Maximize your fireplace’s potential with different types of wood. Start with this user-friendly guide to identifying types of firewood.
A roaring fire in the fireplace is an important winter tradition in British homes, yet many people have turned to alternative sources of warmth in recent times.
Central heating and electric heaters have their benefits but they can’t compare with the satisfaction of gazing into a glowing fire. So, it’s difficult to understand why more people don’t embrace fire as a source of winter warmth.
This could be due to the perceived inconvenience of finding and buying firewood as well as the prospect of smoke from wood fire permeating homes and furnishings.
Not all wood’s equally guilty of billowing large volumes of smoke into the environment though. You can also order firewood online now so there’s no excuse for going without the relaxing ambience created by a fire. That is if you’re lucky enough to have a house with a fireplace.
Here’s your guide to identifying types of firewood that exude warmth and a cosy atmosphere without filling your home with smoke.
Identifying Types of Firewood for Smoke-Free Warmth
With over 60,000 species of trees on Earth, it may seem like choosing the right one for your hearth’s a daunting choice. Yet it’s easy to narrow down your options when you keep a few factors in mind.
The first thing to consider is the difference between hardwood and softwood. Hardwood trees grow slowly and have a dense structure. These woods burn hotter and longer than softwoods, producing few sparks and less smoke.
Softwood trees grow quickly, and wood from these fires burns out just as quickly. It’s usually cheaper than hardwood but better suited to an outdoor bonfire than for starting a smoke-free indoor fire.
The next consideration is the moisture content of the wood. Firewood with a high moisture content can leave residues inside your fireplace and even cause a house fire.
Excess moisture in the wood will also cause excessive smoke when it’s burned, which can damage your lungs and create a lingering unpleasant smell in your house.
Unseasoned firewood may be cheaper than seasoned wood but it’s far inferior in terms of smoke production and long-lasting firepower.
How to Test if Firewood Is Well-Seasoned
You can use a moisture tester to gauge whether your firewood is ready to burn but there are a few other ways to check.
Well-seasoned wood always looks darker than green wood of the same species. Unseasoned wood has a fresh bright colour, while seasoned wood looks yellowish or greyish in comparison. The ends of the wood’s grains also have a separated look.
Seasoned wood also doesn’t have the fresh aroma of unseasoned wood. Split a piece of wood into kindling and smell it. It probably needs more time to dry out if it smells sweet and green.
When you knock two small pieces of the wood together it should sound dry and hollow if it’s seasoned for long enough.
Never burn treated wood in your fireplace. The fumes that come off this type of wood are often noxious and can cause serious health problems if you’re exposed to them for a long time.
Likewise, driftwood has a high salt content which can transform into carcinogens when burned, so don’t use this type of wood for kindling or to build any kind of fire.
Eliminating these factors narrows your firewood options down considerably when it comes to choosing the right species for your fireplace.
The Best Types of Firewood for Interior Home Use
Seasoned firewood often has a dull appearance and most species look similar when dried.
For this reason, it can be difficult to tell the difference between various types of wood. It can also be used with a wood smoker for beginners. The best way to ensure you’re getting what you pay for is by ordering your firewood from a reputable supplier.
Find out more about the most common types of firewood here:
Oak’s an abundant hardwood species but must undergo intensive seasoning for a period of at least two years before it’s suitable for use. Without proper seasoning, oak loses its long-burning appeal.
When oak’s correctly seasoned is a top choice for homeowners since it produces little smoke or sparks and burns intensely for a long time. It’s a top choice for wood-burning stoves too.
Ash burns with a constant steady glow. It’s easy to split and gives off good heat and very little odour. This type of wood also creates few sparks so it’s a safe choice for indoor fires.
This type of wood naturally has a very low moisture content. This cuts down the time needed to season it, which makes it cheaper than other types of hardwood.
Cherry wood’s highly desirable for making furniture so it’s not easy to acquire firewood, despite it being an abundant species.
If you can find some cherry firewood, you’re assured of very little smoke, a lovely aroma, and almost no sparks. Cherry wood’s good to use as firewood after only a year of seasoning.
The only downside of cherry wood is that it doesn’t burn with an intensely hot flame. Yet it’s still capable of producing enough lasting warmth to heat up the entire room.
Although it’s hard to split, hawthorn burns with high heat and very little smoke. This makes it the best type of firewood for heating if you live in a very cold climate.
These trees are closely related to cherry, pear, and apple trees and share many of their positive characteristics. The wood’s dense, hard, and fine-textured.
Because it’s so hard and the branches are often twisted and gnarled, it’s difficult to split hawthorn wood with any precision.
It’s important to keep this wood well off the ground during storage as it’s porous and absorbs moisture easily.
