Is Oak Firewood Any Good? [2022 Update]

Updated on October 12, 2022 by

Oak is one of the best options available for use as firewood because it burns clean, hot, and long. It’s a popular wood for indoor and outdoor fireplaces, although its high heat rating makes it ideally suited for indoor fireplaces and stoves. 

There are a lot of varieties of oak, and all of them burn well. Some burn hotter than others, with Gamble oak taking the top spot. Red, Bur, White, and Oregon oak all produce at least 22 million BTU per cord, which is more than enough for a warm fire in the dead of winter. 

Oak doesn’t split easily and does take a long time to season when compared to other firewood. However, its high heat output and low creosote creation make it an excellent firewood choice for any situation. 

Summary

  • Heat Production: 22 – 28 million BTU/cord 
  • Weight: 5,200 lb/cord green 
  • Seasoning Time: 12-24 months
  • Splitting Difficulty: Moderate
  • Sap Content: Low
  • Smoke: Low
  • Smell: Sweet, faint 

Oak is a dense wood, which makes it great firewood. It burns hot, and burns for a long time. It produces a good bed of coals. Oak is abundant across the country, which makes it affordable and easy to find. 

red oak firewood cord

Heat Production

Oak burns hot. Some varieties burn 22 million BTU per cord, while Gamble oak burns 28 million BTU per cord. If you want a hot fire that lasts for hours, oak is an ideal firewood choice. If you are burning Gamble oak, it’s recommended to keep your fires smaller than normal if you build it in a stove. Gamble oak burns hot enough it can potentially warp wood stoves. Thanks to its high BTU rating, oak generates less creosote than other woods. 

How Much Does Firewood Cost? (2022 ...
How Much Does Firewood Cost? (2022 Update)

Smoke Generation

Oak doesn’t produce much smoke unless you burn it before it’s properly seasoned. The smoke oak produces has a faint, sweet, and distinctive smell. Oak is arguably the most popular firewood in America. As such, you’ve probably smelled oak burning during the winter. Oak is a popular wood for indoor fireplaces and wood stoves since it generates so little smoke and creosote. 

As with any firewood, ensure your oak is properly seasoned before burning. Unseasoned wood generates more smoke and creosote than properly seasoned wood. 

Seasoning Time

Oak takes a longer time to season than other woods. At best, oak needs a year to season. Most oak takes between 12-24 months before reaching 20% or lower moisture. Oak takes a while to season because it’s such a dense wood (which is why it’s such a great firewood). It’s harder for water to seep out of the densely-packed fibers in oak than in many other kinds of wood. 

You can speed up seasoning time in a few ways. A good choice is to split your oak into smaller pieces instead of seasoning it in whole logs. Stacking the oak in high-airflow drying racks and covering it from rain is another way to ensure it seasons quickly. 

You’ll want to buy a moisture meter to measure the water content of your oak as it seasons. Moisture meters aren’t expensive and can be bought at many hardware stores around the country. Do some research on different models and set a budget before you buy one. 

I personally recommend this General Tools Moisture Meter. It allows you to accurately gauge how wet your firewood is and whether it is sufficiently seasoned or not. Over time you can also see how quickly the moisture is dropping and how much longer you need to keep your firewood dropping until it is seasoned and ready to burn.

Press the sharp pins into the wood and you will quickly see the readout show the moisture ranging from 5% to 50%. It also has a Low/Mid/High indication depending on whether the wood is dry enough, so you don’t need to remember the actual values.

General Tools Moisture Meter
Use a Moisture Meter to Avoid Burning Wet Wood

Burning Smell

Oak has a slight, but distinctive smell. Since oak is arguably the most popular firewood in America, you’ve likely smelled it burning on cold winter nights. That sharp smell of woodsmoke is emblematic of oak. You don’t need to worry about oak producing excess smoke unless it hasn’t been properly seasoned. 

