Choosing Wood for Campfires

Choosing Wood for Campfires

(Last Updated: September 18, 2019)

Wood was the very first source of energy that was used to light a fire. Today, two billion and more people use wood fire for heating either as their main source of fuel or as a back-up in the event of an emergency. This aside, woodfire is the best source of heat energy for campers. 

With every other sophisticated equipment that has been invented to make cooking and heating fun and adventurous, nothing is ever achieved without a well-lit campfire. Lighting a fire should be the camper’s top desired skill. Real campers know all too well that good wood is equal to a good fire. Every other thing including the right equipment, great fire-lighting, and outstanding culinary skills come in second. 



Types of wood fuel 

Wood fuel is available in many forms. These include: 

  • Firewood 
  • Charcoal
  • Wood chips
  • Wood shavings 
  • Wood sheets 
  • Wood pellets 
  • Sawdust  
  • Bark 

Types of firewood  

Firewood is the main source of wood fuel. Every other form of wood fuel comes from it and the quality of your fire will ultimately depend on the wood you select. First, let’s get down to the basics of wood. There are two main types of wood

  • Hardwood 
  • Softwood

Hardwood 

Some good examples of hardwoods include maple, beech, mahogany, ash, and teak. When it comes to firewood, most people prefer ash because it comes with two advantages, unlike most others. Ash burns steadily and produces steady heat. On the other hand, hardwood takes some time and effort to light.

Most fruit and nut trees are hardwoods, for instance, apple, cherry, fig, olive, plum, citrus, buckeye, hickory, oak, walnut, and chestnut. These trees also produce really good firewood when seasoned. 

Hardwood is typically denser and more compact than softwood and is also more expensive. For this reason, it produces higher heat energy when burning and also burns slowly. To get good-quality firewood that burns well, hardwood will need at least a year to season. 



Softwood 

Some examples of softwood include Birch, cedar, pine, juniper, redwood, and spruce. As noted above, softwood has a low density hence burn faster than hardwood. They will usually produce a raging flame but within a short time. This needs you to keep feeding your fire with firewood to keep the flame going, a process that can be cumbersome. 

Recommended, 11 kinds of woods with great heat and flame output 

  • Ash. This hardwood produces great fire and great heat especially when seasoned. 
  • Tamarack. Tamarack is a softwood that seasons pretty fast but is as dense and burns as steadily and as hot as hardwood. 
  • Oak. A nut tree with dense firewood that produces strong heat steadily and slowly. However, be prepared for a long wait, perhaps two years or more, to have its season well enough. 
  • Birch. Even though it is a softwood, birch has a great scented heat output. It also works well without being seasoned. The drawback, however, is that it burns out pretty fast and tends to produce a gummy substance when used without seasoning. 
  • Apple. A hardwood fruit tree that is scented and burns steadily. 
  • Pine. Campers will especially appreciate pine wood. It lights easily and comes in handy when you have to rekindle a fire. Have plenty of firewood in stock though as it burns out equally fast. 
  • Walnut. If you are equipped with a wood-burning stove, you’ll love walnut wood. It burns slow and steady without much smoke. 
  • Cherry. Agreeably the best-smelling wood to burn and a powerful steady heat producer too. Not just that, cherry’s aroma will last days on if you are burning it in an enclosed area. 
  • Beech. If you will take your time to season beech wood, you will have yourself the best wood to burn as it will produce hot, steady heat without much smoke over a long time.  
  • Hickory. You may not have an easy time splitting Hickory wood, but guess what? When you do, this wood will burn quite well. It is one of the densest and the best burning hardwood compared to others in its league. Did we mention that Hickory is the most popular firewood for grilling or smoking foods as its flavor blends well in steaks, fish, and other grilled foods? 
  • Cedar. If you are more keen on heat than on the size of flame then cedar makes a good option. It will produce decent heat especially for keeping warm in the cold nights without the need for a big flame. 

