A fireplace, wood stove, campfire or outdoor fire pit does more than provide warmth. It’s nice to sit in a comfortable chair and relax by a crackling fire, and if you’re in the mood to entertain, it’s fun to gather with friends or family. Choose bundles of dried hardwoods or packaged logs for fires that burn cleanly, last a long time and produce heat without a lot of smoke.
Dried Firewood vs. Fresh Wood
While you could gather fallen wood from your yard or cut trees, if you have permission from the owner of the trees, wood that has been allowed to dry thoroughly burns faster, produces less smoke and puts out more heat than wood that is fresh, green or wet.
Ideally, wood should be seasoned, or dried, for six to nine months to lower its moisture content. It’s often sold as kiln-dried, which means it has been dried in a kiln, a type of oven.
Seasoned wood should feel dry to the touch and may have loose bark and splits or cracks in ends. It should feel lightweight for its size.
If you buy a bundle of wood wrapped in plastic, make sure it’s already dry or unwrap it when you get home. If it still feels wet, stack it on a firewood rack in a sheltered spot off the ground and let it continue to dry. However, don’t lean or stack firewood against your house or any other structure to avoid possible infestation from pests that might be in the wood.
Hardwoods vs. Softwoods
Hardwoods like oaks, beech, hickory and ash are among the best woods to use as firewood. They last a long time, although they may be harder to ignite than softwoods.
If you’re cooking foods over a fire, try using maple, cherry or other fruitwoods to add flavor. Be safe, and never cook food over painted, pressure-treated, ground-treated, stained or manufactured woods that may give off toxic gases. Never burn those kinds of woods indoors for any reason.
Softwoods and semi-hardwoods, such as poplar, spruce and pine, are good choices for fire pits or other well-ventilated, outdoor areas. Softwoods are usually more budget-friendly than hardwoods, but they don’t last as long. However, they are easier to ignite.
Avoid using woods that contain a lot of resin, such as spruce or pine, in fireplaces, wood stoves and other indoor areas. When burned, these woods create creosote that can build up in chimneys and cause a fire hazard.
Where you live may determine the kinds of woods you find for sale.
Buying Firewood by Cords, Bundles and Other Measurements
Measure the opening in your fireplace, fire pit or wood stove before you buy pre-cut firewood to be sure the logs will fit. The standard length for a piece of firewood is 16 inches.
Firewood is usually sold by the pallet, cord, face-cord or bundle.
A full cord is a stack of firewood that measures 8 feet long by 4 feet deep and 4 feet high, or 128 cubic feet. If you buy a full cord of firewood, you’ll need to cut the logs again to make them fit into most standard fireplaces, wood stoves or fire pits.
A face cord, sometimes called a rick, is 64 cubic feet and typically measures 8 feet long by 4 feet high. Because the logs in a face cord are 16 inches long, a face cord is 1/3 of a full cord.
Most firewood bundles are .75 cubic feet. Bundles are usually sold wrapped in plastic or net bags, so they’re easy to handle, and some campgrounds sell them to visitors. Bundles are often at the higher end of the firewood price range because they are convenient to carry and use and don’t require further cutting.
Be aware that regulations for measuring cords, face cords and other amounts of firewood can vary from state to state, so make sure you understand exactly how much wood you are getting when you buy. Be wary of buying firewood from anyone other than a reputable dealer who will give you a receipt.
Buying Packaged Logs for Firewood
Some firewood logs are packaged for sale by the log or as a case of logs. They may be made out of real wood charcoal, recycled wood and agricultural fibers, recycled and waxed carboard or other materials. Some burn cleaner than real firewood and may produce smaller amounts of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and creosote. Some manufactured logs also generate more heat than a comparable amount of real wood. Read the label on your product for details.
Always check the manufacturer’s label or packaging on logs of firewood before you cook over them, to be sure it’s safe to do so.
If you enjoy the smell of a fire, look for fire logs designed to smell like balsam fir or other natural fragrances.
Buying Firewood for a Campfire
Don’t forget to buy bundles of firewood before you go camping, in case they’re not sold where you’re going. It’s best to buy locally-sourced wood to help limit the spread of any diseases or pests that may be present.
Consider using softwoods for short-lived outdoor fires, but be aware that they may produce more smoke and sparks than hardwoods.
Buying Kindling Sticks and Accessories for Starting Fires
Kindling sticks, sometimes called tinder sticks or fatwood sticks, contain a lot of resin and can help you start a fire quickly. Some are all natural pine. Simply place two or three sticks on top of some dry firewood and light them. They’re a fast, clean way to ignite a fire in a fireplace, wood stove, fire pit or campfire ring.
Long-handled matches, certain lighters and other accessories are also helpful for starting a fire. Be safe, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions about whether an accessory can be used on an indoor versus an outdoor fire.
Be safe when burning firewood. Keep a fire extinguisher for wood fires on hand and know how to use it.