Choosing the right firewood
A roaring fire makes the cold weather cozy. The best species to burn in your area is the one that’s most plentiful. However, soft woods such as pine throw out only about half of the heat as hardwoods. Softwoods also burn faster, and tend to produce a lot of creosote. Some of the best woods to burn in a fireplace or woodstove are red oak, white oak, sugar maple, hickory, ironwood, and hedge.
Hank Stelzer is an extension forester at the University of Missouri. He says no matter what kind of wood you choose, it’s important that there’s not a lot of moisture in it because if it’s too wet, it won’t burn efficiently. You can tell if it’s dry enough just by looking at it.
"The easiest way and the simplest way is you look at the ends and see the cracks. We call that ‘checking’. All that is is, wood dries out, that wood contracts, and so you get those cracks at the end," says Stelzer. "That usually tells you that it’s seasoned and it’s dry enough."
If you cut up a fresh tree now, it may not be dry enough for this winter season. Stelzer says the best time to chop firewood is in the spring, and let it dry out all summer.
"If you split it, even if you don’t split it and you just cut it to the length of your firebox, really the summer is the best time for wood to dry out because the temperatures are warmer. People go, ‘oh it’s humid’, but actually the warmer temperatures draw the moisture out," says Stelzer. "So a stick that’s 4” in diameter can dry out easily in three-month’s time. If you do that in the winter, it takes about twice as long for that same size stick."
When you’re storing fresh-cut wood to dry out, Stelzer recommends criss-crossing the pieces like a log house. This configuration allows for more airflow than if the pieces were stacked on top of one another in the same direction.
A list of woods from hardest to softest
More tips for choosing and burning firewood
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