Which woods should you avoid burning? 

woods should you avoid burning

Not all wood is firewood. Some are not safe to burn as they will affect your stove or release fumes in the air that are not safe to breathe in. Here are some types of wood that you should refrain from burning as fuel. 

Greenwood

As has been emphasized throughout this article, well-seasoned wood is the best to burn. Greenwood, also referred to as freshly cut wood, contains high moisture content and sap. It is neither easy to light nor keep the fire lit and produces too much smoke when burning. It also releases deposits on the cooler parts of your chimney if you are using a wood-burning stove which is hard to clean up. Most importantly, it does not burn to its full potential which amounts to a waste of wood and energy. 

Wood not obtained locally

Moving firewood from one area to another poses the risk of diseases and pest spreading in the area and the forests in the area. In some states, such kind of transportation of wood has been outlawed. 

Wood pallets 

You need to be very careful about burning wood from pallets. This is because some pallets are treated with methyl bromide, arsenic, or other chemicals which produce smoke that is not safe to inhale when burned. However, if you are sure that pallet wood has not been treated with any chemical, you are free to use it as fuel. 

Painted wood 

Like treated wood, painted wood is also not safe to burn because it releases harmful chemicals that are not safe to inhale. 

Driftwood 

Driftwood has a high salt content. When burned, this salt releases dioxin which is carcinogenic and harmful to breathe in. 

 

Qualities of good campfire wood

You probably know the rule of thumb. Dry wood burns best. Wood with moisture takes time to light, does not burn well and produces smoke. But are other qualities make good wood for fuel. 

  • Hardwood. Due to a high density, hardwoods burn better than softwoods since they have more mass to burn. This means that they will produce powerful and steady heat that will not go off quickly.  
  • Heat Value. Heat value refers to how much heat energy wood produces when burning. Wood with high heat value will produce more energy per pound of wood. In general, wood with high heat value will burn hotter longer.
  • Seasoned timber. Seasoned timber is one that has been left for at least 12 months to dry. This process eliminates the moisture content in them to enhance the combustion process and reduce smoke when burning. Good quality firewood should have less than 20% moisture. 
  • Fragrance. Different types of wood produce different smells when burned. Some produce great smoke flavor, particularly the fruit trees, when burning which infuses into grilling meat to bring out a unique flavor in food. 
  • Smoke. Much as wood produces less smoke when seasoned well, some generally produce less smoke. If you will use your wood-burning stove in an enclosed area (which is not advisable) or in the fireplace indoors, you need to select wood, like beech, which produces little smoke.  Smoky wood, on the other hand, is good in the outdoors if you need to keep insects and mosquitoes at bay. 

Seasoned vs. unseasoned wood

As we have seen, seasoned wood burns best. The advantages of burning seasoned wood is that because it has had moisture eliminated from it as much as is possible, it will light easily and burn well without producing much smoke. The downturn is that the cost of seasoned wood is a bit on the high compared to unseasoned wood. 

Unseasoned wood, on the other hand, takes time to light because of the presence of water inside the wood and burns slowly producing more smoke. It wouldn’t be much of a problem in a camp setting if the fire is lit because green wood produces strong heat and scent when burning and would be great on a chilly winter night. It only becomes a problem when you have to feed in more green wood as it will take the same process and effort to light well. 

If, however, you are burning greenwood in a fireplace or wood-burning stove with a chimney, steam and other substances from greenwood often settle inside the chimney to form a layer of grime that’s often hard to clean. 

