Cold weather is upon us, and fireplaces are lighting up.  But do you have the right firewood to burn?

Any homeowner who regularly uses his or her fireplace in the winter months knows that dry, aged 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 wood.  Green wood is hard to light and difficult to keep burning, it tends to smoulder and not burn consistently because it retains water.  You can usually tell the difference between older vs. green wood with a simple inspection.  Aged wood tends to have greyish bark and, on the inside, is dry and white, usually lighter than on the outside.  Young wood, instead, appears similar in colour throughout.  Aged wood also shows radial cracks, which are visible at the ends, the bark is loose, and it is less aromatic than green wood.

You’ll also want to use hardwood over softwood 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 (aka piñon)
  •         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.  Elm takes longer to season and can smoke quite a bit.  Walnut has a bitter smell and so must be mixed with other hardwoods. 

Although pine, birch and yew are considered softwoods, they still burn well when aged and some, like mesquite, are also ideal for grills because they add flavour to grilled food.  I’d like to highlight in particular, piñon wood, which comes from the piñon pine tree that grows in the dry climates of Mexico and the southwest United States.  Piñon is very popular in Santa Fe.  It has a strong, fragrant odour (and also acts as a mosquito repellent).  It burns hot, clean and bright and leaves little ash.  It is also good for smoking fish, meat and poultry.

Aged wood is going to cost more than green wood but the investment is worth it. You should inquire from your wood seller about the species and dryness before buying. And buying local wood reduces the chance of bringing invasive insects into your region.

In closing, to make sure you are not violating any safety rules in building a fire, you should consult the EPA website for Best Burn Practices.

Stay warm out there!

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