What Kind of Wood is Good to Burn?

Certain woods are better to burn than others. But what is the best type of wood to burn? First, remember to avoid softwood. Hardwood is more suitable for burning. Which you choose to burn in your stove or fireplace is dependent on the purpose, circumstance, and personal preference. Beyond the type of wood there are other factors to consider long before you put match to log!

Read on to determine if your wood is ready to burn and how to know if wood needs seasoned.

firewood stack

Note: All wood has the same BTU potential per pound. We go in depth about this below.

There are several types of hardwoods that are good to burn in your fireplace or wood-burning stove.  Hardwoods are denser, meaning they have less airspace in between the wood cells than softwoods. Therefore, there is more energy produced when burning a piece of hardwood as opposed to a piece of softwood.

Here’s our favorites…

Best Types of Wood:

  • Oak
  • Cherry
  • Ash
  • Mulberry
  • Hackberry

About Manufactured Logs

Logs such as Duraflame and other “manufactured” logs found at supermarkets can be burned in a fireplace.  The logs are usually made from compressed sawdust, copper sulfate, and paraffin wax. While manufactured logs burn cleaner, some fireplace users dislike the odor that the wax creates.

Here’s a few things to know:

 

  • Never burn more than one manufactured log at a time in a fireplace.
  • Poking or breaking apart a manufactured log in the fireplace will cause it to burn all at once, making a very hot fire. Be careful!
  • Never burn manufactured logs in a wood-burning stove.

Understand Types of Firewood

Burning Flames Soft Wood vs Hard Wood

Do you have a wood-burning fireplace or stove? Have you ever tried to start a fire on the grate, only to have it fail to start? By understanding the different types of firewood and the benefits of each, you’ll understand what to look for next time you buy a cord of wood.

First understand, that all types of wood will burn, but not all wood will start a fire easily. Some kinds of fireplace firewood will produce more creosote than others. We can actually make our fireplace and chimney prone to flue fires by burning the wrong kind of wood! We don’t want that.

Following a few tips will ensure you burn your wood successfully and fires stay in your fireplace, not spread to your chimney.

Hard and Soft Woods

Trees are divided into two categories, those being hard and soft. Softwoods catch fire quickly and easily but deposit more creosote than the hardwood varieties. Firewood from hardwood trees, seasoned and prepared properly is always the best choice for wood-burning stoves and wood-burning fireplaces.

Yet softwoods do have their place as they are excellent for getting a fire going. A few pieces of pine, for example, make excellent kindling, and if used minimally, will not contribute to creosote build-up. However, if soft woods are used for more than a fire starter, creosote builds up in the chimney and will become a problem, as softer wood is loaded with sap and resin.

When choosing wood for a wood stove or fireplace you must select the right hardwoods then season it properly.

Green Wood vs. Seasoned Wood

Nobody wants a smoky house when they light a fire, but we also don’t want to waste our whole evening just trying to get the fire started! A fireplace is meant to be warm and cozy. The problem many homeowners run into is wood that doesn’t light quickly, won’t light at all or worse end up with a smoke filled room, (with all the fans on and windows open). That’s not fun!

In this video Chimney Sweep Bob adds kindling and tests two indoor fireplace fires to see which type of wood burns better. The stack of firewood logs on the left are green logs a.k.a. wet wood.  This green wood has not yet been properly seasoned. On the right side, you’ll see a stack of firewood that went through the proper wood seasoning process.

Let’s watch the video to compare green wood versus seasoned wood. 

Filmed & Produced by Robert Berry, Owner of Full Service Chimney in Kansas City

Video Transcript - Green vs Seasoned Wood

How much you enjoy your wood burning fireplace or wood stove is influenced by the quality of the firewood burned inside it. Firewood that is easy to start, produces minimal creosote and odor is considered seasoned.  Firewood is considered seasoned if, after it was cut down, each cut log was split, stored out of the weather and allowed to dry to a moisture content between 20-25 percent. This process takes about 6 to 12 months and occurs naturally with exposure to the sun and wind.

Here we see two similar size stacks of firewood to burn in our fireplace. The firewood on the right has seasoned for approximately 12 months. The firewood on the left is green, that is, it has had less than a month to dry.  This means that, different than our seasoned wood, the green fire wood on the left has 45-50% moisture content.

Before firewood will catch fire, it must be dry enough for ignition.  If it is green, the kindling has to heat the wood up and dry it out.  Only then can the process of pyrolysis and charcoaling can occur, finally then the log can catch and contribute to the fire.

Heat Values

Getting usable heat output from your fireplace or wood stove is important, especially on cold winter evenings. Not all wood types have the same heat values, some actually give more noticeable heat than others.

Depending on the firewood available in your area, try to find seasoned hardwoods for maximum heat from your fireplace.

To understand the available heat from one kind of wood species vs. another, the heat value is calculated in BTU’s (British Thermal Unit) that is the amount of heat necessary to raise one pound of water, one degree Fahrenheit. Using the listed BTU available in a cord of firewood, you’ll know how much heating value your getting, and at what cost.

