When choosing and burning firewood there are multiple factors to include such as, where you are burning the wood, indoor, outdoor, in a fireplace, wood-burning stove, or campfire is it for looks and ambiance or heat. Which overall are the best firewoods to burn?
Dense woods like hickory, ash, and oak burn longer because there is more material or fuel per log. The time a fire will last correlates to the density of the wood because the denser it is, the longer it burns. Beech, cherry, apple, black locust, maple, hawthorn, and sycamore also burn exceptionally.
Once you have a good bed of coals in the fireplace, the orange, red, and yellow flames rolling over the logs, and a cold drink in your hand you do not want to get up to feed the fire. In this article, we will cover the 10 best firewoods to burn, and how long they last. All the information included here will assume you are burning your wood in a fireplace for either a secondary source of heat or the appeal and ambiance a warm, glowing fire creates.
Not All Firewood Is The Same
All wood will burn, but not all wood is a good choice for firewood. If you have the wrong firewood in your fireplace, you could get a lot of smoke, pops, and crackles while throwing dangerous sparks everywhere, or a buildup in your chimney, which can catch fire.
If you start a fire using pine, spruce, or other softwoods, you might get a quick starting, brightly burning fire, but soon all the early energy burns off. Softwoods often sizzle, pop, and smoke as well, because of all the resin and thick sap in these varieties of trees.
Tossing a few sticky pine logs onto your campfire when it gets low can be fun with the pop, crackle, and showers of sparks it likes to display. They catch fire fast and burn quickly. It is a great way to get low-burning embers to catch quickly, but they are not a good choice for your indoor fireplace for all the above reasons.
Hardwoods burn better than softwoods when placed in a fireplace or woodstove because they are denser, burn slower, and create a long-lasting bed of coals. Most will not shower you with scorching sparks or smoke as much either. However, this does not mean all hardwoods are great to burn in your fireplace.
Take poplar, for instance. It is still considered hardwood, but you burn it, it pops and crackles vigorously. It also emits a choking smoke, which could fill your house with dangerous carbon monoxide. So, while hardwoods are better, they are not all equal when it comes to burning them.
Hardwoods Vs. Softwoods
All trees are technically hard wood. I can certainly attest to that fact… I think I still have a knot on my forehead from when I was a young boy. While climbing down a pine tree (too fast), I slipped, hit my noggin on a branch; I did not come up with the idea for a flux capacitor, but I saw stars.
Wood from trees is broken down into two categories; hardwood and softwood.
Hardwood trees are defined as having broad leaves, not needles, and usually bear fruit or nuts. Oak, hickory, cherry, birch, aspen, tulip and mulberry trees are all examples of hardwood trees. The wood from these trees is dense, usually has a smaller growth ring pattern, and is “hard” compared to those of the conifer family.
Hardwoods are often used for furniture, flooring, tools, boats, musical instruments, and charcoal. I love the smell and taste of hickory-smoked meat from the grill!
Softwood trees are from the conifer family, are less dense, usually have needles instead of broad leaves, and have resin canals, which carry sap and pitch through the tree. Have you ever cut your own, or bought a Christmas tree? If so, you probably have had experience with the sticky, resinous sap that oozes from these trees.
Softwood lumber is typically used in construction. Think of framing studs and the beams in your attic. These are usually a type of pine softwood.
As we discussed earlier, softwood trees have resin canals, which is one reason softwoods do not make good firewood. When the resins burn, they can create a lot of smoke, and also leave creosote buildup in chimneys, which can cause chimney fires. Softwoods also burn quickly because they are not dense.
All firewood, whether you are using hardwood or softwood, will put off some creosote, which can stick to the sides of your chimney. However, softwoods create a lot when burned. If you use a wood-burning stove or fireplace in your house, have it checked and maintained regularly by a reputable chimney sweep company.
Sometimes it might be feasible to use softwood kindling to start your fire. A few small pine twigs will light fast and burn hot, which is great for starting your hardwood fire, but afterward, only burn properly seasoned hardwood.
