There are several factors to consider when you buy firewood. All wood burns, but which burns best?
The best firewood is hardwoods like hickory, ash oak, birch, maple, and most fruit trees that burn hotter and longer. Popular firewood is softwood like fir, balsam, pine, spruce, tamarack, cedar, poplar, and alder are good choices. The best firewood is hardwoods that burn hot, producing more heat.
Here we explain what type of wood is best to use to keep your home warm. Harvested and naturally grown wood is classified as either hardwood or softwood. Let’s look at the differences.
What makes certain types of firewood better than others? It boils down to two factors: density and water content. The drier and denser the firewood, the better it burns and produces heat.
Not all wood burns at the same rate. Some wood burns slower, hotter, and cleaner than other wood. Some wood smokes a lot, and others have lots of resin and sap that can clog your chimney.
Types of Hardwood
- Fruit Trees, Cherry and Apple
- Hardwood takes longer to grow than softwood
- Hardwood has a higher density
- Hardwood burns longer and produces more heat
- Hardwood takes longer to the season but is more moisture-resistant than softwoods
- Hardwood has a higher ratio of heartwood than softwoods
- Hardwood is heavier and harder to split than softwoods
Hardwood burns a lot hotter than softwood. Heat is one of the reasons for building a fire; this alone is a massive benefit of using hardwood are your firewood. Your fire will burn hotter fire when burning hardwood, creating warmth for your home or cooking your food.
Hardwood has the least sap and pitch and is cleaner to handle. Unfortunately, hardwoods are more costly than softwoods and often leave a hard residue in the ash. When burning birch firewood, be careful of the thick inner brown bark; it retains lots of moisture and usually prevents wood from drying properly.
It is recommended to mix birch with another hardwood that will burn cleaner with less smoke. A lot of smoke will accumulate creosote, a byproduct of wood combustion consisting of tar, the leading cause of chimney fires. One type of firewood may be loved by one person and hated by another.
Eucalyptus wood is a good hardwood choice for firewood. Eucalyptus wood produces heat comparable to oak, and it provides a nice bed of hot coals. Eucalyptus firewood is known to burn very hotly.
The oils in eucalyptus wood can create an intense flame and prompted some wood stove distributors to recommend not burning eucalyptus wood in a woodstove. Some kinds of hardwood burn better burn than others. Hickory, oak, or cherry firewood is often preferred because of its long burn time, minimal smoke, hot flame production, and pleasant aroma.
Combining Hardwoods and Softwoods
Sometimes the best choice is to burn a combination of hardwood and softwood. Start a campfire using softwood and switch to a longer-lasting warmer burning hardwood. Then add the occasional softwood log to your fire to watch the flames grow large and crackle loudly.
Best Firewood by Heat Value
Here are some of the best firewood rated according to heat value, which measures how much heat they produce.
High Heat Value
One cord = 200 to 250 gallons of fuel oil
- American beech
- Shagbark hickory
- Sugar maple
- White ash
- Yellow birch
Medium Heat Value
One cord = 150 to 200 gallons of fuel oil
- American elm
- Black cherry
- Douglas fir
- Silver maple
- Red maple
- White birch
Low Heat Value
One cord = 100 to 150 gallons of fuel oil
- Red alder
- Western red cedar
- Lodgepole pine
- Sitka spruce
- White pine
Have a look at Utah State University Extension Forestry for a detailed chart from Utah State University. The chart lists the heat produced by different types of wood, which produce coals, sparks, and smoke.
Softwood trees grow more quickly than hardwood trees. It takes about 10 or 20 years to mature a softwood tree, whereas hardwood can take about 25 to 100 years to mature. Softwood is suitable for burning, but like all other wood, fuel softwood must be dried correctly to below 20% moisture content.
While softwoods have the same calorific value as hardwood by weight but are less dense, you could use up to twice as many softwood logs for the same weight. As for smoke with softwood, just like any other wood, it will smoke a lot if not dried properly. A softwood log can burn for less than an hour, whereas a hardwood log of the same size can burn several hours longer.