Creosote Buildup

When you burn green or unseasoned wood, the wood doesn’t burn completely. Small, unburnt particles are released, and these particles gather in a layer of black ash inside chimneys, fireplaces, and wood stoves. That black ash is called creosote, and it’s highly combustible. Too much creosote buildup in your chimney puts it at risk of catching on fire. 

So, it’s a smart move to burn wood that generates little creosote. Most hardwoods don’t produce much creosote, and oak is no exception. Since oak is a dense wood, it burns long and thoroughly. You’ll still want to regularly clean your stove and chimney, but you won’t need to worry about excess creosote buildup if you’re burning mostly oak. 

Splitting Difficulty

Oak can be a tougher wood to split due to its tendency to form knots. Red oak, in particular, is known for forming knots in its trunk. Since oak is a dense wood, splitting it requires more force than other woods. 

Oak trees grow large, so you’ll get a big firewood yield from a single tee. Since oak takes such a long time to season, you should immediately split it into smaller pieces instead of letting it dry in round logs.

If you choose to split oak by hand, using a splitting block helps the process go quicker. A splitting block more evenly distributes the force of your axe into the wood. 

Different Types/Species

There are hundreds of different oak species worldwide and 55 in North America. A few different oaks are the most plentiful for firewood, including Red, White, Bur, and Oregon. Red oak itself is a catch-all term for a group of oak trees. 

Most oak trees can grow over 100 feet tall, and most are long-lived trees. You should get a good yield of firewood for every oak tree you fell. 

Gamble oak has the highest BTU rating per cord of any oak species. If you can find and use this wood, you’ll need to build smaller fires to get a feel for how it burns in your stove. Gamble oak burns hot enough that it can warp some wood stoves. 

Red Oak

  • BTU: 24.6 million BTU/cord
  • Weight: 4888 lb/cord green
  • Seasoning Time: 12-24 months
  • Splitting Difficulty: Moderate
  • Sap Content: Low
  • Smoke: Low
  • Smell: Sweet

White Oak

  • Heat Production: 29.1 million BTU/cord
  • Weight: 4,200 lbs dry wood 
  • Smoke: Low 
  • Smell: Pleasant/slight smell  
  • Splitting Difficulty: Medium 
  • Seasoning Time: 12 Months  

Comparison to Other Woods

Oak is arguably the most popular firewood in America, and for good reason. It burns long and hot, produces little creosote, and isn’t too tough to split. 

But just how much better is oak than other firewood options? Let’s compare it to some of the other hardwoods out there

FirewoodMillion BTU/Cord (source)Ease of SplittingCoalsOverall Quality
White oak24.2MediumExcellentExcellent
Hickory25.3DifficultExcellentExcellent
Maple25EasyExcellentExcellent
Black walnut20MediumGoodGood

Oak stacks up well against the competition, even if some of its varieties don’t have as high a BTU rating as others. Oak is abundant, affordable, relatively easy to split, and burns clean. You’ll have little ash left behind from an oak fire. It’s a popular wood for indoor and outdoor use, although you’ll get the most out of its heat properties if you burn it inside a wood stove. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you burn oak in a firepit outdoors?

Yes, oak is a great choice for use in outdoor firepits. Thanks to its low sap content, it doesn’t crack or pop much. It produces hot, long-lasting fires, so a few logs will be enough to get you through an evening in the backyard or the backcountry. 

Is it safe to burn in a fireplace indoors?

Yes, oak is safe to use indoors. Some varieties of oak burn very hot, so you’ll want to experiment with the size of your fires if you’re burning a new-to-you type of oak. Some oak burns hot enough to cause damage to wood stoves. As always, you should only burn wood inside if you have proper ventilation in place. 

How much does it cost to buy?

Oak generally goes for $250 a cord. It can be higher in some places due to where you buy it or how far you are from a firewood supplier. 

Conclusion 

Overall, oak is one of the best choices for firewood. It burns long, hot, and clean, producing little smoke, ash, or creosote. It’s become one of America’s more popular firewood choices because of how much heat it produces. Oak is a great wood to mix in with other hardwoods to create a hot fire that’ll last all through a cold winter night. 


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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.