All types of wood behave differently when burning. Some woods produce more smoke than others. Some woods create sparks and pop. And others burn at a hotter temperature. Finding the perfect firewood can make your fireplace burn more smoothly, produce more pleasant odors, and ensure your house isn’t filled with smoke.
A wood that burns poorly can cause many problems. Bad firewood can be an irritant to the lungs and over time may cause the dangerous build-up of soot in your chimney. One of our biggest concerns is the potential for firewood to spit out sparks and embers that may cause house fires.
As a general rule, hardwood is best for burning when the fire is hot and in full force. But you usually want to use softwood and / or kindling to start the fire, because soft wood catches fire more easily.
To help you choose the best type of wood for fires, we have produced the following chart. This chart lists the best burning woods from best-to-worst. We’ve strategically selected the most common types of firewood you might find in the United States.
Best Types of Firewood for Burning (Chart)
|#||Type of Firewood||Weight (Lbs per cord – Seasoned)||Heat per Cord (million BTUs)||Sparks & Pop||Amount of Smoke||Ease of Splitting|
|1||Black Locust||4,192 Lbs||29.3||Few||Low||Moderate|
|2||Hickory (Pecan)||4,072 Lbs||28.5||Medium||Low||Moderate|
|3||White Oak (e.g. Burr Oak)||3,776 Lbs||26.4||Few||Low||Easy|
|4||Honey Locust||3,680 Lbs||25.8||Few||Low||Easy|
|5||Red Oak||3,536 Lbs||24.8||Few||Low||Easy|
|6||White Ash||3,472 Lbs||24.3||Few||Low||Easy|
|7||Hard Maple||3,408 Lbs||23.9||Few||Heavy||Easy|
|8||Osage Orange||4,300 Lbs||30.1||Many||Low||Easy|
|10||American Elm||2,872 Lbs||20.1||Few||Medium||Difficult|
|12||Silver Maple||2,752 Lbs||19.0||Few||Low||Moderate|
|13||Southern Pine||2,936 Lbs||22.0||Few||Heavy||Easy|
|14||Eastern Redcar||2,812 Lbs||19.7||Many||Medium||Easy|
The above chart outlines the best woods for burning, ranked from best to worst. Weights are estimations of fully seasoned wood, which is significantly lighter than green wood. Most firewood racks are designed to carry the load of green wood, allowing it to season over the summer while stacked and racked. Higher BTUs represent woods that burn at a hotter temperature. Ease of splitting relates to the ease of splitting seasoned wood, not green wood.
We selected these types of firewood because they are the most common types of wood in North America, including the United States and Canada.
Shortlist of the 3 Best Woods for Burning
1. Black Locust
- Weight – 4,192 Lbs per cord of seasoned wood
- Heat Output per Cord – 29.3 million BTUs
- Sparks and Pop – Low
- Amount of Smoke – Low
- Ease of Splitting – Moderate
Most people in the know consider black locust to be the best firewood for burning. It is a hot burning hardwood that concurrently has low smoke output due to its smooth, clean burn.
Black Locust is ideal for providing heat. Of all major types of firewood, it burns the hottest. We measure heat output via BTUs. The higher the BTUs per cord of wood, the hotter it burns. Seasoned Black Locust firewood tends to burn at around 29.3 million BTUs per cord – significantly higher than competitors such as Oak, Ash and Maple trees.
It is therefore recommended for burning in a home fireplace for providing heat in the dead of winter.
But an additional especially nice part of Black Locust wood is that it spits out low levels of sparks, pop and rogue embers. It makes it somewhat safer than many other types of wood for minimizing accidental fires. But that doesn’t make it safe. You still need to supervise any fire and use a fireplace screen to minimize risk.
