Which Wood Is The Best To Burn?
We often get asked ‘Which wood is the best to burn‘? Local laws and regulations dictate the type of fuels you are allowed to burn in your fireplace or stove. For instance, in certain areas you are required by law to burn smokeless fuels only, usually in built up areas. This is due to the emissions given off which can affect air quality and cause pollution known as smog.
However, certain stoves are exempt from these laws due to the efficient way they burn off waste gasses. These stoves are granted a ‘certificate of exemption’ for use smokeless zones.
Wood is not a smokeless fuel as it contains water. If it is burnt freshly cut or wet (green) it gives off steam and water vapour. This in turn produces flammable, acidic tars which can damage the appliance and chimney by clinging to the lining. In worst cases, the tar will seep through brickwork externally and internally and cause pungent aromas.
Wood should be stored dry undercover for a minimum of 1 year, ideally 2 years. The end grain will split when ready to burn. The fine white residue left over when burning wood is NOT ash, but the remains of the woods cell walls which will burn off if your appliance burns hot enough. Hence there is no need to remove the waste from a wood fire until excessive amounts have built up, as repeated use of the appliance will burn off some deposits from previous firings.
Types of wood to burn
Alder: Poor heat output and burns quickly.
Apple: Burns slowly and steadily, good heat. Pleasant aroma.
Ash: Excellent qualities, will burn when green, but not as well as when dry.
Beech: A rival to ash when dry, but, it does shoot embers a long way.
Birch: Good heat but burns quickly. Pleasant aroma.
Cedar: Good heat when dry. Crackles and snaps. Fantastic aroma.
Cherry: Burns slowly, with good heat. Pleasant aroma.
Chestnut: Not bad. Apt to shoot embers. Small flame and heating power.
Douglas Fir: Poor. Little flame and heat.
Elder: Mediocre. Very smokey. Quick burner, with not much heat.
Elm: Must be well seasoned to burn well, but is rather smokey.
Holly: Good, will burn when green, but best when seasoned.
Hornbeam: Almost as good as beech.
Laburnum: Must be avoided. Poisonous tree, acrid smoke, taints food.
Larch: Crackly, scented, and fairly good for heat.
Laurel: Not bad. Has a brilliant flame.
Lime: Poor. Burns with dull flame.
Maple: Good. Burns quite well.
Oak: Poor flame, acrid smoke, excellent for heat when dry, burns slowly and steadily.
Pear: A good heat and a good scent.
Pine: Good flame, but spits. Nice aroma and blue flame. Burns quite quickly.
Plane: Burns pleasantly, sparks if very dry.
Plum: Good heat and aromatic.
Poplar: Don’t bother.
Rhododendron: The thick old stems, being very tough, burn well.
Robinia (Acacia): Burns slowly, with good heat, but acrid smoke.
Spruce: Burns too quickly and with too many sparks.
Sycamore: Burns with a good flame, with moderate heat. Useless green.
Thorn: One of the best. Burns slowly, with great heat and little smoke.
Walnut: Good, and so is the scent. Aromatic wood.
Willow: Poor. It must be dry, but burns slowly with little flame. Apt to spark.
Yew: One of the best. Burns slowly, with fierce heat and pleasant aroma.
Alternatively in our article ‘Which wood is the best to burn‘ we have included the following fuels.
Also known as bituminous coal, house coal is not a smokeless fuel. It is relatively cheap but harder to obtain nowadays, as it is a dirty fuel to burn. Coal is easy to light and leaves only a small amount of ash, burns very hot with an attractive flame. However, it does make a lot of tarry smoke which stains stove glass, sticks inside flues/chimneys and emits large volumes of flammable gas which can make appliances difficult to control.
Coke is classed as a smokeless fuel. It is a natural coal which is processed to remove the smoke emissions. These are then distilled to make products such as aspirin, creosote and ink amongst other things.
Anthracite and Welsh Dry Steam Coal
This is a smokeless fuel and is a natural hard, shiny form of coal. Anthracite is difficult to light and burns extremely hot for a long time. It is best used in the ‘small nuts’ size.
Peat can be used as a smokeless fuel in some areas (check with your local authority) and is made up of semi-decomposed natural woody material. Moorland or bog peat is almost black and once dried can be burned just like wood.
Lignite is not a smokeless fuel but is a natural material that can be categorised between peat and coal. Although it lights easily and burns well, it can produce excessive amounts of ash.
Smokeless varieties include brands such as ‘Homefire’ and ‘Phurnacite’ which are compressed blocks of fuel. They can burn consistently for long periods. Other brands are made from lignite, peat or house coal and may not be classed as smokeless. Refer to manufacturers instructions for more information.
Brand names such as ‘Petcoke’, ‘Longbeach’ and other various names are made from oil waste. Although easy to light and control, it burns far too hot with a lack of protective ash which means it MUST NOT BE USED unless well mixed with another fuel. Please be aware that the life of the appliance will drastically be reduced and we strongly advise against their use.
Please remember that stoves and fireplaces are not incinerators and great care should be taken if burning occasional household waste, such as personal information etc. Do not burn plastics as they can give off toxic fumes and batteries/aerosols will explode. Never use liquid fuels such as lighter fuel.
I would advise that you try a variety of fuels (or mixtures) to find which wood is the best to burn most effectively in your appliance.