Which Wood Burns Best?

There’s a lot to love about fires: the warmth, the comfort and the simplicity of finding wood and burning it. But what is the best firewood for your type of stove or fireplace? What’s the best smelling firewood to fill your home with that enchanting ambiance? What are the benefits of hardwood versus softwood? And are all wood species safe to burn?

There are a lot of questions, but choosing the right firewood doesn’t have to be difficult. Read on as we explore these questions and learn why it’s important to choose the right firewood.

What is the Best Firewood to Burn?

Many scientists estimate that over 73,000 species of trees exist on Earth. Luckily, you don’t have to experiment with each and every species of wood to find out which is the best firewood to burn. A lot of that work has been done for you. You can also narrow your search down to about a dozen and a half common firewood that are readily available in North America.

Let’s explore the key characteristics of firewood that should be considered when you choose a wood fuel.

Hardwood vs. Softwood

Image of an oak tree

Firewood can be broadly categorized into two types: hardwood and softwood. But, what’s the difference between hardwood and softwood? This characterization refers to the density of the wood, which affects burn duration, the type of flame the wood produces, and how long the wood should be seasoned. 

You might notice that the top choices tend to come from the hardwood category. This is because, generally speaking, hardwoods burn longer and more evenly, produce more manageable smoke and require less seasoning time. Some of our favorites include cherry, oak and sugar maple. If an aromatic burn is important to you, we heartily recommend cherry or yew, both of which produce a memorable aroma that will take your firelit space to the next level. Try out different woods to determine the best hardwood to burn for your home. 

So then, what is softwood? Firewood from softwood species will generally cost less than hardwoods, but there are trade-offs. Thicker smoke, sap and short burn times are common characteristics of softwood. However, many softwoods make great kindling for starting your fire. Softwoods will work for your fireplace insert or stove, and the reduced cost and increased availability can sometimes be the deciding factor when selecting firewood for your stove or fireplace.

In short, while there is no universal answer for the question “what is the best firewood,” there are species of wood that are better for different burning applications, such as for kindling, or when you prefer a slow, low-temperature burn.

Firewood Species Burning Duration and Efficiency

When evaluating wood for burning, a key characteristic is how long the firewood will burn, which correlates to how much wood will need to be burned to achieve the desired effect. We call this efficiency and it’s an important factor to consider when experiencing a fire. Wood that burns too quickly will demand more of your time and attention to add wood in order to keep the fire going, while wood that burns too slowly might not produce the most heat.

Many factors affect how long your firewood will burn. Besides species, there’s also the age of the wood. Wood that’s been left to sit in a dry place for some amount of time–usually one to three years–is referred to as “seasoned.”

A well-seasoned oak log will burn long and strong in a fireplace. Conversely, a pile of poplar should only be burned as a last resort, owing to its tendency to burn poorly and produce heavy smoke. You might enjoy experimenting with different species until you find the firewood that gives you your ideal experience.

Which Firewood Burns the Hottest?

Quadra-Fire Expedition II wood insert

Not all flames are created equally. Some firewood produces a lot of heat quickly, while others burn slowly and give off a less intense heat. The heat output of a given wood is measured in BTU, or British Thermal Units. As a general rule, hardwood produces more heat than softwood, but there are other factors, such as age and moisture content, that will affect heat output. 

Some species put out a tremendous amount of heat, such as black locust, which has the potential to produce over 26 million BTUs per cord. Other hardwoods – like cherry – produce around 20 million BTUs per cord of firewood. Even so, the most heat-productive woods may not always be the best choice, as they tend to burn faster, necessitating more loading.

While it may be tempting, adding more logs to a fire doesn’t necessarily make the fire hotter.

How to Reduce Firewood Smoke

The smoke that your fire produces is also a variable that you should take into account. Some smoke is gently emitted from the wood, makes its way up the chimney, and dissipates in the atmosphere, leaving minimal residue. Other wood might create a dense black smoke that lingers and creates thick creosote on your stove’s interior surfaces.

While smoke is an inevitable part of burning wood, there are ways that you can lessen its negative effects. Before you even get to burning wood make sure that your stove is the right size for the space that you need to heat. Also, ensure that your chimney is installed properly so that you have the right conditions for effective draft, which is the movement of air and smoke through your fireplace and chimney to the outside environment.

Once your stove or fireplace insert is installed correctly and you’re ready to start a fire, ensure the wood that you’re using is dry and, ideally, seasoned. A moisture content between 18 and 20 percent is optimal. Burning wood with more moisture will create more smoke and more discoloration from creosote. We recommend using a well-seasoned hardwood, such as black locust, to minimize the unwanted effects of smoke.

Explore Forge & Flame’s Line of Wood Stoves

Vermont Castings Encore wood stove

We hope you’ve learned something about the interesting world of firewood! Be sure to explore our extensive line of wood stoves from Vermont Castings and Quadra-Fire. If you’re more interested in upgrading your fireplace, consider a Vermont Castings insert, or a Quadra-Fire insert to maximize the effectiveness of this feature of your home. You’ll find a plethora of options to meet your needs for a stove that’s the right size, sports the right aesthetic, and will allow you to heat your space with style in a cost-effective, cozy manner. When you’re ready to bring the magic of heating with fire into your home, be sure to get in touch with one of our expert dealers, who are eager to help you find the right heating solution.

If you’d like to learn more about burning wood, check out our additional resources, covering topics such as safely burning wood, how to start a fire, heating your home with wood, how to tell if your firewood is ready, and stacking wood.

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