Learn about what makes a type of wood good for burning and which ones you should use in your fireplace or campfire. Find out how to determine good wood from bad, and which woods you should never burn.
Wood Types For Your Fireplace Or Campfire
Choosing the right wood for your fire is like choosing the right food to eat. You can’t just shove anything in there and hope for the best. There are many problems that arise that you might not have foreseen.
Not only is the condition of the wood that you burn important, but the type and species of plant it came from is also a critical detail. Some woods burn hotter and cleaner than others and should be used if possible. Others do not perform as well and may even give off smoke and pollutants that can be unpleasant or unhealthy.
Let’s go over the best firewood out there for fireplaces or campfires and why they are so much better. Then, we will discuss which woods you should never burn so you can avoid any potential disasters. Finally, there will be a “buyer’s guide” so you know what to look for when buying, or finding, the best firewood.
What Constitutes “Good” Firewood
As wood fires are not as common anymore, it can be understandable for one to unfamiliar with the finer details of building a fire. Many people think “wood is wood” without realizing that three are thousands of different kinds of trees on the planet whose woods are all distinct. Sure, all wood burns but none of them burn the same way. Some types of wood burn better than others.
There are a few criteria that make a type of wood good for burning.
The Best Types Of Wood For Burning In A Fireplace Or Campfire
These woods we have listed here are all good for burning, but different situations call for different woods. There is no single “best” wood to burn, and even if there were, it would not be available anywhere. So this is not a hard and fast list, just a list of recommendations in no particular order.
The wood from this tree burns nice and slow. It also gives off a cozy level of heat that won't leave you chilly. It does smoke a bit, but if it is seasoned, this problem is fixed pretty easily. More on seasoning later
If you have a smoke problem with your chimney or just do not like smoke, Blackthorn is a good choice. It burns quite well and naturally gives off less smoke than most woods. You don’t even need to season it, although you will get better results if you do.
As a fruit tree, cherry wood gives off a very pleasant aroma when burned. This is great for cooking and outdoor fires especially. However, it does not burn as well as other hardwoods. It burns at medium heat, so don’t rely on it to warm you if the weather is extremely cold.
Another fruit tree, apple also gives off a pleasant scent when burned. It is prized for a cooking wood as it infuses the food with more flavor. It also burns at a decent heat and burns slowly, so you won't need as much wood to keep the fire going, and you won't have to add to the fire too often.
One of the most widespread trees in the continental united states, maple wood, can be found all over the place. It is dense and durable, so it burns hot for a long time. It also naturally gives off less smoke. A great all around wood, whose only drawbacks are difficulty in chopping and splitting and, in some cases, price.
Even more common than maple is perhaps oak. Fortunately, oak is also very dense and burns great for a long time. The only problem is, it takes a lot of heat for the oak to catch and get going. You can remedy this by using softwoods to get a fire going. Once oak gets burning, though, it’s smooth sailing.
Another common and dense hardwood, elm also has a high heat value and burning temperature. It is notoriously difficult to split, however. A good workaround is, strangely, Dutch elm disease.
This, unfortunately, kills many elm trees, but the dead trees are left standing and dry out over time making them perfect targets for fuel logging. Seasoned wood without killing a live tree!
This hardwood does not burn well and is generally considered the worst of the hardwoods. Its only redeeming qualities are its quick starting and ease of splitting. Chestnut should be used only as a supplemental wood or starter, and not as a main source of heat if possible.
Pine is a softwood, so it burns less hot than others and burns too fast to be useful for long-term heating. It is also resinous, meaning it will leave a residue on anything touching it or below it while burning, so it is terrible for fireplaces and wood stoves. However, it catches exceptionally fast, so it is a great starter for stubborn hardwoods. Use a bit to get a fire going then quickly transition to and stick with hardwoods.
What Woods You Should Never Burn
Now that you know what the best firewood is let's look at the worst.
What To Look For When Buying Or Gathering Wood
When you are shopping a firewood stand or searching the forest for wood to burn, there are a few guidelines to follow to ensure you get the best firewood possible. The goal here is to find the driest wood possible. This "seasoned" wood will burn faster, hotter and far less smoky than fresh or "green" wood. Here are some ways to determine if the wood is dry.
When foraging for wood always check state and local laws first, and try to stick with dead and fallen wood.