Hard Woods:

Hickory, Oak, and Locust all have high heat values over 24,000 BTU’s per cord. This value will improve after the wood has been split and has been seasoned to the ideal 20% moisture.

Soft Woods: 
Spruce, Cedar, and Pine have heat values below 17,000 BTU’s per cord. The addition problem with the softwoods is the need for frequent chimney cleaning to minimize the creosote build-up when burning soft woods.

Finding the Best Available Firewood

Getting the best wood for burning in your fireplace or woodstove, will make your time by the hearth safer and more enjoyable. Choosing varieties that have been cut, split and stacked to season, will make starting fires easer, and limit the build-up of flammable creosote.

By avoiding soft, damp or green wood to burn will make having a fireplace or wood-burning stove warmer, safer and more enjoyable.

Quality Firewood is Seasoned

Before you buy wood for fireplace fires, remember, that a cord of logs was once a tree. Trees have spent years drawing water from the ground to grow. Now that we want firewood, that life-giving water will keep even the best firewood from burning and must be dried out.

Seasoned, dried wood produces more heat, is less smoky and will make getting the fire going far easier. If our firewood is green or damp, even if we get the fire started, it will be very smoky and creosote build-up will create a chimney fire hazard. So, even if seasoned firewood is hard to find, carefully shopping for wood with low moisture content will be worth the effort.

How to Season Your Firewood

If the only choice for firewood is unseasoned wood, consider waiting to have a fire in the fireplace until you have a chance to season green wood yourself. With a bit of know-how, you can prepare fresh wood for your fireplace or woodstove to burn all season long. To dry moisture from a freshly cut log, it must be prepared, this means before stacking firewood, it will need to be split.

First Grab a Saw and a Maul

Safely using a wood saw and splitting maul, you can begin making each log ready to season and burn. By splitting a round log in half or fourths, the air circulation has more surface to absorb moisture from each piece.

Wood is what’s called cellulose, and if looked at under a microscope, we would see tiny tubes. These tubes moved and held moisture when it was a tree, and by cutting our logs, we open these tubes up to begin to dry out.

Splitting firewood also allows each log to be free of tree bark on most of its surface, freeing the circulating air to pull even more water out. Finally, you will notice split wood will begin to burn faster, than a round log. A split corner of a log is easier to burn than if a round log is used, you will find trying to start a round, bark-covered log is more difficult.

Storing Firewood for Seasoning

Stack your firewood off the ground for air circulation. Keep it covered to prevent rain and snow from getting the wood wet again. In a few months, your cord of firewood is ready to enjoy.

Find a location for your firewood rack that is convenient for grabbing a few logs on a cold winter morning, but away from structures, to avoid termites at your wood storage getting to your home. Wind and sunlight help dry out a stack of wood so look for a location away from walls and windbreaks, to maximize exposure to the sun and airflow.

For a more permanent firewood storage solution see our post on Building a Firewood Storage Shed. By taking the time to store firewood properly, you will find that green wood will be ready to use in as little as six to twelve months.

Can Firewood Be Too Dry?

Yes, firewood that has a moisture content below 20% has its own problems. Consider that wet wood won’t burn, but wood too dry will burn too fast. Firewood that burns quickly also makes creosote, the fuel of chimney fires.

So what is the best firewood moisture content? Experts agree 20-25% moisture content is the right balance between too wet and too dry.

When checking the moisture content of firewood, try knocking two sticks together and listen to the sound. Like knocking on a wall when finding a stud, the sound of damp wood is dull while seasoned wood makes a sharp sound. Fresh cut wood has a light color, while season logs will darken over time.

For more exact measurement of firewood moisture content consider getting a wood moisture meter. With two probes, it will measure the amount of water in a log, giving you a better idea for when your wood is ready for burning.

What You Need to Know When Buying Firewood

Buying firewood in Kansas City, like the rest of the country, means not only knowing what kind of firewood is best but also, how much and what kind of firewood you are paying for.

Cord, Rick or Pile?

Like a gallon of gasoline or a foot of rope, firewood has its own units of measure. To understand how much of your dollar is going for a woodpile, you should know what to ask for and how to compare prices.

Firewood is sold and purchased by volume. Picture a stack of firewood logs stacked four feet high and eight feet long by eight feet deep. This is known as a cord. Even if it ends up as four feet high, two feet deep and sixteen feet long, since it is measured by volume, it works out the same. Since many wood stove inserts and prefab fireplaces have limited room on the firebox grate, most firewood logs are only sixteen to eighteen inches long. With a bit of calculation, you will know how much wood you’re getting for your dollar. If you are not planning on many fires in the fireplace consider getting only 1/2 a cord, also known as a rick.

Time to Enjoy Your Time By the Hearth

Carefully choosing or preparing the right firewood to burn will make starting and enjoying fires a snap. You’ll avoid damaging your fireplace flue with a chimney fire and make your chimney sweeps job of cleaning a whole lot easier.

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