Season Firewood Before You Use It
It’s not advisable to cut down an oak tree, split it, then throw it into your fireplace to burn. It will have too much moisture in the wood to burn efficiently if you can get it to catch fire. Firewood needs to be seasoned, or dried before it makes good firewood.
You can season firewood by letting Mother Nature take care of it, or kiln drying, which takes less time, but is usually more expensive. Either way, the wood needs to be dried to a maximum of 20% moisture for it to be seasoned firewood.
To make sure your wood is properly seasoned to 20% moisture content or less, you can use this inexpensive Wood Moisture Meter. It has four scanning modes for different materials, and it measures the current temperature along with the humidity of the material.
The EPA says in their article, Best Wood Burning Practices: Test your firewood before burning it. You can get the best burn from your wood at a moisture content of less than 20 percent. A moisture meter can make checking this a breeze.
10 Best Firewoods To Burn
If you ask ten different people what the best firewood to burn is, you might receive ten different answers. Some hardwoods can burn without seasoning, some may take 2 to 3 years to season, and others may be a beast to split or put off more heat than others. Any of these factors can make for a top firewood, but this list is simply about good, hard firewood, and how long it burns.
It’s also quite difficult to give a close, approximate time of how long a single log of firewood will burn. It depends on how much airflow there is, how hot the fire burns, the size and thickness of the log, and so on.
So for the longevity of each type of wood, we will look at the average density of the wood. The more dense a hardwood is, theoretically the longer it should burn, so this list of the 10 best firewoods to burn goes in descending order of wood density.
The USDA talks about firewood density in their article, Fuel Efficiency & Conservation–Firewood. In this article, they back up the claim that dense woods are the best firewoods. They provide the most heat compared to a lighter, less dense wood. Dense woods such as hickory and oak rival the heat output of burning coal.
With that out of the way, here’s our list of the 10 best firewoods to burn and how long they will burn.
If you’re interested you can read our full guide on the slowest burning firewoods here and bookmark it for after this article!
1. Hickory Burns The Longest
Hickory is the densest of our hardwood list, burns hotter than oak and maple, and burns the longest on this list. You can start a fire with hickory, get a nice bed of coals going, and let it burn through the night. In the morning, you could still have a warm bed of coals to start another roaring fire in only a few minutes.
Another fantastic aspect of burning hickory firewood is the pleasing, smoky aroma it puts off. It burns clean, so you do not have to worry so much about creosote buildup in your chimney, or have underlying concerns about harmful smoke inside your house.
It holds little moisture, so you do not have to season it for a long time. Hickory also tends to crackle pleasantly without sending out showers of sparks. It makes the fire more pleasing, but not as dangerous.
Overall hickory firewood is the longest burning firewood. It also has a delightful smell when burned and heats well. If you can find hickory firewood, you should get some for your next fire.
2. Oak Wood Burns Almost As Long As Hickory
Oak firewood runs a close second to hickory and could be considered a tie for first place overall. It is very dense, creates a substantial amount of heat, all while burning steadily for a long time. Oak is also widespread around most of America, so you can find almost everywhere it.
Oak can take a year or possibly two to season well, but once it is ready for firewood, you would be hard-pressed to find a better all-around wood in terms of heat, long-lasting fire, and the small amount of smoke produced when burned.
More specifically when breaking down the two species of oak trees, white oak is better firewood than red oak because of it’s non-porous nature. White oak produces 29.1 BTU’s while red oak produces 24.6 BTU’s – leading white oak to burn hotter and last longer!
Seasoned oak firewood works great in your fireplace, wood stove, or fire pit. It burns well, and clean, and is a brilliant choice for roasting marshmallows and making s’mores! Since it is so prevalent, you will have no trouble finding this long-lasting, dependable firewood for all your needs.
There are many varieties of oak wood, many of which are fantastic firewood options. For more information on the best choices, give our on article, 10 Best Oak Trees for Firewood Ranked, a read!
3. Beech Wood Burns Hot
Beech wood is hard to beat compared to other hardwoods in terms of the exceptional heat it gives off. It is great for wood-burning stoves, and when it is seasoned properly, most people report a nutty aroma when burning this wood.
