The smoky smell, crackling sound, and tactile ritual of fire building is what gives real wood-burning fireplaces their appeal. But what type of firewood is best? Each species has its own set of burning characteristics, and there are a lot of choices out there. Here’s a quick primer on firewood facts and types.
Even the best firewood will not burn well if it has not been seasoned—aged in a dry area, that is. Many dealers sell "seasoned" wood, but if it’s been split this year, it probably won’t be dry enough. Most experts advise buying wood this year to burn next year.
Whatever wood you choose to burn, make sure that you're storing firewood in a well-ventilated outdoor area that is protected from the elements. Bring in only as much firewood as you plan to use at one time. (Indoor temperatures can encourage any bugs in the wood to become active.)
Probably the best conifer for firewood, Douglas Fir has a medium heating value and does not produce much ash. Older trees are easy to split and easy to start. However, keep in mind that like many softwoods, the Douglas fir does produce a moderate amount of sparking.
Birch is an attractive firewood and gives off a lot of heat, but it burns fairly quickly. Though birch can be easier to find and cheaper than many other species, you’ll go through it faster. It’s best when mixed into your firewood supply and used in combination with other types of wood.
Oak is considered one of the best species for firewood. Dried properly, it can produce a slow-burning and hot fire. But it does need to be seasoned for at least one year, preferably two. Like other hardwoods, oak is difficult to ignite, but you’ll be rewarded once it’s burning with an intense, sustained fire.
Pine seasons faster than hardwood varieties, is easy to split, and easy to start. The downsides are that it burns quickly and does not produce the high heat of hardwoods. Also, burning pine is usually characterized by exploding sap pockets that cause sparking, which in turn can cause creosote buildup in your chimney. Softwoods like pine aren't the best option for indoor fireplaces, so if you're going to burn them, consider mixing them with hardwoods.
Related: How to Split Firewood
Get the help you need for the home you want—sign up for the Bob Vila newsletter today!