Firewood 101 | The Complete Guide to Firewood

December 09, 2021 9 min read

stacked firewood

Uses For Firewood

The simple answer is burning, but there are many other uses for firewood. While making memories and cooking s’mores around a campfire is great, the usefulness of firewood extends beyond the fire pit.

From heating a home to cooking meals, firewood is an essential survival tool.

Many have already made the switch from conventional appliances to wood burning.

Wood burning appliances work the same as conventional appliances but use no electricity. Using less electricity can save you money and reduce fossil fuel dependency. 

Firewood can save you money by heating your home, cooking food, and heating running water.

Using EPA certified wood burning appliances you can save up to 50% on your electricity bill. It is important that your appliances are EPA certified so you get the most efficiency from your firewood.

Buying vs Gathering Firewood

wood burning fire place

Gathering wood is the best option for obtaining firewood, if you have the means to do so. To gather firewood you need access to many dead or dying trees.

If you don't live on multiple acres with lots of trees, gathering firewood on your property is likely not an option.

If you do not have the means to gather firewood on your property, asking friends or family who do is the next best option.

Gathering firewood is the more cost effective and time consuming option. Firewood costs nothing to gather once you have the tools and supplies.

Gathering firewood is self sustainable and removes the need for outside suppliers.  

When gathering your own firewood, finding a suitable tree is only the first step. Once you have found a suitable dead or dying tree you need to cut the tree down if it has not already fallen.

After cutting the tree down you can then begin to split your firewood. Most of us do not have the time, energy, or resources gathering takes and will decide to buy firewood like we buy long term food kits.

 There are a few different options available for buying firewood. The first option for buying firewood is your local hardware store. Hardware stores sell pre split 5-piece firewood bundles for about $10.

Buying firewood from a hardware store is a good option if you need quick and convenient firewood. If you need more than a small bundle of wood there are other options for buying firewood.

Firewood can not be transported across state lines and is only sold in state. This means bulk firewood suppliers are local and vary based on regions. In most rural areas there will be many different suppliers selling firewood.

Searching google for “bulk wood near you” will provide a list of local firewood suppliers. These bulk firewood suppliers are for profit businesses that often offer delivery. Buying in bulk from a local supplier will cost an average of $150 but there are cheaper alternatives.

A cheaper alternative to buying bulk firewood from a local supplier is to buy from a private seller. Private sellers will rarely offer delivery but will sell firewood cheaper than businesses.

You can find private sellers on classified ads like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Private sellers are less reliable but the most cost efficient option for buying firewood.

chainsaw cutting firewood

Different Types of Firewood

Firewood can come from a variety of different trees. The firewood you use depends on the trees that grow in your region. Although there are many different types of firewoods, not all firewoods burn the same.

Below we list the two categories of wood and why you should choose a particular wood.

There are two main categories of firewood, hardwood and softwood. Historic lumberjacks classified hardwood and softwood by which trees shed their leaves. Today we classify trees as by their density.

Cherry, elm, maple, oak, and chestnut trees produce dense wood. Since these trees produce dense wood we classify them as hardwood trees. Cedar, Douglas fir, juniper, pine, redwood, spruce, and yew trees produce low density wood. Since those trees produce low density wood, we classify them as softwood.

Hardwood makes for the best firewood because it burns hotter and longer than softwoods. A softwood log will burn for about an hour whereas an equal sized hardwood log burns for several hours.

Hardwood also burns hotter than softwood making it more efficient as firewood.

hardwood and softwood for firewood stack

What Type of Firewood Do You Need?

The type of firewood you need depends on what you will be using the wood for. We already stated that hardwood is best for burning, but what hardwood should you use?

Although all hardwoods work great as firewood some excel over others. Below we list 5 different types of hardwoods and the differences between them.

Cherry wood is the best firewood for those who love huddling around a fireplace. Cherry wood is the best wood to burn inside due to the low amount of smoke and non-smoky aroma the wood gives off.

Cherry wood also burns at a medium heat and produces the iconic firewood crackle.

Elm wood burns at a medium temperature and produces little ash or smoke. This makes elm wood a good firewood to use in an indoor fireplace.

Before purchasing Elm wood in bulk make sure you enjoy the strong unique aroma it gives off when burning.

Maple wood is a common wood found throughout the US and Canada. Maple wood is very dense causing it to burn slower than other hardwoods.

Maple wood is great for heating your home or cooking food since you will not have to keep stocking the fire.

Oak wood is one of the most used firewoods as it is very abundant in the US. Oak wood produces a slow burning, hot fire that is great for heating your home or cooking.

The downside to oakwood is that it needs to dry for an entire year before use. You can bypass the drying process if you buy firewood from a supplier who already dried the wood.

Chestnut wood burns with less heat than the other options but it is less expensive than other firewoods. Chestnut wood produces more smoke, sparks and crackles than other woods.

Chestnut wood is best used outdoors due to the heavy smoke it produces.

stacked and chopped firewood

Best Tools for Splitting Firewood

Whether you decide to buy firewood or gather it you will need the right tools before splitting the wood.

A wood splitting ax and maul are the most used tools for splitting firewood. Axes split wood by using a sharp metal edge that can cut through the hardest wood. Mauls work like an ax except the sharp metal edge is a separate tool called a wedge.

Mauls drive the wedge through the center of the log with the force from the maul. Both tools work well to split wood by hand and are inexpensive. If you intend to only split a cord or less of wood an ax or maul will be the only tool you need. 

