When it comes to heating your home or enjoying a cozy evening by the fireplace, the type of firewood you choose can make a significant difference in both the efficiency and quality of your fire.
One critical distinction in the world of firewood is whether it is hardwood or softwood. While the terms “hardwood” and “softwood” may seem self-explanatory, identifying and differentiating between them can sometimes be a challenge.
Firewood is not all created equal, so it is important to understand how hardwood differs from softwood.
Your needs should be taken into account when selecting which type of firewood to burn. These characteristics include heat generation, coaling properties, and lighting capability.
Start by asking yourself what your primary use for firewood will be? Are you planning to have only occasional campfires, or will you be using wood as your primary source of heat?
It is easier to restart a fire in the morning since hardwood burns longer, making it perfect for overnight heating. They usually leave coal left over in the morning, so you can relight a fire as soon as you get up in the morning.
How will you obtain your firewood? Will you buy it from local dealers, or will you have to cut it yourself?
The price of softwood should be lower than hardwood, so you should switch suppliers if you’re paying the same price.
We’ll go over a few of the differences between the two types so that you can decide which one is best for you.
Identifying Hardwoods Vs Softwoods
Hardwood trees are flowering plants. The seeds of hardwood trees are encased in fruits that bear flowers.
A hardwood’s life cycle is also seasonal. Fall is when they lose their leaves, and winter is when they become dormant.
They have broad, flat leaves. Compared to softwoods, they also grow slower. Cones enclose the seeds of softwoods, which do not produce flowers.
It is common for softwoods to be evergreen. The leaves of these plants are scale-like or needle-like, and during the cold months they do not shed. Their growth rate is fast and they are usually less dense.
How To Tell Hardwood From Softwood Firewood?
Distinguishing between hardwood and softwood firewood is essential for optimal burning efficiency and heat production. Here are some methods and characteristics to help you tell hardwood from softwood firewood:
One of the most reliable ways to identify hardwood from softwood is by examining the leaves of the tree.
Hardwood trees typically have broad, flat leaves with intricate venation. These leaves often change color and fall off in the autumn.
In contrast, softwood trees have needle-like or scale-like leaves that are evergreen, staying on the tree year-round. For example, oak and maple are hardwoods, while pine and cedar are softwoods.
Density and Weight
Hardwood firewood is denser and heavier than softwood. If you pick up a piece of wood and it feels notably heavier for its size, it’s more likely to be hardwood.
Dense hardwoods like oak, hickory, and cherry are known for their high heat output and long-lasting burns.
Texture and Grain
Examine the end grain of the firewood. Hardwood typically has a tighter and more intricate grain pattern, while softwood has a coarser and more open grain. This can be especially evident when you split the wood.
While not foolproof, hardwoods often have a darker and richer color compared to softwoods. Oak, for instance, tends to be darker than the light-colored pine.
Pay attention to the bark. Hardwood bark is typically thicker, rougher, and more deeply furrowed than softwood bark. Softwood bark is usually thinner and smoother.
When burning, hardwoods often produce a pleasant and aromatic scent, while softwoods can sometimes give off a more resinous or pungent odor. This can vary, so it’s worth noting the fragrance when burning different types of wood.
Softwoods tend to have a higher resin content, which can cause more creosote buildup in your chimney. If you notice a lot of creosote buildup, it may indicate that you’ve been burning softwood.
When struck together, hardwood logs generally produce a sharper and higher-pitched sound, while softwood logs sound duller and lower in pitch.
Observing how the wood burns can also provide clues.
Hardwood typically burns longer and produces a hotter, more sustained fire, making it ideal for heating purposes.
Softwood can ignite quickly but may burn faster and with more crackling.
Familiarize yourself with common hardwood and softwood species in your region to make identification easier. Local variations can influence the availability of certain types of firewood.
It’s essential to remember that some woods, like pine, can exhibit characteristics of both hardwood and softwood, so it may require a combination of these methods to accurately identify the firewood type.
Knowing the difference between hardwood and softwood firewood can help you choose the right wood for your specific heating or burning needs, whether it’s for warmth, ambiance, or cooking.
The Basics Of Burning Firewood
No matter what type of tree you choose for firewood, the most important thing is to make sure it is well-seasoned before you start. Wood that has not been seasoned will not burn efficiently.
