It may come as a surprise to you, but not all firewood is equal. Some woods burn hotter and for longer than others. Knowing the types of wood and how to best care for your firewood will allow you to get the best value from your firewood, or in other words make sure you get the hottest and longest lasting wood stove or campfire fire for your dollar.
So what do I mean by caring for your firewood.
Well once you select the type of wood you need to store it, split it, and then allow for it to dry. Get any of these components wrong and you will not get the best value (highest amount of energy) from your firewood, and possibly even have trouble lighting your fire or extracting any meaningful amount of flame and heat, other problems include excess smoke and creosote build-up in the chimney.
- Selecting your wood. What is the best firewood to burn?
- Good Firewood Has Low Moisture Content
- How much smoke is produced by firewood?
- Does resin or oil content effect firewood?
- What is the best smelling wood to burn?
- The lowdown on how to split firewood
- How to store and stack firewood
- Bonus tip, indoor firewood storage
- How to season and dry firewood
- How to know when firewood is dry enough to burn
Selecting your wood. What is the best firewood to burn?
The best firewood to burn will largely depend on your location, as this will determine what type of wood is available. As a general rule the harder the wood, the more energy it will release in the burning process. This is because hard woods are denser, heavier, and therefore have more fuel to provide.
Soft woods will burn hotter than equivalently dry hard woods, with a taller flame. But the hard woods will burn for much longer. When averaging an equivalent amount of hard wood versus a soft wood (by size not weight) the increase burn time of the hardwood is valued by most people burning wood in a stove for heating and cooking.
The below table shows firewood types and its average BTU (British Thermal Units) per Cord. BTU is used to measure energy, in our case temperature. One BTU is equal to the amount of energy used to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.
Due to inconsistencies with available data sets, the figures represented in this table are an average of information from each data set. Use the figures as a guide only to compare one variety of firewood to another. Additionally the chart represents the weight / cord of the firewood, when dried to 20% moisture content. Green firewood is much heavier that seasoned firewood, sometimes by as much as double the weight depending on the variety.
Note that a firewood cord is a volume measurement (128 cubic feet). The figures in the below firewood BTU chart are expressed in Million BTU’s (MBTU).
|Common Name||Species Name||Average Weight lbs / cord (Dry) 20% Moisture Content||Average MBTU / Cord|
|Alder, Red or White||Alnus rubra or rhombifolia||2380||15|
|Ash, Black||Fraxinus nigra||2941||19|
|Ash, Green||Fraxinus pennsylvanica||3145||21|
|Ash, Oregon||Fraxinus latifolia||3230||20|
|Ash, White||Fraxinus americana||3539||23|
|Aspen, American (Poplar)||Populus tremuloides||2210||14|
|Basswood (Linden)||Tilia americana||2210||14|
|Beech, American||Fagus grandifolia||3655||23|
|Beech, Blue (Ironwood)||Carpinus caroliniana||3825||24|
|Birch, Black||Betula lenta||3895||26|
|Birch, Gray||Betula populifolia||3156||20|
|Birch, Paper||Betula papyrifera||3179||20|
|Birch, Yellow||Betula alleghaniensis||3630||23|
|Boxelder (Maple Ash)||Acer negundo||2890||18|
|Buckeye, Ohio||Aesculus glabra||1964||13|
|Butternut (White Walnut)||Juglans cinerea||2125||13|
