If you have a stove or a fireplace at home, whether it’s for heating the entire house or just the usual ambiance fire, it’s important to know the differences between wood varieties and what their burning properties are. It isn’t just about having a fire that can last longer and keep you warm, it’s also about your safety and preserving the integrity of your home. This is why today we are going to talk about the best types of firewood that are suitable for burning in a stove or fireplace.
Know the Difference: Softwood vs. Hardwood
We need to first explain these two terms so that you can get a better idea of the type of products we’re dealing with here. By knowing the providence and properties of each wood category, it might be easier for you to understand why some woods are just better for burning in a fireplace or stove than others.
Softwoods are typically used as building materials, and plenty of lumber that’s used in the furniture or construction industry is made by cutting evergreen or coniferous trees. Spruce, pine, and cedar are the most common types of softwoods that you’ll come across.
Softwood is good for woodworking projects and, because of the category’s name, some people live under the impression that the wood is soft. Some types of hardwood are indeed denser than softwoods, but there are also plenty of harder types of softwood. The difference between these two types of wood lies in the structure, as softwoods have no use for water-transporting vessels. In general, softwoods are considered to be more eco-friendly because they grow a lot faster compared to hardwood trees.
On the other hand, hardwood is a term used to describe types of wood that are more rigid and denser. In the grand scheme of things, hardwood is generally more durable compared to softwood, which also makes it more expensive. It is likely to find high-quality furniture made from hardwood, such as oak, maple, teak, or walnut. However, hardwood trees grow a lot slower, so using them for fuel is less sustainable.
What Is Seasoned Firewood?
When you come across different tips and articles that tell you about which wood is best to burn in a fireplace, you will often come across the concept of wood seasoning and you may not be familiar with the concept. Wood seasoning is nothing but a fancy way of referring to dry wood. By correctly drying wood, you are seasoning it, hence making it more suitable to be used as firewood.
When trees are cut down, they usually have a high level of moisture because of the cells located inside them. Naturally, this moisture will prevent the wood from burning properly and may even be responsible for you not being able to start a fire altogether.
The reason the term used here is “seasoning” is because it usually takes a season for most types of wood to dry (that’s about six months, but it could also be as long as nine months). Of course, for these periods to be accurate, wood needs to be properly split and stacked. For instance, if you split and stack your wood as early as March, you can have it seasoned by October when most people are ready to start their indoor fires.
There are two main ways to season wood. The first method is by allowing timber to naturally air dry, while the second method is known as kiln drying. While both methods require plenty of air for the process to go smoothly, the second one also implies controlling the temperature of the wood by using a kiln.
How to Know When Your Firewood Is Seasoned
There are a few ways in which you can tell if your wood has properly seasoned:
The first way is by carefully looking at the wood’s color. During the seasoning process, wood will turn from a natural fresh green shade to a more faded color that will tell you the wood has completed the process.
Seasoned wood will also experience a change in scent. When freshly cut, green wood provides you with a stronger aroma that’s very sappy. In time, it starts to gain a woody scent which is lighter, and the difference between before and after is noticeable.
Dried wood tends to be a lot harder and stronger compared to non-seasoned wood.
If you tap on a log of wet wood, you will notice a very dull sound. Tapping on properly-seasoned wood will sound hollow.
If none of the indicators above are enough to tell you whether or not wood has been properly seasoned, you can always test it by actually burning a few bits. If you notice that the wood is hard to light and smolders, that means it’s not ready to be burned inside a stove or a fireplace.
Best Soft Firewood for Stove & Fireplace
Before we take a look into the softwoods that are good for burning in a stove or a fireplace, we have to remind you that softwoods are generally not good for this purpose. It is because of their structure and characteristics that softwood will never be a good choice for firewood when you compared them with hardwood types. Even so, some softwoods can be used inside a fireplace, as long as you buy them with really high expectations.
Cedar is a decent option when it comes to softwood that might serve for burning in a stove or a fireplace. It has a very pleasant smell when burning. However, even if the heat lasts a decent amount of time, the flame isn’t very prominent. Small pieces of cedar can be burned even if they are unseasoned.
Pine isn’t exactly good as a main source of firewood, but it has a rich sappy content which makes it a really good option for kindling fires. It can’t be used as firewood because it creates sooty deposits, creosote, and it tends to spit a lot, but it’s great for actually starting fires. Its pleasant smell also makes it a wide-spread choice for those that wish to start campfires.
