Category Archives: FAQ About Firewood

Frequently asked questions about firewood and wood burning,

What is the Best Firewood to Burn?

best firewood to burn
The best firewood to burn will depend on what you are trying to accomplish.

I often hear people ask, “what is the best firewood to burn”? There are differences between the way different types of wood burn, especially between dense hardwoods and less dense woods like softwoods.

There are also types of wood that will produce more ash than others or more creosote build-up.

Which type of wood is the best burning wood will depend on what you want to get out of  burning it. Someone who wants wood for a campfire may want something different than someone who wants to heat their home with a wood stove.

The biggest thing that determines how wood burns is its density. More dense woods, like dense hardwoods, burn slower and have more total energy. That is because there is more actual wood fiber to burn than in the same volume of less dense woods. These types of wood produce more glowing coals and give a lot of radiant heat over a long period of time. This makes them very popular for wood stoves and home heating. Examples of these types of wood include oak, hickory, locust, madrone, maple, walnut and many fruit woods.

Less dense woods like softwood and the softer hardwoods have less wood fiber in them than hardwood. Because of this they tend to burn faster and put out less total heat. But they are easier to ignite and tend to burn with fewer coals and more flames. This can make softwood a good choice for kindling and starting fires. It is also good where you would want larger flames like maybe a campfire or a fireplace. Many softwoods are more likely to crackle.

Low density hardwoods include aspen, cottonwood and alder. Softwood include cedar, pine, fir, hemlock and redwood. Learn the difference between hardwood and softwood.

If you ask which is the best burning firewood, someone might say low density woods like softwood burn best because they ignite easier making them easier to burn. Someone else might say hardwood burns best because it puts out more heat in a wood stove. Some people really like oak because some varieties hold a bed of coals for a long time, while others will not burn it because it produces so much ash.

Deciding which is the best firewood to burn will really come down to what you want to get out of it. All wood will burn well if it is dry and will put out heat. So if  you have it burn it. If you are deciding which type of wood to buy, keep in mind you should pay less for softer woods since there is less energy in them. If more heat is what you are looking for, it is usually worth it to pay more for the more dense hardwoods. A great place to start is to look at the different firewood BTU ratings of different wood species. The higher they are on the list, the more heat you will get out of the wood. The lower they are on the list, the less heat they will have but they will tend to be easier to ignite and more likely to burn with larger flames.

How to Season Firewood and Keep it Dry

How to Season Firewood

how to season firewood
Firewood develops cracks, called checks, as it dries.

If you buy or cut your wood green, you will need to dry it in order for it to burn more efficiently and safely. Learning how to season firewood is simple. It takes time for wood to fully dry but there are a few tricks I will tell you about below that can speed up the firewood drying process.

When firewood is cut from a live tree it will be green. Green wood is wood that is still alive and full of sap, which is mostly water. When a tree is fresh cut the moisture content can be 60% or more. Before your firewood will burn well it will need to be seasoned. To season wood means to give the wood time for the water to evaporate out of it. Ideally it should be seasoned to about 20% moisture content or less. This can take from 6 months to over a year depending on the wood and your firewood drying conditions.

If your wood is green it should be left out uncovered exposed to the sun and wind. Air circulation is a must when drying wood and direct sun will greatly speed drying. It is common for people to want to cover their wood pile with a firewood tarp but covering it too soon will only cause you problems.

The smaller your wood is the faster it will dry. Whole logs will take a long time to dry and in some cases may not ever fully dry. When you cut them into firewood lengths and split them you greatly increase the surface area where moisture can escape. Splitting your wood will especially help it dry. The bark seals in moisture and when you split the pieces it opens them up so the moisture can evaporate.

Keep your wood off the ground. Wood will absorb moisture from the soil.

drying firewood
Firewood stacks with space between the rows. This space allows air to circulate between the stacks to allow them to dry.

Stacking will help by creating better air circulation. One long stack in direct sun is best. If you make multiple stacks side by side be sure and make at least a few inches of space between the stacks so air can flow between them. Learn how to stack firewood.

If you stack it in a shed it will likely dry slower because it will be shaded from the sun and the walls may inhibit air flow. If you must store it in a shed make sure it’s well ventilated and stack the wood so air can flow between the stacks. Just know that it will probably dry slower than if it was out in the sun.

