Log Lore: The Best Firewood

Find out why you should use seasoned wood in your fireplace this winter.
Put Another Log on the Fire

Put Another Log on the Fire

Maple, cherry and walnut are ideal for creating a warm fire.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Fiskars Americas, www.fiskars.com

Image courtesy of Fiskars Americas, www.fiskars.com

Maple, cherry and walnut are ideal for creating a warm fire.

The cold weather is here and the time is right to get your fireplace in working order. But do you have the right firewood to burn?

Any homeowner who regularly uses his or her fireplace in the winter months knows that seasoned wood produces the best results for the ideal fire. It burns better, produces more heat and produces less creosote build-up in your fireplace than green or unseasoned wood. "Green wood," says gardening consultant Teresa O'Connor of Seasonal Wisdom, "is hard to light and difficult to keep burning." The reason some people end up using it is due to the unavailability of seasoned wood. You can usually tell the difference between seasoned and green wood with a simple inspection. 

O'Connor notes that seasoned wood tends to look gray and "on the inside, it's often dry and white, usually lighter than on the outside. New wood, on the other hand, looks like it came fresh from the lumber mill with the same color throughout the wood." Seasoned wood also shows radial cracks, which are visible at the ends, the bark is loose, and it is less aromatic than green wood.

The reason green wood smolders and doesn't burn consistently is because it retains a lot of water inside. You can usually tell by splitting a piece of wood, whether it is ready for the fireplace or not. If the exposed surface feels damp, then the wood contains liquid and will hiss and sputter when it burns. 

You also want to use hardwood over softwood if you have a choice because hardwood is denser, burns longer and gives off more heat. 

Some of the best slow-burning and fragrant wood for your fireplace include:

  • Apple
  • Beech
  • Black Locust
  • Blackthorn
  • Bitternut Hickory
  • Cherry
  • Hawthorn
  • Hophornbeam
  • Maple
  • Mesquite
  • Pine
  • Red Oak
  • Sycamore
  • White Ash
  • White Elm
  • White Oak
  • Yellow Birch
  • Yew

There are many other seasoned woods you can use, of course, but some might present problems to homeowners such as wood from poplar trees which produces a bitter-smelling smoke. "Eucalyptus has a medicinal scent that some don't like," O'Connor states. "Elm takes longer to season and can smoke a lot. Walnut has a rather bitter smell, and is often mixed with other hardwoods." 

Although pine, birch and yew are considered softwoods, they still burn well when seasoned and some woods like mesquite are also ideal for grills because they add flavor to grilled food.

Seasoned wood is going to cost more than unseasoned wood but the investment is worth it. Your best bets for a good source are local farmers or firewood dealers. O'Connor recommends that you "ask about the species, volume and dryness before buying. And buying local wood reduces the chance of bringing invasive insects into your region." 

To make sure you are not violating any safety rules in building a fire, you should consult the EPA website for Best Burn Practices. If you have any concerns about creosote buildup or fumes in your fireplace (which can cause a chimney fire), check with the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

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