We all hate the feeling.
You have company over for dinner and drinks, and you want to top the night off with dessert and conversation by a nice roaring fire. But when you go to ignite it, the wood fizzles and pops and blows smoke in your face. It does everything except give you that comforting glow you crave.
The longer you kneel there trying to get the flames going, the more embarrassed you get. You can feel everyone looking at you and judging you for the lackluster flame you’re fanning.
How did it get this way? Where did you go wrong?
The answer, of course, lies in this adage: “All firewood is not created equal.” Settling for any old wood is a great way to set yourself up for the embarrassing situation we described above.
But if you really want to impress your guests and enjoy a fire that is easy to light and burns hotter and longer, then we’d recommend you keep reading.
We’ve compiled everything you need to know about the best firewood to burn and are offering it to you free of charge! Why? Because we care. Now let’s get burning!
If you’re looking for a longer burn, you need to ask yourself, is this firewood hardwood or softwood?
The difference between the two types of wood lies in the types of trees they come from. Hardwoods come from trees that lose their leaves in the winter and include popular woods like oak, hickory and ash. On the other hand, softwoods come from evergreen trees, such as pines, firs or spruces.
Because hardwood trees grow slower than softwoods, their wood is denser and thus takes longer to burn. So, while some softwoods may be easier to light than hardwoods, the fire tends to fizzle out quickly as it blazes through the less dense material. For this reason, it can be a good idea to start a fire using softwood but to keep it going using hardwood.
Ultimately, hardwood gives you a longer burn for your money. Therefore, given the choice, we recommend going with hardwood over softwood every time.
Hardwoods also burn hotter than softwoods. However, not all hardwoods provide an equal amount of heat. For example, hardwoods like oak, ash, birch and hickory have a higher heat value than hardwoods like walnut and elm. But all of those woods have higher heat values than softwoods like pine and cedar.
We measure the amount of heat a type of wood gives off using a unit of measurement called the British thermal unit (BTU). The U.S. Energy Information Administration defines one BTU as approximately the amount of heat given off by burning one match. To put this into perspective, one cord (128 cubic feet) of oak wood contains about 29 million BTUs. That’s a lot of heat!
You can view a rundown of the heat values of popular types of wood in our best firewood to burn chart below.
While it’s great to have wood that will burn long and hot, if it’s not a clean burn, then what’s the point? The wood needs to burn efficiently and produce minimal smoke to be worth the effort or money you spend on it.
The best way to get these results is by burning wood that has been adequately dried.
The moisture level of your firewood needs to be below 20% to produce a clean burn. Anything above 20% will be tough to light, messy to burn and much too smokey.
The traditional way to lower the moisture level of firewood is called seasoning. You can season firewood by leaving it out to dry for six months to a year after cutting it. Just make sure you stack it in a well-ventilated space protected from the rain.
The problem with seasoning wood is it can only get wood so dry. Usually, this means the wood will be near the 20% threshold but not below it. Therefore, the resulting burn will not be as clean as it could be.
To get the cleanest possible burn, we recommend going with kiln-dried firewood. Drying the wood in a kiln both speeds up and perfects the seasoning process. Rather than having to wait months for the wood to be properly dried, the wood can be ready in a matter of hours. And since the kiln creates a controlled atmosphere, it easily brings the moisture content down to an optimal level below 20%.
As a result of this process, kiln-dried firewood comes ready for the cleanest burn possible. Its low moisture content ensures it will burn efficiently with minimal smoke. The wood also comes free of mold, pests and other defects that can stunt the burning process.
Let’s not forget about the aroma of firewood. After all, it doesn’t matter how well the wood burns if it stinks. And the truth is, not all wood smells as good as the bonfire scented candle you’ll come across at a department store. Some wood smells downright gross!
Once again, dryness is a key factor here. If the wood hasn’t been properly dried, then there’s a good chance it won’t smell too good. There are a couple of reasons for this:
- The high moisture content will produce unpleasant-smelling smoke.
- The wood will probably also contain mold and fungus, which smell awful when burned.
The best way to prevent malodorous wood is to have it kiln-dried. Only the controlled environment of a dry kiln can ensure that the moisture will be reduced enough and the mold removed for good-smelling wood.
But beyond the moisture content, different types of wood also smell better than others. The most popular kinds of wood for their aromas include cherry, hickory, oak, cedar and pine. As you might expect, cherry gives off a pleasing fruity aroma. Whereas, Hickory has a bold, savory scent and oak is on the subtler side. The softwoods cedar and pine are also pleasant smelling, but as we mentioned above, they don’t burn quite as well as their hardwood counterparts.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to choose the best firewood to burn for your fireplace, firepit or woodstove. Remember, as long as you pick wood with a high density and low moisture level, you’ll be fine, and your party guests will thank you for the amazing fire!
Looking to purchase quality kiln-dried firewood in Northern Illinois or Southern Wisconsin? At Lumberjacks, we have a large selection of top hardwoods to choose from, including hickory, oak and apple. You can choose convenient pickup at one of our locations in Woodstock, IL, or Lake in the Hills, IL, or prompt delivery to your home!