The Best Firewood for Your Wood Stove or Fireplace

Choosing the right firewood for your wood stove or fireplace can make all the difference in efficiency, heat output, and enjoyment. Not all wood is created equal when it comes to burning, so it pays to understand the properties of different firewood types. With the price of heating fuel fluctuating and the desire for a cozy fire, finding good firewood is top of mind for many homeowners. This guide will go over the key factors in firewood selection and highlight the best options for your wood stove or fireplace.

What Makes Good Firewood?

Several key factors determine whether firewood is “good” for burning or not:

Moisture Content

The moisture content of firewood greatly impacts how well it burns. Freshly cut “green” wood may be 50% water by weight. Wood needs to dry out to be good firewood. Look for seasoned firewood with a moisture content below 20%. Kiln-dried firewood can have a moisture content as low as 6-10%.

Density and Weight

Denser woods like oak and hickory have more energy content per cord than lighter woods like pine. The extra weight means more heat output per firebox load. Dense hardwoods burn longer and more steadily.

Splitting and Cracking Tendency

Wood that is easy to split with straight grain will dry out faster. Avoid knotty wood that is difficult to split. Cracking and checking in the ends of logs indicates good seasoning.

Burning Temperature

Some species burn hotter than others. Hot-burning woods like oak, ash, and hickory are best for quick heat output on cold winter nights. Cooler-burning woods like birch and maple are nice for milder weather.

Sparks and Embers

How readily the wood sparks and emits embers varies. This is an important safety consideration for contained fireplaces. Oak throws few embers while pine can spark more enthusiastically.

Availability and Price

The best firewood does no good if difficult to source and excessively expensive in your area. Availability and pricing often depend on regional forests and average winter weather.

With those criteria in mind, here are some top choices for firewood.

The Best Types of Firewood


Oak is a classic firewood prized for its excellent heat output, long burn times, and beautiful flames. The dense, heavy wood has everything you want in good firewood – high BTUs, low moisture, easy splitting, and low sparking. Red oak and white oak are very similar burning properties. Oak dries relatively quickly and can be burned after seasoning for 9 months. It produces a bed of hot coals perfect for cooking over as well. Pros know oak is hard to beat for wood stoves and fireplaces.


Hickory wood is in the same class as oak when it comes to firewood characteristics. Dense and heavy, hickory burns hot and long. It puts out tons of heat once the fire is established and maintains high temperatures. Hickory seasons faster than oak, in 6-9 months, but requires more work to split. Expect impressive fires and a long burn if using hickory logs. Ash is comparable as well.

Black Locust

Black locust ranks just below oak and hickory in many firewood qualities. It is extremely dense and heavy, with high heat output and low moisture content when seasoned. Locust also splits easily despite its hardness. With a nice flame appearance, moderate sparking, and good coaling properties, black locust has a lot to offer for heating use.

Sugar Maple

Sugar maple, famous for maple syrup production, is also a great firewood for its balance of desirable properties. It is easy to split, dries quickly, and burns cleanly with good heat output. The moderate density still produces enough heat. Sugar maple is easier to find than more premium hardwoods in some regions. It’s an excellent choice for fireplaces inserts and stoves.

American Beech

American beech is an underrated firewood that burns comparable to maple, oak, and birch. When dried, beech has excellent heat production with beautiful flames. The wood is dense but splits fairly easy. Beech bark is very thin as well so the wood dries out quickly. Look for beech as an abundant local alternative to premium hardwoods in many areas.


Paper birch and yellow birch are great medium-density hardwoods for firewood. Birch is easy to split and light enough to dry rapidly. It lights easily and burns cleanly. While not having the highest heat output or burn duration, birch is unbeatable for fast flaming fires. The wood shows off visually with curling bark and tall flames. An excellent choice for fireplaces.

Black Cherry

The fruit wood of black cherry makes for outstanding firewood. When well seasoned, cherry burns cleanly and puts off good heat. It lights easily even when damp. Flames exhibit pretty colors from yellow to orange. Cherry splits easily despite its hardness and density. This fruit wood has a nice aroma when burning too. Very popular among firewood connoisseurs.


Mulberry wood makes for a nice hidden gem for burning. It shares similarities with black cherry and apple wood – moderately dense, nice aroma when burning, pretty flames. Mulberry seasons relatively quickly. It’s lighter than oak for easier handling but still provides great fires with decent heat once dry.

Honorable Mentions

Beyond the main top choices, these species also burn well:

  • Ash – Very dense and hot burning like hickory
  • Black Walnut – Dense heartwood and nice smelling
  • Elm – Hard wood needs lots of drying time but great coals
  • Douglas Fir – Common softwood with good heat output
  • Apple – Classic fruit wood with excellent aroma

Even trees like pine, spruce, hemlock and other softwoods can be decent firewood if seasoned adequately. The drawback is more creosote buildup and popping. But firewood availability and pricing in your area may dictate using these woods.

In general, seasoned hardwoods are superior for their energy content, burn time, and visual appeal. Mix softer woods with hardwoods for easier lighting and quicker heat.

