What are the Best Firewood Types for Burning?

See firewood BTU charts for best firewood types and energy content by species.

Different species of trees can vary greatly in the way they burn, the amount of heat they put out, and they way they put out heat. Knowing the best firewood types for your needs can help you get better results from your wood burning.

People often ask what the best firewood types are for burning. But this question is not always as easy as saying this is the best wood, now go burn it. It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish by burning the wood. The ideal wood for home heating in a wood stove may not be what someone would want in an open fireplace, or for a campfire, or for cooking wood.

The main difference between firewood types, when it comes to burning, is density. Wood generally has the same amount of heat per weight. The difference is in density. Dense woods have more energy than less dense woods per volume. The exception is with resinous softwoods like fir and pine, which have a little more energy per weight than non resinous wood. This is because the resins have more energy per weight than wood fiber.

Higher density wood will usually burn slower and put out more radiant heat over a longer time. These are the high density hardwoods like oak, hickory and madrone. Low density wood will usually burn faster and put out less total heat over a shorter amount of time. Low density wood is easier to light and can put out more intense flames with intense heat, but for a shorter amount of time. Low density woods are softwoods like fir, pine, cedar and redwood, and the softer hardwoods like cottonwood, aspen and alder.

If you want a lot of radiant heat for home heating, dense hardwoods are hard to beat. You get more total BTU over a long period of time. For lighting fires the less dense woods can be easier to ignite, especially softwoods, which are resinous. Softer wood will also put out heat faster and they make larger and more intense flames, which makes it good for open fireplaces and campfires. For cooking, avoid resinous woods like fir and pine, since it can give food a “piney” taste. Most cooking and smoking is done with dense hardwood. When roasting things like marshmallows where it isn’t over the fire for long, it doesn’t matter much.

Different firewood species can vary in the amount of ash they put out. For example, oak makes great firewood for a wood stove since it burns hot and will hold a bed of coals for a long period of time. But it also produces a lot of ash. For many, putting up with the extra ash is worth its good burning qualities. For those who would rather have less ash, madrone is a better choice.

Resinous softwood is great for lighting fires and in cases where you want more flames. Higher density softwood like Douglas fir and larch (tamarack) can also be good in wood stoves and in my opinion sometimes under rated, but still won’t give the same performance as more dense hardwood. Resinous softwood can also create more creosote buildup.

I often get asked whether a certain type of wood is worth burning. Usually if someone is removing a tree in their yard and want to know whether to cut it into firewood or not. Any wood is good for burning, as long as it is dry. Some are much better than others, but if you have the wood you might as well use it instead of letting it go to waste.

Learn about different types of firewood and the amount of heat energy by species in these firewood BTU charts.