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Do Hardwood Trees Make Better Firewood Than Softwood Trees?

When shopping for firewood, you might be wondering whether to choose a hardwood or softwood variety. There are approximately 60,000 species of trees worldwide, all of which can be categorized as either hardwood or softwood. While both hardwood and softwood trees can be used firewood, there are some stark differences between them that affect their burning performance. So, do hardwood trees make better firewood than softwood trees?

What Is a Hardwood Tree?

Hardwood trees are defined by their use of seed-bearing leaves to reproduce. Each year, a hardwood tree will reproduce by growing and shedding seed-bearing leaves. Hardwood trees typically grow in tropical forests, though they can be found in other climates as well. All hardwood trees, however, reproduce by growing and shedding seed-bearing leaves.

While hardwood trees are defined by their method of reproduction, they typically grow more slowly than softwood trees. It can take an oak sapling 20 years to mature, followed by an additional 30 years for the newly mature oak tree to produce acorns. In comparison, a softwood pine sapling can mature in just eight years. Different species of trees require different amounts of time to mature, but hardwoods almost always take longer to mature than softwoods.

Examples of hardwood trees include the following:

  • Oak
  • Alder
  • Maple
  • Cherry
  • Hickory
  • Mahogany
  • Beech
  • Walnut

What Is a Softwood Tree?

Softwood trees, on the other hand, are evergreen conifers that reproduce using seed-bearing cones. They grow and drop cones containing uncovered seeds. Bees and other insects will then pollinate the seed-bearing cones, resulting in the formation of new softwood trees of the same species. As insects carry to pollen to a softwood tree's seed-bearing cone, the cone will begin to grow into a new tree.

Unlike hardwood trees, softwood trees don't shed their leaves each year. They are known as evergreen trees because they retain their leaves. With that said, a softwood tree won't retain its leaves -- or needles, depending on the species -- forever. Most softwood trees will shed their leaves once every two to four years. They will, however, drop their seed-bearing cones once a year to reproduce.

Examples of softwood trees include the following:

  • Pine
  • Douglas fir
  • Spruce
  • Yew
  • Redwood
  • Juniper
  • Cedar

Research shows roughly 80% of all lumber comes from softwood trees. The frames for homes and buildings, for instance, are often made of softwood-derived lumber. There are a few reasons why softwood trees are preferred over hardwood trees for lumber, one of which is the simple fact that softwood trees grow faster. Because they mature in less time, softwood trees are easy to grow while yielding a substantial amount of lumber. More importantly, softwood trees are more flexible than hardwood trees. They can be bent or deformed without breaking, making them a versatile choice of lumber for construction projects.

Yes, Hardwood Trees Make Better Firewood Than Softwood Trees

While softwood trees make great lumber, they pale in comparison to hardwood trees when used as firewood. Most softwood firewood will ignite and burn when exposed to enough heat, but that doesn't mean it's a good choice for your fireplace, fire pit, stove or chiminea. Whether you're planning to build a fire inside or outside your home, you should use hardwood firewood. What exactly makes hardwood trees a better choice for firewood than softwood trees?

Hardwood Trees Are Denser

One of the reasons hardwood trees make better firewood than softwood trees is because they are denser. Density, of course, refers to the mass of an object or substance relative to its volume. Hardwood trees are comprised of more organic matter than softwood trees of the same size (volume), meaning they are denser. With a higher density, hardwood trees offer more fuel for a fire. All the organic matter in hardwood firewood offers fuel for a fire. As hardwood firewood burns, its organic matter will be converted into heat. Softwood firewood still has some organic matter, but with a lower density, it doesn't burn as long.

wooden logs

Hardwood Produces More Heat When Burned

You can build hotter fires using hardwood firewood. Hardwood trees aren't just denser than softwood trees; they are drier. Hardwood trees have a lower moisture content than their softwood counterparts that, when combined with their high density, allows them to produce more heat when burned. Depending on the species, hardwood firewood may produce 10% to 40% more British Thermal Units (BTUs) of heat than softwood firewood. If you're planning to build fires as a form of supplemental heating during the winter, you should stick with hardwood firewood for this reason alone. When burned, hardwood firewood will produce more heat than softwood firewood, making it a smart investment during the cold winter months.

Hardwood Produces Less Smoke When Burned

Another reason hardwood trees make better firewood than softwood trees is because they produce less smoke when burned. Softwood trees contain more moisture than hardwood trees. Unfortunately, the high moisture content of softwood trees makes them a poor choice for firewood. You may struggle to light softwood firewood, and even if you're able to light it, you can expect more smoke because of its high moisture content. All the moisture trapped inside softwood firewood inhibits the combustion process, meaning a substantial amount of organic matter will be released into the air as thick smoke. Hardwood firewood doesn't suffer from this problem, however, due to its naturally low moisture content.

Hardwood firewood is often processed to achieve an even lower moisture content. Air-drying, for instance, is a firewood processing technique that involves storing firewood outdoors for up to six months, during which the moisture will evaporate out of its pores. Kiln drying, on the other hand, is a more advanced firewood processing technique that involves baking firewood in a heated oven. As a result, kiln-dried hardwood firewood offers a superior level of performance when compared to nearly all other types of firewood.

Hardwood Smells Better

Most people will agree that hardwood firewood smells better than softwood firewood. Softwood firewood produces a stronger, more overbearing aroma when burned than hardwood firewood. Whether it's a hardwood or softwood, no two species of trees produce the exact same aroma when burned. Regardless, you'll probably discover that hardwood firewood produces a milder and more pleasing aroma than softwood firewood. Combined with the excess smoke, burning softwood firewood will fill the surrounding space with an unpleasant odor that can linger for hours, which is just one more reason to choose hardwood firewood.

Hardwood Is Easier to Store and Maintain

Finally, hardwood firewood is easier to store and maintain than softwood firewood. Softwood firewood trends to attract pests when stored for long periods. Termites, beetles and centipedes will often seek out softwood firewood either for food as protection. The high moisture content of softwood firewood naturally attracts these and other insects. Hardwood firewood contains substantially less moisture than softwood firewood, so you don't have to worry about insects infesting it.

Shop from the industry's finest hardwood firewood by visiting our firewood for sale today. Cutting Edge Firewood is the Southeast's premier vendor of high-quality kiln-dried firewood. We offer a variety of hardwood firewood, including oak, hickory and cherry, all of which has been kiln dried.

About The Author

Leroy Hite

Leroy Hite is the founder and CEO of Cutting Edge Firewood, an ultra-premium firewood and cooking wood company located in Atlanta, Georgia. Leroy's mission is to give people the experience of the perfect fire because some of life’s best memories are made in the warmth of a fire’s glow. He founded Cutting Edge Firewood in 2013 with a goal to provide unmatched quality wood and unparalleled customer service nationwide. The company offers premium kiln-dried firewood, cooking wood, and pizza wood in a wide variety of species and cuts to customers around the country.