How to Buy & Burn Firewood Like a Pro

campfire with dogs

After reading these tips, you will not only be able to buy the best firewood for your buck, you’ll be able to burn that firewood without smoking out your house or neighbors!

There are not many things that I like about cold weather, however snuggling-up to a roaring fire with my honey tops the list! Bring on the marshmallows, hot chocolate and some chestnuts to roast, fires bring out the kid in all of us.

If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace in your home, you’re all set. Otherwise, outdoor areas can be easily converted to a fire pit. A circle of small boulders, bricks or just an area cleared of burnable material will work just fine.

Types of Firewood

As an arborist, folks often ask me, “What’s the best type of firewood to buy?” There’s no one answer. Everyone has a favorite firewood, just as everyone has a different way of lighting and running a fire.

Pound for pound, all varieties of wood have approximately the same heat content, which is about 6400 BTU. The heat created by burning firewood is essentially the energy of the sun, the ultimate source of all energy on planet Earth. Through the process of photosynthesis, trees are able to store solar energy as chemical energy. Burning wood is just the quick reversal of this process, liberating the suns heat when we need to keep warm.

Although the heat content may be the same, woods do burn differently because of differences in density. Firewood is classified into two categories. Soft woods include pine, juniper, spruce, poplar and cedar. These burn easily and quickly, providing a hot fire, although it won’t last long. Hardwoods are denser and burn quite slowly, producing less immediate heat but a fire that lasts longer. Hardwoods include maple, oak, ash, birch and hickory.

List of wood types
Wood types and their energy output
List of wood types
Wood types and their energy output

Another consideration of energy release is that the size of the firewood pieces affects the rate of combustion. Larger pieces ignite and release their energy slower than small pieces. Smaller pieces are better for short, hot fires (cooking) while larger pieces are a better choice for extended burning (warmth).

Where and How to Buy Firewood

Tree trimming companies are your best locations to buy firewood. Pretty easy to figure out why… They get paid to prune or remove trees and then get to paid again selling it as firewood. Double payday! Inspectors from the Department of Agriculture (here in Illinois at least) do pay visits to these locations looking for emerald ash borer and other pests that can be transferred via firewood. Many times mulching the wood destroys the insect and it can be sold as such.

If possible, try to visit the location where you will be buying your firewood. Most often, the wood will already be stacked in the quantities sold. Bundles can be any amount, mainly bought by campers needing only enough wood for a camping weekend. Otherwise, the only legal unit of measurement to buy firewood in is the CORD, defined as, β€œa loosely stacked pile of split firewood measuring 4 ft. wide x 4 ft. high x 8 ft. long.” equal to about 128 cubic feet.

There is no legal standard for the “Face Cord“, but it should be about 45 cubic feet = 1/3 cord. Multiply your Face Cord price X3 to determine you’re getting a good price.

Some quick notes on types of campfires:

Types of campfires
Different types of campfire layouts

This is probably the most basic of fire designs. It is often used as a starter upon which bigger, longer-lasting fires are founded. This fire uses mostly kindling, but larger tee-pees can be created by adding larger logs vertically to the fire.

This fire consists of a foundation framework of large logs laid side by side to form a solid base. These can be used to cook on very easily. It can provide quick warmth and be the start of any number of larger blazes.

A star fire, or Indian fire, is the fire design often depicted as the campfire of the old West. Imagine five or six logs laid out like the spokes of a wheel (star shaped). A fire is started at the “hub” and each log is pushed towards the center as the ends are consumed. It’s another fire that can be kept burning all night long with little maintenance and where firewood is at a premium.

This is a great fire during windy days. Be sure to check wind direction before set-up.

Storing Firewood

tree woodpile
Fun ways to stack firewood

When you get your wood delivered, stack it in neat loose piles off the ground in a sunlit location away from buildings. Plastic sheeting or closer stacking of top pieces will protect firewood from rain and snow. Firewood put in a shady corner near buildings or surrounded by shrubs deteriorates faster than wood stored in an open, sunlit location, reducing the fuel value.

Don’t treat firewood with pesticides. Storing firewood away from the house and bringing in only a day or two’s worth at a time should prevent dormant or pupating insects from warming up and emerging to become pests inside your home.

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Published by Wellness Garden Design

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7 thoughts on “How to Buy & Burn Firewood Like a Pro

  1. We’re enormously lucky to have 4 acres of ash woods. We coppice and clear with friends so the whole process of amassing a supply of wood for winter is huge fun. Ash is a truly great wood to burn. Lovely post.

    1. Thank you! Ash is a great burning wood. Sadly, over here we have a little bug(ger) called the Emerald Ash Borer that carries a fungus that kills our ashes. =-( The only good thing that comes out of this is lots of firewood… 8-|

  2. Excellent post on all the different types of firewood. πŸ˜€
    Here we buy bundles of wood for a braai (SA barbecue). It is usually just pine – as that is pretty much all we have!
    I remember my Mum would light a fire in the front room in winter. It didn’t produce much warmth, but was very cosy to sit around – and of course to roast chestnuts. So I can imagine how much fun you are having in winter with marshmallows and hot chocolate. Enjoy! πŸ˜€

    1. The pine we get here is so full of sap, it gets really ‘snappy’, throwing embers everywhere. We only burn it in the BIG pit out back, where there’s nothing for the embers to land on. I sure do enjoy my hot chocolate!! We’ve actually been out enjoying our little pit on the porch, due to or weather being mild so far. It’ been 40F lately… 2 years ago, it was 3F. Ya just never know what’s going to be dealt to ya. =-)

      1. Interesting about the pine sap! πŸ™‚
        And yes to the weather! We have had a fairly cool Oct, Nov and Dec – for which I am very grateful.
        Enjoy your hot chocolate. πŸ˜€

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