Best Firewood to Burn (Chart)

Updated on April 29, 2022 by

If you have some experience with burning firewood, you already know that every wood burns differently. Wood density and moisture level are the two key factors that influence the efficiency, hotness, and longevity of burning wood. 

The finest woods burn efficiently and completely to leave your fireplace and stove clean and mess-free. There’s another kind that just doesn’t burn, fills your place with smoke, and causes great havoc. 

To avoid such disasters, you must pick the best wood to burn in your fireplace. Here, we will talk about some of the best tree species that provide top-quality firewood so that you can ensure efficiency as well as safety.

A campsite just doesn’t feel complete without a nice fire. With just an axe or another appropriate, sharp tool, you can cut down green or standing dead wood, split it if necessary, and create a big stack of firewood for a fire. It keeps you safe and warm throughout the night, helps you dry moist or wet clothes, and allows you to prepare simple (or extravagant), delicious food to keep you going in the bush.

By using just this article is about the best types of wood to burn outdoors.  We’ll look at a few types of wood that you’ll commonly find in North America and give you some tips so that you know how to choose and use the best wood in any situation.

Hardwood vs Softwood: Which Firewood Burns Better? 

We can divide the firewood largely into two categories: hardwood and softwood. Both types have their unique burning properties, which make them suitable for different usage. 

Let’s have a look at some of the most popular hardwood and softwood firewood to find out which type is more suitable for your needs. 

Hardwood Firewood 

As hardwood comes from slow-growing deciduous trees, this type of wood is comparatively denser. The density of the wood decides the energy output of the firewood. 

Denser hardwood has higher energy contents which produce greater heat and less flame. Moreover, they will provide a steadier and longer burn time. Hardwood has the lowest sap and pitch, which makes it easier to burn with the least amount of energy loss. 

However, you might have a hard time lighting up the hardwood properly. Due to the high density of the hardwood, it takes more time to be seasoned. Hardwood is also pretty expensive, especially in the western areas of the US. It’s also difficult to clean up the stony coal bed left by the hardwood. 

Despite its drawbacks, hardwood is the first choice of most people to burn in their wood stoves and fireplaces. Here are some popular types of hardwood with the highest heat value:

Oak 

Since there are plenty of oak trees all around the United States, this is the most popular firewood among the natives. Oakwood has a density of 37-56 lbs./ft.3, which is high enough to keep your place warm for the whole night. This hardwood is known for its slow burns and clean residues. 

Each cord of oakwood produces 24-28 million BTUs – making the burns hotter than most other types of firewood. One drawback of the wood is that it takes almost 2 years to be completely dried. Apart from that, oak is the ideal firewood to burn. 

Hickory 

Hickory is another high-quality firewood that has an impressive heat production of 28.5 million BTUs for each cord. It is also one of the brightest and longest burning woods that usually burns for more than four hours. 

The wood leaves thick hot coal to fill your room with warmth till the morning. With its 37-58 lbs./ft.3 dense logs, the wood will burn clean and create the least amount of smoke. 

Birch 

This native hardwood has two excellent features that make it many people’s first choice. Despite being a hardwood, it takes a surprisingly short time to be completely dried out. Also, some types of birch wood can be used without seasoning. 

The wood produces 20.8 million BTUs per cord, which is enough even for the coldest nights. Moreover, birch is considered the best smelling firewood by many people. It has a subtle and sweet aroma that will elevate your mood instantly. 

Birch is a wood that burns well and gives off good heat, but at the cost of burn time – this is not a slow-burning wood! It will burn green, however, and lights up with ease, so it’s a great choice of firewood when out in the bush or hiking a trail. Its papery bark is also great for starting fires, as it lights easily and can jumpstart kindling.

Ash

Ash is historically widespread throughout central and eastern North America, and even green it burns well. That’s what makes it a great wood for burning when camping, bushcrafting, or hiking, if you can find it. It burns fast, though, so you’ll have to either find a lot of it or mix it in with some slower-burning wood such as oak, walnut, maple, hawthorn, or hickory.

Unfortunately, North American ash is threatened by an invasive species of beetle (the emerald ash borer) that it has no resistance to. As a result, ash numbers are declining throughout the North American continent. If you see an ash tree with large round holes in its bark, you know that it has been attacked by the EAB beetle. In this case, it’s almost certain that the tree is a goner and can be cut down and burned.

Softwood Firewood 

Typically, softwood is lighter and less dense than hardwood. Because of the low density, it takes only 6 to 12 months to season softwood. Moreover, softwood is cheaper to buy and easier to kindle. It burns quickly and produces a hotter flame. 