One of the most significant advantages of softwood is that it dries quickly and takes half the time to dry, and it is great for kindling. Most kindling sold today is softwood for this reason, and the other benefit is that it gets the fireplace or woodstove up to temperature quickly, which helps performance, increases’ draw’, and reduces smoke. Hardwood is more efficient to use as firewood but keep some softwood close by for kindling and campfires.
Types of Softwood
- Softwood grows quicker and has a lower density
- Softwood has a lesser ratio of heartwood to sapwood than hardwoods. When burnt heartwood gives more heat than sapwood
- Lower density means it is easier to light and start a fire with softwood. Softwood is easier to split and lighter to handle
- Softwood burns quicker than hardwoods and doesn’t give off as much heat
- Softwood drier quicker than hardwood but is prone to taking moisture back on when dry
Cedar is considered one of the best choices for kindling. Cedar is quick to light and smells lovely.
Other than kindling, softwoods are great for campfires because they are resinous, allowing softwood to catch fire quickly, burn faster and produce large flames that spark and crackle. Use a blend of hardwood and softwood when you need to revive a slow-burning fire.
Green vs. Cured Wood
Always burn cured wood when possible. Cured or seasoned wood is wood that was dried for a year or longer. Green wood is wood that was cut recently. Greenwood contains a lot of moisture and will not burn well. Greenwood will also smoke a lot.
It is easy to differentiate between cured and greenwood. Cured wood has a lighter inside color, cracks, and the bark will be loose. Never burn treated or painted wood as it can be toxic.
General Firewood Tips
How much wood is in a cord?
A cord is the standard measure of volume used to calculate stacked wood. A cord of wood is 128 cubic feet of stacked wood. Usually, a cord is piled out in rows that measure 4 feet wide, 4 feet tall, and 8 feet long.
Because of the air space between the stacked wood, the volume of solid wood in a cord can be only 90 cubic feet.
What is the heat value?
The heat value of firewood refers to the amount of heat the wood produce when it is burned. Heat value can vary based on wood. A cord of wood with high heat value can provide heat equivalent to that produced by burning 200 to 250 gallons of heating oil.
- Cutting wood: Green wood or freshly cut wood contains 50 percent moisture and should be dried to 20 percent moisture content before being used for burning. Firewood containing more than 25 percent moisture is green or wet and should never be used in a wood stove or fireplace.
- Splitting wood: Green or wet wood is more straightforward to split than dry wood. Firewood must be split and stacked in a dry place for at least six months to dry correctly.
- Seasoning firewood: When steam bubbles or hisses out of the grains on the fire, it is a good indication that the wood is green or wet. Well-dried-seasoned firewood typically has darker ends with evident visible splits or cracks. Well-seasoned firewood is lightweight and makes a sharp, clink sound when two pieces connect.
- Storage: To properly store your firewood, stack your firewood that allows efficient air circulation, cover the wood at the top only, and make sure the firewood is thoroughly dry before burning. It is good to rotate your firewood, like burning the older dryer wood first, to avoid wood rot and waste.
- Try to buy local: Try to buy firewood from local sources. When buying and moving firewood from elsewhere, like from state to state, it is frowned upon, but it may also be illegal. Transporting firewood from one place to another increases the chance of spreading invasive pests and diseases that could arrive with the firewood.
Firewood that travel is the primary reason invasive insects and diseases rapidly spread. Pests travel slowly on their own but moving an infected log puts new forests at risk. Millions of trees and thousands of acres of forest have been seriously damaged by non-native pests.
New outbreaks always originate in or near public campgrounds or link back to a homeowner who bought firewood from an infested area.
General Fire Safety Tips
Check for Fire Conditions
When using your firewood to start a fire when camping, the first step to preventing wildfires is to understand fire conditions. Each national or provincial park will have post-fire conditions. Generally, you receive this information when you register at entry.
