Hardwood vs Softwood: Which one is the best Firewood?

It’s that time of year again! The chilly winter weather is slowly making its way in, and before you know it, you’ll be needing a warm fire to keep you cozy.

While you have many options when it comes to choosing firewood, it’s important to know the difference between hardwood and softwood before making your purchase.

What are they and why should you care? Keep reading to find out!

What is hardwood?

Hardwood is the term used to refer to trees that have dense, strong wood. It offers a high heat output per wood volume and burns slowly and steadily. Therefore it is ideal for long-lasting, hot fires.

stacked hardwood logs

Hardwood typically doesn’t hold moisture which means it produces less smoke and burns more cleanly. It creates less spark making it a safer option for indoor fires.

Here are a few examples of trees that have hardwood:

Here are the important characteristics of hardwood as firewood:

Burns for a long time

Hardwood is more compact and dense than softwood offering a long burn time that can last up to many hours.

This makes hardwood the primary choice for those who want a fire that will last all night.

Has Less Moisture

Hardwood has less moisture than softwood. This is because most trees with hardwood grow slower than those with softwood. The slower growth process gives the hardwood time to expel moisture from the tree.

Another factor is the dense cell structure of hardwood. This means it can take up less moisture from the environment than softwood. Because the hardwood has less moisture, it burns more cleanly and produces less smoke.

This is a particularly important factor because wet wood may require extra effort to light and produce more smoke while burning.

High heat output

Hardwood has a higher heat output per wood volume which means it burns hotter and more efficiently.

This is due to its lower moisture content and denser structure. If you’re looking to generate a lot of heat while using less wood, then hardwood is the way to go.

Low risk of sparking

You have just placed your logs onto the fire, and now it’s time to relax and enjoy the warmth.

However, if you don’t choose your wood carefully, you may be in for a nasty surprise.

While all wood can spark, some types are more likely to than others. Hardwood is a safer option for indoor fires as it produces less spark than softwood.

Less Popping

Popping sounds are caused by water vapor escaping the wood as it’s heated. Since hardwood has less moisture content, it produces fewer popping sounds.

However, even hardwood can pop if it’s not properly seasoned. But still using hardwood as firewood is your best bet to avoid those annoying popping sounds.

More Expensive

Hardwood is more expensive than softwood because it takes more time for trees that have hardwood to mature.

Also, hardwood is primarily demanded by many industries such as construction and furniture making, which drives up the price.

What is softwood?

Softwood is a term used to describe trees with light, porous wood. Trees that have softwood often grow quickly and they are less expensive than hardwood.

stack of softwood logs

This wood contains more moisture than hardwood and burns quickly. This means you’ll need to add more softwood to your fire to keep it going. When burned, softwood pops, sparks, and produces more smoke than hardwood.

Although softwood typically has higher moisture content than hardwood, it burns more quicker.

It is due to the lower density of the wood allows for more oxygen to reach the center of the log while it’s burning. Softwood also tends to spark more than hardwood, so it’s not the best option for indoor fires.

Here are a few examples of trees that have softwood:

Here are the important characteristics of softwood as firewood:

Burns Quickly

Softwood burns more quickly than hardwood because it is less dense. Once you light a piece of softwood, the fire will spread to the center of the log quickly.

Has More Moisture

Moisture isn’t a desired trait in firewood, but softwood has more moisture than hardwood. This means it may require extra effort to light and produce more smoke while burning.

Lower heat output

Softwood has a lower heat output per wood volume than hardwood. For example, white pine as a softwood has only 15.9 Heat per Cord (Million BTUs) which is significantly less than white Oak which is a hardwood with 29.1 Heat per Cord (Million BTUs).

More Popping

Softwood pops more than hardwood because it has a higher moisture content. The moisture inside the wood turns to steam and escapes as the wood is heated, causing those popping sounds.

Less Expensive

Softwood is less expensive than hardwood because typically trees that produce softwood take less time to mature than those that produce hardwood.