|Catalpa (Catawba)||Catalpa speciosa||2380||15|
|Cedar, Eastern (Redcedar)||Juniperus virginiana||1955||12|
|Cedar, Western Red||Thuja plicata||2000||20|
|Cedar, White (Whitecedar)||Thuja occidentalis||1870||12|
|Cherry, Black||Prunus serotina||3013||20|
|Coffeetree, Kentucky||Gymnocladus dioicus||3077||20|
|Cottonwood (Poplar)||Populus trichocarpa||2040||13|
|Dogwood, Pacific||Cornus nuttallii||3995||25|
|Elm, American||Ulmus americana||3014||19|
|Elm, Red||Ulmus rubra||3077||20|
|Elm, Siberian||Ulmus pumila||3128||20|
|Elm, White (Russian)||Ulmus laevis||2890||18|
|Eucalyptus (Red Gum)||Eucalyptus camaldulensis||2975||18|
|Fir, Balsam||Abies balsamea||2181||14|
|Fir, Concolor (White)||Abies concolor||2231||14|
|Fir, Douglas||Pseudotsuga menzies II||2896||19|
|Fir, Grand||Abies grandis||2359||18|
|Hickory, Bitternut||Carya cordiformis||3825||24|
|Hickory, Shagbark||Carya ovata||4140||27|
|Holly, American||Ilex Opaca||3995||25|
|Hop Hornbeam (Ironwood)||Ostrya virginiana||4250||26|
|Juniper, Rocky Mountain||Juniperus scopulorum||3146||22|
|Juniper, Western||Juniperus occidentalis||3050||26|
|Locust, Black||Robinia pseudoacacia||3815||26|
|Locust, Honey||Gleditsia triacanthos||3791||25|
|Madrone, Pacific (Arbutus)||Arbutus menziesii||3825||24|
|Maple, Big Leaf||Acer macrophyllum||2890||18|
|Maple, Black||Acer nigrum||3400||21|
|Maple, Red||Acer rubrum||3128||20|
|Maple, Silver||Acer saccharinum||2787||18|
|Maple, Sugar||Acer saccharum||3749||24|
|Myrtle, Oregon (Pepperwood)||Umbellularia californica||3485||22|
|Oak, Bur (Mossycup)||Quercus macrocarpa||3655||23|
|Oak, Gamble||Quercus gambelii||3818||28|
|Oak, Live||Quercus virginiana||4840||37|
|Oak, Oregon (Garry)||Quercus garryana||3655||23|
|Oak, Post||Quercus stellata||3825||24|
|Oak, Red||Quercus rubra||3632||23|
|Oak, White||Quercus alba||3944||26|
|Pear, Bradford||Pyrus calleryana||3490||22|
|Persimmon, American||Diospyros virginiana||4165||26|
|Pine, Eastern White||Pinus strobus||2236||14|
|Pine, Jack (Canadian)||Pinus banksiana||2380||15|
|Pine, Lodgepole||Pinus contora latifolia||2465||17|
|Pine, Norway (Red)||Pinus resinosa||2890||18|
|Pine, Pinyon||Pinus edulis||3074||25|
|Pine, Pitch||Pinus rigida||2652||17|
|Pine, Ponderosa||Pinus ponderosa||2380||15|
|Pine, Sugar||Pinus lambertiana||2270||20|
|Pine, White (Idaho)||Pinus monticola||2236||14|
|Plum, European||Prunus domestica||3404||21|
|Poplar, Yellow||Liriodendron tulipifera||2080||16|
|Sorrel (Sourwood)||Oxydendrum arboreum||3060||19|
|Spruce, Black||Picea mariana||2474||16|
|Spruce, Engelmann||Picea engelmannii||1955||13|
|Spruce, Sitka||Picea sitchensis||2380||15|
|Sycamore, American||Platanus occidentalis||2890||18|
|Walnut, Black||Juglans nigra||3276||22|
Of course there are different purposes for firewood, if you are starting a fire you will want to use kindling (thin lengths of woods that will catch alight quickly. It is better to use softer woods for kindling as it will catch alight easier. Once the kindling is well alight, you can start to add increasingly larger pieces of hard wood for a longer burn. Good firewood to use for kindling includes birch, cedar, pine, and fir.
Good Firewood Has Low Moisture Content
Moisture is the enemy of firewood. Excessive moisture will reduce the heat that a wood will burn at, it will also affect the amount of smoke produced. A wood that is not sufficiently dried will create excessive smoke and creosote, additionally the fire will not reach its maximum temperature, and much of the energy in the fire will go towards rapidly drying out the wood. This leads to an inefficient fire and cold fire.
