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Learn About Firewood

 Apr 19, 2021    Do It Yourself

Learn About Firewood

 

Firewood seems like one of life’s easiest tasks. Gather dried wood and make a fire. While it is on the surface a basic task, firewood and creating a great fire are actually quite complex.

We explore all things firewood in this article and include tips for not just creating a fire but creating a good heat producing fire. Which is where we start our journey into the wooded forest of firewood information.

A good heat producing fire burns consistently and has the ability to off put the heat it creates to give warmth.

Two rows of seasoning firewood stacks.

We list below tips for creating a great fire in your fireplace, fire pit, or wood burning stove.

And pitfalls you can avoid for wood fires that do NOT provide heat while they burn.

Seasoned Wood:

The most important aspect of firewood is its moisture content. Each type of wood has its own set moisture content and its own drying time, called firewood seasoning or firewood curing in firewood terms.To dry or season the wood that will become firewood the tree is split into logs and left out in a protected space to dry. The minimum dry time to get firewood is 6 months with many firewood professionals drying firewood for up to three years. It is important that the wood is exposed to outside air but also protected from rain and snow.

Log Cabin Style stacked wood gives the logs more air dry space. Creating dryer firewood which gives better burn rate firewood.

Crisscrossed stacked firewood.

To be sure your firewood is dry enough to create a good heat producing fire it is recommended that you buy a moisture meter. You should also plan and create a firewood shed for your winter firewood stock.

Covered firewood seasoning or curing to dry out.

All Smoke No Fire:

The terms green wood or green firewood refer to how much curing in dry time the wood has had. This is also referred to as firewood seasoning.

Green firewood will not burn but smoke and smolder never fully catching on fire. Green Wood or Green Firewood is not the color green at all. It looks like a freshly cut tree often with the tree rings visible.

Green firewood reference image showing the firewood is a natural wood color.

Freshly cut green firewood has the full moisture count of the tree and the tree type for the season. Burning green firewood will release the moisture of the firewood log along with any tree natural tree sap trapped in the wood. This moisture can turn to creosote, a thick dark mixture of the moisture from the green firewood and the excessive smoke from burning the green wood.

Wet firewood will also smoke and smolder if it catches on fire at all. Wet or damp firewood also can be rotten, moldy or mildewed. Trying to burn rotten, moldy or mildewed firewood can pose serious health risks.

For these reasons neither wet firewood nor green unseasoned firewood should be used to warm your home.

Fully Seasoned Firewood:

An image of a perfect all around firewood log burn.

All types of firewood will burn at their peak if they are fully seasoned and stored properly. Fully cured firewood will also save you money by burning consistently and at the longest burn time for the type of firewood chosen.

Pricing Firewood:

Much like other natural commodities firewood pricing and availability depends on weather factors. A very wet season will raise the prices by double or triple what they were the year before. Weather factors also determine growth stages of firewood trees and the cutting of new firewood that will need to be seasoned.

Two reference images of stacks of firewood.

With firewood seasoning cycles of at least six months it is easy to see how delicate and complex planning a year's worth of firewood is for both firewood sellers and firewood buyers.

Buying Firewood:

Firewood is measured and sold by the cord. A cord of wood is an actual unit of measurement defined as 4 feet by 8 feet by 4 feet.

A cord of wood reference image with measurements.

Some definitions of a cord state that each firewood log should be 4 feet long. As long time buyers of firewood we can say for sure the length of your firewood log will depend on who you buy your firewood from.

Firewood recently cut and curing.

Buy Firewood Locally:

Firewood is perhaps the most locally sourced natural product in the world. Moving large amounts of wood for fire starting is just not cost effective. So, your choices of which type of wood to buy will be determined by what types of firewood is available to you in your area. And by what is available based on weather factors this year and last year.

Firewood for sale reference image.

You will often see honor system payment sheds or lean to sheds with firewood on the way to campout adventures. As well as fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables with the same honor system payment method.

These side of the road stands are a great way to source local firewood and help the local community. Be sure to have extra cash on hand if you plan to use these easy pay and go units.

Choosing a reputable firewood seller for repeat firewood purchases will not only save you time but could help save you money too. Many people use the same firewood suppliers for decades. With that long term retail relationship the sellers will often give you a heads-up on price increases. Or preferred firewood picks.

It is also dangerous to move firewood even within your own state. We explore more depth the risks associated with moving firewood. And why it matters even to those who don't use firewood lower in this article.

Delivery Of Your Firewood:

If you are new to firewood you may not know that many firewood sellers will also offer to stack the firewood for you at delivery. The charge for this can often double the price of the firewood load. Which can sound excessive, until you move several cords of firewood.

A huge truck dumping wood on the ground.

You can move your own firewood to see if this amount of labor offsets the cost of stacking from the firewood sellers. We don’t mind an occasional outdoor workout but have found most people do prefer to include the cost of on delivery stacking in their firewood budget.