Best Hard Firewood for Stove & Fireplace
Hardwood will always be the better choice when it comes to firewood, but let’s talk about some of the more specific types that you can turn to:
Ash is one of the best hardwoods for burning in a stove or a fireplace. It can provide plenty of heat and comes with low moisture content even when it’s green. While it’s best if you burn seasoned ash, you can also start a decent fire with it even when it’s green. It burns slow, which makes it good for those of you that want to be able to rely on an overnight fire. It has excellent heat output and makes a great fireplace wood source.
Applewood is also a very viable option for fires because it burns slow and steady. It also smells nicer compared to other types of wood and doesn’t produce a lot of spitting or sparking, which makes it quite a safe option as well.
Blackthorn wood is another suitable choice because it has a very high heat output and doesn’t produce a lot of smoke. It also burns slowly, making it a good choice for those of you interested in heating your entire home during the winter season.
Elmwood can also be a good option, but it’s also considered a tricky one. It has high water content but you will have to use it in combination with other types of wood that burns faster (such as birch, for example). It’s also important for elmwood to be seasoned well if you want to use it as firewood. If you do so, it will burn for a long time and provide you with generous heat output.
Oak is one of the best options you have when it comes to firewood for stoves and fireplaces. A lot of people recommend oak by naming it the very best firewood. It has a density that requires a long seasoning period but it compensates for the wait through qualities such as long-lasting fires and a slow burn.
Sycamore is another type of firewood that burns really well but only offers a medium heat output. It is also a type of wood that seasons rather quickly, which makes it one of the best woods for burning both inside a stove or a fireplace, as well as in an outdoor fire.
Firewood You Should Avoid
Greenwood needs to be avoided because it’s filled with sap. As a general rule, know that timber needs some time after being cut to season until it can burn properly. This grace period takes between six to nine months. Greenwood is fresh wood that will not burn properly because it’s very difficult to light and releases a huge amount of smoke when it’s burning. This is especially unsuitable if you’re trying to start a campfire and want to avoid standing in a heap of smoke the entire time. To avoid buying greenwood, make sure that you ask the seller when the wood was cut. You can also recognize freshly-cut wood by checking the back to see if it’s filled with sap.
Big pieces of wood are also something you want to avoid if you want to start a fire inside a stove or a fireplace. In general, it’s best not to choose wood pieces that measure more than 5 inches in diameter. If they do, you are going to have to split the wood instead of trying to shove it inside the fireplace. While it’s a nice workout having to chop large pieces of wood, it will be a burden whenever you want to start a fire.
Softwood (as primary heat source)
Softwoods are generally a type of firewood you want to avoid because they are not viable in situations where you’re looking to heat the entire house during the winter and you need a type of wood that can burn throughout the night without having to add more logs to the fire. Softwood typically burns very fast and the amount of smoke it releases will cover your chimney with soot pretty fact. Softwood is, however, better for outdoor fires.
Driftwood is another type of wood that you want to avoid because of the toxin release when you’re burning it. According to the EPA, driftwood releases toxic chemicals, so it’s not the best choice regardless of whether you want to start a fire indoors or outside.
Wood with Live Growth
If you notice any logs covered in vines, you want to avoid burning those as well. Those vines may very well be poison ivy, poison oak, or other dangerous plants that you don’t want to set on fire. If you breathe in the smoke released when burning these, you could end up with lung irritations or a variety of respiratory problems.
Damp, Moldy or Infested Firewood
You also want to avoid wet or unseasoned wood in general. There is an entire list of downsides to opting for these types of wood. Fires will be more difficult to start and they won’t burn well or be very difficult to maintain. The burning times are shorter and the heat output is also lower. You will also notice that these types of wood release a denser smoke and they lead to rapid creosote build-up into the walls of the chimney, which is flammable and can destroy the integrity of the chimney altogether. These woods will also have a powerful and unpleasant smell that will be noticed inside the house and, sometimes, even outside.
If there one thing that we would like you to remember after having read this article is that when it comes to firewood, hardwood > softwood. Even the very best types of softwood are never truly efficient for burning because of several reasons that range from low heat output, high sparking, or powerful smoke release that create creosote build-ups. Softwood can be a good fire starter, but if you’re looking for long-lasting and hot fires that will help you get through the winter, hardwood is your most viable option.