Creosote produced in a wood stove is basically a sooty burn, the more soot produced the higher the creosote content. Creosote lines chimneys and over time will reduce the airflow from a stove thereby reducing the stoves efficiency, and in some cases creating unsafe conditions to operate a wood stove. It is creosote residue that lines the chimney and requires cleaning.
Contrary to popular belief creosote is not an inherent problem with different wood types if the firewood is properly seasoned. Creosote is no more prominent from burning soft wood than it is from hardwoods.
Burning dry firewood eliminates the creosote issue by creating a hotter fire and reducing soot. Wet firewood is not just inefficient but reduces the efficiency of the stove over time.
How much smoke is produced by firewood?
Different woods will produce different levels of smoke. As per above, if wet firewood is used you can expect excessive smoke in your stove or campfire.
Assuming the wood has been dried then again hard wood wins out as the best wood to use, hardwood typically creates far less smoke that soft woods. This is useful in poorly ventilated areas of when a chimney is not working well.
|Common Name||Species Name||Smoke||Sparks|
|Ash, Green||Fraxinus pennsylvanica||Low||Low|
|Ash, White||Fraxinus americana||Low||Low|
|Basswood (Linden)||Tilia americana||Medium||Low|
|Boxelder (Maple Ash)||Acer negundo||Medium||Low|
|Buckeye, Ohio||Aesculus glabra||Low||Low|
|Catalpa (Catawba)||Catalpa speciosa||Medium||Low|
|Cedar, Eastern (Redcedar)||Juniperus virginiana||Low||High|
|Cherry, Black||Prunus serotina||Low||Low|
|Coffeetree, Kentucky||Gymnocladus dioicus||Low||Low|
|Cottonwood (Poplar)||Populus trichocarpa||Medium||Low|
|Elm, American||Ulmus americana||Medium||Low|
|Elm, White (Russian)||Ulmus laevis||Medium||Low|
|Fir, Concolor (White)||Abies concolor||Medium||Low|
|Fir, Douglas||Pseudotsuga menzies II||High||Low|
|Juniper, Rocky Mtn||Juniperus scopulorum||Medium||Medium|
|Locust, Black||Robinia pseudoacacia||Low||Low|
|Maple, Silver||Acer saccharinum||Medium||Low|
|Oak, Bur (Mossycup)||Quercus macrocarpa||Low||Low|
|Oak, Red||Quercus rubra||Medium||Low|
|Oak, White||Quercus alba||Medium||Low|
|Osage Orange (Hedge)||Maclura pomifera||Low||High|
|Pine, Ponderosa||Pinus ponderosa||Medium||High|
|Sycamore, American||Platanus occidentalis||Medium||Low|
|Walnut, Black||Juglans nigra||Low||Low|
Does resin or oil content effect firewood?
In a word, yes.
Wood oil and resin is flammable, wood with high levels of oil and resin may be good for kindling, but caution must be exercised when used as these types of wood can pop, spit and throw sparks. Obviously care must be taken if using an open camping stove so that sparks are not thrown that will ignite surrounding bush lands.
What is the best smelling wood to burn?
This is a question that is asked more often than you might think. Part of the joy of a fire or stove is the natural beauty of the flames, evoking the senses with its warmth and flickering light. An off putting smell will detract greatly from a fire.
Unfortunately there is no simple answer to this question, because it is subjective to the tastes of the individual. However there is no reason why if this is important to you, you can’t experiment for yourself.
Some aromatic woods that many people report as the best smelling when burning are; apple, ash, cedar, cherry, hickory, maple, pear, pecan, and walnut.
The lowdown on how to split firewood
Splitting firewood prior to storing is always a good option, as is splitting prior to burning.
Wood is much easier to split when it is green. If you know you are going to have to split firewood before you burn it, why not split it before storing. The last thing you want to do is start splitting dried firewood, when it is cold and raining outside.