Don’t cover your firewood pile with a firewood tarp or similar cover while it is still green or wet. This will just hold in moisture and encourage mold and decay. If it rains, it doesn’t matter if the wood gets rained on. The surface water from the rain will dry fast, and believe it or not, according to many people, rain can help the wood dry. Wait until your wood is dry before covering it.

firewood tarp
Stacked firewood with tarp or plastic sheeting only covering the top. Sides are left open so air can circulate into the stack to help it stay dry.

Difference Between Seasoned and Green Firewood

What is the Difference Between Seasoned and Green Firewood?

Green wood is wood that has been fresh cut from a live tree and is still full of sap, which is mostly water. Seasoned wood is wood that has been cut and then left to cure so the sap evaporates out of the wood. Green firewood can be very difficult to burn and does not produce as much heat as seasoned wood. Much of the heat will be used up in boiling the water out of the wood and the heat will go out your chimney as steam instead of heating your home. If you put a green log on the fire you will soon see and hear steam shooting out of both ends. Burning green wood also creates much more smoke and can increase creosote buildup in your flue (chimney).

It can take from 6 months to a year for firewood to fully season. The time depends on several conditions such as size of the wood climate and how it is stored. Smaller pieces will dry faster than larger pieces and wood that is split will dry faster than unsplit rounds. Wood in a sunny well ventilated dry location will dry faster than wood that is shaded or unventilated or in a damp area.

There are advantages to buying green firewood as long as you buy it several months in advance to allow it to dry before you plan to burn it. Green firewood usually costs less and is usually more available than seasoned. If you stock up ahead of time you can be assured that it will be seasoned because you seasoned it yourself. This way you are not depending on someone else to bring you wood when you need it that may or may not be seasoned. Also seasoned wood may not be readily available when you need it. When the weather gets cold that’s when most people start buying and dealers may be busy and sometimes their supplies can run out. As long as you buy green firewood early in the summer and follow the tips in the firewood storage section it should be plenty dry for the next winter.

How to Store and Season Firewood

How to Store Firewood and How to Season Firewood

Knowing how to season firewood and knowing how to store firewood to keep it dry will make your wood will help provide better quality dry wood and can save you money. Dry firewood burns cleaner with less smoke and creosote and produces more heat from less wood.

One of the most important factors in drying and keeping your firewood dry is air circulation. To ensure proper drying your firewood should be stored in a well ventilated location. One of the most common mistakes people make is to pile their firewood directly on the ground and cover the whole pile with a tarp or plastic sheeting all the way to the ground. Covering the whole pile all the way to the ground just seals moisture inside and encourages mold and decay.

When possible keep your firewood away from direct soil contact to help keep it dry and clean. If you are going to store it on the ground place something on the ground first such as a tarp or plastic sheeting for a moisture barrier. Just about anything that will hold it up off the ground away from the soil will work, plywood, lumber, poles or even well drained gravel is better than soil.

If you cover your pile with a tarp cover the top but keep plenty of the sides exposed so the air can circulate under the cover to allow the moisture can escape. Some of the pieces of wood that are exposed on the sides may get wet when it rains but the wood inside under the tarp will stay much drier than if you had the pile covered all the way to the ground.

If your wood is already wet or green covering it with a tarp is usually pointless and will just encourage mold. It’s best to let it dry first in the open air or under a roof type of structure.

Covering your wood with metal roofing is a great alternative to tarps or plastic sheets.

One of the best ways to ensure air circulation is to stack your wood in a row or rows. When stacking against a solid surface such as a wall or fence stack it a few inches away from the surface. Also when stacking rows next to each other keep the rows a few inches apart. This allows space for air to circulate on both sides. Or even better just stack one row by itself in a way where the whole side of it will be exposed to the sun.

If you store your firewood inside a structure such as a shed make sure it is well ventilated so plenty or air can flow through. A lean-to, patio, carport or open walled shed is better for drying firewood than an enclosed wall shed.

If you have green firewood it is usually best to store it outside exposed to the wind and the sun until it is seasoned. If you store your firewood in a shed it is best to let it season outside in the sun before putting it in the shed.