Even though beech wood is naturally dry, it still needs to be seasoned. Unfortunately for beech wood, it should be seasoned for at least a year, possibly two, for the absolute best burning results. Although, once it has been seasoned well, this wood dries out to an incredible 12% moisture content, compared to 20% most woods dry out to.
This extremely low moisture content allows this wood to burn much hotter, and the longer you season it, the less smoke it puts out. It is not as dense as oak or hickory, and so will not burn as long as those two kinds of wood.
However, with the extra heat it puts out, beech firewood is still an excellent choice of firewood. You probably will not mind throwing an extra log on the fire for added comfort.
4. Cherry Wood Smells Fantastic When Burned
People love burning cherry hardwood in their fireplaces because of the pleasing aroma this wood puts off. It’s one of the best smelling woods around if you like the smell of a fireplace or campfire.
It’s still a very dense wood and burns for a decent time, but it does not burn as hot as the previous mentions in this list. If you cut it yourself, it is easy to split, but if you purchase cherry wood, it will probably cost you a bit more than oak.
Seasoning cherry wood does not take nearly as long either. Potentially you could cut and split your cherry wood in early spring, then by late fall or winter, it should be ready to burn.
Cherry wood crackles and sparks a little more than your average wood, so if you burn it in your fireplace, make sure you have a screen in place, just in case
If it were up to me, and this is purely an opinion, I would mix my firewood if I was using cherry for firewood. I would burn something more economical and neutral smelling as a base for heat and coals like oak, then add a log or two of cherry wood occasionally for the smell.
If the pleasant scent is what you are after, you can learn more about the scent mock cherry trees give off here.
5. Ash Burns For A Long While With Little Smoke
Next on the list is Ash. As far as density, this one lands on the upper middle of the stack and will still burn for a long time. However, there are many more pros to this wood, which makes it an excellent choice for your fireplace.
Some people will say ash firewood is their favorite wood to use. It splits well, is still hardwood, and has a neutral odor. It seasons in about six months, so you can use it the same year it’s cut, and can even be burned green. I would only want to burn green wood of any kind outdoors, for extra precautions.
Ash does not produce much smoke at all because of its naturally low moisture content, does not produce many sparks or pops, and burns with a neutral aroma. Some say ash firewood works best in a wood-burning stove because of the heat it puts out, the efficient burn, and the lessened smoky odor; for those who do not love the smell of wood smoke. It is available mostly along the eastern side and north-central areas of the United States.
Ash is still a dense wood and will burn for a decent time. When you add in all the other pros for this wood, it still makes for an excellent heat source and a pleasing fireplace experience.
6. Apple Wood Smells Devine When Burned
Apple wood is another wood that produces a sweet scent of smoky happiness when it is burned. Like cherry, when you burn apple hardwood, you have a built-in potpourri diffuser in your fireplace. Can you tell I like the smell of burning firewood?
Aside from the room freshening scent, apple wood is still a dense, slow-burning wood and creates a long-lasting bed of hot embers. It’s so dense it may have a hard time starting.
This is where some good, softwood kindling comes into play to help start the fire. Once the apple wood is burning, however, all you have to do is add a log or two when it burns down.
Apple wood also burns very hot, a little hotter than oak, and it puts off very little smoke. It is great when burned as a main or additional heat source. The pleasing scent is also used to smoke meats; applewood smoked bacon anyone?
Apple wood could be a tie with ash as far as density and burn time. Its average density comes in only a hair less than ash, so they should both burn about the same length of time. Apple burns hotter than ash, but if you do not want your house to smell like a smokehouse, then you will probably want to go with ash.
7. Black Locust Firewood Is Long-Lasting
Black locust is a fast-growing tree and is invasive in some areas because of how quickly it can spring up. Even though it is a fast-growing tree, the wood is still very dense and burns hotter than most other hardwood varieties.
This firewood does not produce much smoke when seasoned for a year, and has a neutral, to mild aroma. It puts off a moderate amount of sparks when burned, so you would benefit from using a screen when burning black locust in an open fireplace.
