Best Type of Wood to Use for Heat

When folks burned chestnut trees in appalachia

The Deer Hunter and I only have to worry about wood for our heat. When Pap was a boy wood was needed for heating, washing, cooking, bathing, and the list goes on.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke where a man says he thought his name was Git Wood until he was nearly grown.

What wood works best for heat

Pap said when he was a boy most folks planned ahead and cut wood for the future. They ricked the wood up around their house and barns. When they needed wood it was already cut and stacked, ready to be used. Other folks, like Pap’s family, got their wood from day to day. They had a wood pile nearby, but someone had to go out and split what was needed for the day and carry it in the house or at least onto the porch.

Best wood to burn for firewood

There were still native Chestnut trees when Pap was a boy, not living ones but skeletons of Chestnut trees that were killed by the blight. Pap said wood from them would burn even if it was wet with no kindling to get it started. He said women especially liked chestnut wood because it was so easy to start a fire with it. Back in those days, Pap said, every once in a while he’d come up on a big dead Chestnut back in the mountains. He said he always thought they looked like white ghosts shining through the woods.

Much like today, when Pap was a boy, oak was one of the top choices for wood to burn. Oak burns hot and doesn’t burn too fast. Other top choices when Pap was a boy were locust, hickory, and any other wood that was handy.

The Deer Hunter likes to use locust-which is almost impossible to find around here, oak, and hickory. He thinks poplar burns too fast to do any good and pine is full of creosote.

A few months ago someone had me ask Pap what was the best wood to burn for heat. Pap rattled off a list much like the one above and then said “But the answer to that question really depends on how cold you are.”

Pap is doing good and continuing to regain his strength after his recent heart attack. He truly appreciates all the prayers and well wishes sent his way!!


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in January of 2011.


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  • Reply
    February 5, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    It’s a lot of work, but wood is the best heat you can get in my book.. Hickory and Oak blend was the best to us, made hot coals that would last all night.. We had a Ashley Wood Heater growing up and when My Wife and I married and Dad and Mom moved from the old Home, they gave us the Wood Heater, because the one we had bought would not make coals like that Ashley Heater.. You could strike one match and keep a fire in it all winter, it was the best heater built.. Times have changed now it’s a combo of Central Heat and Propane logs when the nights get down real low..

  • Reply
    February 4, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    We don’t burn wood in the house in our neck of Texas, but we love sitting around the firepit outside whenever we get a chance. We burn whatever we can find in the firepit. We bought a rick of hickory last year for smoking briskets, ribs etc – which is the best for meat smoking in our humble opinion! Every once in a while we throw a piece on the firepit cause it smells so good!

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    February 4, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    Glad to hear Pap is doing better. Interesting hearing about the different woods.

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    February 4, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    That woodpile looks like it’s mostly tulip poplar, with some birch mixed in.
    We always found black locust, a fast growing legume in old hill pastures, to be about as good as oak and hickory, and just as easy to split. Cherry, maple and beech were also good firewood. Shirl’s problem with cherry was lack of seasoning. Six months isn’t enough drying time. A year or two is needed.
    If someone brags about what a powerful wood spitter he is, give him a round of gum, step back and watch the humility take hold.

  • Reply
    February 4, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    My Grandpaw, we called him Pappy, would tell you, “Dry wood burns best”. He had a special pile of logs from a tree he had cut down in 1940. LOL! That had been drying for decades in his shed! Only used those special logs at Thanksgiving and Christmas, to be shure we had a nice fire on the holidays, and they always burned well and made a VERY nice fire.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 4, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    When I was just little we had a wood heater and a wood cookstove. Both were vented to the outside through metal stovepipe. Every year and sometimes twice Daddy would take them down and clean them out. If they were too rusty he would replace a joint of pipe. The pipes got red hot so wouldn’t last more than a few years. When he built the new house he put in flues with terra cotta liners inside brick and mortar chimleys. Since he couldn’t take it down to clean it, he had built in a trap below the thimble to catch whatever fell back down. Once a year one of us boys would climb up on the roof and drop a cow chain down the flue and wiggle and giggle it up and down and spin it around and around until everything inside fell down into the trap. Then we would attach bundle of old rags to the chain and drag it up and down through the flu a few times til it was clean as a whistle. Then someone would reach through the thimble and clean out the trap. After all that we could burn whatever wood we had without worrying about creosote buildup and chimley fires.
    Pine burns fine if dried a long time. Dry young pine burns very fast and is good for a burst of heat when browning your biscuits. Older pine is full of rosum (resin to the uninitiated) especially toward the center of the tree. That is the part that eventually becomes rich pine and is like gold to wood burners. When it is sawn into lumber it is called heart pine and is also valuable but has to be kiln dried or air dried for a long time too.
    I wouldn’t burn pine, poplar or chestnut in a heater or fireplace because they burn up faster than you can throw them in.
    So, it took a long time to get here but my answer to the question of what kind of wood is best to burn is…dry wood.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    February 4, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    As long as I can use one of my wood splitters, I prefer Hickory to burn. This past summer we had a small tornado up near my house and it tore up Jack. It brought down lots of trees and I’ve been burning Maple and a huge Walnut tree that daddy planted in 1962. I get almost 6 cord from Willard Postell and he knows I like Hickory, which he brings the most of. He has lots of equipment and a big loggin’ truck that dumps automatically. I have to saw and bust this stuff, but for $185.00,
    that’s hard to beat. Something from my childhood makes me love wood getting. …Ken

  • Reply
    February 4, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    Glad to hear Pap is doing better! With all the cold and snow this winter, we have used a lot of oak to stay warm.

