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.