Not only does the hazel tree produce delicious nuts, but the flexible wood of this tree’s also great for making stakes, hurdles, and garden furniture.
Hazel wood’s easy to split and burns with intense heat for a very long time. So, it’s highly suitable for firewood too.
Beech has high water content and should undergo a long period of seasoning before you use it as firewood. When it’s properly dried it burns well. For this reason, it’s often turned into briquettes that can retain heat for hours.
Interestingly, the bark of this wood doesn’t flake off easily, so it won’t create a mess in your yard or house like other hardwoods do.
These trees are extremely invasive, so they’re a good choice of firewood from an environmental perspective. Incidentally, beech chips are great for smoking meats and used for making Budweiser beer.
Yellow birch and black birch are the best types of these trees for fire-making purposes. The dense fibers of these woods mean they’ll burn for hours at high heat.
They smell good too when used inside. Yellow birch has a fresh wintergreen aroma, while black birch smells sweet and pleasant.
Yellow birch requires the longer seasoning time of the two, with a minimum of two years being the norm. White birch is an excellent choice for kindling since it lights easily. However, it’s unsuitable as firewood.
The white birch has a thin paperlike bark that’s water-resistant which makes it a good choice if you’re going camping in cold, wet weather. However, this characteristic also means white birch takes a very long time to dry out.
The alder tree is a fast-growing type of birch tree and one of the most common woods used for creating charcoal.
Since it grows so fast, it’s also a great choice for environmentally-conscious homeowners. Alder works best when mixed with other dense hardwoods like oak, beech, or maple.
It’s a popular choice for firewood due to its pleasant, sweet smell.
Pear isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when choosing firewood, but those who’ve tried it swear by it. The Bradford pear tree is the usual candidate for firewood since it doesn’t produce edible fruit.
The wood from these trees is heavy, dense, and clean-burning. It’s well worth trying if you do come across any for sale. This tree doesn’t have long straight branches and the many forks in the wood can make it difficult to split.
Many homeowners view this fast-growing tree as a pest by many, so there are often abundant supplies of it available for sale if you know where to look.
Once believed to have magical powers, the rowan tree is also known as mountain ash.
However, it’s not an ash tree and belongs to the totally-unrelated Eucalyptus genus. Eucalyptus trees burn hotter than any other kind of firewood. This means it’s unsuitable for wood-burning stoves.
It’s also exceptionally hard and can be difficult to split.
Rowan trees are among the largest in the world and often used in construction and boat-building too. As firewood, it’s similar to hazelwood in that it burns fiercely but slowly.
Ironwood isn’t a specific species of wood but rather refers to several types of very hard wood like blue beech and hornbeam.
These trees are small and have dense wood that produces moderate heat. It burns for a very long time but is best for firewood when it’s mixed with other hardwoods like maple or oak.
Maple wood’s another top choice for firewood since it burns slowly without causing a lot of sparks or smoke. It also makes great coals and has a pleasant smell.
The five types of maple commonly used for firewood are:
- Bigleaf Maple
- Silver Maple
- Black Maple
- Red Maple
Silver maple’s the most abundant of these, but all of them make great firewood for warming up your home or for use in a wood-burning stove.
Although sycamore’s a hardwood, it has an exceptionally high moisture level, so it takes a long time to dry out. If you burn it when it’s too green, it gives off an unpleasant smell and lots of smoke.
Dried sycamore produces a moderate amount of sparks and smoke. This makes it better for use in a wood-burning stove instead of a fireplace.
Once it’s sufficiently seasoned, sycamore wood is stringy and lights easily. It burns with intense heat but not for long, so it’s not a great choice if you want to gather around the fire for hours.
Sycamore’s also softer than most hardwoods and difficult to split when it’s first cut. Some types of sycamore trees have an attractive waiver grain which makes them a popular choice in furniture making.
Although walnut is a softwood, it’s a high-quality material that’s easy to light and far superior to other softwoods when it comes to fire-making.
Walnut has a pleasant aroma while it’s burning but doesn’t burn as hot or as long as hardwood species.
Long-term sustainability is often one of the main concerns when choosing firewood. Trees are a vital part of the ecosystem, providing shelter for animals and birds. They also play a major role in the ongoing fight against climate change.
So, it’s best to opt for abundant species, alien trees, or those which grow quickly when you’re looking for firewood.
Making the Best Choices for Your Home
Identifying types of firewood for your fireplace is only one part of ensuring your home stays warm in all kinds of weather without endangering your family’s health and comfort.
Keep browsing our blog for ideas on how to ensure your house remains a haven of comfort, or for tips on how to make it a more desirable place.