There will also be park signs indicating whether the fire hazard is low, moderate, high, or extreme. There might be fire bans in place depending on the conditions. When planning a fire outside a park, it is just as essential to check and understand the fire conditions in your area.
Each county has a designated government website with this information readily available.
Choosing a Responsible Campfire Location
Another vital point to remember is to choose a responsible suitable location for your campfire. If available, use a designated fire pit. When no fire pit is available, ensure that you build your fire on a non-flammable surface.
Non-flammable surfaces include cement, gravel, sand, and rock. Using a firepit or non-flammable surface is crucial because tree root systems and vegetation can ignite, leading to underground fires that are difficult to detect. These underground fires can smolder for months and even years.
Eventually, these underground fires can surface and can cause devastating forest fires. Another reliable option for your campfire is a fire pan. A fire pan is a metal container that will contain the fire, coals, and debris.
A fire pan can become very hot. Take care when using a fire pan so as not to ignite the ground around it accidentally. Keep the ground around your fire pit area clean and void of materials that can easily ignite.
This includes decomposing forest litter, leaves, needles, and other plant materials. Generally, it is advised to clear a meter around your fire pit. Also, check for overhanging branches and leaves near your campfire that could catch fire when the flames leap into the air.
Keep Your Campfire Small
Keep your campfire relatively small. This ensures that no surrounding vegetation will catch fire when a gust of wind blows through the campground. Having a smaller campfire will make it easier to control and extinguish.
It is best to avoid building campfires altogether on windy days. Another essential tip to remember is to keep a pail of water near your campfire in an emergency. It is a quick way to extinguish sparks or help control a fire.
Always attend your campfire and if you are camping with children, teach them the value of fire safety.
How to Safely Extinguish a Wood Campfire
Make sure you follow these steps to extinguish your campfire before safely leaving the camping site.
- Stop feeding the campfire a few hours ahead of leaving camp. Instead use a canister stove for last-minute meals.
- When you are reaching the end of your fire use, use fast-burning wood.
- Start applying water to your campfire a couple of hours before you expect to break camp.
- Soak coals well with water. Make sure they are well cool before you leave.
- Apply water to the ground around the campfire until it stops steaming, and you can safely stick your fingers into it.
- Only leave the campsite when you are sure the fire is completely extinguished.
Types of Wood NOT to Burn
Do not even think about throwing any type of log on your fire. Here are a few types of wood you should never burn.
- Painted or coated wood. Never burn painted, coated, or pressure-treated wood. Using these types of wood as firewood can release toxic and harmful chemicals into the air. Engineered sheets like particleboard, plywood, and MDF should not be used as firewood.
- Big wood. Do not buy firewood that is too big and long to fit inside your fireplace or fire pit easily. If the wood is more than 5 inches in diameter, it means you will have to recut or split it before it’s sized to fit in your woodstove or firepit. That is a tremendous job and a lot of exercise.
- Non-local wood. When you live in or plan to visit an area affected by wood pests, ask the seller where the wood is from. If the firewood was cut or stored more than a few miles away, do not buy it.
- Driftwood. Do not use salt-saturated driftwood for firewood. According to the EPA, driftwood can release toxic or harmful chemicals when burned. It is safer to use your driftwood beach finds for décor instead.
- Green or Wet Wood. The type of firewood considered the best firewood for a fireplace is seasoned wood, not greenwood. Most firewood types need to dry for a year depending on the wood species. Green or wet firewood used in a fireplace will cause a lot of smoke and creosote buildup.
All firewood creates creosote, but wet and green wood will produce the bulk. Creosote is a condensation of unburned particles in the smoke that lines the chimney surface as it escapes. Creosote sticks to the side of the chimney and can light and cause a chimney fire. It is recommended not to burn wet firewood.
- Poisonous wood. Do not use any wood covered with vines. When burning poison sumac, poison ivy, poison oak releases the irritant oil urushiol into the smoke. Breathing this poisonous smoke can cause lung irritation and severe allergic respiratory problems.
