Burning the right wood in your campfire – it makes all the difference

credit: BushcraftUK.com
credit: BushcraftUK.com

So which woods are good for burning, and which aren’t?

We often have a range of wood that we can burn and because we don’t know how different woods burn we tend to just burn anything. Hopefully, this article will help us make more considered choices when we’ve got a variety of wood to choose from. This article was adapted from Mad Dave’s post found here Wood lore not ‘Woodlore’

Alder: Poor heat output and short lasting. A low-quality firewood. Produces good charcoal that burns steady and is useful for homemade gunpowder.

Apple: Great fuel that bums slow and steady when dry, with little flame, sparking or spitting. It has a pleasing scent. It is easier to cut green and works well for cooking on.

Ash: Considered one of the best-burning woods with a steady flame and good heat output. It will burn well when green, but even better when dry. Easy to saw and split.

Beech: Similar to ash, but only burns fair when green. If it has a fault, it may shoot embers out a long way. It is easy to chop.

Birch: This has good heat output but burns quickly. The smell is also pleasant. It will burn unseasoned. Can cause gum deposits in chimney if used a lot. Rolled up pitch from the bark makes a good firestarter and can be peeled from trees without damaging them.

Blackthorn: Burns slowly, with lots of heat and little smoke.

Cedar: This is a great wood that puts out a lot of lasting of heat. It produces a small flame, a sweet scent, and lots of crackle and pop. Great splitting wood. Best when dry but small pieces can be burned unseasoned. Good for cooking.

Cherry: A slow burning wood with good heat output. Has a nice scent. Should be seasoned well. Slow to start.

Chestnut: A mediocre fuel that produces a small flame and weak heat output. It also shoots out embers.

Douglas Fir: A poor fuel that produces little flame or heat.

Elder: A mediocre fuel that burns quickly without much heat output and tends to have a thick, acrid smoke. The Hag Goddess is known to reside in the Elder tree and burning it invites death. Probably best avoided.

Elm: A variable fuel (Dutch elm disease) with a high water content (140%) that may smoke violently and should be dried for two years for best results. You may need faster-burning wood to get elm going. A large log set on the fire before bed will burn till morn. Splitting can be difficult and should be done early on.

Eucalyptus: A fast burning wood with a pleasant smell and no spitting. It is full of sap and oils when fresh and can start a chimney fire if burned unseasoned. The stringy wood fiber may be hard to split and one option is to slice it into rings and allow to season and self-split. The gum from the tree produces a fresh medicinal smell on burned which may not be the best for cooking with.

Hawthorn: Good firewood. Burns hot and slow.

Hazel: An excellent fast burning fuel but tends to burn up a bit faster than most other hard woods. Allow to season.

Holly: A good firewood that will burn when green, but best if dried a year. It is fast burning with a bright flame but little heat.

Hornbeam: Burns almost as good as beech with a hot slow burning fire.

Horse Chestnut: A low-quality firewood with a good flame and heating power but spits a lot.

Laburnum: A completely poisonous tree with acrid smoke that taints food and is best never used.

Larch: Crackly, scented, and fairly good for heat. It needs to be seasoned well and forms an oily soot in chimneys.

Laurel: Produces a brilliant flame.

Lime: A poor quality fuel with dull flame. Good for carving.

Maple: A good firewood.

Oak: Oak has a sparse flame and the smoke is acrid if not seasoned for two years. Dry old oak is excellent for heat, burning slowly and steadily until the whole log collapses into cigar-like ash. Good cooking wood.


Recognising an Oak from it’s distinctive leaves – credit:BushcraftUK.com

Pear: Burns with good heat, good scent, and no spitting. Needs to be seasoned well.

Pine: Bums with a splendid flame, but apt to spit. Needs to be seasoned well and is another oily soot in chimney wood. Smells great and its resinous wood makes great kindling.

Plane: Burns pleasantly, but is apt to throw sparks if very dry.

Plum: Wood provides good heat with a nice aromatic sent.

Poplar: A terrible fuel that doesn’t burn well and produces a black choking smoke even when seasoned.

Rowan: A good firewood that burns hot and slow.

Rhododendron: Old thick and tough stems burn well.

Robinia (Acacia): Burns slowly, with good heat, but with acrid smoke.

Spruce: A poor firewood that burns too quickly and with too many sparks.

Sycamore: Burns with a good flame, with moderate heat. Useless green.

Sweet Chestnut: Burns when seasoned but tends to spits continuously and excessively.

Thorn: One of the best firewood. Burns slowly, with great heat and a little smoke.

Walnut: Low to good value to burning. It a nice aromatic scent.

Wellingtonia: Poor for use as firewood.

Willow: A poor firewood that must be dry to use. Even when seasoned, it burns slowly, with little flame. Apt to spark.

Yew: This burns slowly, with fierce heat. The scent is pleasant. Another carving favorite.


campfire - credit: BushcraftUK.com
campfire – credit: BushcraftUK.com


Here’s a traditional poem to remind us about the different woods

Beechwood fires burn bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year
Store your beech for Christmastide
With new holly laid beside
Chestnuts only good they say
If for years tis stayed away
Birch and firwood burn too fast
Blaze too bright and do not last
Flames from larch will shoot up high
Dangerously the sparks will fly
But Ashwood green and Ashwood brown
Are fit for a Queen with a golden crown

Oaken logs, if dry and old
Keep away the winters cold
Poplar gives a bitter smoke
Fills your eyes and makes you choke
Elmwood burns like churchyard mould
Even the very flames burn cold
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread
So it is in Ireland said
Applewood will scent the room
Pears wood smells like a flower in bloom
But Ashwood wet and Ashwood dry
A King may warm his slippers by.

Logs to Burn, Logs to burn, Logs to burn,
Logs to save the coal a turn,
Here’s a word to make you wise,
When you hear the woodman’s cries.

Never heed his usual tale,
That he has good logs for sale,
But read these lines and really learn,
The proper kind of logs to burn.

Oak logs will warm you well,
If they’re old and dry.
Larch logs of pine will smell,
But the sparks will fly.

Beech logs for Christmas time,
Yew logs heat well.
“Scotch” logs it is a crime,
For anyone to sell.

Birch logs will burn too fast,
Chestnut scarce at all.
Hawthorn logs are good to last,
If you cut them in the fall.

Holly logs will burn like wax,
You should burn them green,
Elm logs like smouldering flax,
No flame to be seen.

Pear logs and apple logs,
They will scent your room,
Cherry logs across the dogs,
Smell like flowers in bloom

But ash logs, all smooth and grey,
Burn them green or old;
Buy up all that come your way,
They’re worth their weight in gold.




jack-beckett is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival