What is the Best Firewood?

Choosing the best firewood to burn can be confusing with the many different hardwood trees in our area.  Here are my recommendations based on many years of experience.

Oak is the best firewood!

Any of the oak trees (white and red) produce excellent firewood. Oak is very hard and will burn for a long time. The harder wood also produces more BTUs.

Oak trees grow slowly which results in the wood being very hard and tight-grained. This means it won't pop and snap as it burns.


What about the other types of wood?

Maple, sassafras, black cherry, pine, and others can also be burned but they aren't the best firewood. The problem with these other woods is they grow relatively quickly. This produces softer wood. Soft wood will create a great flame, but it burns fast.

Soft wood also pops when it burns. All of the woods mentioned above will create some huge pops which blow burning embers out of the fireplace. These can easily burn holes in rugs and carpets. If you use a closed stove or always have the fireplace opening securely blocked by a door or screen the popping is less of a concern.

The best firewood is properly dried

A proper stack of firewood
A perfect stack of firewood.
Note the alternated logs on the end for strength.

Have you ever had wood that sits in your fireplace and sizzles? It never really gets a nice flame going.

That means it isn't properly dried, or seasoned. The water in the log is boiling causing the sizzling sound.

A freshly cut tree (oak or otherwise) needs to be split and allowed to dry for at least a year, maybe 18 months.

Wood that isn't dry won't burn well and also produces creosote in your chimney.  Creosote causes chimney fires.


How to stack firewood to dry it

Stack the wood slightly up off the ground.  This will allow air to get underneath the first layer.  Lay a couple treated 4x4 timbers parallel on the ground. Stack the wood on top of them.

Provide some type of cover to the top layer of wood. This can be old plywood or anything to keep water off the top pieces.  Plastic will work well too. Allow air to naturally flow through the sides of the stack. Don't cover the entire stack of wood with plastic or a tarp. This will trap the water and cause the wood to rot.

You can stack the wood between a couple of trees if they are available to you. If not, alternate the end pieces to produce a sturdy end to your stack.


How do you know it's dry?

One good way to tell if firewood is dry is to take 2 pieces of firewood and hit the ends together.  You should hear a sharp "clank" if the wood is dry. Two pieces of firewood that aren't dry will produce a "thud".

Dry wood also weighs less than wet wood. A properly dried piece of oak firewood shouldn't be very heavy.


Cut and burn?

If you know what you're looking for you can sometimes find wood that can be cut, split and ready to burn right away.  Look for a tree that has been dead for a while but not soft and rotting. 

The best firewood trees are the ones that are still standing and the bark is naturally peeling off. Its best if the tree has been off of the ground and hasn't absorbed water. The top of the tree will be dryer than the larger trunk.

The larger the tree the less likely you will be able to burn it right away. A naturally dry tree, still on the stump, and 12 inches in diameter or less are the best ones to cut and burn. 

After you split the logs, do the "clank" test and see if you get that sharp noise and not a thud.  Remember, the best firewood is properly seasoned.

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