What Type of Firewood is Best?

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From buying it to burning it, knowing a few things about firewood can greatly help the productivity of your wood stove or fireplace this winter. Here are tips culled from the nonprofit Wood Heat Organization to help you prepare by knowing what type of firewood is best.

What makes for good firewood?

When determining which types of firewood burn better, it’s important to remember some high school chemistry and the fact that all trees, no matter their species, are made of pretty much the same chemicals. What makes for good firewood, though, is density and moisture content.

Woods that are harder or denser, like oak, hickory and ash, typically burn longer and produce hotter coals. And, a low moisture count (using wood that’s dried properly, or “seasoned”) means you’ll burn your fuel with better efficiency and avoid overly smoky fires or excessive creosote buildup in your chimney.

Of course, many hardwoods are rare, protected or difficult to come by in certain regions. When comparing available types of firewood to purchase, just keep in mind that hickory, oak and maple burn longer and hotter, making them great choices for winter’s coldest months. In contrast, poplar, pine and spruce burn more quickly and make for better fall and spring woods because, according to the Wood Heat Organization, they make heat control easier and don’t overheat the house.

Talk to neighbors with similar stoves and homes to find out how much wood they burn over a season. And ask for recommendations on reliable suppliers of wood.

What is a cord?

Officially, the measurement for wood is called a “cord.” A “full” cord is an 8-foot-long stack that’s 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide, but since 4-foot pieces aren’t typically what people use in the fireplace or wood stove, firewood is rarely sold in that size, which can make purchasing firewood confusing.

Adding to the confusion are the various terms like “face” cord and “furnace” cord that are sometimes used to describe a variation of a full cord (where the piece lengths are shorter than four feet).

Of course, stocking up on firewood is an investment, so you want to understand exactly how much wood you’re getting and how to compare various pricing. The Wood Heat Organization offers a formula to help you do that, and suggests avoiding wood that’s not a variation of a full cord (that means, no buying a load from the back of a pickup truck).

Stacking firewood the Holz Hausen way.
Stacking firewood the Holz Hausen way.

How to stack and dry wood

When your wood is delivered, have pallets, railroad ties or other stable material ready to stack the wood on and get it off the ground. Wood left on the ground in a disorganized pile won’t get enough air-flow to dry sufficiently. To properly dry your wood out — what’s called “seasoning” — the Wood Heat Organization says to select a place where the sun can warm the wood and wind can blow through it.

Cross the wood in alternating patterns per level as you stack it. Take your time to pick good, level pieces as you approach a corner or endpoint. This crisscrossing technique allows for both more stable woodpiles and free movement of air.

By leaving the wood to dry for at least one summer season, for a total of at least six months, you can likely achieve the 15 to 20 percent desired moisture level that the Wood Heat Organization says is ideal for firewood. (That may vary depending on your specific conditions and the species of wood you’ve chosen.) A good sight check is to look for crack marks at the ends of seasoned logs. Of course, all this might mean buying wood now for use next fall.

Take wood from shed to stove

Typically, most people don’t like tramping through the snow late at night for firewood. Nor do they like bugs or mold spores in their homes from wood left piled up indoors. That’s why the woodshed was invented.

Today, it’s any covered space that’s close enough to a basement or kitchen door where a wood-stove is typically located. While it’s fine to have some wood in the house ready to burn, it’s more advisable to keep your seasoned firewood in a woodshed. There are even building plans available for woodsheds that are as creative and stylish as they are solid and dry.

We wish you a winter’s worth of warmth, and hope you follow best burn practices. Just remember to keep a well-maintained stove and chimney to maximize savings, safety and efficiency.

2 Comments

  1. JJM

    October 30, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    Always used to call a FACE CORD a RACK which properly is a RICK. Typical measurement of RICK is 8′ x 4′ x length of cut (16″-18″) making 3 Ricks per Cord. If 24″ length then 2 Ricks per Cord.

  2. Thom

    October 30, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    In the East there are two types of wood to know about. Locust … either black or honey are phenomenal, dense and extremely hard wood … especially if its been on the ground for a long time. It is not prone to rot or insects and the bark makes very good fire starter material. This is an excellent, long burning wood putting out lots of heat (BTUs) it holds and delivers better than oak (red or white) better than maple. The other is relatively recent called poplar … or tulip poplar and has a very uniform grain and often a greenish cast (BTUs)/color. This is a terrible wood in that it provides very little heat and will not last long in a fire but its being seen alot now because the trees grow huge and fast … still its almost not worth the effort to cut it and its not something you want to buy much of … maybe a little but not much. A lot of wood sellers are combining a lot into the delivery because the trees are so large and the splitting is so easy.
    If you have any question as to how good a piece of wood might be, if the wood is seasoned (and most wood sold is) pick up a piece and feel it for “heft” … the more solid and heavy it is , the more likely you will get a good, clean, long lasting burn from it.

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