- Weight – 4,072 Lbs per cord of seasoned wood
- Heat Output per Cord – 28.5 million BTUs
- Sparks and Pop – Medium
- Amount of Smoke – Low
- Ease of Splitting – Moderate
Hickory is a type of North American wood known for its strength, density, stiffness and toughness. There are 18 different types of hickory, including Pecan. Its main use is as a material in tools, ladders and flooring.
It is very similar in density and burning characteristics to Black Locust. It burns very hot, making it ideal for home heating and interior fireplaces. Due to its density, it also smolders as hot coals for a long time, allowing continued ongoing heating for a full winter’s evening.
The minimal smoke output for this wood similarly makes it ideal for burning under an indoor chimney.
While it sparks more than some alternatives, it’s not well-known for being a temperamental wood. Nonetheless, it’s important to monitor it while it burns at all times.
3. White Oak (e.g Burr Oak)
- Weight – 3,776 Lbs per cord of seasoned wood
- Heat Output per Cord – 26.4 million BTUs
- Sparks and Pop – Few
- Amount of Smoke – Low
- Ease of Splitting – Easy
White Oaks include sub-categories such as Burr Oak and Post Oak. As a dense hardwood, it is very good for burning for heat. It coals well and burns for a long period of time as hot coals. With minimal sparking, it’s relatively unlikely to cause spot fires, although there is always risk.
Additionally, White Oak is known for being easy to split when well seasoned, making it an easy to use wood.
It is somewhat further down the sale than Black Locust in terms of heat output, but nonetheless has relatively high BTUs, and remains one of the superior woods for heating and using as a central log in a fireplace.
Criteria for Choosing Firewood
Amount of Smoke
This is one of the most important considerations for us. An excessively smoky fire can ruin a campfire – or smoke everyone out of your living room! There’s nothing worse than constantly spinning around a fire trying to avoid the wrath of the smoke.
While some woods are inherently more smoky, there are some big ways you can avoid a smoky fire. Firstly, ensure the wood is well seasoned. Green wood causes excessive smoke in comparison to dry wood. So – season your wood, or buy wood that has been well seasoned!
The other way to minimize smoke is to ensure a smooth burn. A fire that doesn’t have a good amount of oxygen flowing through the fire will sputter and cause excessive smoke. If you’ve got a permanent fire pit or indoor fireplace, consider getting a fireplace grate that lifts the wood off the ground and allows better flow of oxygen to the underside of the fire.
Burning Heat (BTUs)
A hotter burning wood will be better for heating your home. Higher BTU woods with low smoke output are therefore very popular for home fireplaces at wintertime. Examples of this type of wood include Black Locust and Hickory woods.
We measure the heat of wood using BTUs. This stands for British thermal unit. It is a quaint old metric, but continues to be the standard to measuring the heating potential of wood. The metric itself is derived from the amount of heat it takes to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.
When it comes to firewood, we tend to measure it by BTUs per cord of wood. A cord of wood is a lot of wood – more than a regular household can get through in one winter. You’re more likely to buy a quarter or eighth to a cord of wood each winter.
Most types of firewood output between 15 (low) and 30 (high) million BTUs per cord of wood.
The weight of wood differs significantly between when it is green and seasoned. In the chart above, we have provided approximate weights for a cord of seasoned wood for each variety. You might notice a clear correlation between the weight of the wood and its burning heat. Simply put, denser wood has more fuel in a more condensed space, allowing it to burn at a hotter rate.
Popping and Sparking
This is a very important safety consideration. Woods that pop and spark will often spit out embers that cause secondary fires. This is a common cause of house fires. Some woods naturally pop and spark more than others. Oaks and Elms are known for having minimal sparks, while Osage Orange is particularly well-known for its propensity to ‘pop’.
While a wood that causes less popping and sparking is obviously better than a wood that causes more, no fire is safe. A small breeze or change in wind direction is all it takes to spill embers out of a fire onto nearby fuels. So, it’s important to always monitor and supervise your fire to ensure no secondary spot fire flare up. Remember to put out your campfire completely before heading to sleep.