Storing Your Firewood:

Firewood that has been fully cured still needs to be kept as dry as possible. Firewood should be stacked off the ground and with a top cover. It is recommended that you buy or build a firewood shed to store your wood. It is not advisable or practical to bring all your firewood inside. It is also best for the firewood to continue curing in the open air.

Firewood sheds reference image from the EPA Burn Wise Campaign PDF.

But firewood attracts insect pests so you should keep your firewood away from your home's parameter too. We went to a trusted name in home pest control for the minimum recommended distance in feet from your home to your firewood shed.

Termites on Wood reference image.

Orkin Pest Control recommends a minimum of 5 feet between your home and your firewood storage. Of course, you’ll have to source your firewood on some pretty cold winter days so it is best to plan a quick route from your door to your firewood shed. You can purchase a firewood shed or you can build your own firewood shed with help from the EPA. At the link below is a PDF with step-by-step instructions on how to create an off the ground, sturdy, outdoor firewood shed.

Image link to EPA's PDF for how to build a firewood shed.

We want to note that the ball park building price listed on this PDF is from 2018 and most likely not an accurate number. The cost of building supplies has increased greatly since 2018. These helpful instructions are a part of the EPA’s Burn Wise Campaign. The modular wood shed design is adapted with permission from the Makah Tribe of Washington State's design.

Don’t Move Firewood Campaign:

Managed by The Nature Conservancy in tandem with The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, The National Firewood Task Force, The National Plant Board, The National Association of State Foresters, The U.S. Forest Service, The National Parks Service, The National Invasive Species Information Center, and all US States Conservation Departments the Don’t Move Firewood Campaign seeks to stop killer invasive firewood pests and tree diseases from moving to new wooded areas.

This program aims to stop the spread of all insect species not native to an area and all invasive species even those pests not federally regulated. The Federal response focuses on destructive and incisive species such as the emerald ash borer and the Asian long horned beetle.

Emerald Ash Borer

While local and other national agencies work on raising awareness and physically preventing firewood from being transported. With each state and region focused on the individual pest or disease in the area.

The Spotted Lanternfly was discovered in the US in 2014. Once found and tracked, researchers came to believe the species had been living undetected for several years.

The Spotted Lanternfly reference image.

Beautiful but potentially deadly to trees and crops the Spotted Lanternfly wrecks havoc in multiple ways once in an area. One of the most destructive aspects of the Spotted Lanternfly behavior for trees is encouraging black spotty mold growth during their feeding process. Many of the Spotted Lanternfly habits and life cycles reduce a tree's natural health, allowing other parasites and diseases to take hold.

Other types of these tree, wood, firewood pests, and diseases are the gold spotted oak borer, the pine shoot beetle, thousand cankers disease, and the oak tree killer P. ramorum, which causes sudden oak death also known as SOD.

Thousand Cankers Disease shown on a tree branch.

Providing you buy your wood near where you live and know what to look for in firewood you should be able to avoid bringing invasive species or tree diseases to your area. But this includes not moving firewood to a faraway campsite or cabin getaway. Firewood suppliers should be found within a safe distance from any campsite or wooded retreat.

Reference image to an honor system payment firewood shed selling firewood bundles.

How To Buy Healthy Firewood:

We discussed above how storing firewood can cause firewood rot, mold to grow on the firewood, or mildew to accumulate on your firewood. If your firewood shows any of these signs you will most likely visually be able to see there is damage, or in the case of firewood rot your firewood may also smell very bad.

But this isn’t the only determining factor for buying and using healthy firewood. Healthy firewood will be completely cured or seasoned, dry to the touch, and lighter when lifted than the size of log would indicate.

Another important sign of fully cured firewood are cracks or splits in the log ends. These will be very dry and deep showing the firewood has lost its natural tree growth moisture.

Seasoned firewood with visible cracks in the wood showing it is cured.

Avoid Bad Wood For Your Fires:

This quick list outlines other tell-tale signs the firewood is not fully cured or seasoned:

1. Firewood log is heavy when lifted and the weight matches the size. Seasoning firewood takes all the moisture out of the firewood log and creates a lighter firewood log.

2. Firewood that has a strong smell like the tree it was cut from may not be seasoned enough or at all. Most firewood, even aromatic firewood, will have no smell or very little smell until they are burnt.

3. Firewood that is sticky is most likely oozing the natural tree sap and not fully seasoned or ready to be burnt.

4. Firewood that has insects may have mold, tree sap, or other surface moisture that is attracting the insects.

5. Wood logs that smell of mold, mildew, or have a strong earthy smell (like the woods after a rainstorm) will also not be good for firewood.

A pile of freshly cut firewood.

