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If you want to stay warm this winter, you shouldn't rely solely on insulated clothing or electric heaters. Lighting a fire in the fireplace at home or in the center of your campsite can provide a reliable and efficient heat source all winter long. However, setting up a fire is not as simple as grabbing the first log you see, and tossing lit matches at it until it ignites. A proper fire requires finesse, and a delicate balance of ingredients.
In the past, we showed you how to combine tinder, kindling, and firewood with the “campfire rule of thumb”. The type of wood you use in your fireplace is just as important as its construction. For example, some wood is rock-hard and dense, making it difficult to baton or split into manageable pieces. Other wood can pop or spark, or simply doesn't produce heat efficiently. Smoke is also a factor. Certain types of firewood give off thick smoke, which may irritate your respiratory system or make food inedible.
The following infographic from Log Splitters Direct shows some of the best types of wood to use in your fireplace of campfire. Obviously, if you have no other options and are staving off hypothermia, go with whatever firewood you can find. But in ordinary circumstances, it can be beneficial to rule out less desirable wood.
See below for a second infographic from the USDA Forest Products Laboratory. This graphic provides more detail on additional types of wood, and why they may or may not be desirable. It also addresses the relative amount of heat produced per cord (a standard measurement of dry firewood).
If you're burning chestnut or spruce, you'll be left relatively cold and smoky. On the other hand, oak or birch will burn easily and produce clean flames (dry birch bark is also an excellent tinder material). For more info on building an efficient and smoke-free fire, check out our previous article on the Dakota fire pit.