Let’s face it, most of us have at one time or another burned pallets, leftover construction materials, or other “suspect” wood that contained nails and other sorts of fasteners. However, you really shouldn’t burn old wood with nails in it for quite a few reasons – even if its outside!
You shouldn’t burn wood with nails as it’s usually from construction material, which may have been treated with chemicals. Campfires can reach around 600°F (but may be hotter) while steel doesn’t melt until around 2600°F, leaving nails scattered around the fire pit ash afterwards.
When burning wood either in a campfire, wood-burning stove, or fireplace, you should only be using local, split, proper firewood, and not anything with nails in it. Let’s go over the 9 reasons as to why you you shouldn’t burn wood with nails in it and what to do instead!
Burning Wood With Nails Can Cause Them To Fly Out
It seems like the natural thing to do. You have some old pallets lying around behind the shed and you need to get rid of them. Maybe there is a pile of wood debris that you’re not exactly sure what to do with, so you burn it just to get it gone.
Wood that contains pockets of sap or is particularly wet can often pop when burned. Some wood varieties throw more sparks than others, and often these are softer woods like pine, which are used as building materials.
This example might sound like that one in a million kind of chance, but I’m sure we’ve all witnessed or experienced something with similar odds. The more the wood sparks, the higher of a chance this has of happening especially if smaller nails were used!
Again, this has a higher chance of happening with smaller nails, but still, don’t take the chance.
You can read our guide on the things to check before using dead trees as firewood here if you’re thinking of using old wood!
The Nails Won’t Fully Melt And Get Left Behind
Most fires are not hot enough to melt nails. According to information from the University of Illinois, campfires can reach around 600°F.
Of course, that can definitely increase depending on certain types of wood, how much oxygen is present, and other sorts of variables.
Steel, on the other hand melts at around 2600℉ – 2750℉, according to information from the University of Washington, so no matter how hot you get your fire, there will be things leftover.
Inside a chimney or your wood-burning stove, you can simply remove these after the coals are cool enough, but how many of us stop to clean up and dispose of our campfire coals?
Burning wood with nails can leave them behind to become an issue for others that use the fire pit afterwards. In addition to nails, there could be staples, screws, or other bonding agents that could be quite sharp.
When burning wood for campfires, most parks, and outdoor recreation areas sell firewood and recommend you buy their own for many different reasons. It’s just a safer bet to burn proper firewood at your campsite.
Not to mention, the threat of transporting insects, but that’s a different reason altogether.
You can also search for firewood around your campsite.
That way you don’t have to worry about burning the actual nails or transporting potentially invasive insects. To help the experience, use this Canvas Log Carrier Bag. It can be difficult to carry all that found firewood back to the site. This carrier bag can help to make fewer trips with more wood each time.
The California Department of Parks and Recreation has made ground fires illegal because they have become an issue for visitors.
Their beaches have been left with soot, coals, nails, and other debris because people have burned lumber and pallets leftover from construction sites. These leftover nails, staples, and other perils get buried in the sand and can cause issues when they resurface!
So, clean up your fire!
Old Pallets Have Nails
Pallet wood has a ton of nails. The pallet manufacturing instruction manual must have a section that states to use an entire box of nails for each pallet.
Again, if you do a quick search, you’ll have plenty of people stating they have and do consistently burn pallets, but we will strongly caution against it.
Yes, a lot of pallets are heat-treated; meaning they are heated up slowly to help dry them out and eliminate any potential insects.
The “but” is that pallets are often used for storage in facilities that have many different chemicals and solvents, some have been treated with chemicals that you don’t want around.
Pallets that are used to store chemicals could easily have absorbed them in the wood. These chemicals could be spilled out when being used. When they are burned there’s no telling what could be released into the air.
Again, many people will argue its fine since its outdoors, but it’s better to just get some old proper firewood as you’ll still be near it.
Pallets can also be treated with methyl bromide.
This pesticide has been known to affect the ozone layer, and to be very harmful to humans according to the EPA.
Though this chemical isn’t used as much, you don’t know how old the pallet is, and some pallets aren’t stamped with how they were treated.
Construction Materials Shouldn’t Be Burned
Wood with nails in it often comes from construction sites or home renovation projects. These types of woods shouldn’t be burned because most construction materials are treated with chemicals or have been stained or painted.
Treated wood is usually used for outdoor projects like decks. This wood when it’s new has a greenish tint to it. This treatment helps to prevent rot and insect infestation.
Burning treated lumber can release construction chemicals into the air. Not only that but some of these chemicals can remain in the coals, which then can leach into the soil and groundwater.
When wood is painted, depending on how old it is, it can release lead which can cause health problems from prolonged exposure. Though lead paint was banned in 1978, many houses still contain lead paint.
According to the State of Washington Department of Ecology, it’s important to dispose of treated wood properly. Do not burn it in open fires, wood-burning stoves, or fireplaces.
When burned, chemicals can get released into the air or stay behind in the ash. That contaminated ash can then leach into the environment and contaminate soil and water nearby.
Burning Galvanized And Treated Nails Releases Chemicals
As technology advances, so does the treatment of fasteners. Nails and screws can be treated with chemicals, coatings, or paints to make them longer-lasting, especially in outdoor settings.
When you burn wood with these nails in them, again you could be releasing smoke into the air, or chemicals into the ground. Some nails are treated with cadmium, which when it gets into the ground can harm plants and microorganisms that are beneficial to the soil.
Cadmium is a simple element that can’t be broken down into less troublesome substances in the environment. Once it gets into the environment, it will stay there.
If you’re planning a fire, take a look at our guide on the 9 types of firewood that produce the least amount of smoke!