7 signs that wood has properly seasoned

You may not be able to tell accurately if the wood is seasoned well enough. However, there are things that you can look out for which point to proper seasoning. These include:

  • Appearance. Seasoned wood looks greyish and dusty outside and whitish and dry when split.  
  • Split. If purchasing, always go for the split wood as splitting makes wood dry or season faster. And if you have to select from a stack, go for the upper pieces rather than those that are lower or closer to the ground. 
  • Cracks. Cracks, although not for all types of wood, are an indication that wood has been dried. The ends of the logs should have darkened and cracked. 
  • Hard. Wood, after losing moisture, becomes tough and hard to split. As it dries, the bark easily 
  • The bark easily comes off. The process of drying usually separates the bark from the trunk. 
  • Weight. Because of high moisture content, unseasoned wood tends to weigh heavy. With time as it dries, wood sheds off moisture as well as weight and produces a hollow sound when hit against another piece of wood. However, the distinction is weight is more apparent in softwoods as they have a higher moisture content than the hardwoods. 
  • Combustion. Dry wood lights easily, will burn well, and produce less smoke as compared to the greenwood. 

Seasoning firewood

The DIYers are never too quick to purchase already seasoned firewood. If you are the type that would rather do the seasoning on your own, very well, here is how to. However, you need to keep a few things in mind. 

Patience is a virtue you need to exercise because seasoning takes time. Different types of wood take different periods to season properly, therefore, it is important to know which wood you are seasoning and how long it should take to season. For instance, if you are seasoning oak or ash, be prepared to season it for a good two years or longer. Immediately after being felled, wood usually has a moisture content of up to 50 % or 40 % for deadwood. Proper seasoning should bring this level of moisture down to less than 20 %. You may need special tools for splitting so be prepared with the right tools. These include:

  • A splitting ax or maul
  • A manual or hydraulic log splitter
  • Firewood carrier
  • Splitting block 
  • A pair of gloves 
  • A wood moisture meter, an accurate identifier of seasoned wood. 

Tip: If you do not have the luxury of time to season wood and can’t seem to find well-seasoned wood in the market, go for Fir, ash, or such-like types that can still burn decently even without seasoning. 

Here is how to season firewood 

  1. Strip off branches from felled trees. 
  2. Split the log into the desired sizes. Splitting at this time is recommended because it takes a longer time for logs to season if not split. Thereafter, splitting becomes more challenging since wood becomes harder after seasoning. 
  3. Stack the split woods in rows leaving spaces for air circulation in between. The top wood store should be sealed off to keep out moisture and the sides open to allow for air circulation. 
  4. Avoid arranging your wood too close to the floor or walls of the store. Secondly, your store should be located at a distance from the house to let it season faster and prevent pests from creeping into the house. 

How is firewood measured? 

Firewood is measured in two sets of measurements. 

  • Cord. This is the widely recognized standard of measurement. Acord, also known as a full cord or a bush cord, is a stack of firewood measuring 4 x 4 x 8 feet to give a volume of 128 cubic feet in volume. This should be the measurement of the firewood itself and not the dimensions of the stack. 
  • Face cord. Also known as a rick is a third of a full cord and should measure 42.6  cubic feet in volume.

 

Some Firewood burning tips 

  • When purchasing firewood, look around for the best locally available hardwood. As you do this, 
  • Cutting firewood on your own can be a good decision. However, learn how to choose and use cutting tools such as the chainsaw, a log splitter or any other tool before venturing out. 
  • Avoid burning huge pieces of wood as they will not burn efficiently. They also take time to light. Try reducing them into smaller manageable pieces that you can hold in your hand. 
  • There is a difference between kiln-dried wood and seasoned wood. Kiln-dried wood takes a shorter time to dry and will burn out faster than seasoned wood as it tends to be overly dry. However, if you mix the two in your stove or fireplace you can achieve a balance because the dry wood will light quickly and not burn out as fast thanks to the presence of seasoned wood. Alternatively, consider stocking a mix of hard and softwood for this same reason. 
  • Find out how to start a campfire using wet wood.

 

Conclusion 

Nothing beats a roaring campfire on a cold winter night. Getting it right with your fire starts with getting the right type and well-seasoned wood. You need to keep warm and grill your favorite meat. Knowing which woods are available in your area will make your selection process much easier.


Leave a Comment