If you plan on splitting more than a cord of firewood a wood splitter would be the best tool for the job. Wood splitters are machine powered tools for splitting large amounts of firewood.

Wood splitters are more efficient than hand splitting firewood but also more expensive. The cost of a wood splitter varies depending on what type of splitter you need. 

The two models of log splitters are vertical and horizontal splitters. Vertical log splitters are best for cutting logs with a large circumference. The vertical design allows you to avoid lifting heavy logs by splitting on the ground.

Horizontal log splitters are the more common of the two models. Horizontal log splitters need you to lift the log into position before splitting. Horizontal splitters are less powerful than vertical splitters but come with more options available. 

Manual log splitters use a foot pedal to build hydraulic pressure to split firewood. These log splitters can come in either horizontal or vertical models. Both models of manual splitters can cut medium to small sized logs.

These splitters are lightweight, easy to store and powerful for their design. The only con to manual log splitting is that they limit log length due to the low profile design.

Electric log splitters are lightweight and small compared to their gas model counterparts. These log splitters are good in residential areas because they are quiet and easy to store.

Electric log splitters run off a standard 110/120 outlet and release no fumes from the engine. With no engine fumes emitted you can use log splitters indoors or outdoors. The con to electric splitters is that they are only designed horizontally. 

Gasoline log splitters are the most diverse of the splitter. Gas splitters range from small portable options to large commercial options. Gasoline log splitters are the most powerful and durable splitters.

Gas splitters run off a 4 stroke engine that builds hydraulic pressure. Gas log splitters are available in many options including horizontal and vertical models. The cons to gasoline splitters is that they are the loudest model and need the most maintenance.

axe and maul on a log

Drying Firewood

When firewood is wet it becomes difficult to ignite due to the moisture in the log. Even when wet firewood does ignite it will burn out as moisture escapes from the log. Firewood can absorb moisture in two different ways.

The first way Your firewood can become wet is from rainfall. When it rains firewood will absorb rainwater and moisture from the air.

This happens because wood is porous making it easy for water to soak into your firewood. The second reason firewood would be wet is that the tree was still living.

Firewood from a living tree still holds all the water that the tree was using to survive. Wood from a living tree can remain wet long after the tree has already fallen.

Once your firewood becomes wet you need to take the necessary steps to dry the wood. The first step in drying firewood is to stack your wood. Stacking your wood allows air to circulate around the wood to evaporate the water.

After you stack your firewood you should cover your wood with a tarp. When covering your firewood make sure that the sides of the stack are still open. Leaving the sides open allows for air to circulate which will dry your wood faster. 

The time it takes for your wood to dry will depend on why your wood is wet. If your wood was dry and absorbed moisture from rainwater it should only take about 2 weeks to dry. If your wood is wet from sourcing it from a living tree it takes at least a year to dry completely.

The general rule when drying living firewood is that the wood should dry for a year per inch of thickness. This means if your wood is 3 inches thick it will take 3 years to dry completely.

stored firewood in the winter

Storing and Stacking Your Firewood

The standard practice for storing wood is to stack your firewood in cords. Cords are the universal measuring system for firewood.

To store your firewood in a cord each piece of wood should be 16 inches in length. Once your wood is split to size you can then stack the wood 4 feet long, 8 foot wide, 4 feet tall to make a full cord.

When you are ready to stack your firewood in cords you must decide the best place to stack it. You should choose to stack your cords somewhere that remains dry.

The best place to store your cords is inside a barn or covered structure. Barns keep your firewood dry by shielding the firewood from all weather conditions. If storing your firewood in a barn is not an option, storage behind your barn or shed is the next best option.

Barns and sheds are great to store firewood behind since they already divert water away.

After you have decided where to store your firewood it is time to begin stacking it. You should stack your firewood even, neat and to the exact dimensions of a cord. To ensure that your firewood stays dry and stacked neat it is a good idea to use a firewood rack.

Firewood racks are 4 feet by 8 feet structures that you can purchase or build. Racks keep your firewood stacked neat and elevated a few inches above the ground. Elevating your firewood ensures that your firewood stays dry from standing water. 

Once your firewood is stacked in your rack you should secure a tarp overtop. Be sure to leave the sides of your cord open to allow for moisture to escape.

firewood and wood storage in a shed

How Much Firewood Should You Store?

Similar to food storage, the amount of firewood you need varies depending on your specific situation. 

If you are only using your firewood for an indoor fireplace you do not need much firewood. Indoor fireplaces do not use much firewood since they are not used on a daily basis.

Having many fires a week in your fireplace still will not use much firewood. With only one cord of wood you should have plenty of firewood to last you through the year.

Using wood to heat your house will start to increase the amount of firewood you need. To heat your house with firewood you will need a wood burning fireplace or furnace.

You will need many cords of wood every winter if you are heating your house with firewood. The number of cords you need to heat your home depends on the square footage of your home. The general rule is that for every 1,000 square feet in your home you will use 3 cords per season. 

Whether you will use only 1 cord or 3 cords it is still a good idea to store extra firewood. During a cold winter the amount of firewood you use can increase. Under estimating how much firewood you need can leave you scrambling to find more.

Firewood is always less available in the winter and can be difficult to find in a pinch. No matter how much firewood you think you need, always overestimate so you have plenty to fall back on.