When stacking firewood safety should be a priority. Make sure your stacks are stable so they will not tip over. Stacking firewood more than 4 feet high is asking for trouble. Keep a space between the stacks for proper drying but keep the space small enough to prevent children or pets from crawling between them, they could get stuck. Keep children away from and DO NOT let then climb on firewood stacks.

Pellet Stove vs Wood Stove

Now that wood pellets are becoming more abundant, there is a lot of question about which is better, pellet stove vs wood stove. There are advantages and disadvantages to both pellet stoves and wood stoves so the choice you make with pellet vs wood stoves will really depend on your own heating needs, circumstances and preferences. Pellet stoves are commonly bought as an alternative to traditional wood stoves by people who like wood heat, but don’t want some of the disadvantages of heating with firewood and wood stoves.

Pellet stoves are a mystery to a lot of people, probably because they haven’t become as popular as traditional heating systems like gas, oil, electric or even wood stoves. Pellet heat hasn’t caught on as much partly because it’s a technology that has had a few challenges, such as a lack of consistent availability of fuel. Another reason is people just aren’t familiar and comfortable with something they don’t know much about.

It wasn’t until the late 70’s that pellets started to be considered as a source of fuel. Since then, traditional fuels have been relatively cheap and readily available so pellet heat has had a tough market to compete in. Now as fossil fuel and electricity prices continue to rise, and as people are looking for sources of renewable energy, pellet stoves will probably only become more popular as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Advantages of Pellet vs Wood Stove

Pellet stoves are thermostatically controlled just like a gas, oil, or electric heating system. Set your thermostat and your home will stay close to that temperature, without the temperature swings you get with a wood stove.

No more getting up in the night to put wood on the fire or getting up or coming home to a cold house. Pellets are fed into the combustion chamber automatically, so you don’t have to keep putting wood on the fire like you will with a wood stove.

Pellet stoves are the cleanest burning solid fuel burning appliance available. When operating properly, they produce no visible smoke and can be used where wood stoves are not allowed because of air quality regulations.

Pellet stoves are more efficient than wood stoves. They burn fuel more completely and extract most of the heat that is produced. Because of this, a pellet stove’s exhaust is cooler than a wood stove, so it does not require a chimney. It can instead use a simple exhaust vent that can be easily routed through a wall. This can make a pellet stove installation cost less than a wood stove installation.

With a pellet stove, you don’t have to carry firewood or stack it or deal with the mess. You fill the pellet hopper on the back of the stove maybe once every day or 2 depending on how much you burn.

Advantages of Wood vs Pellet Stove

One of the biggest advantages of a wood stove vs pellet stove is for a lot of people, they just like the idea and the atmosphere and comfort of a traditional wood fire. People have been heating this way since prehistoric time and it brings a satisfaction and comfort that no other source of heat has.

Firewood has been around longer than pellets, so in many areas it is more available. Firewood is easier for a consumer to produce, if you have the tools and material you can cut your own wood and save a lot of money. With a wood stove, you don’t have to depend on pellet mills and distributors to supply your fuel. With a wood stove, all you or the people that supply you with wood need is a saw and a source of wood.

Many people actually enjoy making or handling firewood as a source of exercise or a way to get in touch with the outdoors. For a lot of people, it is something that is a a tradition passed down through many generations.

A wood stove works even when the power is out. Pellet stoves use a small amount of electricity to power some of their internal components like the pellet feeding mechanism. So when the power goes out, or if you don’t have access to electricity, a pellet stove will not work. This problem can be solved with battery backup systems that are available.

When to Split Firewood

What is the Best Time to Split Firewood?

Deciding when to split firewood can depend on the species and the splitting tools you have available and what your objectives are. The most simple answer is to split the wood as soon as possible.

Splitting green or wet firewood as soon as possible can help it dry much faster. When firewood is split the surface area is greatly increased where moisture can escape. The woody part of a tree is designed to hold and transport water from the roots to the leaves without losing it. The outer layers of the wood including the bark is a protective layer that seals in moisture. When you split the wood you are opening up this sealed container so the moisture can escape.

Splitting the wood can also help prevent the wood from getting attacked by boring insects. Some wood boring insects are more likely to bore into whole green rounds but if the wood is split and starting to dry they will be more likely to avoid it.