  • Reply
    February 4, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Glad Pap is back on the road to full recovery. When I was a boy we used a small coal stove to heat our water (water coil routed inside stove to a holding tank) and the small kitchen. Fireplaces were small to reflect heat back into room instead of going up the chimney , and we favored oak wood for them. Did use pine for kindling/lighter wood.

  • Reply
    Paulette Tonielli
    February 4, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Glad to hear your dad is on the mend! When we heated with wood in Illinois, we used lot of elm, which burned hot and long, but was a bear to split.

  • Reply
    Steve in Tn
    February 4, 2016 at 9:44 am

    Free wood burns cheap and is the best wood, unless it’s pine.

  • Reply
    February 4, 2016 at 9:39 am

    Daddy always liked oak or hickory for heat, with a little apple wood thrown in for a good smell. I miss him talking about all the kinds of trees he knew in his lifetime. He especially missed the chestnuts after the blight; he loved it for carpentry because of its durability. I am fortunate to have a small cabinet he made out of old chestnut he found in a deteriorating shed on our farm.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 4, 2016 at 9:29 am

    Oak and Hickory were our wood of choice…Oak and Hickory seems to grow back fairly quick as well. Thanks some the squirrels that have around here that have dementia and forget where they carried off all the acorns and hickory nuts…ha I have found walnuts, Oaks and Hickory trees sprouting in my flower pots and raised beds….Bless their little hearts…this year they are toting off pockets full of black oil sunflower seed and suet….I will panic if I see a hog sprout in the woods…ha
    Speaking of things to see and look out for…
    Our TWRA has finally admitted to the presence of Cougar in Tennessee…The ‘painter is now listed on their official wildlife website for Tennessee due to official documentation per wildlife cameras and hair samples…They still claim that they are of the Western influence like the coyote…I hate to differ but I saw one on the Tennessee side of the Blue Ridge parkway several years ago…and yes this gal knows the difference between a bobcat, big yeller dog, coyote and domestic cat. I don’t think they were ever totally killed out like was rumored for years.
    Our chorus frogs have been singing on and off for weeks…The middle of January after rain and warming temperatures brought them out full force in ditches, ponds and standing water…If it gets as cold next week as they say, the frogs will go into hiding again…
    Thanks Tipper,
    Loved this post…Sometimes I wish we had our fireplace reverted back to woodburning…at least for the ambience.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 4, 2016 at 9:25 am

    I had never heard that chestnut would burn when wet. So much practical knowledge our ancestors had from living and working close to nature.
    Also reminds me of your ‘fire lore’ post . As you say, when wood was involved in every need for heat it is no surprize a lot of knowledge went with its use. I once worked with an old man who could always start a fire in the winter, snow-covered woods without any particular trouble because he knew the woods and wood.
    As a general rule the most heat comes from the most dense wood. They are normally the heaviest as well. As the Deer Hunter knows, locust is a prime example. If the question were, “What wood makes the best fire?” the answer would still be, ‘Depends on what you want the fire for.’ But it would also likely be, ‘Not just one wood but a mix of several.’

  • Reply
    February 4, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Pap, keep up the good work with your healing. Oh, yes, behave yourself and goof off a little bit. Prayers are still coming your way!

  • Reply
    February 4, 2016 at 9:09 am

    I remember reading this, longing for a fireplace or stove, and being intrigued by the demise of the chestnut.
    Now, we are blessed to have a fireplace, and my husband is adventuring chopping and splitting wood- mostly oak, which surrounds us.

  • Reply
    February 4, 2016 at 9:09 am

    A huge cherry tree on the adjacent farm was blown down across my lane during a storm last spring. The owner told us if we wanted to move it, we could have it. My grandson and his friend worked all day cutting the smaller branches until they had a perfect log they offered to sell the loggers in the area. To their surprise it was only worth about $29! I told them I would burn it for firewood before I would allow them to accept that. We got two or three ricks and stacked it on my porch back in the fall. Only problem is, it won’t burn! I always heard cherry wood was the best. After I get a good fire going with some well seasoned oak, I add a piece of the cherry wood. Several hours later, the oak is burned down and the cherry is just charred.
    God Bless Pap. Praying that his good health will return soon.

  • Reply
    Melissa P (misplaced Southerner)
    February 4, 2016 at 8:14 am

    Maybe y’all can answer a question on burning wood. Has anyone heard that black walnut is bad to burn because the sap that kills off all the trees and other growing things around it can cause allergic reaction? It makes some sense to me, but I’m not a wood expert. I know we mostly burn oak and cherry (one of our trees split and came down).

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 4, 2016 at 7:55 am

    I’m so glad Pap is doing well. He is a very special soul in this world.
    You know, Tip, the whole wood business is a lot of work, I mean a lot of heavy work. I’m not sure how people manage it, especially folks like the Deer Hunter who already have a full time job!

  • Reply
    February 4, 2016 at 7:24 am

    Good Morning, Tipper and the Pressley Gang. Up early today and caught the blog right away. We like oak around here, but only burn ours in the fireplace. We are doing some needed conservation harvesting now. I love my trees and know I will not like to see so many gone, but the forester says we need to do it. All wood will be put to good use, so that is good news. Oak and Ash blight is to worry about around here. Sending more prayers for Pap and you all.

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