Best Firewood: Heat Values and Wood-Burning Tips | The Old Farmer's Almanac

The Best Firewood: Heat Values and Wood-Burning Tips

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What is the Best Firewood to Burn in your Woodstove?

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Do you use firewood to heat your home? Here is a list of the best types of firewood to burn—sorted by high, medium, and low heat value—and a few important wood-burning tips.

What Makes for Good Firewood?

What makes some types of firewood better for burning than others? It comes down to two factors: density and water content. The denser and drier the firewood, the better it will burn and the more heat it can produce in your woodstove, fireplace, or wood furnace. 

Hardwood vs. Softwood

Hardwoods generally make for better firewood than softwoods because of their density and comparatively low levels of sap or pitch.

Kinds of Woods
Fruit trees (Apple, Cherry) 
Tamarack (Larch)

Best Firewoods by Heat Value

Not all hardwoods or softwoods are created equal; some burn far better than others or produce more heat. Below are some of the best firewood rated by their heat value, which measures how much heat they put off. 

High Heat Value

1 cord = 200 to 250 gallons of fuel oil

  • American beech
  • Apple
  • Ironwood
  • Mesquite
  • Red oak
  • Shagbark hickory
  • Sugar maple
  • White ash
  • White oak
  • Yellow birch

Medium Heat Value

1 cord = 150 to 200 gallons of fuel oil

  • American elm
  • Black cherry
  • Douglas fir
  • Red maple
  • Silver maple
  • Tamarack
  • White birch

Low Heat Value

1 cord = 100 to 150 gallons of fuel oil

  • Aspen
  • Cottonwood
  • Hemlock
  • Lodgepole pine
  • Red alder
  • Redwood
  • Sitka spruce
  • Western red cedar
  • White pine

Firewood chopped to burn

Firewood-Burning Tips

  • How much wood is in a cord? The cord is the standard measure of volume used for stacked wood. The volume of one cord of wood is 128 cubic feet of stacked wood. Generally, a cord is laid out in stacks measuring 4 feet wide, 4 feet tall, and 8 feet long (4’ x 4’ x 8’). Due to air space between the stacked wood, the volume of solid wood in a cord may be only 70 to 90 cubic feet.
  • What is a “rick” or “face cord” of wood? Usually, a cord comprises a few stacks of wood. One stack of a cord is called a “rick” or a “face cord. Generally, a rick is 4 feet tall by 8 feet long, and the width of a rick will depend on the length of the individual pieces of firewood. Because of this variability in width, a rick could be equal to 1/4 of a cord, 1/2 a cord, or more.
  • What is the heat value? Heat value refers to the amount of heat a wood produces when burned. Heat value varies based on the type of wood: A cord of wood with “high heat value” provides the heat equivalent to that produced by burning 200 to 250 gallons of heating oil. Other heat values are listed above.
  • Cutting wood: Freshly cut wood contains up to 50 percent moisture and must be seasoned (dried) to 20 to 25 percent moisture content before burning. Wood containing more than 25 percent moisture is wet (or green) and should never be burned in a fireplace or wood stove.
  • Splitting wood: Wet wood is easier to split than dry wood. Wood must be split into pieces and stacked out of the rain for at least six months to season properly.
  • Seasoning firewood: If steam bubbles and hisses out of the end grain as the firewood heats up on the fire, the wood is wet or green and needs to be seasoned longer before burning. Well-seasoned firewood generally has darkened ends with visible cracks or splits. It is relatively lightweight and makes a sharp, distinctive “clink” when two pieces strike each other.
  • Burning pine: Limit the amount of pine you burn. It’s a resinous softwood.
  • Use the ash: The ash from your woodstove has many uses! Check out these tips for utilizing wood ash.
  • Buy local: Only buy firewood from local sources. Buying and moving firewood from elsewhere (especially from state to state) is not only frowned upon, it may also be illegal. Transporting firewood from one place to another increases the chance of spreading invasive pests and diseases

Do you burn wood? What is your favorite firewood to burn?

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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