The other deciding factor of when to split firewood is when it will be easiest to split. This can be a difficult question to answer because the answer can depend on the species and even the indivdual tree. Some species are easier to split when they are green and get tough as they dry. There are also other species that are tough when they are green but get easier to split as they dry. Not only does this vary between species, it also varies between different trees. Within any species there will be individual trees that have different splitting characteristics.

Now it gets even more complicated. There are some species that are easy to split green that get tough as they dry, but then they get easier again as they age and start to crack. With some if you cut them into rounds and let them dry they will get tough. But if the tree dies standing and the wood dries naturally from moisture transpiring through the leaves before the wood will in some cases be easier to split than if it was cut green. But with some wood it’s the opposite. Also some woods split easier when they are frozen so in that case cold weather may be the best time to split them.

If you are going to be splitting the wood by hand you may want to consider the species and split it when it’s easiest to split. If you have a mechanical splitter the ease of splitting doesn’t mater as much. With a mechanical splitter it’s usually best to split the wood as soon as possible.

Is it Better to Burn Hardwood or Softwood?

A common question that people ask is whether to burn hardwood or softwood. Hardwood is typically known for being the best firewood but that does not mean it is the best for you. Softwood also has qualities that makes it better than hardwood in some circumstances.

When it comes to firewood, the major differences between hardwood and softwood is density. Hardwoods are usually more dense than softwood. More density means more actual wood mass in any given size of wood. More wood means the wood will burn longer and produce more total heat.

But not all hardwoods are more dense than all softwoods. The terms hardwood and softwood are not determined by the hardness or softness of the wood. Hardwood is any wood that comes form broadleaf trees, like oak, hickory, ash, maple, walnut, madrone, aspen and cottonwood.

Softwoods come from conifers, which have needles or scale leaves, like pine, fir, spruce, cedar, hemlock and redwood. The differences between hardwood and softwood come from the difference in cellular structure between the two. Hardwoods do tend to be harder than softwoods but not always. Cottonwood, aspen, and alder come from trees with broad leaves, so they are hardwoods, but these woods are as soft as many softwoods.

The density of the wood will give you a general idea of how it will burn. You can tell if dry wood is more dense because it will be heavier than a similar size of less dense wood.

More dense wood will burn longer and produce more heat over a longer period. Lower density wood will ignite easier, burn faster, often with more intense flames. But it will burn faster and with less total heat.

Dense hardwoods are great for wood stoves to maintain the heat in your home. But for quick heat or for starting fires softwood can be a better choice. It ignites easily and puts off hot flames more quickly. It can also be good for campfires or fireplaces if you want more flames than coals. If you want good long lasting coals you will be better with dense hardwood.

What will be best for you will depend on what you are wanting out of the wood. Both types of firewood have their advantages and disadvantages. I like to have a mixture of both. Hardwood is usually more expensive  but that is because you get more heat out of it. Softwood will burn up faster but that is fine since it usually costs less.

Where to Buy Firewood

Depending on what part of the world you live in sometimes it can be difficult to find where to buy firewood. Any place where people commonly burn firewood there will likely be able to find firewood dealers, you just have to know where to look.

Unlike with many other products and services that we buy that are well advertised, firewood often comes from small, often one person businesses who don’t have much of a budget for advertising. Firewood dealers do advertise but typically not on TV commercials, radio and in many areas you won’t find them in the Yellow Pages of the phone book.

If you only want a few pieces sometimes grocery or convenience stores will sell bundles of firewood but it can be expensive. Below you will learn where to buy firewood in larger amounts.

Where Firewood Dealers Advertise

A very common place for firewood dealers to advertise is in local newspaper classified ads. Also the weekly papers that you can pick up free that are all ads. There are some dealers who have websites or are listed on the internet so you can find them with an internet search but most do not. If you want to find firewood on the internet look on Craigslist. A lot of dealers are advertising on Craigslist.

If you drive through some rural areas it common to see firewood for sale signs in front of people’s homes or in industrial parts of the city where a commercial firewood yard may be. You may not want to drive around specifically looking for signs but when you are driving keep a look out for them.