Burning Wood With Nails Causes Potential Damage To Wood Burning Stoves
Wood-burning stove manufacturers state in their manuals to only burn proper wood and not wood scraps. Nails present in the wood can possibly get into the working, moving components of your stove.
What would happen if a nail fell down into the motor that drives the fan, or it got tossed around in the fan blades? This is another worst-case scenario, but they do sometimes happen.
Again, this is a case of better to be safe than sorry; you wouldn’t want the additional cost of repairing your stove.
When wood with nails is burned in a wood-burning stove, these nails can easily fall down or past the grates. Wood-burning stoves can get significantly hotter than campfire or chimney fires.
These increased temps could cause the nails to fuse to the metal parts of your wood burner, it’s just another thing you have to cleanout.
Remember how we mentioned the popping wood earlier? The wood could pop while in the wood-burning stove and send a nail hurtling toward the glass door. It may not crack the glass but it could cause a small crack that gets worse as it heats and cools.
If you need a good solid firewood for your wood stove, take a look at our piece on the slowest burning firewoods here!
Wood With Nails Is Often Low-Quality Wood
Wood with nails is often lower-quality wood.
When you get solid wood like hickory, oak (white oak firewood is better than red oak, FYI), maple, or other hardwood firewood, you know that you are going to get plenty of quality heat from it. Wood with nails will probably be from pallets, construction projects, or furniture.
This wood is of much lower quality than true hardwood firewood. Construction materials are often made from pine, which when burned doesn’t burn as hot or as long as hardwood firewood.
Pine also creates more creosote, which can build up in the chimney or vent pipes.
Pallets contain thin boards that will burn fast, so you’ll end up having to constantly feed the fire with fresh wood to keep the fire going. Using proper hardwood will give you lasting flames and a good, clean bed of coals that can last through the night.
I know it’s a cliche, but when it comes to firewood, you get what you pay for. Cheap wood is often low-quality, fast-burning, undesirable wood.
That being said, not all firewood is created equal, and you can burn high-quality wood that burns for a long time. You can learn more about different types of firewood and the best firewood to burn here.
If you have ever had trouble starting a fire, we all know blowing on it helps to get a small ember burning, but how many times has this taken forever even in the slightest wind?
Bypass that by using this INNO STAGE Wood Fire Air Bellows. When starting a campfire, sometimes it can be difficult to get a good flame going, but with the help of this bellows, you’ll have a good flame in no time.
You can also check out our list of the hottest burning firewoods if you want to keep your campfire temperature down a bit!
Leftover Nails Pose A Threat To Wildlife
While out camping, it’s an unwritten rule to have a campfire.
You need it for toasting marshmallows, making your coffee in the morning, and having the warming, crackling ambiance of an open flame while enjoying the great outdoors.
Once the fire is out and you’ve packed up, the leftover ash can pose an issue to wildlife or other campers. Leftover nails can poke through paws, feet, or hands. Also, animals in the wild have been known to consume charcoal at times.
Many animals instinctively eat charcoal left over from campfires. When wood with nails has been burned, wild animals could accidentally consume these items which, leads to a variety of issues from there.
How To Properly Dispose Of Wood With Nails
Maybe you were thinking of burning the old wood with nails in it as a way to dispose of it. You no longer have a use for it, it’s taking up space or creating a cantankerous eye-sore, so you want to burn it to finally get rid of that ugly pile of scraps.
Before you do that, we have a few ways you can properly dispose of that pile of wood.
You may have to do a little research, but a lot of municipal waste departments will recycle or dispose of your construction waste. Contact your local waste department to find out. You may be able to drop it off to be recycled or even have curbside come pick it up for you.
Some waste departments will want you to cut the waste up into smaller pieces and simply throw it away in your regular curbside waste bin. Others will want you to drop it off at specialized waste areas.
It also depends on whether the waste is considered commercial or residential waste. Commercial waste is often debris that results from work done by professionals, such as carpenters and contractors.
Residential waste can often be thrown away with normal household waste, while commercial waste has to be treated differently. Again, contact your local waste management services to find out the proper disposal.
DIY’ers Love Repurposed Wood
Do you know anyone who likes to repurpose or upcycle old, seemingly useless “stuff”? I know of a few and they are always on the search for wood scraps and items most people throw away without a second thought. That pile of wood scraps might be a DIY’ers dream come true!
You could donate the old wood to someone else who can make good use of your junk, or you might even be able to sell it for a small price. These crafty people also love old pallets.
They can make everything from furniture to art, to wine racks, all repurposed from old pallets!
Offer up your scraps on a social media platform or online “yard sale” site, and you might not even have to get your hands dirty.
Have them come to you, then they’ll cart it away to make some amazing projects. Better yet, see if there’s something you can use it for and start your own repurpose trend.
That’s A Wrap!
We know the chances of molten hot nails flying out from the fire in your direction can be astronomical, but it can still happen.
Still, there are many other reasons it’s simply better off not burning wood with nails. If you don’t know where your wood was sourced, then you never know what could be lurking inside, unseen.
There are plenty of places and ways to find good, clean-burning firewood so that you don’t have to worry about chemicals, nails, or other hidden troubles In fact, we have several different articles concerning firewood you can check out.
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Owoyemi, Jacob Mayowa, Habeeb Olawale Zakariya, and Isa Olalekan Elegbede. “Sustainable wood waste management in Nigeria.” Environmental & Socio-economic Studies 4.3 (2016): 1-9.
Struhsaker, T.T., Cooney, D.O. & Siex, K.S. Charcoal Consumption by Zanzibar Red Colobus Monkeys: Its Function and Its Ecological and Demographic Consequences. International Journal of Primatology 18, 61–72 (1997).