In an earlier blog, I wrote about some logical alternatives to firewood: Firelogs, Coal, Charcoal, Gas Inserts, and Gas Logs. Today will be focusing on what wood we can burn and what each type is best for.
There is a special guest at the end, so be sure to stay and read if that sort of wood would be very applicable to a fireplace.
Wood Drying? Kiln-dried vs. Seasoned!
Seasoned wood is made by taking a freshly cut tree’s parts, stacking them in a specific way that allows all the wood to dry, and then leaving the wood out to dry for at least a year but likely much longer.
This stack must be in a high and dry spot—a constantly dry spot, one that’s not going to be rained upon. Even with experience, telling when the wood has been fully seasoned can prove challenging. Should any variables be off, you will receive partially seasoned wood and not fully seasoned wood.
By its nature, seasoned firewood is inconsistent. Furthermore, many who sell seasoned firewood are not professional but just woodcutters doing it for a good buck. Then even among pros, mistakes are bound to happen.
Even fully seasoned wood has its own problems; its time out in nature means bugs, molds, and mildews have found their way to it. The wood is decomposing, so it’s not going to smell great.
Seasoned wood also burns at a lower temperature, but despite this, it’s harder to properly catch aflame, and once caught due to this lower point, it releases more emissions into the air. These increased emissions also mean more creosote build-up for you to deal with.
Kiln-dried wood does not share all of these drawbacks. According to some, Kiln-dried wood is better with consistently longer burn times, the best heat and brightness, ease of ignition, and stack with low emissions. Kiln-drying keeps the wood relatively fresh, giving it a pleasant rich scent and less smoke.
However, one can argue that these tests are flawed as high-quality seasoned wood has been reported as having traits better than kiln-dried ones. The quality of the seasoned wood can likely be both higher and lower than Kiln-dried in the qualities besides smell and the amount of smoke and emission.
Kiln-dried wood also lacks that tradition, and likely some prefer the musky smell of burning seasoned wood. However, for those who wish to be pragmatic, its consistency and lack of additional issues with bugs or rot make it the better choice.
What are the pros of Hardwoods?
Hardwoods are commonly preferred for indoor users. Their lower water content and general density make them burn slower and with less visible smoke. They also don’t have much sap when dried when compared to their softwood counterparts and, as such overall, produce
The crackles of the wood as it slowly burns away are not just relaxing but also economical. Their long-lasting nature means they offer more minutes per pound. Meanwhile, they don’t tend to have too much crackling to be a fire hazard.
Hardwoods, however, are more costly upfront due to their generally slower growth rate, among them that much more scarce than their softwood counterparts. Now onto some specific Hardwoods…
Being a hardwood Oak burns long and hot, providing good heat for each unit. However, its smell is not great. Oakwoods are known to smell sour, somewhat akin to vinegar; its odor is really distinct, so it’s not suitable for cooking. Oak also refuses to burn if not fully dry. It will still smell up the house but refuses actually to provide benefits. So seasoned oak is finicky.
Hickory has an even better heat output than oak, and it’s one of if not the best wood for such a thing. Hickory produces smoke, but it is only a little, and nothing would get caught upon. Hickory also doesn’t fire off chips, at least not many, so it’s not much of a fire hazard. Unlike oak, many enjoy the smell and taste of hickory smoke. Liquid smoke is made of hickory extract, after all.
Cherry has a nice and pleasant aroma, that’s its main strength, and that’s nearly all it has to its name. Like other hardwoods, it produces little smoke, but it doesn’t burn as hot as its kin. Cherry also pops and crackles more than an average wood so that it can be a bit of a fire hazard.
Maple is another wood-like oak that burns hot and burns long. Maple however has more flame for it’s weight than any others listed, burning slower than most of it’s hardwood competators. It also needs to be thoroughly dried or doesn’t work.
How about Softwoods? Do they burn well?
Everything said about Hardwoods can be inverted for softwoods. Being less dense, they burn faster and are more expensive in the long run. But let’s talk about the advantages.
Softwoods are faster dried than their hardwood counterparts; one of the main boons of hardwood is that they have a lower moisture content after being adequately dried.
This boon holds consistency for seasoning, kiln-drying, and green varieties. Green-Wood refers to freshly cut wood, while the other two are dried varieties.
Kiln-dried refers to baking the wood in a kiln to dry it of its contents through heat, while seasoned wood refers to wood that’s been sat and left in a high dry place for over a year to have its cells and sap dry out.
That all will be covered in more depth later in this article. Instead, I will return to softwood’s features. Due to its quick burn and speedy seasoning, softwood makes good kindling.
Softwood also sparks and pops more, giving it a more ambient sound. Overall, catching and burning quickly is the more aesthetic choice to produce nice bright and immense flames.
Cedar is horrid firewood; it loves to snap, crackle, and pop. Cedar also releases loads of creosote into the chimney, but at the least, it burns hot. Cedars are loaded with oils that love to boom if exposed to too much heat. It burns fast, but that fierce heat gives it use to push away a chill quickly. It also works as a fantastic fire starter.
Pine has one strength, it seasons fast, and it’s easy to get burning. It’s also cheap and easy to find. But when it comes to actual performance, it works best as a kindling or fire starter as it can’t carry a good flame itself. Pine burns fast, and it doesn’t even burn hot (instead, it flashes to life with one spike of heat and dies down). It has many sap pockets, so it’s known to pop, and it creates a ton of creosote for the chimney. Some, however, do like the smell of burning pine.
The answer is no. Paper and cardboards are likely to contain toxic fumes, though all smoke is partially toxic. It’s also easy for the paper to float up in the updraft made the fire, igniting any creosote lining the flue and causing a chimney fire. They can also ignite anything flammable they find outside the house.