When you need to cook or simply want to relax around a campfire, knowing what kind of wood to use can eliminate frustration. There are two basic kinds of wood for campfires; hardwood and softwood
Hard Wood burns longer, here are some examples of hardwoods:
Soft Wood burns fast & splits easier, here are some examples of softwoods:
The Burning Properties of Wood
Wood from an evergreen tree, called "softwood," burns quickly, lets off lots of heat and dies leaving no coals. It makes a colorful bonfire, but you will need lots of it for a whole evening. Deciduous or "hardwood" takes longer to ignite, burns slowly and turns to glowing coals. It is perfect for a cooking fire.
Remember that good firewood is always dry while rotten, crumbly, wet or green wood will make a smoky fire and Poplar can smoke even when it is dry. Avoid softwood with balls of tree gum attached, as this will cause a fire to spit.
For a great fire starter, use "fatwood" or dry wood from an evergreen tree that is streaked with resins. Pine needles and Birch Bark (never peel from a live tree) also work well if they are very dry. Don't try to start a fire with other kinds of bark though, since bark does not burn well.
Note: Never collect wood near Poison Ivy or Poison Oak. The smoke from burning any part of the plants can cause an allergic rash and can be even more dangerous if inhaled.
A natural result of tree recognition is to learn the burning properties of their woods. Below is a listing of the most common woods for burning and their burning properties. There are more, but this is a good list to start. If you are unsure of the wood, the best and safest bet is not to burn it and it is worth remembering that ALL wood will burn better if split.
Alder: Poor in heat and does not last, to be seen growing beside ponds.
Apple: Splendid – It burns slowly and steadily when dry, with little flame, but good heat. The scent is pleasing.
Ash: Best burning wood; has both flame and heat, and will burn when green, though naturally not as well as when dry.
Beech: A rival to ash, though not a close one, and only fair when green. If it has a fault, it is apt to shoot embers a long way.
Birch: The heat is good but it burns quickly. The smell is pleasant.
Cedar: Good when dry. Full of crackle and snap. It gives little flame but much heat, and the scent is beautiful.
Cherry: Burns slowly, with good heat. Another wood with the advantage of scent.
Chestnut: Mediocre. Apt to shoot embers. Small flame and heating power.
Douglas Fir: Poor. Little flame or heat.
Elder: Mediocre. Very smoky. Quick burner, with not much heat.
Elm: Commonly offered for sale. To burn well it needs to be kept for two years. Even then it will smoke.
Holly: Good, will burn when green, but best when kept a season.
Hornbeam: Almost as good as beech.
Laburnum: Totally poisonous tree, acrid smoke, taints food and best never used.
Larch: Crackly, scented, and fairly good for heat.
Laurel: Has brilliant flame.
Lime: Poor. Burns with dull flame.
Oak: The novelist's 'blazing fire of oaken logs' is fanciful as Oak is sparse in flame and the smoke is acrid, but dry old oak is excellent for heat, burning slowly and steadily until whole log collapses into cigar-like ash.
Pear: A good heat and a good scent.
Pine: Burns with a splendid flame, but apt to spit. The resinous Weymouth pine has a lovely scent and a cheerful blue flame.
Plane: Burns pleasantly, but is apt to throw sparks if very dry.
Plum: Good heat and aromatic.
Poplar: Truly awful.
Rhododendron: The thick old stems, being very tough, burn well.
Robinia (Acacia): Burns slowly, with good heat, but with 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 woods. Burns slowly, with great heat and little smoke.
Walnut: Good, and so is the scent. Aromatic wood.
Willow: Poor. It must be dry to use, and then it burns slowly, with little flame. Apt to spark.
Yew: Last but among the best. Burns slowly, with fierce heat, and the scent is pleasant.