If buying firewood, split firewood usually stacks and dries much better, therefore allowing you to get much more for your money. Split firewood also catches fire much better and is usually easier to handle and load into the fireplace.
All that is left then is to determine how to split firewood, if you don’t buy it pre-split. You can split firewood with an axe (dangerous if you slip), or the many different dedicated splitters, either a simple wedges, hydraulic or electric pressure.
Here are a few videos using different methods to split firewood and kindling. Some of the more popular methods of splitting firewood are, a maul, an axe, or an auger.
How to store and stack firewood
Firewood doesn’t take much effort to look after, but it must be stored correctly to maintain it\’s integrity, or at least remain useable. Incorrect storage could result in too high moisture content, mold, attract white ant or many other issues.
- Ensure air can flow around the wood.
- Keep the firewood dry.
To maintain these rules, the best firewood cover is a structure with a solid roof, and with a base that keeps the wood directly off the earth. A roof can be a simple tarpaulin cover but is better to be a solid structure. Keeping the firewood off the ground can be simply achieved with stacking pallets, bricks, long logs or similar.
Make sure the wood is not stored in a damp basement that has no airflow, or piled up against a house.
More specifically, these points will keep you firewood stored in good order.
- Cover firewood. Keep rain and snow off the top of the wood, again assists seasoning.
- Prepare the ground. Keep firewood off the ground to prevent ground moisture seeping into the firewood.
- Split logs before stacking. Split logs stack easier, dry quicker, and burn better. Many wood types split easier when wet.
- Keep airgaps between lengths of firewood. Stack layers of wood perpendicular to the previous layer. Good airflow assist in quicker firewood seasoning.
- Stack firewood layers at right angles to above and below layers. Depending on the cut length and depth of the pile, this will usually help air flow through the stack to aid drying, and provide stability to the stack.
Bonus tip, indoor firewood storage
An indoor firewood storage rack can be located next to the wood heater. If this is loaded up and stored close it will help dry any wood that has been wet by rain. Note, it will not be able to season firewood, this takes much longer than the firewood would be stored indoors.
How to season and dry firewood
Another general rule with firewood is that as the moisture content of wood decreases through the drying process, the energy released through burning increases. This can be easily seen with charcoal, charcoal has a reduced moisture content which allows for a higher temperature. This is the main reason that firewood should be dry before being burnt in your stove.
Learning how to dry firewood, also known as seasoning, is one of the keys to getting the best value from your heater or stove. As the name implies it takes about a season to reduce the moisture content of the wood to the level that will allow the best burn.
As stated in the storing section above the way the firewood is stored is important for the seasoning process. If the firewood is stored on the ground then moisture from the ground will seep up through the stack and it will take too long to dry out.
Additionally airflow around the stack allows for evaporation into the atmosphere, wood stacked atop itself will act as an insulator, preventing moisture dry air from extracting the moisture.
If the wood is not covered then sure the sun can help to dry it out but this could also be undone by rain and snow.
After setting up the storage area the job is pretty much done. It’s just a matter of time now. Usually at least six months, often more. Allow the wood to dry in the setup storage area for at least six months before it can be used as firewood.
Note that some wood may take as much as twelve months depending on variable factors such as log size, if it’s pre-split, storage conditions, ambient weather, and exposure to weather.
How to know when firewood is dry enough to burn
Most experts will suggest a moisture content of below 25% (20% is better) before wood should be burnt in a stove for firewood. Here’s how to tell if your firewood has reached a minimum amount of seasoning.
No two seasons and no two woods are the same, so drying times may vary. Thankfully the following is a basic guide to understand if firewood is ready to burn.
- Cracks will start to appear, most notably at the outer edges, but more cracks in the grains will indicate further levels of drying.
- The wood will be lighter in color that when it is holding water, this may be difficult to tell unless you have some new wood to compare against.
- Knocking two logs together should give a hollow sound; water contained in the wood will deaden the knocking sound.
- Will be easier to split than wet wood. You can hear the difference when splitting dried wood; the splitting will have a crisp sound to it.