Stumps, deadfall trees, standing deadfall, blown down trees, and under brush almost never create a safe and good heat producing fire. They will have a higher moisture count even if they appear dry. And may have mold, mildew, lichen, or other fungus types such as polypores which will burn with the wood. And will become airborne as you move the wood.

Dead tree with a hollow center.

Using the small twigs, new tree shrub growth, and wood debris of underbrush will never create a good long burn. While these twigs and dormant growth may look dry they are most likely alive. And in their winter phase of growth. You may find dead and dry to the touch underbrush but it too may have picked up moisture from laying on the wooded forest floor. Depending on the under brush it may burn very hot and very quickly, adding creosote to your firebox and chimney.

A fireplace fire full of under brush twigs and small sticks.

As seen in the picture above, the dry under brush will burn. But it will not produce much heat. It if the underbrush is completely dry it will create a lot of fire while it quickly burns. The underbrush is also hard to control if you were trying to fill a fireplace, as seen in the image also. Where firewood logs can be placed centered in the firebox, under brush is a jumbled mess of twigs, sticks, viens, and leaves.

You also always want to keep the proper firebox fire clearance of 6 all around inches. This can be very hard to do when using thicket underbrush.

Mushrooms growing on living trees.

Mushrooms growing on the sides of living trees is a sign of a very wet season. These trees would not make good firewood.

Hardwood vs Softwood:

Since you are choosing locally and your choices will depend on what is available within the seasonal firewood cycle near you, you may not have all of the woods listed below as choices for your fire.

A reference image of an old oak forest and a fir tree sapling.

There are types are firewood that are transported within rigorous federal and state regulations, with strict wood quarantine protocols in place both Federally and in each state. The one benefit to choosing a firewood that is not sourced near you is that it will almost always be fully seasoned as the drying process also reduces the weight of the firewood. Which reduces the freight costs of shipping the firewood.

Softwood Firewood vs Hardwood Firewood:

There is much debate about whether hardwood firewood is best or if the faster growing and less season time softwood should be used for firewood. There really isn’t one answer for this question as each type of firewood has benefits and drawbacks. The hardwoods will burn longer, and generally give a denser firewood log. But the hardwood's grow time is measured in decades not years and cutting older growth trees is not popular in our modern era.

Softwoods burn faster but not hotter and can burn without being fully cured, causing build up within your fireplace. Softwoods or attractive hardwoods like the birch logs are great choices if you want to create a fire for ambience and general warmth.

Since much of the firewood purchased is grown on farms or replaced with a tree sapling we think that if you plan to use your fireplace or wood burning stove for heating the easy choice is a locally sourced hardwood. The burn time and consistent fire burn along with the heat output offsets any benefit to using a faster growing softwood.

This is one of the Pandora's box conservation issues because if you use the softwood firewood you will use more, causing more energy to be expended all along the firewood process. A long growing hardwood tree will continue to grow but if this tree was planted expressly for the purpose of becoming firewood there is no loss to the environment. And a new tree cycle will start with the planting of a tree sapling. There are also questions on the long grow heath of large hardwood trees aside from pests and diseases.

A really big beech tree.

In the end your choice of which type and which kind of firewood is really just which type you can manage from price purchasing point, storing, carrying, and fire starting. As in much of modern life and in the science of conservation anyone who tells you an absolute on this is speaking from a personal space, not hard facts.

Pick the wood you like and enjoy whichever fire is easiest for you to start!

Local Firewood Choices:

Choosing which type of firewood to buy from your local options can be daunting to those new to wood burning fireplaces and wood burning stoves. Home fireplaces can be used both to add warmth in true heat to a home or as a relaxing home feature with the heat produced as an added bonus.

If you want to maximize your heat output you’ll want to choose a hardwood like oak or maple. Recently many people have been choosing white birch logs for their fireplace fires. White birch logs make a very comforting look in the fireplace and the firewood logs of birch are easy to handle. We take a deeper look into several other popular firewood types and fire kindling wood types below.

Birch Tree Firewood:

Birch tree forest.

But birch can burn not fully cured, causing sap and the birch trees natural moisture, known as pitch in firewood terms, to coat your chimney. You can also expect to pay considerably more for the beauty of birch logs. A hardwood tree, the birch firewood grown trees rarely reach full maturity. Firewood birch trees are grown on farms expressly for the purpose of logging for firewood.

Ash Tree Firewood:

One of the least expensive and widely found firewood types Ash Firewood burns evenly and gives a consistent burn rate. Ash Firewood also has one of the shortest season cycles of any hardwood firewood.

Twisted Ash Tree reference image.

Ash Firewood will burn green, not fully cured, but burns at its peak fully dried and split properly.

Specialty Firewood and Kindling:

Fatwood:

Fatwood has been the choice for easy fire starting for centuries. It is also an all natural earth grown way to start a fire.

