Different species or types of trees will variety widely in suitability for firewood. Understanding the characteristics of your firewood will help you choose the best firewood for your next outdoor campfire, wood stove, indoor fire and or BBQ.
So, let’s answer the all important question: What is the best firewood?
Our table below presents several important firewood characteristics, from ease of splitting, to heat per cord and overall firewood quality. Sorry for the few gaps found in the table.
Why Are Firewood Characteristics Important?
Firewood is an essential source of heat for any campsite trip. However, not all firewood is created equal. The weight of freshly cut wood, or green weight, differs from the weight of a cord of wood after air drying, or dry weight. Green firewood may contain over 50% water by weight, which can reduce its heat output and produce more smoke and creosote during combustion.
Dry wood, on the other hand, produces more heat and is easier to handle. This is because combustion can occur immediately without the need to boil off excess water. As a result, it is recommended to purchase dry firewood or allow green firewood to dry before burning.
Additionally, the density of firewood is an important consideration because denser wood contains more heat per volume. Hardwoods, such as oak, hard maple, or ash, tend to be denser than softwoods or woods from conifers. Some firewood dealers sell “mixed hardwood” firewood, which may include low-density hardwoods such as cottonwood. It is important to be aware of the proportion of low-density woods in mixed hardwoods, as it can affect heat output.
The table above provides information on the heat content and other characteristics of firewood. Characteristics such as ease of splitting, fragrance, and tendency to smoke and spark, are also important considerations when choosing firewood.
For example, woods that spark or pop, such as those with high resin content like conifers, can be dangerous when burned in an open fireplace or out in the wilds as they can throw embers out and cause a fire hazard. Woods that form coals, on the other hand, are good for wood stoves as they allow for effective overnight burning.
Understanding Firewood Volume
When it comes to buying and selling firewood, the most common unit of measurement is volume. Although the dry weight of firewood is an important factor in determining its heat content, the standard unit for measuring firewood is the cord. A cord is defined as an evenly-stacked pile of wood and air that occupies a volume of 128 cubic feet. Although a cord can be piled in any shape, it is commonly arranged as a stack of wood that is 4 feet tall, 8 feet long, and 4 feet deep.
To calculate the number of cords in a pile of firewood with a different size or shape, you can determine the pile’s volume in cubic feet and divide by 128. It is important to note that a randomly-piled stack of wood will generally contain more air and less wood than a neatly stacked one.
In addition to cords, some dealers may sell firewood by the face cord or short cord. A face cord is a stack of wood that is 4 feet high, 8 feet long, and as deep as the pieces are long. Since the length of pieces is typically between 12 to 18 inches, a face cord may contain 32 to 48 cubic feet of wood and air.
Another common measure of firewood is the pickup load, which is a very imprecise method of measurement. A full-size pickup with a standard bed can hold approximately 1/2 of a full cord or 64 cubic feet of wood when loaded up to the top of the bed. However, smaller pickups can hold significantly less, and random loading will decrease the amount of wood that can be transported.
It is also important to note that the amount of wood in a pile can be reduced by crooked, small diameter, knotty, or branchy pieces. Therefore, it is essential to properly stack and arrange the firewood to ensure an accurate measurement of the volume of wood being sold.