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What are the Different Types of Firewood?

By Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Updated May 16, 2024
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Homeowners who heat with wood or just enjoy the ambiance of an open fireplace should be aware of various types of firewood available as well as the differences between woods. Using the best wood can produce the most heat with less smoke, and some woods are easier than others to handle. Pine is often good for kindling, while hardwoods are best for regular burning.

Kindling, or the small pieces of wood used to start a fire, can come from several sources and may be of various types. In many parts of the United States, blocks of what are called "starter pine" are sold. Because pine burns hotter and is often easy to ignite, it is often used as kindling. Many stores also sell commercial starter logs that may be made from wood or other materials. Fire starter pine cones can also be purchased or made at home following a prescribed formula.

Hardwoods, such as ash, oak, birch, beech, hickory, and hard maple, are optimum for wood burning purposes, including in wood stoves and open fireplaces. These woods burn well and emits high heat with little or no smoke. They are also easier to split than many other varieties. The availability of these woods may depend on location, because some woods are native to particular areas while others are not. Hickory and oak, for example, are found in many areas of the United States, but birch and beech are more common in the Northeastern part of the country.

Other adequate types of firewood for the home use include soft maple, black cherry, and yellow pine. These woods are a little more difficult to split and produce a greater amount of smoke. Basswood, poplar, and white pine are also used with good results.

Elm and sweet gum trees may also be used as firewood, but their use is recommended only in the absence of other, more desirable options. Elm and sweet gum do not burn as easily or as well as other wood and are difficult to split.

Firewood is generally obtained in one of three ways. One is for the user to cut the wood himself, which is the best for land owners with wooded areas and the expertise to cut wood in a safe, effective manner. It is not recommended for inexperienced wood cutters because of the associated dangers. This is the most difficult method because it requires individuals to cut down a tree, cut the wood into lengths, split the wood, carry the wood home, and stack the wood.

A second option is to collect wood from forests, with appropriate permission. Most of this wood is already on the ground, but it is necessary to cut the wood into appropriate lengths and then split it for use.

Probably the most common way to get firewood, at least for the city sweller, is to order it from wood brokers or wood delivery services. Often, rural wood cutters will bring loads of wood to urban areas for sale and sometimes delivery.

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Discussion Comments

By anon348368 — On Sep 16, 2013

A cord of wood is defined as wood stacked 4 feet wide by 4 feet high by 8 feet long, stacked tight enough that a squirrel can't easily jump through it. 4x4x8 = 128 cubic feet.

A face cord just means 8'long by 4' high, depth is just whatever the single sticks were cut at, maybe 16", maybe 20".

By gravois — On Oct 30, 2012

I have been splitting firwood for years but some problems with my back that make it a problem for me now. My wife is also too frail to cut all the wood we need. Does anyone know of a tool or a machine that can help us split the wood even after our bodies have given out?

By Ivan83 — On Oct 29, 2012

Here in Missouri there has been a big campaign to discourage people from moving firewood from one place to another because it promotes the spread of a parasitic beetle that is ruining tree populations all across the country.

I had not spent much time considering the threat until I went to Colorado over the summer and saw the way this one little beetle has decimated forests out there. It really is stark and it made the consequences very clear for me. This is not just touchy feely environmentalism, this is a serious issue.

By pastanaga — On Oct 28, 2012

@Ana1234 - The thing that I think is the most important when you're buying firewood is to make sure that you're getting wood that's been properly cured. I didn't realize this was necessary either, to be honest. I always thought that you simply cut the wood and burn it straight away.

But I saw a TV show the other day where they had a bunch of people who had bought firewood that hadn't been cured properly and it basically held too much water to burn. You have to let it dry out so that it will even hold a flame.

How dry your firewood might be is difficult to determine though, so you might want to get an expert along to help you make sure you're getting a good deal.

By Ana1234 — On Oct 27, 2012

@anon23033 - I believe a bush cord is a standard amount of stacked wood (I'm not sure how much, but so many feet, by so many feet by so many feet) while a face cord is the same measurements without looking at the depth.

So, the face cord can be much smaller than the bush cord or it can be the same size. If you're buying a face cord you need to make sure how much you're getting for the price.

By anon23033 — On Dec 15, 2008

what is the difference between a bush cord and a face cord?

By anon4144 — On Oct 04, 2007

what is the difference between a bush cord, a stovewood cord, and a face cord? How many cubic feet are in each?

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