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Choosing the Right Wood for a Perfect Fire

By Leroy Hite, Cutting Edge Firewood
Photograph courtesy of Cutting Edge Firewood

October is National Firewood Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to build the first fire of autumn. Great memories of sharing time and fellowship around a wood-burning fire is hard to beat. The crackling wood, the flames, and the heady aroma of the wood are part of our collective history. Even though all firewood may seem the same, there are significant differences in species, care, and quality of wood that can turn a good fire experience into an exceptional one.

Green Wood

Burning green, low-quality or improperly prepared wood can have an unpleasant, even hazardous, effect. Fresh-cut wood is considered “green.” Since it hasn’t had time to age, it still has most of its sap (which is 95 to 99% water) and produces poor burn results. The excess moisture in green wood makes it difficult to light or keep lit.

Green wood also doesn’t produce much heat because the fire’s energy converts the moisture into steam, as opposed to flames that create warmth. If you can get green wood to burn, it makes a noxious, bitter smoke from the moisture and impurities. This damp smoke can lead to build-up of creosote, a dangerous and flammable sludge that collects inside chimneys and stovepipes. Accidental igniting of creosote is one of the leading causes of chimney fires.

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Seasoned Wood

Wood that has been split, stacked and allowed to age for a minimum of 18 months is considered “seasoned.” If given enough time, most of the moisture in seasoned wood has evaporated to levels of 20% or lower in ideal conditions. Seasoned wood is drier than green wood, so it is more combustible and stays lit better, but it also has issues.

The months required for seasoning the wood allow time for serious decomposition to set in and decomposed wood can be similar to dirt. The slow process of drying the wood also encourages wood-boring insects to set up house in the wood along with the growth of molds, mildew and fungus. Smoke with mold or mildew is less environmentally friendly and may be potentially unsafe to those with compromised respiratory systems.

Kiln-Dried Wood

Kiln-dried firewood is the best option for a clean, hot, and safe wood fire. Professionally drying the wood is a quick and efficient process that reduces the wood’s excess moisture while destroying any molds, fungus or insects. It is ideal for fires because it is fresh enough that it hasn’t begun decomposing, but also has lowest moisture content to encourage clean, evenly hot combustion and extended burn time. Because it is still “fresh,” it releases its fullest aroma.

Wood Species

For the best all-around fireplace or firepit experience, select a hardwood for your fire. Several species will create a wonderful, blazing fireside for you, including: 

Hickory Quick to light and a long-lasting burn with big heat output. Burns with a classic campfire aroma and crackling.

Oak – Dense wood with a long, bright, slow burn with minimal sparks. With more than 600 species of oak, it is readily available and has a lovely aroma.

Cherry – Best known for its delightful, sweet aroma, cherry isn’t as hot or long-lasting as hickory or oak but is great for many indoor wood-burning environments. Produces little smoke and minimizes any risk of creosote.

So this fall, when it comes to making memories around a roaring fireplace or outside around a firepit, choose to use the best firewood available to you for a wonderful, safe and aromatic fire.

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