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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.

The Best Firewood for Outdoor Fire Pits and Fireplaces

Burning firewood outdoors is in a lot of ways different than burning indoors. The best firewood for outdoor fires can be different than what you might think is best for indoor burning. When heating with a wood stove indoors, most people prefer dense hardwoods to give off long radiant heat. But with outdoor fires, this is not always the case. But in all cases, dry wood is by far the best.

The best wood for an outside fire will depend on what you want from the fire. What you might want for cooking or roasting hot dogs may be different than if you want a lively fire with big bright flames to sit around. Dense hardwoods are good for cooking over. They make good hot coals that put out a steady heat with low flames. Hardwoods are also the types of wood that have the best smoke flavors and aroma.

Softwoods like fir, pine and cedar are often better if you want big bright flames. This is what can create the type of outdoor fire that will light up the area at night and bring a lot of warmth and great atmosphere. But be careful with some softwoods like cedar, since they have a tendency to throw sparks. And with softwoods, they do burn a lot faster than dense hardwoods so be prepared to go through more wood and put wood on the fire more often.

Pinion pine is a very popular firewood for outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, and chimineas. Pinion pine is a softwood, but one of the more dense softwoods. It burns longer and puts out more heat, and it is resinous which helps to make more brilliant flames. It is also popular because of its aroma when burned and its mosquito repelling properties.

Many people consider pinion pine to be the best firewood for outdoor fires. But because of its popularity and limited growing area, it can also be expensive. Pinion pine grows in the arid southwestern USA and Mexico. It doesn’t grow very fast and the trees don’t get very large. It also usually has to be shipped a long distance for most markets. So to me, I would rather burn more local woods that cost much less. But many people enjoy it enough to pay the higher price for it.

If you are burning wood in a thin metal or clay fireplace or other outdoor burning device, be cautious of the super hot burning woods like mesquite, manzanita, and Osage orange. these types of wood can get so hot they can damage these devices. If you do burn them you may want to keep the fires small or mix in other types of wood. Thick cast iron and copper are not so much a worry.

You should avoid burning treated wood or wood soaked in creosote or paint. These can put off toxic fumes. Beware of burning used lumber and building material scraps, since some of it might be treated. As long as it is clean untreated wood, it is fine to burn. You can usually tell if wood is treated because it will burn with a greenish flame.

Just about any type of clean dry wood will burn fine. So if you have it, try it out. The best way to know what type of wood you like best is to try different types and decide for yourself.

Post your experiences and preferences of types of wood for outdoor burning below.