What defines a tree as hardwood or softwood?

Any tree that may come to mind is already classified either as hardwood or softwood.

You may be thinking “hardwood” is wood that is hard and dense while “softwood” is wood that is soft and light.

However, it’s not quite that simple. The difference between hardwood and softwood has to do isn’t directly related to the actual hardness or softness of the wood.

It is also not the density of the wood that determines whether a tree is hardwood or softwood, but rather how the tree reproduces itself.

The seeds of hardwood trees are classified as angiosperms, and their seeds are protected by skin or a shell. While the seeds of softwood trees are classified as gymnosperms, and their seeds are not protected by a skin or a shell.

For example, the seeds of an oak tree are classified as angiosperms because they are protected by a hard shell. The seeds of a pine tree are classified as gymnosperms because they are not protected by a hard shell.

Angiosperm trees lose their leaves in the winter, making them part of the deciduous tree family, whereas gymnosperms keep their leaves year-round, making them non-deciduous trees.

Because of this, they are known as “evergreens.” As a result, hardwoods are produced by deciduous trees while softwoods are produced by evergreen trees that keep their leaves year-round.

So, would that be possible to use the density of the wood to make a decision if it’s hardwood or softwood?

Yes, generally you could use the density of the wood to make a decision if it’s hardwood or softwood. Most trees can be classified as either hardwood or softwood simply by their density.

However, there are a few exceptions. For example, the balsa tree is classified as both hardwood and softwood.

Balsa is a very light wood with a low density, so it burns quickly and doesn’t produce much heat. Simply by looking at these characteristics, you would classify balsa as a softwood.

But because balsa trees have reproductive properties that are more similar to hardwoods, they are classified as both hardwood and softwood.

Should you use hardwood or softwood for your wood-burning needs?

Now that we’ve looked at the differences between hardwood and softwood, it’s time to answer the question: which one is the best firewood?

CharacteristicsHardwoodSoftwood
Burn timeLongShort
Moisture contentLowHigh
Heat outputHighLow
Risk of sparkingLowHigh
PoppingLessMore
CostMore expensiveLess expensive
Smoke productionLessMore
SustainabilityLess sustainableMore sustainable
Best forLong-lasting, hot firesQuick fires
Recommended useIndoor firesOutdoor fires
Mixing with the other typeIdealIdeal
Comparison of Hardwood and Softwood for Wood-burning

The answer to this question depends on what you’re looking for in firewood. If you’re looking for wood that burns hot and produces little smoke, then hardwood is the way to go.

If you’re looking for wood that’s less expensive and pops more, then softwood is the way to go.

Burning softwood can cause more pollution since it produces more smoke. Especially if you have an indoor wood-burning fireplace, you should avoid burning softwood as it can cause indoor air pollution.

On the other hand, trees with hardwood are more difficult to grow and take longer to mature. This makes burning hardwood less sustainable since it takes longer for these trees to grow back.

So, the answer to the question of which is the best firewood really depends on your needs and preferences.

If you’re looking for wood that burns hot and produces little smoke, then hardwood is the way to go. But if you’re looking for an affordable option that pops more, then softwood is the best firewood for you.

How to combine hardwood and softwood for the best firewood?

Now that you know the characteristics of both hardwood and softwood, you may be wondering how to combine them for the best firewood.

The best way to combine hardwood and softwood is by using a mix of both. This will give you the benefits of both types of wood.

Hardwood is the best type of wood to use for a long-lasting fire. It burns slowly and produces a lot of heat.

Softwood is the best type of wood to use for a quick fire. It ignites quickly and burns hot.

By using a mix of both hardwood and softwood, you’ll be able to get the best of both worlds. You can initiate your fire quickly with softwood and then add hardwood to keep the fire going for a long time.

Now, plan ahead and gather enough firewood for winter to stay warm and comfortable.

Unlock Financial Greatness with Bite-Sized Brilliance.

Join our fastest-growing community where finance is fun dropped right into your inbox!