Softwood is perfect as scrap for lighting up the fire, and so you can mix them with your hardwood stack to have better control over the fire you’re burning. During the spring or fall, softwood can be valuable as it produces less intense heat. 

Remember that the excessive use of softwood can build up creosote inside your chimney and cause a fire. 

Here are some of the most popular softwood firewood:

Cedar 

As every cord of cedarwood produces 12-13 million BTUs heat, the wood is most suitable for the initial days of winter. Cedarwood creates less flame and more heat that lasts longer than other softwood. 

It also has a pleasant smell that fills up your living spaces or campsites. Keep in mind that cedar is one of the most expensive softwoods. 

Larch 

Larch is considered the hardest softwood, and it has many of the properties of most hardwoods. As the wood is denser, it provides a long-lasting burn time. It creates hotter flames with less smoke. The wood also has an impressive 21.8 million BTUs heat production for each cord. 

Pine 

Pinewoods come from a wide variety of pine trees, each of which has its unique burning properties. Most pinewoods produce 15-21 million BTUs per cord. You can light up this softwood quickly and use it to fuel a campsite fire. Pinewood is easily attainable and comes at very affordable prices. 

You’ll find pines growing all over North America. As such, pine is a plentiful resource for campers and hikers to use in their fires. The one great thing about pine is that it lights up fast and burns well. That is due to the pine resin it contains. It’ll go up in flames fast, even in wet weather, due to the extremely flammable nature of the resin.

The major drawback of pine is that it is terrible for cooking on – the resin goes up in the smoke, makes it black, sticks to food and changes the taste – as well as being very unhealthy for you. If you’re going to be cooking, try to use as little pine wood as possible. If pine is all you have, try to let it burn up as much as possible before cooking on it.

One thing that pine is also great for is that it is wonderful at starting fire – just use a bit of pine bark, resin, and fatwood (pine wood with a lot of sap in it) to create an excellent firestarter for other types of wood that you have.

Other Woods

If you come across fallen maple, walnut or other hardwoods, don’t hesitate to add them to your campfire if the wood isn’t wet and rotten. Hawthorn contains little moisture and gives off great heat. It is, of course, preferable to burn wood that is dry and has seasoned for at least 8 to 9 months (softwoods) or a year and more (hardwoods).

In a survival situation, of course, it might not be possible to use such seasoned wood, so you’ll have to make do with what you come across. All the above-mentioned woods burn well and will provide you with a good fire, as long as you know how to use them in a fire. You won’t be able to get a good fire going out of green oak alone, but if you combine pine, birch, and oak, you’ll be able to get a crackling fire going in a short time and then stretch it out throughout the night if you thrown a piece of green hardwood (the oak) into it.

firewood in a pile

Which Firewood Burns the Hottest? 

The heat production is measured in British Thermal Units or BTUs. The higher the BTU value, the more heat the wood will produce. 

Hickory and Oak are among the hottest burning firewood because of their high 28 BTU/cord values.

Both the woods produce the highest heat and burn the longest. Forestry experts of Utah State University have ranked the most common firewood according to their BTUs value. Here are the wood density and heat values of some selected firewood:

Type of Wood Hardwood or SoftwoodWood Density (lbs/ft3) Heat Production (million BTUs/cord) Smoke Produced
Hickory Hardwood37-58 28 Minimal
Oak Hardwood37-56 28 Minimal
BeechHardwood3727.5Minimal
Black LocustHardwood4827Minimal
AppleHardwood41-5227Minimal
Ash Hardwood40-53 24 Minimal
Larch Softwood31-35 22Minimal
Black WalnutHardwood3222Minimal
Birch Hardwood42 21Moderate
Cherry Hardwood43-56 20 Minimal
Maple Hardwood39-47 20 Minimal
ElmSoft Hardwood3520Moderate
AlderHardwood2517.5Low
PineSoftwood22-3117High
Cedar Softwood23 12Moderate
This table shows the difference in density, heat production, and smoke production for different types of wood

Conclusion 

Well, now you know which is the best firewood to burn this winter. High-quality firewood is a must for ensuring optimal heat and safety. Woods with high density and heat values are most suitable for both indoor and outdoor usage. 

Between the two main types, hardwood will provide you with the longest burning sessions and the highest heat, whereas softwood will instantly light up and burn with hotter flames. Try to stack both hardwood and softwood to fill those chilly nights with warmth and comfort. 

Hopefully this article helped – please share your wood preferences in the comments below! It’s always good to hear and exchange personal experiences and thoughts regarding survival and making yourself comfortable in difficult situations. Thanks for reading!


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Michael Culligan

I am a lumber worker who performs logging services for the forestry industry. I have spent years honing my skills and experience to become a well-rounded axeman. I'm exited to share my knowledge of axes and lumber tools with everyone to help.