Fireplace and wood stove owners follow the rhythm of the changing seasons by building up a good supply of firewood for each oncoming winter. Over time, they learn some tips and shortcuts that make the job go more smoothly. This lets them enjoy choosing and working with firewood every bit as much as they enjoy the warmth of the fire on cold winter nights.

The job of gathering firewood is made easier with some advance planning. Harvesting or purchasing the wood at least a year before burning it ensures that it's had time to properly season. Seasoned firewood has just a trace of moisture and burns very clean. Storing it in a woodshed enclosure that gets plenty of air circulation is the best way to season wood. Stacking it neatly outdoors in a sunny location is an acceptable alternative.

One way to save time and money is to cut or buy firewood while it's still green and let it season after you haul it home and split it. This can result in savings of up to $25 per face cord. In addition, green firewood is very easy to split. Very few wood stove or fireplace owners split their own firewood by hand any more. However, the job of running it through a hydraulic splitter goes easier with green wood.

Softwood gets a lot of negative press for its low heat output. This is only partly true. Remember that all woods put out the same number of BTUs per pound. The difference is that softwood is lighter, so it takes more of it to produce the same number of BTUs, even in a high efficiency fireplace insert.

As for creosote production, burning softwood species like poplar, birch, and chokecherry won't build up creosote any faster than hardwood if they're allowed to dry out. However, conifers (trees with needles instead of leaves) make very poor firewood because of their high pitch content.

When buying firewood, evaluate the mix of logs in the batch to see how much is hardwood and how much is softwood. The more softwood in the mix, the less money the wood should cost.

The term "face cord" is used to measure a load of firewood. A face cord is between 14 and 18 inches deep and is stacked four feet high by four feet long. To haul a face cord of firewood home, it typically takes about three trips in a full size pickup: two with the bed full and one with the bed one-quarter to one-half full.