Fatwood reference image showing two types of resin age.

Taken from the deep parts of pine trees fatwood is a pine tree resin rich aromatic wood. Because of its natural resin flammability there is no need to do anything to enhance the fatwood. The fire starting sticks are also cut in a very slim style giving you plenty of kindling in each box.. You may only need one fatwood stick per fire, depending on the size of your fireplace or wood stove.

You can learn more about fatwood and browse our fatwood product catalog at the link below:

Fatwood link image.

Hickory Firewood:

One of the hardest - hardwoods Hickory Firewood is thick and dense producing great long burning and full heating fires. Hickory is also an aromatic firewood producing a pleasant but strong smell as it burns. Hickory Firewood will be cut much larger than a firewood like Birch firewood, which also aids in creating a better fire.

Hickory tree reference image.

Many people love Hickory Firewood, burning it indoors often but with its strong distinctive scent we think it is best to use outdoors or at least burn it outdoors first so you can choose if this aromatic wood is right for your fireplace or wood stove.

Sassafras:

Known for centuries as a root, bark, and leaf producing tea the Sassafras Tree has become a popular fire starter and fire novelty. The firewood or kindling of Sassafras burns in bright changing colors and produces a rich root beer like smell that is very pleasant.

Sassafras Tree reference image.

But the Sassafras Firewood or kindling is also a SPARKING WOOD, meaning that even when fully dried due to the way the tree cells grow there are pockets of air or air and moisture trapped. These spark and pop when Sassafras Firewood is burnt. We would recommend only using Sassafras Firewood or Sassafras Kindling in outdoor environments with plenty of clearance around your fire pit or bonfire.

Mesquite:

Perhaps the most popular flavor in all of the barbeque world Mesquite Firewood or more commonly Mesquite Kindling will produce a heavy full smell when burned. Adding Mesquite firewood logs, mesquite kindling, or broken aromatic Mesquite pieces is also cost effective with mesquite readily available in most grocery centers.

A velvet mesquite tree reference image.

This aromatic wood will produce a heavy thick scent and is recommended for outdoor fires.

If you do burn an aromatic wood inside the smell will not go away once your fire has burnt out. All aromatic wood smells will fall into the soft surfaces of your home, such as a sofa or your carpet. It can be impossible to remove the scents once they have attached to a soft surface.

Maple Firewood:

Available in soft maple or hard maple these two varieties minimum season time is 6 month or a year respectively. Hard Maple will give a solid easy fire with a long burn time. Soft maple is loved by some fire aficionados but generally is not considered a great fire burning wood.

Maple tree reference image.

There are over 100 species of Maple Tree with several varieties grown specially for firewood. Providing you always buy from a reputable local firewood dealer you don’t need to worry about whether you are buying hard maple for your winter firewood stock. But if you are concerned you can ask your sellers where and which type of maple firewood they are selling.

Walnut, Almond, and Pecan Firewood:

Each of these nut tree firewood types will produce a matching nutty smell when burned. These nut tree firewood types are normally going to be very expensive and are used primarily for the smells they produce.

Almond Firewood with kindling boxes.

Warning!

If you have anyone in your family with a nut allergy burning these woods can cause an allergic reaction. As can handling these nut tree family firewood logs. Many people are familiar with bags of peanuts on airplanes triggering allergic reactions in other passengers, this is caused by the peanut dust from the bags of nuts.

The same mechanism is in play here when a nut allergic person breaths the smoke from these nut firewood logs. It is not the smoke that could produce an allergic reaction but the nut wood proteins in the smoke, hence the nutty smell, that could cause a reaction.

These types of nutty wood should also not be used for curing meats if you have a nut tree allergic person in your home or attending your barbeque event. These types of nutty firewood should also never be used in public spaces such as hotels, bed and breakfasts, or meeting halls.

Cedar Firewood:

Also known as Aromatic Cedar Firewood

This firewood starts out life as a coniferous tree growing 6 to 12 inches a year. Many people think of Cedar Wood for trunks and storage chests and it is that same rich fresh smell that many people love in Cedar Firewood.

Cedar tree reference image.

But Cedar Firewood is a strong smell and if you are new to adding aromatics to your fire then it might be best to try it outside in a fire pit or Barbeque Grill first.

Using your Fireplace or Wood Burning Stove properly:

You won’t get a great heat producing fire if the fireplace or stove are not operating at full capacity or are not being used correctly. Fireplace glass doors should be open to let the maximum heat out. They also should always be open if you don’t have 6 inches between your firebox and your fireplace glass doors. Generally, unless a fireplace was specialty designed you won’t have 6 inches of fire clearance.

For those who use wood stoves or wood stove inserts your doors are designed to always be shut. These units give a radiating type of heat that can not reach its maximum burn if the doors are open.

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Last updated on June 10th 2021.

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