive and time-consuming.

Regardless, split firewood is simply whole wood logs that have been cut into multiple pieces. Although there are exceptions, most firewood is split into halves or quarters. To split a whole log into halves, the wood is cut down in the middle. To split a whole log into quarters, the wood is cut down the middle to create halves, after which each half is cut down the middle again. Most split firewood still contains some bark on the exterior, but it’s not completely covered in bark like with whole logs.

Firewood is split primarily to encourage faster drying. When a tree is first cut down and processed into several whole logs or rounds, it typically contains a high moisture content. In fact, the moisture content of fresh or green firewood can exceed 50%. At 50%, firewood contains half of its weight in water. All that moisture inhibits the wood’s combustion process, resulting in more smoke and less heat. To increase its quality and performance, firewood must be dried.

Firewood is typically dried either via air drying or kiln drying. Air drying is a drying method in which firewood is left outdoors for six months to a year, during which the moisture inside its pores will evaporate. Kiln drying, on the other hand, is a newer and more advanced drying method in which firewood is baked in a special oven known as a kiln. Of those two methods, kiln drying is preferred because of its ability to achieve a superior level of dryness. Air-dried firewood has an average moisture content of around 20%, whereas kiln dried firewood has an average moisture content of less than 20%.

Whether it’s air dried or kiln dried, all firewood dries more quickly when it’s split. As previously mentioned, bark protects trees against the loss of moisture. It acts as a membrane to prevent trees from losing moisture through evaporation. When firewood is split, there’s less bark covering its exterior. In turn, moisture will evaporate more quickly out of it. Split firewood and whole logs can both be dried. However, it takes longer to dry whole logs than it does to dry split firewood.

Not only is split firewood easier to light; it produces more heat than whole logs as well. Bark has different properties than actual wood, including a lower density. The density of wood refers to its physical mass. With a greater density, split firewood has more “stuff” to burn than whole logs. Using only whole logs consisting mostly of bark won’t produce much heat, assuming you’re even able to light it.

stacked and cut logs

While split firewood is easier to light and produces more heat, you can still use whole logs in your fires. With that said, there are a few things you should know when using whole logs in a fire. If you’re struggling to start a fire using whole logs, consider starting it with split firewood. After building a small fire with split firewood, you can then add a few whole logs to it.

It’s also important to choose high-quality whole logs with a low moisture content. You shouldn’t burn just any log. Unless a whole log has been dried, it will contain an excessive amount of moisture. The high moisture content prevents the wood from burning completely. Not all whole logs suffer from a high moisture content, though. Like split firewood, whole logs are often air dried or kiln dried to achieve a lower moisture content.

Whole logs burn for a longer period than split firewood. We’ve already talked about how bark has natural flame retardant properties. Because whole logs contain more bark than split firewood, they burn more slowly. No piece of wood will burn forever. Nonetheless, whole logs usually burn for a longer period than split firewood.

The bottom line is that you can burn either split firewood or whole logs, assuming the wood is dry. Split firewood is typically easier to light and produces more heat, making it preferable among many homeowners. Whole logs, on the other hand, burn for a longer period. Just remember to choose high-quality wood with a low moisture content to achieve the best heat and performance.