All woods give off a fragrance, but some are significantly more notable than others. We find a strong fragrance is fine for outdoor camping, but a strong fragrant firewood in your living room fireplace may be too potent give it’s a confined space.
If you want to have a fire with a nice fresh earthy smell, consider getting cedar or pine. Both of these woods give off a classic forest smell, but they’re also both known for being smoky burners. In fact, neither of these woods is a great firewood, but they are often burned in campfires purely for their fragrance.
Woods that both give off nice fragrances and burn well include Hickory and Oak. Both will give off a subtle but pleasant smell.
Quality of Coals
At the end of a fire’s life, it will burn down to coals. Some woods turn to denser, longer-burning coals; while others turn to crumbling ash that won’t last too long into the night. People who want to cook over a fire are often most concerned about the quality of the coals. A nice hot coal is perfect for cooking over on a campfire cooking grate.
Beechwood and American Elm are two types of wood well known for their coaling qualities. They’re perfect for a campfire cookout. Sadly, Black Locust, which is otherwise our pick as the best firewood, isn’t so good for coaling.
However, there are some positives to a wood that crumbles as a coal. For one thing, it’s usually much easier to put out and ensure it won’t re-ignite overnight or after you have left the campsite.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Wood Should you Not Burn?
There are several types of woods that should definitely not be used as firewood. The first and most important of these is driftwood that you might find on a beach. Driftwood – wood that has washed up from the ocean or waterways – has often absorbed toxins, salts and minerals from the water that, when burned, are released into the atmosphere. Those toxins may cause damage to you and the ecosystem. So don’t burn driftwood.
Next is endangered species woods, or woods form protected parks. Many protected parks have rules designed to prevent people from taking wood that is a necessary part of the forest’s ecosystem. Woods can form fuels and mulch for new plants to grow and habitats for animals. Similarly, some trees in protected parks may be endangered species that need protection.
It’s also usually best not to burn wood that hasn’t been fully seasoned. Wood that’s been seasoned will have been given a few months of exposure to sun and wind to allow the moisture to absorb out of the wood and for it to fully dry out. This means there’s less moisture in the wood – which tends to prevent wood from burning smoothly.
Lastly, don’t burn soft wood – stick to hard wood only. This isn’t for any safety or environmental reason. The reason is simple: it doesn’t burn well! It burns out fast, doesn’t burn to coals, and doesn’t create much heat.
Which is the Best Wood for Heating your Home?
We would select Black Locust as the best wood for heating. It lets off the highest amount of heat per pound and also burns nice and smoothly. Other good types of wood that are good for heating are Hickory and White Oak. Make sure it’s well seasoned and has good access to oxygen for a good strong smooth burn.
Which is the Best Wood for a Stove?
Hardwoods are best for burning on a stove. Hickory, Oak, Ask or Locust varieties will all work well. It’s a good idea to check your manual to ensure you’re burning the correct type of wood. Furthermore, make sure you’re only burning woods that have been well seasoned so their moisture content is between 10 and 15 percent.
Which wood lets off the Least Smoke?
There are many different factors that contribute to how much smoke a fire will let off. The old adage “where there’s smoke there’s fire” still stands: any wood will let off smoke. But some burn more smoothly than others, letting off softer and less pungent smoke.
As a general rule, the more well-seasoned (and less moist) wood is, the less smoky the fire will be. Water has a huge contribution to smokiness. Consider, for example, how smoky green leaves are when thrown onto a fire.
The other general rule to follow is that hardwood smokes less than soft wood. This is because hardwood is more dense and burns slower.
The best burning firewood is usually a firewood that is dense and well-seasoned. Locusts and Oaks match this density criteria well. With density comes a hotter burn and better, longer-lasting coals. When a wood is well seasoned, it tends to smoke less and burn more easily. So no matter the type of wood you use, ensure it is well seasoned to have a good high-quality burn.