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.

One thought on “Is it Better to Burn Hardwood or Softwood?”

  1. I’d like to add something to this. Generally hardwoods send less creosote u the flue/chimney than softwood does.
    Creasote is a residue that can build up easily if one burns incorrectly, has a poorly designed flue(which equals poor combustion)or burns wood that has a high quantity of creosote being produced. Creosote build up is a risk for your chimney and ultimatly your home. Please clean or have a qualified person clean the excess creosote out of your chimney or flue. It can build up over the years and ignite-meaning that the fire will now be in your chimney instead of the firebox where it belongs.
    If you tend to burn softwoods a lot, you might consider cleaning your flue more often to minimise the risk.
    Personally I only use softwood to start a fire and I don’t use too much of it. I prefer to just use a hatchet and split up slender lenghts of hardwood. The density the original author mentioned is correct. If you split hardwood thin to start the fire it will have plenty of surface area to allow good air flow to combust well.
    Hope this helps-stay warm-but not too warm.

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