What Kind of Wood is Good to Burn?

Certain types of woods are better to burn than others. Why is Seasoned Firewood best for wood stoves? And what are the best types of fireplace/stove wood to buy? When it comes to wood for a fire, there’s a few things you should consider.

First, remember to avoid softwood. Hardwoods are generally more suitable for burning. Which woods 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 to be 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.

 

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.

Types of Firewood

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? You’ll be glad to have easy to start fires and minimal creosote build-up because you only burned seasoned, hard wood.

First understand that all types of wood will burn, but not all wood will start a fire easily. Some kinds of fireplace wood and logs 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.

Burning Flames Soft Wood vs Hard Wood

Hard and Soft Woods

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

Yet softwoods are very helpful to get a fire going. A few small pieces of pine, for example, make excellent kindling, and if used minimally, will not contribute to creosote build-up. However, if softwoods are used for more than a fire starter, then creosote builds up in the chimney. That is because softer woods are loaded with sap and resin that when burned, deposit excessive creosote.

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

Green Wood vs. Seasoned Wood

arm and cozy. The problem many homeowners run into is burning green or damp wood. Wet wood (more than %25 water) will be smokey and hard starting. 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 split 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 logs for burning 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.

Find the Best Fuel Available for Your Fireplace

Getting the best wood for burning in your fireplace or wood stove, 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 fire’s easier, and limit the build-up of flammable creosote.

You must avoid soft, damp or green wood to burn, which will make having a fireplace or wood-burning stove warmer, safer and more enjoyable.

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 seasoned to the ideal 20% moisture.

Soft Woods:

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

Quality Wood 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. That same water will keep even the best wood from burning and must be dried out.

Seasoned, dried wood produces good heat output, is less smoky and will make getting the fire going far easier. You’ll avoid a creosote causing chimney fire if you do not buy green or damp wood. You may find that seasoned wood is hard to find. Still, carefully shopping for a cord of wood with low moisture content will be worth the effort.

How to Season Wood Before You Burn It

If you already have a supply of wood, but it’s too damp, consider seasoning the wood yourself. With a bit of know-how, you can prepare fresh wood for your fireplace or wood stove to burn all season long. To dry moisture from a freshly cut log, it must be prepared. Which means before stacking your logs, you must first split each one.

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 water while it was a tree. By cutting and splitting our logs, we open these tubes up and our wood will dry out.

Splitting each log minimizes 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, then a round log.

person-chopping-wood-in-backyard

Storing Wood for Seasoning

Stack your split logs 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 is ready to enjoy.

Find a location for your wood rack that is convenient for grabbing a few logs on a cold winter morning. A location away from structures, will help avoid termites in your wood storage, from getting to your home. A location away from walls and windbreaks is best, to maximize exposure to the sunlight 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, logs that have a moisture content below 20% will have its own problems. Consider that wet wood won’t burn, but wood too dry will burn too fast. Wood that burns quickly also makes creosote, the fuel of chimney fires.

When checking the moisture content of logs, 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 moisture content consider getting a wood moisture meter. A Moisture Meter will measure the amount of water in fire wood. Knowing when the wood is dried to the ideal 20-25% will give you a better idea when your wood is ready.

pile of wood logs with axe
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What is the best fireplace wood moisture content?

 Experts agree 20-25% moisture content is the right balance between too wet and too dry.

What You Should Know When Buying Wood for Your Fireplace or Stove

Buying fire logs means not only knowing what kind of wood is best, but also, how much and what kind 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.

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 types of wood 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). BTU’s are the amount of heat necessary to raise one pound of water, one degree Fahrenheit. Using the listed BTU’s available in a cord of stove wood, you’ll know how much heating value you’re getting, and at what cost.

Conclusion

Carefully choosing or preparing the right wood to burn makes it easy to start a fire and enjoy your time spent by the hearth. Plus, you’ll avoid damaging your fireplaces flue with an unnecessary chimney fire and even make your chimney sweeps job of cleaning it a whole lot easier!

What are you waiting for? It’s time to enjoy your fireplace or wood-stove.

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