Firewood that has been waterlogged is difficult to light and will produce less heat than wood that has been seasoned. There is a risk of fire when burning painted or treated wood.
It is possible to identify softwoods by their needles and pine-like aroma, such as evergreen trees and conifers. There are many popular species of softwood trees, including cedar, red pine, and fir.
As a result of softwood’s extremely fast growth rate, it is lighter and less dense than most hardwoods. Lightweight woods like this one are typically very resinous, so they light easily and burn hot.
Usually, softwood fires are large in size with crackling and sparking flames. For kindling, softwood is a popular choice since it seasons much faster than hardwood and is lighter.
The cedar tree is a great source of kindling. There are some disadvantages to softwoods, including the amount of smoke they produce and the fine ashes that they leave after burning.
In wood stoves, softwoods are not good for overnight burning due to poor coaling qualities, which cause the fire to go out without enough hot coals left over.
Campfires benefit from the speed at which softwoods burn and the large flame they produce, in addition to their usefulness as kindling.
Additionally, they can help improve the smell of a slow-burning fire when mixed with hardwood.
Using seasoned softwood firewood will lengthen the burn time of your modern stove. The efficiency of modern stoves is higher and particulate emissions are minimized compared to older stoves.
A fire’s purpose and what is available in your area determine whether to burn softwood or hardwood.
A combination of softwoods and hardwoods is sometimes the best option.
In order to create a longer-lasting fire, softwoods are good at starting fires and then switching to hardwood once the fire has been started.
As a general rule, hardwoods can be identified by the type of leaves they have.
The leaves of hardwood trees are typically lost in the fall because they have broadleaves.
There are many different species of trees in this group, but oaks, maples, beech trees, ash trees, and elms are the most popular species.
When comparing hardwood vs softwood, hard wood is often considered to be superior because of its density.
Due to the density of the wood, the fire burns hot and long without releasing a lot of smoke or sparks. Also, wood produces hot coals that give off radiant heat for an extended period of time.
By purchasing hardwood by cord (128 cubic feet), you’ll produce more BTUs (British Thermal Units) than you would by purchasing softwood by cord.
Hardwoods aren’t necessarily the best choice just because they are classified as such. Hardwoods that are of low quality are actually softer and less dense than softwoods of high quality.
What are the negative aspects of hardwood?
When compared to softwood, dense wood tends to take longer to dry out or season. As a result, hardwood is also more expensive than softwood.
The Amount Of Heat Produced – Hardwood vs Softwood
Firewood can be classified by the amount of heat energy they produce per cord, regardless of whether it is hardwood or softwood.
For every cord of firewood, the lowest heat energy classification produces the equivalent of 100-150 gallons of fuel oil. A few of them are:
- Sitka spruce
- White and lodgepole pine
- Red cedar
- Red alder
In the next group, 150-200 gallons are equal to one cord of wood of heat energy. Among them are:
- Red and silver maple
- American elm
- Douglas fir
- Black cherry
- White birch
Heat energy provided by the best woods is equivalent to 200-250 gallons of petroleum oil. A few of them are:
- White oak
- White ash
- Red oak
- Yellow birch
- American beech
Firewoods to Avoid – Hardwood vs Softwood
You can save money on firewood by scavenging, but you should avoid some woods due to their health and safety risks.
You will be exposed to hazardous fumes in your home and fumes that will harm the environment when you use most of these products.
Several woods can also cause a chimney to accumulate creosote, making your fireplace a potential hazard.
You should avoid burning for your health and safety:
- Paper and hardboard products that are compressed
- Particleboard and plywood, which are engineered wood products
- Wood that has been pressure-treated
- Wood that has been painted or polished
You should also be careful when using some firewood, especially aromatic ones, if you have allergies.
Burning firewood safely is your top priority. Fire-resistant pads should be used to protect your fireplace, and you should adhere to the recommended clearances.
Overall – Hardwood vs Softwood
There is a big difference between hardwood and softwood when it comes to density. Generally, hardwood and softwood produce similar amounts of heat pound for pound.
Softwood, however, may require twice as much volume when compared to hardwood due to the density difference.
Cutting, splitting, and stacking are more frequent when there is more volume. It is for this reason that many people prefer burning hardwood over softwood when they have the option.
In spite of this, there are several benefits associated with each type of wood. Together, they make a great team.
The fastest way to build a fire is with softwoods, while the best way to sustain a fire is with hardwoods.