One of the few downsides to dealing with black locust wood, is when you are splitting the wood yourself, you tend to get the long, sharp thorns of this tree species. You will need thick gloves when handling it yourself, but otherwise, black locust wood is an excellent, long-lasting, very dense firewood.
8. Maple Firewood Seasons Fast
I know for me, when I think of maple, my mind goes instantly to maple syrup-drenched pancakes, not firewood. Nonetheless, maple wood is readily available all over and is an excellent source of firewood. It may not be as dense as others in this list, but maple wood provides good heat and also smells like maple syrup when burned.
Maple as firewood is a wonderful choice for a few reasons. It seasons fast, you can cut it early in the season then burn it the same winter. It burns relatively hot and lasts a decently long time.
Maple wood does not produce much smoke and is almost spark-free as well.
If you are heating your house with firewood, you may need to use a little more maple wood than you would for oak or beech wood. Although since you could burn it the same season, unlike oak, it might still be a good option.
Maple is lower on the density scale, but is still a good choice for firewood, especially since these trees are fairly common, are easy to cut, split, and season, not to mention the burned wood fills your house with the smell of holiday baked goods.
9. Hawthorn Is A Very Neutral Firewood
Hawthorn is a great, dense firewood, and it grows around the world. It has a few downsides, though, including rather large thorns, and the trees grow small compared to most other trees on this list. Also, hawthorn trees are twisty and full of knots, which makes this wood quite difficult to split.
The benefits of burning this firewood make it a good choice for heating. Once this wood is split, it takes only minimal time to season; around six months. It burns very hot for a decent amount of time and leaves behind only a small amount of ash.
Hawthorn emits little smoke and sparks and does not have much of a smell either. It’s another neutral-smelling wood. This way, your clothes will not smell like you have spent the weekend camping when you go to work.
Of all the hardwood varieties out there, hawthorn is a decently dense hardwood that will give you plenty of burn time in your fireplace.
10. Sycamore Firewood Is Smoky With A Short Life
Finally, we come to sycamore wood, a very dense hardwood with a few challenges. It is probably the shortest-lived hardwood on our list. Sycamore will start easily, but it flames out rather quickly compared to the others here.
The sycamore tree is an abundant species found all over America, so you will not have a hard time finding this firewood. Once you find it though, it takes a long time to season. It takes at least two years to get enough moisture out of the wood for it to be a viable firewood choice.
Because of the high moisture content of this wood, it can put off a higher amount of smoke than our other firewoods, and it sometimes throws off some showy sparks.
Most people who use sycamore as firewood mix it with other, longer burning, lower moisture content woods. Sycamore will light easily, and burn fast, so mixed with hickory, beech, or ash you get a fast starting, hot burning, and long-lasting fire.
The final opinion on sycamore is to use it if you have to and then mostly as a starter. Throw a log or two on your fire if it has burned down to embers to get a quick, intense set of flames, then add something higher on the list for a long, slow burn.
This Fire Has Burned Out
There’s not much out there you can compare to the crackle of a fire. Watching the colorful flames of yellow, red, and blue flicker around the logs while relaxing with friends and loved ones is hard to beat. So, when looking for firewood, you usually want something easy to light with a long burn time, so you can enjoy the ambiance of the open flame.
You do not want to have to get up and tend to the fire constantly.
Now you have at least 10 good choices of hardwoods to choose from and know which ones will last the longest so you can enjoy the warmth longer. We hope this article has given you some insight and would love to hear from you. Drop us a comment or questions below.
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Mani Ram Moktan “Social and Ecological Consequences of Commercial Harvesting of Oak for Firewood in Bhutan,” Mountain Research and Development, 34(2), 139-146, (1 May 2014)
Wassenberg, M., Chiu, HS., Guo, W. et al. Analysis of wood density profiles of tree stems: incorporating vertical variations to optimize wood sampling strategies for density and biomass estimations. Trees 29, 551–561 (2015).
Chafe, Zoë, et al. “Residential heating with wood and coal: health impacts and policy options in Europe and North America.” (2015).
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