Seasoning Firewood

To get the best performance out of your firewood, proper drying time is critical. Fresh cut green wood contains a lot of water. Seasoning removes moisture over months or years:

  • Air Drying – Stack wood loosely off the ground and allow to air dry for 6-12 months depending on climate and wood type. Keep bark on initially then remove prior to burning.
  • Kiln Drying – Special kilns rapidly dry firewood down to usable moisture levels within 1-3 months. More expensive but very effective.
  • Splitting – Splitting wood accelerates seasoning by exposing more surface area to evaporate moisture. Chop wood soon after cutting.
  • Testing – Check moisture content with a simple meter. Look for seasoning cracks in the ends of logs. Burn a piece to see if hissing stops after a few minutes.

Take advantage of firewood sales in spring and summer so you have well seasoned wood ready for winter. Store it stacked in a ventilated area protected from rain and snow.

What is a Cord of Firewood?

Firewood is typically sold by the cord. A standard cord measures 4 x 4 x 8 feet (128 cubic feet). Stacked logs fill this space loosely allowing air circulation. Typical cords use logs between 3 – 6 inches diameter. Smaller pieces reduce air gaps. Larger individual logs lessen total cubic footage.

You may see fractional cords sold such as 1/2 cord, 1/3 cord, face cord (4 x 8 stack) etc. Make sure you know what you are getting. Prices range wildly from $100 – $500 per full cord depending on your region. Buying early secures the best deals. Splitting your own firewood saves money but requires much more labor and processing.

Firewood Storage Tips

Properly storing cut and split firewood improves drying and keeps it ready to burn on demand:

  • Stack off the ground on scrap lumber or poles to promote air flow
  • Stacking vertically with the bark side facing out is ideal
  • Cover the top of the stack from rain but leave the sides uncovered
  • Keeping wood near the house makes it more convenient for loading
  • Bring inside smaller amounts that will be used up in 1-2 weeks
  • Avoid contact with dirt and ground moisture that can reabsorb water

A basic woodshed, lean-to, or covered stack works well for storing several cords. Monitor your supply and replenish before you run out.

Safety Reminders When Buying and Handling Firewood

Burning wood provides ambiance and heat but also requires care and caution:

  • Wear protective gloves, eyes, and clothing when splitting wood
  • Learn proper axe, maul, and chainsaw safety techniques before attempting
  • Carefully stack woodpiles to avoid collapse and fall hazards
  • Be mindful of nails, barbed wire, and metal in salvaged wood
  • Purchase from reputable dealers to avoid unwanted pests and insects
  • Keep firewood stacks away from the home exterior
  • Avoid burning pressure treated, painted, or laminated wood
  • Exercise hand and back care when lifting and moving firewood

Enjoy the warmth and beauty of burning wood responsibly and safely. Your wood stove or fireplace can provide cozy comfort during the cold winter ahead. Use these firewood tips to select the best varieties and properly prepare your wood supply. With a crackling fire of oak, hickory, maple, or other excellent hardwoods, you’ll make it through winter with ease. Stay warm!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best type of firewood to burn?

Oak, hickory, and other dense hardwoods are generally considered the best firewood. They burn hot, long-lasting fires and produce excellent heat output and coaling for wood stoves or fireplaces. Dry seasoned wood with low moisture content is critical as well.

How long does firewood take to season?

Most firewood needs 6-12 months to air dry sufficiently for burning. Softwoods like pine dry faster than dense hardwoods like oak. Splitting wood helps accelerate drying. Kiln drying using large ovens can dry wood in 1-3 months.

What moisture content should firewood be?

Look for seasoned firewood with less than 20% internal moisture content. Wood dried further to 6-10% moisture is ideal. Green unseasoned wood can have 50% or more moisture initially. Testing moisture is advised.

Is hardwood better than softwood for firewood?

Yes, hardwoods like oak and maple have more energy content per cord and burn better than softwoods like pine. But softwoods are usable if seasoned adequately. Mixing some softer woods helps with easy lighting.

How much firewood is in a cord?

A standard cord measures 4 feet x 4 feet x 8 feet, or 128 cubic feet when stacked. A face cord is 4 feet high by 8 feet long. Fractional cords like 1/2, 1/3 cords are also sold frequently. Know what a cord’s dimensions are when purchasing.

What firewood burns the longest?

Dense hardwoods like oak, hickory, and locust provide the longest sustained burn times. Their density packs more heat energy per volume. Lighter softer woods burn faster despite the same volume. A hot large fire also burns wood faster than a smaller fire.

How should I stack firewood for drying?

Stack firewood in loose rows off the ground in a sunny, well-ventilated area. Allow space between logs for airflow. Cover the top but leave sides exposed. Bark facing outwards accelerates drying. Bring inside to dry further before burning.

Is it okay to burn pine in a wood stove?

Yes, pine firewood is usable despite drawbacks. Pine burns faster, sparks more, and creates more creosote than hardwoods. Make sure pine is well seasoned before burning. Mixing a few pine pieces with hardwood helps with easy ignition and quick heating.

What is the best way to start a fire in a wood stove or fireplace?

Use small dry kindling first, then add progressively larger split logs. Leave air gaps between pieces for oxygen flow. Softwoods and lighter hardwoods ignite easiest. Never use gasoline or other accelerants which can explode.


Choosing quality firewood and properly seasoning it is crucial for getting the most from your wood stove or fireplace. Focus on obtaining well-dried dense hardwoods like oak, hickory, maple, and ash for impressive heating ability and beautiful fires. With the right firewood, you’ll stay cozy and warm all winter long.