Best Woods to Burn in a Fire Pit (and Woods to Avoid)

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There are few things in life better than sitting around a fire with some friends with a nice beverage chatting the night away. Once you have built or bought a fire pit, the next question that comes to most minds is, “what wood should I burn in the pit?” After all, before you are able to enjoy the warmth and ambiance, you should know what fuel to feed a fire.

You can, of course, burn whatever wood you have on hand or is readily available, or you can find out what is the best wood to burn in a fire pit. In this article, we will cover that as well as answer a few questions that are commonly asked and go into wood you should avoid.

Heat Output – How Is It Measured?

Before you begin to throw those logs onto the fire, you should have a working knowledge of how the heat is measured. This will allow you to not only choose the right wood but the right wood for the season too.

The metric that is most often used for this purpose is the BTU. This is the measure of the heat it would take to heat one pound of water one degree. The higher the number, the hotter the wood will burn. When dealing with firewood, you will see this metric written in BTU per cord of wood.

Here are some common woods you might look at and their BTU ratings:

  • Ash – 23.6 BTUs
  • Beech – 24 BTUs
  • Hickory – 27.7 BTUs
  • Maple – 24.4 BTUs
  • Oak – 26.5 BTUs

Knowing this measurement and these common metrics will help you when you are purchasing the wood for your pit.

Best Woods to Burn in a Fire Pit

Any wood will burn, but there are, as we have said, some types of wood that will be better suited to use in a fire pit. Below we look at categories of wood that are easily some of the best for this purpose:

Hardwoods

This is by far the best option when looking for firewood for your pit. Hardwoods come from trees like oak, hickory, and birch. This type of wood burns longer and produces less smoke and residue. The thicker and denser the wood, the more BTUs it will produce, and the longer the fire will last.

Hardwoods are notoriously harder to get lit, so you may want to start with a little softwood. But the good news is once you have it lit, you won’t have to revisit and tend to the fire as much as with other woods.

Select Softwoods

Another option is a seasoned softwood. This is particularly good as kindling for a hardwood fire. This type of wood comes from trees like fir. Woods from this tree are lit quickly and release a pleasant fragrance when burning. You will have to tend to your fire quite regularly if you use only this type of wood, though.

Seasoned Woods

Seasoned wood may be the best-kept secret when it comes to getting the best fires. In order to be deemed seasoned, the wood has to have been cut and set for a little while. This makes it not as fresh and dries the wood out a bit. The moisture inside comes from the fresh sap.

Once it has set for a bit, the sap hardens and makes the wood easier to ignite. You can tell if a log of wood is seasoned if you can easily pull the bark off of the cut log. The color will fade as well, and the wood will begin to crack. Typically a good seasoning of the wood takes anywhere from six to eight months.

Best Woods to Burn in a Fire Pit

Woods to Avoid for a Fire Pit

Just like there are ideal woods that can be used in your pit, there are good woods to avoid. Here are a few of the categories to steer clear of:

Greenwood

Greenwoods are woods that are newly cut. The moisture in these will make starting a fire with them darn near impossible. If you can get them, the wood will smoke a lot and will take a lot to keep the fire going.

Select Softwoods

Softwoods are usually less dense and ignite easily. But they burn fast and leave very little embers. They also tend to smoke and produce ash that flies around early. This is why the primary use of softwood is for kindling.

Driftwood/Construction Wood

Both of these words should never be used in fire pits. Driftwood typically soaks in saltwater and therefore is moisture dense. On top of that, other chemicals present in the water can often be released when burned. The same goes for construction woods, as many of these are cured with chemical compounds to preserve them. Burning either of these woods could lead to dangerous impacts on your health, thanks to the release of those chemicals.

Vined Woods

Typically, woods from plants that have vines or flowers are not safe to burn. Not because the wood won’t ignite but because many of them are from poisonous plants. Some of these can include poison ivy, poison oak, sumac, or oleander. Igniting these woods with intense flames can cause the poison to become airborne. The smoke that the fire then produces becomes toxic, and there may be health issues that arise from inhaling them.

Final Thoughts

Sitting around a fire pit can be a relaxing way to end your night or spend the weekend, but you don’t want to have to be tending the flames all night. Nor do you want to be inhaling large amounts of smoke or other toxins. This is why understanding the best woods for use in your fire pit is so important.

By far, the best choice is a mixture of softwoods with hardwood. Starting with softwoods as kindling and then throwing a few hardwood blocks on the flame will have you with a nice warm fire that doesn’t take much to keep going. It also allows you to spend the night doing what you came to the pit to do: relaxing, sharing good conversation or curling up with a good book.

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