There’s more to a perfect bonfire than you might already know. Of course, the fire pit you use matters, as well as the outdoor conditions. But the wood you burn makes a huge difference, too. What makes the perfect bonfire wood, and what is the best wood for fires?
The best wood for fires differs depending on your needs and what you want to get out of your fire. But if you know what you’re looking for, choosing the best firewood for your next party or cozy night at home can be a breeze.
What makes the best firewood?
Until you’ve tried to burn bad firewood, you might not understand what makes great wood work well. Firewood that is bonfire ready is dry, untreated, and in special cases, has been aged for more than a year.
Depending on your priorities, you can look for a few different qualities from the firewood of your choice. What you value in a great bonfire will help you determine where to look for the best firewood for your purposes.
For example, some firewood may burn quickly, but produce little heat. Some types of wood may burn slowly, but produce extremely hot fires. Other qualities like smokiness of the fire and small, as well as kindling vs maintenance wood should also factor into your decision.
For the sake of clarity, we’ll be ranking dividing the best wood for fires into a few simple subtypes:
Each of these categories offer different qualities that are appealing depending on what types of fires you are trying to start.
The Best Hardwood for Fires
The makeup of wood is common across all types of wood, no matter the variety. All wood contains the same basic building blocks, including compounds lignin and cellulose. However, wood types are determined by what makes them different.
When distinguishing types of wood, you should look at the space between wood fibers, and the amount of moisture and air the wood contains. The less space between fibers, the denser the wood will be. This high density is what makes hardwood “hard”.
Hardwood is loved for fire building for two key reasons: it burns slowly, and it creates a high amount of heat while it burns.
The most popular hardwood options for fires include:
- Oaks (red and white)
- Apple (and other fruit trees)
- Yellow Birch
Even among these popular candidates, however, there are differences. Birch especially presents drawbacks to those on the hunt for the very best wood for fires. The bark of birch trees is unique. Called the phloem, this bark is thick and contains a lot of moisture, and it may prevent the wood from drying evenly. This creates the possibility of a smokier, or less even burn.
Other aspects to consider when picking the right hardwood, or determining whether or not to go with hardwood at all is the price. Hardwoods are overall more expensive than softwood or conifer options. Still, if your priority is high heat and long burn time, there are no softwood alternatives that offer quite appeal.
In comparison to hardwood, softwood contains more space between fibers, meaning it is less dense, or “soft”. This space means that softwoods burn more quickly, and are less hot than their hard alternatives.
Softwoods may not be the longest lasting option on the market, but they serve another important purpose–they are great for starting fires. While hardwoods can burn for a long time, they are hard to get going. You are not likely to lay an oak log down in a few scraps of kindling and produce a roaring fire. Cedar chips, however, create the foundation needed for a quick starting fire.
Popular softwood options for fires include:
- White birch
Finally, the last popular option for firewood is conifers. Conifers are technically a subsect of softwood. However, unlike cedar or white birch, conifers contain a lot more sap than their counterparts. Popular options like pine contain so much sap that they can be messy to burn.
Still, pine kindling is popular as it catches quickly, and burns hot enough to produce a great base for almost any bonfire. If you’d like to burn pine logs, keep in mind that you may not want to use your brand new fire pit. Cleaning up sap, whether liquid or hardened, is a real pain.
So, what is the best wood for fires?
The best wood for fires will depend on what your priority is. If you are looking for a long burning, hot fire that can carry conversation long into the evening, choose a quality hardwood like oak or maple. For a quick starting fire that you can burn through in an hour or two, opt for softer woods like cedar or pine.
No matter what wood you choose, make sure that it is untreated. Wood marked with chemicals or paint should not be burned. When burned, treated wood can release toxic chemicals that are hazardous to your health.
At the end of the day, whether you’re looking for logs that last all night, or the perfect kindling for a quick fire with friends, the type of wood you choose matters more than you know. Consider this information the next time you’re choosing the best wood for your fire.