Carnethy Woodfuel

Which wood burns best?

Wood is the natural sustainable choice of fuel for domestic fires – in use since the first fire many millennia ago. When we warm our homes with wood, we participate in a natural cycle and an ongoing continuum of activity that we share with ancient ancestors.

I am amazed at the number of country people who don’t have fires, whether open log fires or woodburning stoves, because they are “too dirty” or “too much work”.

In fact the procedure of building and lighting the fire is one of my favourite jobs of the day, and I love handling and preparing the firewood. I am not one to pursue a life where all comfort comes from the flick of a switch.

The ability to burn wood for heat in your home gives you more freedom and options for fuel. You are no longer dependent on large energy utilities who may or may not be able to supply power and fuel

Environmental Issues

When we burn wood we are releasing solar energy, in the form of heat that has been stored in the wood as chemical energy. The process of photosynthesis converted solar energy, water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and the organic molecules that form the wood, half the weight of which is carbon.

So burning wood is just the quick reversal of this process, liberating the sun’s heat when we need it most.

Unlike the burning of fossil fuels like coal, gas or oil, burning firewood releases no more greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide) than would be produced were the wood to simply rot on the forest floor. If we are responsible in the ways we grow, cut, and burn our firewood, wood burning can actually be a good choice for the environment.

So burning wood is a good choice from the greenhouse gas point of view but what about other pollution – surely all that smoke can’t be good?

Smouldering, smoky fires that produce a plume of blue-grey smoke from the chimney are the main cause of wood heat-related air pollution. Smoke is made up of many tiny airborne particles and wood smoke can be harmful when it is inhaled. In some countries wood smoke has become a major air pollution problem and this has led to both local regulations and more efficient wood-burning appliances.

One thing to make clear at this stage is that if you are burning the right wood in the right way then there shouldn’t be much smoke. As you probably know from bonfires, a slow, wet fire produces lots of thick smoke – in the fireplace we are aiming for a quick, hot, dry burn producing very little smoke. Another thing to bear in mind is that a smoky fire is an inefficient one – we want all the released energy to heat our home – not to go up the chimney in the form of complex particles. Carbon dioxide, the product of a clean, hot burn, is a colourless non-particulate gas, so a hot fire with minimal smoke is an efficient energy-converter with less pollution.

 

 

AlderProduces poor heat output and it does not last well.Poor
AppleA very good wood that bums slow and steady when dry, it has small flame size, and does not produce sparking or spitting.Good
AshReckoned by many to be one of best woods for burning, it produces a steady flame and good heat output. It can be burnt when green but like all woods, it burns best when dry.Very good
BeechBurns very much like ash, but does not burn well when green.Very good
BirchProduces good heat output but it does burn quickly. It can be burnt unseasoned, however the sap can cause deposits to form in the flue with prolonged use.Good
CedarIs a good burning wood that produces a consistent and long heat output. It burns with a small flame, but does tend to crackle and spit and the sap can cause deposits to form in the flue with prolonged use.Good
CherryIs a slow to burn wood that produces a good heat output. Cherry needs to be seasoned well.Good
ChestnutA poor burning wood that produces a small flame and poor heat output.Poor
Firs (Douglas etc)A poor burning wood that produces a small flame and poor heat output and the sap can cause deposits to form in the flue with prolonged use.Poor
ElmIs a wood that can follow several burn patterns because of high moisture content, it should be dried for two years for best results. Elm is slow to get going and it may be necessary to use a better burning wood to start it off. Splitting of logs should be done early.Medium
EucalyptusIs a fast burning wood. The sap can cause deposits to form in the flue and can increase the risk of a chimney fire if burned unseasoned.Poor
HawthornIs a good traditional firewood that has a slow burn with good heat output.Very good
HazelIs a good but fast burning wood and produces best results when allowed to season.Good
HollyIs a fast burning wood that produces good flame but poor heat output. Holly will burn green, but best dried for a minimum of a year.Poor
HornbeamA good burning wood that burns similar to beech, slow burn with a good heat output.Good
Horse ChestnutA good wood for burning in wood stoves but not for open fires as it does tend to spit a lot.  It does however produce a good flame and heat output.Good (For stoves only)
LaburnumA very smokey wood with a poor burn.Poor do not use
LarchProduces a reasonable heat output, but it needs to be well seasoned. The sap can cause deposits to form in the flue with prolonged use.Medium
LaurelBurns with a good flame but only reasonable heat output. It needs to be well seasoned.Medium
LilacIts smaller branches are good to use as kindling, the wood itself burns well with a good flame.Good
MapleIs a good burning wood that produces good flame and heat output.Good
OakBecause of its density, oak produces a small flame and very slow burn, it is best when seasoned for a minimum of two years as it is a wood that requires time to season well.Good
PearBurns well with good heat output, however it does need to be seasoned well.Good
Pine(Including Leylandii) Burns with a good flame, but the resin sap can cause deposits to form in the flue and can increase the risk of a chimney fire must be well seasoned.Good (with caution)
PlumA good burning wood that produces good heat output.Good
PoplarA very smokey wood with a poor burn.Very poor
RowanIs a good burning wood that has a slow burn with good heat output.Very good
Robinia (Acacia)Is a good burning wood that has a slow burn with good heat output. It does produce an acrid and dense smoke but this is of course not a problem in a stove.Good  (For Stoves only)
SpruceProduces a poor heat output and it does not last well.Poor
SycamoreProduces a good flame, but with only moderate heat output. Should only be used well-seasoned.Medium
Sweet ChestnutThe wood burns ok when well-seasoned but it does tend to spit a lot. This is of course not a problem in a stove.Medium (For Stoves only)
ThornIs one of the best woods for burning. It produces a steady flame and very good heat output, and produces very little smoke.Very good
WillowA poor fire wood that does not burn well even when seasoned.Poor
YewA good burning wood as it has a slow burn, and produces a very good heat output.Very good