- Oleander. Every part of Oleander is toxic. Never burn Oleander, do not even use a branch to toast a marshmallow.
- Endangered Species. The American chestnut, Blue Ash, and the Kentucky coffee tree are all endangered species. There are more than 20 endangered native species of trees in North America.
They are rare, and you are unlikely to find any of them in a batch of firewood. However, always double-check any tree you plan to cut down is not on the endangered species list.
- Christmas Trees. It might seem that Christmas trees are odd on this list, but some people burn old Christmas trees in their fireplaces. Christmas trees have dry needles that will ignite quickly; they have a lot of sap, which is highly explosive.
Christmas tree sap is full of creosote that can clog up a chimney quickly. The extra sap in Christmas trees burns fast, and popping embers may rise through the chimney and start a chimney fire quickly. It is recommended to avoid burning Christmas trees in a fireplace.
- Wood Pallets. We all want to burn any kind of wood we can get our hands on, but do not burn wood pallets in your fireplace. Most wood pallets are treated with chemicals, which you should breathe or have filled your home.
These days there are so many things you can make with old wooden pallets to repurpose the wood. Wood pallets could be used to make coffee tables, bookshelves, swings, shoe organizers, or swings.
Popular Types of Hardwood Firewood
The list of different types of hardwood is long, but we focus on the most popular three hardwoods.
Oak is a favorite hardwood used for firewood because it can be found almost anywhere. Oak is a very dense wood that burns for a long time. Oak is the slowest wood to dry and is best used in various types of logs.
Oak is great to use as firewood when you need to keep your fire going at night. Expect to pay around $110-130 per cord of oak firewood.
Birch is an excellent option for fires because of its ability to burn quickly and well, even when it is unseasoned. There are several species of Birch like Yellow, Black, and White birch, with varying degrees of efficiency. The birch bark can also be used as a natural fire starter.
Birch works well when mixed in with slow-burning woods like oak. A full cord will be around $200.
Ash is a favorite for firewood because it burns well on its own. Ash produces a steady flame and has a sound heat output. When buying a full seasoned and split cord of ash, you can expect to pay around $170.
Popular Types of Softwood Firewood
Softwood options may not be as many as hardwoods, but some excellent choices are available. Specifically when looking for some wood with lower heat output.
Small pieces of cedar can be burned unseasoned; it gives off a pleasant smell. Cedar firewood will give you an excellent, lasting heat with little flame and a strong crackling sound. Expect to pay around $220 per cord.
Pinewood lights are easy and will burn fast with a good flame, but you must refuel the fire more often. Pinewood is a great fire starter because of its high sap and resin content and should only be used outdoors. Pine firewood is an excellent option to mix with other firewood.
A full cord will cost $160.
Larch is the hardest of all softwoods and harder than some hardwoods. Larch gives a hot flame when dried well. Larch wood is good to mix with hardwoods and is suitable for stoves. A full cord of larch will cost you $160.
It is essential to know a few things about the types of firewood. It can maximize efficiency and save you trouble for your fireplace, wood stove, or fire pit. Not all firewood provides the same results so understanding the characteristics of different types of firewood is vital to choosing the best firewood for your fireplace or woodstove.
There are two types of firewood, hardwood and softwood. Most hardwoods are denser than softwood which means they burn for longer and produce more heat. Hardwoods are less sticky than softwoods and are less likely to cause tar deposit buildups in your chimney or woodstove.
Hardwoods provide long, lingering fires with lots of coals that heat your house. Hardwood is the best wood for your fireplace. Softwoods dry much more quickly than hardwoods and are lighter and have lower density.
They burn faster than hardwoods and emit more smoke, making them better for outdoor use. It is good to be picky when you choose the type of firewood for your fireplace. Nobody wants to cause a chimney fire or release harmful toxins into the air when using the wrong type of firewood.