Choose dry, well-seasoned wood for the best fires

Fireplace
• Firewood must be dry and seasoned in order to burn well. (Photo by Justin Kern/Flickr)
Last Updated: 
November 26, 2014

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Conscientious Oregonians have been storing up firewood for the inevitable cool days of winter and the experienced wood-gatherers know that dry, seasoned firewood burns most efficiently, provides the most heat and smokes the least.

In fact, unseasoned wood is not suitable for open fireplaces, according to Steve Bowers, a forester with Oregon State University Extension Service.

Ideally, wood should be purchased or gathered at least a year in advance of burning.

"Fireplaces don't draft like a wood stove, so you need dry wood if you want an even-burning fire,” Bowers said. “That's one of the reasons people buy pellet stoves; many people have been dissatisfied with the quality of wood they purchased. It is often not cured well."

If you’re leaning toward wood pellets, Extension’s publication Home Heating Fuels offers the information you need to make a decision.

Here's an overview from Bowers on the major types of firewood most commonly available in Oregon and how well they split and burn.

Douglas-fir: This ubiquitous tree has medium heating value, doesn't make too much ash and is probably the best of the conifers for firewood – better than some of the hardwoods. Old-growth or tight-grain Douglas-fir is easy to split, but some of the younger, second-growth, smaller-diameter trees can be extremely difficult.

Red alder: Seasoned alder burns warm, but fast. Wet alder puts out a lot of ash and very little heat. Alder cuts and splits easily with an axe. Fir and alder are competitively priced.

Lodgepole or ponderosa pine from the east side of the Cascades: Lodgepole burns hot and fast, and it cuts and splits easily. Ponderosa from the west side burns hot and fast, but may be difficult to split and full of pitch.

Oak: Properly seasoned oak is hard to beat. It holds a fire, doesn't spark, and much of it splits moderately well. But, it won't produce much heat and will produce lots of ash if it isn't adequately seasoned. Be careful, as oak often grows where poison oak is rampant. If you touch wood that has come in contact with the resin from this pernicious plant, you can develop a rash.

Oregon ash: Wet or dry, ash wood will produce a decent fire, but will leave a lot of ashes. Most ash cuts and splits relatively easily as long as it is still green.

Big leaf maple: Maple is pretty close to the quality of ash and has similar cutting and splitting characteristics. It burns slightly cleaner, sparks a lot more and doesn't heat quite as well.

Madrone: When seasoned, this hard, dense wood burns very hot and produces long-lasting coals. Having little bark, madrone is clean to bring indoors. Some madrone is knotty and difficult to cut and split. It is expensive to purchase, but a little goes a long way in heating.

"With today's firewood going for consistently more than $200 per cord, burning purchased firewood for economic reasons has become a specious argument," Bowers said. "But if you have access to firewood cutting areas and enjoy the work, then go for it. It's good exercise and you get a sense of satisfaction at seeing a day's work piled in front of you."

Author: Kym Pokorny
Source: Steve Bowers