Firewood can be defined as any wooden material that is naturally gathered or collected and used to burn as fuel. A renewable resource, true firewood is not highly processed, hence reducing the costs of obtaining it.
For those of you who are impatient, I’m providing you with a quick overview of the best firewood for your home buy and burn but if you want to learn more about firewood and the different tree types then I highly recommend that you read the rest of the article. I promise you’ll learn something.
If you want to know all the facts about firewood and want to understand questions such as “How much is a cord of wood?” then I suggest visiting our in-depth firewood facts guide after you’re finished with this article.
Hardwood | Firewood
Hardwood usually comes from dicot (Dicotyledon) angiosperm trees and most are broad-leaved. Many of the angiosperm trees are deciduous, i.e. their leaves fall seasonally. These trees are both present in tropical and temperate regions and species like oak normally show annual growth rings, but this is not always the case. As compared to softwood, hardwood has a more complex structure.
The main thing that separates the two is the presence of vessels or pores in hardwood. As the name suggests, hardwood is generally more durable than soft wood but its durability/hardness may vary from species to species. Hardwood has many applications ranging from using it to burn fuel to construction. It is also used in making furniture, boats, musical instruments, flooring, cooking and has industrial usage such as manufacturing of charcoal.
As compared to softwood, it is much more expensive, but worth it because of better quality. Although despite being a renewable resource, species like Burma teak and mahogany are becoming scarce due to over exploitation. It is one of the best firewood available in the market for campfires and daily household use etc.
Softwood | Firewood
Softwood comes from the gymnosperm trees such as the conifers, cycads etc. 80% of the world’s timber comes from softwood. Most of the softwood is found in the Baltic regions (Scandinavia and Russia), China and North America. People often take the terms hardwood and softwood literally, but just because the term says soft wood, it doesn’t mean that it is softer than hardwood. As mentioned before, the hardness in both hardwood and softwood varies considerably. Some hardwoods such as balsa are softer than softwood. In heavy construction purposes hardwood is the best firewood to be used but softwood can be used in beams, poles, paneling etc. However, it is mostly used in the manufacturing of timber.
Processed logs (Crackleflame) are simply planks of wood that are cut down and seasoned over the course of time. It can be any sort of firewood, from any kind of tree which has been seasoned, dried out and ready to be used for manufacturing goods. However, based on a strict definition of log, it can also mean a section of a trunk in its natural state.
The best firewood to produce fuel is firelogs, which are manufactured for this particular purpose. It is usually produced using two methods; using compressed sawdust or using both sawdust and paraffin (colorless and odorless wax derivable from petroleum, coal or oil shale that consists of a mixture of hydrocarbon molecules containing between twenty and forty carbon atoms). The logs are wrapped in a paper packing, ready to be used as paraffin is fairly combustible.
Recently, cleaner firelogs are produced using waste fiber from the oil palm fruit bunches of South East Asia. These environment-friendly firelogs are the best firewood in terms of quality available in the market. However, the most commonly used material used is sawdust as it is cheaper to obtain.
The science of burning wood
I consider burning wood nothing less than an art. The right kind of wood, the correct quantity, the moisture in it, its’ density, the scent; all these things need to be taken into account. For instance, softwood, due to its density is not viable for burning fires inside homes, mainly because of how quickly it needs to be replenished. And let’s face it, nobody wants to get up from a comfy couch repeatedly to change the wood in the stove.
The reason why softwood is not desirable to burn is because of moisture and not pitch (resin produced by trees as a defense mechanism against wounds or insect attack) which is a common misconception. However, if one doesn’t have any other option then there is no harm in burning it, but make sure that it is dried out first.
Many people in the west take pride in burning large fires, especially when their friends are around, so here are a few things to keep in mind while building a large fire. Firstly, a smoking fire is not a successful fire as smoking is a sign of combustion. An efficient fire should not smoke up your chimney, otherwise your money and efforts are simply wasted. Fires need plentiful air to start, and to start a fire, put the logs in a criss-cross stack. Once the fire has started, close down the lid of stove or grate, to keep the fire burning.
Seasoning of firewood
To be honest with you, it doesn’t matter what kind of firewood you burn. The best firewood is the one you feel most comfortable using. However it DOES matter if the wood is properly seasoned or not. The best seasoned firewood will burn the longest and the brightest. For example in case of hardwood, especially oak, it should be seasoned for at least one year. Seasoned wood not only burns the brightest but it burns clean!
Freshly cut firewood has a high content moisture of up to 45%, while a seasoned wood has a moisture content between 20-25%. Firewood that is properly seasoned will be white on the inside and properly seasoned wood will be easier to cut and work with as compared to freshly cut wood.
The most effective way to season and produce the best firewood is too cut it at least 6 months or a year before putting it to use and the sun and wind will do the rest of the job for free! It is important to cut your logs into small sizes, preferably between 12-18 inches, depending on your grate size.
The reason is because trees have tiny vessels in them which contain and transport water; hence the tubes will stay full of water for years even when the tree is cut down. Cutting the log into smaller pieces will allow the tubes/vessels to dry quickly. To check if the wood you have bought is well seasoned or not, here are some of the things to look for.
A well-seasoned wood has darkened ends with cracks or splits visible and may seem brittle. Tap the wood with a coin or a key and a well-seasoned wood give a sharp sound like a baseball bat.
For softwood species one year is enough to season it but not for hardwood. To get the best firewood, season it well over a course of 1-2 years depending on the species and the climate etc. However, some people prefer to use semi-seasoned firewood as it is cost effective. Semi-seasoned wood has a moisture content of about 35% and if you buy it in the spring or summer, it will be ready to use by winters. Be careful to store wood in a woodshed. Even the best of seasoned firewood can be ruined by bad storage.
Hardwood vs. Softwood (How it burns)
As we have discussed previously, it doesn’t matter what kind of wood you use to light a fire as long as it is well seasoned. However, there are certain qualities in hardwood that gives it distinct advantages over softwood making it preferable and the best firewood to burn.
Hardwood doesn’t produce a lot of ash and burns longer and cleaner. Also some species of softwood burn too hot and may damage your stove due to high pitch content (resin produced by trees to protect itself from diseases etc.) However, softwood takes less time to be seasoned and if seasoned properly burns as well as hardwood.
At the end of the day it comes down to two things when choosing the best firewood to burn; seasoning and species, each species takes different time to clear its moisture and before it’s ready to be used.
Now after discussing firewood generally, I would like to draw your attention to different kinds of trees that produce either hardwood or softwood firewood.