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What type of wood should you burn in a fireplace?

Updated on February 20, 2015

Wood is Wood right?

If you are new to owning a fireplace or if you have just never used a fireplace, the first thing to realize is that all wood is not the same. There are woods that burn hot and fast and woods that burn slow and at lower temperatures. As I am in the Southeast, I will write on the trees which are located within this region. If you have questions or concerns about the type of wood that you are putting into your fireplace please consult your local forestry office.

In the southern eastern states one of the most popular trees is PINE.

Although in abundance, PINE trees should NEVER be used in an indoor fireplace.
Although in abundance, PINE trees should NEVER be used in an indoor fireplace. | Source
Sap build up can quickly ignite causing a house fire.
Sap build up can quickly ignite causing a house fire. | Source

Never use pine

Although Pine trees are common in the south and their wood is abundant, you should never use pine in your fireplace. There are two main reasons for this.

  1. Too hot- Pine burns quickly and very hot. While this is great for the outdoors campfire, such heat on the interior of your home is not good. The heat could cause a chimney fire. Also, as most mantles are around flammable objects (though usually far enough away not to matter) this is a concern as well with high heats.
  2. Sap buildup - Pine is a very sap saturated wood. When burning pine, the sap will coat the interior of the flume. This buildup will just sit on the walls and will heat up when the next fire is started. Where most woods leave a residue, they are not as dangerous as pine. Pine sap is quick to heat and quick to ignite. Even if you clean your chimney often, avoid using Pine as the sap is very unstable.

So which would can I use?

I have found that Oak is the best wood to burn. White and red tend to do best. The smell given by the wood is pleasant and the flames do not get too hot. You can also burn some poplar, cedar, and hickory.

Keep in mind when you are getting wood for your fireplace that you will need to have both "wet" or "green" wood as well as dry wood and starter.

Dry and Wet wood (an explanation)

Building a fire that is safe and effective depends upon both dry and green/wet wood. But what are these two types of wood?

Dry Wood

Dry wood is wood that has been seasoned so that there is less moisture in the wood. Generally, dry wood has sat for at least 6 to 8 months covered and away from moisture. Dry wood can be of any of the cuts of wood that you want to use in the fireplace. The key is to have a wood that has been set apart and has little to no moisture within it. I have found that the best dry woods have not only wood, but a nice layer of bark and moss.

Preparing your dry wood pile

Dry wood preparation should begin as close to the beginning of the year as possible. As the beginning months are a bit rainy and wet in the Southern states, you will need to cover your wood with a tarp or such device to keep out the water. DO NOT use this wood for your current year. It has to sit.

If you do not have a current dry wood pile then you will more than likely need to buy you a stack from someone. When buying dry wood ask the person how long the wood has been sitting, or better yet just ask them if it is dry or green wood. A creditable person will be able to tell you.

Green Wood

In opposition to Dry wood you have wet/green wood. This wood is the freshly cut wood that most people offer. The problem with just having green wood is that there is a very high moisture content within each piece. This leads to frustration for many individuals trying to get the fire started. Imagine trying to light a wet piece of paper. It would be ineffective. The same is true with green wood. Unless you have a starter log or dry wood to make the heat needed to draw out some of the moisture from the green wood, you are going to have a difficult time in getting the fire going.

Check to see how long wood has been cut in order to get both dry and "green" wood
Check to see how long wood has been cut in order to get both dry and "green" wood | Source

How to start a fire properly.

If you have starter wood (google it) you will note that it has a distinctive gas smell (it is not gas but has a smell similar to gas or propane). These starter pieces are very small for a reason. It does not take much to get the fire started. Place one piece on the metal grate of your fireplace and then place three dry logs around it to make a triangle.

As you burn the dry wood the ember from the wood will become hot enough to put on a piece of green wood. You should start with a piece of green wood that does not have a large diameter. Once a few piece have been burned move on to the larger stuff. Keep in mind that Green wood does not need to be piled up. One large log will do the trick.

Feed your fire as the flames start to die down. If the fire goes out give the embers a slow and steady stream of air (you can do this by blowing on them). If the fire does not immediately start back up, add one piece of dry wood and try again.

Be smart and safe

Overall, you should chose a wood that is not sappy and does not burn hot. Take care that you keep your fireplace clean and use common sense.

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    • DNSiclari profile image

      Douglas and Nikki Siclari 2 years ago from United States

      I really like cedar myself.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 2 years ago from Vermont

      I've burned wood in fireplace, campfire and wood stove for decades. You've covered the basics for most new burners. Nicely done. I would mention that one wood that can be safely be burned green or nearly so is ash. Having a good starter log or bed of coals is important even with ash because as you mentioned it needs enough heat to dry it sufficiently. Dry wood will ignite well and burn hot enough so you won't get creosote in the chimney. Wet wood also doesn't give you very much heat. We mix it with dry oak or maple in our wood stove. The best most fragrant dry firewoods I've burned are apple and cherry. Keep warm!