How to Find Firewood Dealers Who Don’t Advertise

Word of mouth in a good way to find where to buy firewood. Ask people you know who burn firewood where they get their wood and what kind of experience they had with the dealer and whether they would recommend them. Sometimes this way you can find dealers who don’t advertise at all, they may just sell a little on the side to make some extra money. These people may be more willing to bargain.

Ask a local tree service or forestry related business. In most areas of the world where there are trees you can almost always find tree services advertising, often in the yellow pages. If you call them a lot of times they will be able to tell you where to buy firewood. And a lot of times tree services will sell firewood on the side. Other businesses who may be good referrals are loggers, sawmill operators, lumber yards. Anyone who deals with forest products may be able to tell you where to buy firewood or will know someone who can.

Hardwood vs Softwood

Is it Better to Burn Hardwood vs Softwood Firewood?

Hardwood is commonly thought of as being better than softwood as firewood. Hardwood is usually more sought after and sells for a higher price. When making the decision between burning hardwood vs softwood, the best choice will depend on your situation and what you want to get out of the wood. Although hardwood is usually more popular, softwood can also make good firewood and for some uses it is the better choice.

What is the Difference Between Hardwood vs Softwood Firewood?

When it comes to firewood, hardwood simply refers to any wood that is hard and dense. Softwoods refer to woods that are less dense and not as hard. But botanically, and in some forest product industries, it gets a little more complicated than that.

Hardwood or softwood doesn’t necessarily relate to the hardness or softness of the wood. Most hardwoods do tend to be harder than most softwoods, but with some species, that’s not always the case. Some hardwoods such as aspen cottonwood and alder are softer than some softwoods. Balsa wood is well known for being a very soft and light but technically it is actually a hardwood. Whether a type of wood is a hardwood or a softwood has more to do with the way the wood fibers are structured more than its actual hardness.

Difference in cellular structure between hardwoods vs softwoods

Hardwood comes from deciduous trees such as oak, tanoak, madrone, myrtle, hickory, elm and maple. Hardwood is usually more dense, burns longer and produces more heat than softwood. Hardwood tends to produce more coals when it burns which produce more radiant heat over a long period of time. This makes hardwoods ideal for wood stoves when you want it to produce a steady heat over a long period of time. This can also be good when using firewood for cooking.

Softwood comes from conifers such as fir, pine, cedar, and redwood. Softwood is usually less dense and more resinous, burns faster and produces less heat than hardwood. Softwood is good for starting fires and making kindling. Softwood produces more flames and sometimes more intense heat than hardwood but over a shorter period of time. Softwood is good for starting fires or in a fireplace where you want a crackling fire with nice flames. Softwood is also nice for a campfire for the flames but throw some hardwood in to make a nice bed of coals for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows.

There are approximately 100 times more hardwood species in the world than softwoods. All wood has about the same amount of energy per pound. The difference is the density that varies between species. The more dense the wood is the more energy it will have per volume. As a general rule, the heavier a dry piece of wood is, the more heat energy it will have and the longer it will burn. Wood that is lighter will end to ignite easier and burn faster with more intense flames but with less total energy.

How to Tell the Difference Between Hardwood and Softwood

The general rule for distinguishing whether a wood is hardwood or softwood is to use the fingernail test. With this test you press your fingernail against a piece of wood or scratch it along the wood in a direction parallel to the edge of your fingernail. If it leaves a mark in the wood, it is probably softwood or one of the softer hardwoods, which tend to burn more like softwood. If it is hardwood you will not be able to make any significant mark with your fingernail. Softwood from conifers will also usually have a distinctive pine or cedar type of odor, especially when freshly cut or scraped.

Cellular Structure of Hardwood vs Softwood

The differences between hardwoods and softwoods come from the difference in their cellular structure. Softwoods, which come from conifers such as fir, pine and cedar, have a simple cellular structure with 90-95% of the cells being longitudinal tracheids. Longitudinal tracheids are cells that give the tree support and conduct water. The limited and more uniform cell types can make softwoods more difficult to differentiate from one another.

Hardwoods, which come from broad leaf trees, have a more complex cellular structure which varies greatly between species. This tends to create a lot of visible difference between the wood of different hardwood species. Most of the volume in hardwood is from fiber cells that provide structural support for the tree. The main difference between hardwood and softwood is the presence of pores or vessels that exist in hardwood. The main function of the vessels is to transport water throughout the tree.