Whether you’re buying or burning, knowing a few things about the different types of firewood can maximize efficiency and save you trouble when it comes to your wood stove, fireplace, or fire pit.
Not all firewood gives the same results, so understanding the characteristics of different types is key to choosing the best firewood for your needs.
There are two main types of firewood: hardwood and softwood, choosing the right type of wood in each of these categories will make all the difference with the quality of your fire! But don’t let the names fool you – Hardwoods aren’t always harder or more durable, and softwoods aren’t soft and workable—give or take a few exceptions.
Actually, the difference lies in their terms of reproduction and physical structure, not by their end-use or appearance.
The short version of the story goes like this, hardwoods are generally denser than softwood, meaning they burn for longer and produce more heat. They are also less sticky than softwoods and are less likely to cause tar deposit buildups in your flue.
To get a better idea of the benefits and features of both hardwoods and softwoods, we’re going to break down each category with more details.
So let’s take a look at which is the best firewood for different types of fireplaces.
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The Best Types of Firewood
Most hardwood trees are slow growing, making them much denser than softwoods. They’re darker in color, burn more slowly, and are best for cooking and producing fires which are hotter and more intense.
What they’re great for: Long, lingering fires with lots of coals, heating your house, and fueling your stove. Hardwood is generally the best wood for your fireplace.
Popular Types of Hardwood For Burning:
The list of different types of hardwood could go on and on forever, so we will focus on just three of the most popular:
A favorite because it can be found almost anywhere, oak is very dense and can burn for a long, long time. It’s the slowest timber to season and is best used in a mix of different types of logs. It’s great if you need to keep a fire going at night. You can expect to pay around $180-600 per cord.
A great option for fires thanks to its ability to burn quickly and well, even unseasoned. There are many species of Birch (like Black, Yellow, and White) with varying degrees of efficiency. Its bark can also be used as a natural fire starter. It works best mixed in with slow-burning woods like Oak and a full cord will be around $200.
A favorite for wood burning because it burns well on its own, produces a steady flame, and has a good heat output. If you’re looking to buy a full cord seasoned and split, you can expect to pay around $360 – $420.
Walnut is a clean-burning hardwood that produces a medium amount of heat. It produces a pleasant smell and is quite easy to split.
Softwoods typically season much more quickly than hardwoods and are lighter and lower in density. They ignite faster than hardwoods and emit more smoke, making them better for outside use.
What they’re great for: Perfect for kindling, campfires, or anything outdoors.
Popular Types of Softwood for Burning: When it comes to softwood the options may not be as plentiful as hardwoods, but there are some great choices. Especially if you’re looking for a wood with a lower heat output:
Small pieces can be burned unseasoned and generally give off a pleasant smell. Cedar will give you a nice, lasting heat with little flame and a strong crackling sound. You’ll be looking at paying around $220 per cord.
Lights easily and burns fast with a good flame, but will need to be refueled more often. An excellent fire starter, but should only be used outdoors as it has a high sap and resin content. A good option to mix in with other firewood, you’ll find a full cord for $160.
The hardest of all softwoods and actually harder than some hardwoods, larch must be seasoned well and will burn very hot. Perfect to mix in with hardwoods and good for stoves (be sure to close the door or you’ll get a smoke filled room). Popular because it’s pretty low-maintenance. A full cord will likely cost you $160.
Believe it or not, fuel for your fire doesn’t have to be just plain old firewood. These days, there are a few different types of manufactured fuel that can be used in a fire place to keep you warm in the winter:
These are exactly what they sound like, bricks made of wood. In fact, they are made of kiln-dried woodchips/sawdust (which has many different uses) that has been compressed into a brick-like shape.
If you buy a high-quality wood brick such as Bio Blocks, then they can actually burn more efficiently and produce more heat than cordwood.
Because they generally have a lower moisture amount than your typical firewood, they will also burn cleaner and leave less ash – meaning cleaning your fireplace is much easier.
Wood Pellets/Pellet Fuel
Wood pellets are very similar to wood bricks, except they are made into little pellets. They are designed to be burnt in special heaters called pellet stoves or even special cooking devices called pellet grills, but they can work in standard wood stoves if needed. They generally burn very quickly though, so I would only recommend using them in a standard wood stove as a last resort.
If, however, you find that it is time to replace your old wood stove, you should seriously consider a pellet stove. They are super efficient and environmentally friendly. You can learn more about pellet stoves in our guide here.
Types of Firewood To Avoid
A common misconception is that you can burn any old thing, but that’s not the case. Whether you’re preparing to use a campfire, a cast-iron stove, or even a stone hearth, there are a few woods you should never burn.
If you find wood that has been cut and stored more than a few miles away, ditch it. Using firewood that has traveled too far is the number one way to introduce invasive insects or diseases to a new environment. Even one infected log can put an entire forest at risk.
Freshly cut wood has a high sap and moisture content and can be hard to light. Once it gets burning it will smoke horribly and burn inefficiently. Ask your seller when the wood was cut if you’re unsure if it’s green.
Treated or painted wood
Older treated woods were often preserved with arsenic, when you burn this wood you are releasing arsenic into the air. This simple test can help you avoid burning inorganic arsenic. Additionally, painted woods release chemicals when burnt.
Due to its salt content the chlorine can transform into carcinogens, which you don’t want to expose yourself to. Although the salt may produce pretty flames, it’s best to keep this out of your fire.
Logs more than 5 inches in diameter must be recut before use. Throwing large logs onto a fire is a waste of time, be sure to split your logs for maximum efficiency. A great tool to help you get the job done is a
Identifying what you need from your fire and the available species in your area are essential steps for choosing the best firewood for you. The next time you are shopping around, keep this guide in mind!
Common Firewood Terms (Jargon)
To ensure you aren’t lost when shopping around for firewood, there are three important terms to recognize:
- Cord: Unit of measurement. When purchasing firewood, you purchase it by the cord. A cord is 8′ long x 4′ high x 4′ deep.
- Seasoned: Dry wood.
- Green: Unseasoned wood that is still full of moisture.