Man has been setting fires since the dawning of time, since cavemen rubbed a couple of sticks together to provide themselves with some heat to survive the long night ahead.
Creating fire was considered a miracle back then… and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it is still pretty fun to witness in this day and age.
There is nothing more magical than seeing golden flames rising from a pile of sticks that you have assembled yourself, and knowing that you, yourself, have created this miraculous source of heat. Nothing brings out the caveman inside us quite like starting your own fire.
Many of us have tried setting a log or two aflame at some point throughout our lives, whether it be on a campfire on a sandy beach or at our own fireplace at home.
It takes skill to be able to set them ablaze within a short space of time, or in some cases, it seems to require a little perseverance and pure luck.
What you may not know, however, is that it also requires you choosing the correct kind of wood. It also depends on the quality.
The type of wood you choose for your own fire will be the most important decision you make in these situations. Different types of wood burn at different temperatures, meaning certain types burn hotter than others.
Depending on how much heat you want to generate from your chosen fire pit, it is important that you pick the right type of wood beforehand.
So, what temperature does wood burn at? How many types of wood are there? Which kind of wood would be the best for you?
We’re here to help. Continue reading to find out which wood you should use for your own fire.
What Is Wood?
Before we go any further, we should start with the very basics: what is the substance that we call ‘wood’, exactly?
Wood is a solid, sturdy material that is found within the trunk of a tree, inside the bark that coats the outside. If a tree trunk is cut down, you will find several circles inside, often known as ‘rings’. These rings are made up of the substance that we call ‘wood’.
There are two types of wood when it is first found inside a tree trunk:
- Sapwood is the moist layer that is found closest to the surface of the trunk, just beneath the bark. This is the part of the trunk that is still alive and functioning.
Sapwood contains small tubes called xylem, as well as several kinds of cells (cellulose, liglin, and hemicellulose) which all function to assist feeding the tree by sucking water up into the wood from the roots: this is why sapwood is generally damp.
- Heartwood is the interior section of the stump. This section isn’t alive anymore, due to the xylem tubes being blocked up and the cells having died.
This is why heartwood is much drier and darker than sapwood: there is no life in it, and it does not function to feed the tree, so it has completely dried up over time.
Of course, there isn’t just one type of tree in the whole world. There are so many different species of tree, meaning that there are many different types of wood. However, every kind of tree contains sapwood and heartwood.
Before we start naming all the different types of tree species, it is also important to know how to differentiate between softwood and hardwood. Every type of wood from every kind of tree is divided into these two categories.
You may be surprised to learn that softwood isn’t always soft, and hardwood isn’t always hard: these are just chosen names given to the two materials, although hardwood generally is harder than softwood.
- Softwood is the wood found within coniferous trees, sometimes known as evergreen trees. These trees tend to live all year long, surviving every season.
- Hardwood is found in deciduous trees: these tend to lose their leaves during the colder months, and regenerate when the temperature gets warmer during the hotter times of the year.
Wood is often used to create so many items because of its durability and strength. It is the trusty substance that has been used over the centuries to create weapons, tools, furniture, and even buildings.
Another great thing about wood is that it is biodegradable, making it fairly easy to dispose once it is no longer needed without causing too much harm to the environment, compared to other harmful substances such as plastic and glass.
These are just some of the many reasons that wood has remained one of the most preferred materials to build with for so many years.
How Many Types of Wood Are There?
So, now that we have learned the difference between sapwood and heartwood, and softwood and hardwood, it is time to start looking at the different kinds of species of tree and the wood that they produce.
There are so many types of trees in the world, meaning there are hundreds of types of wood, and it would take forever to name them all. Instead, we are going to look at some of the most common types of wood used for building purposes, and the trees that they are extracted from.
An oak tree is a large tree that typically grows acorns and deciduous leaves, and are often found in many forests throughout Europe. While this is the name of the overall family, there are over 450 types of species that stem from the oak tree.
Oak wood is typically used for making furniture and buildings, and was even used to build ships many, many years ago.
Pine trees are evergreen, and are instantly recognizable due to their needle-like leaves. They are known to grow within the Northern Hemisphere, in areas such as North America, Russia, and China.
Pine wood is also used to assemble furniture, as well as being used for many indoor purposes, such as creating floors, ceilings, and drywall framings.
A birch is a deciduous tree that grows slender leaves, and has a thin layer of bark covering the trunk. They often grow near rivers and lakes due to it requiring plenty of water for nourishment.
Birch wood is often used to create furniture, doors, and panelling, and comes in many colors, such as black, white, silver, and yellow.
Elm trees are a deciduous species that are extremely tall and large with rough, oval-shaped leaves. They are often the home of squirrels and raccoons, and can be found all over America.
The interlocked grain within elm wood causes it to be particularly strong, making it resistant to splitting, and it can be used to make hockey sticks and certain types of drums.
The black cherry tree is known by many names, such as the mountain black cherry tree or the rum cherry tree, and is known for growing beautiful flowers and berries. They are deciduous, and are known to grow in many parts of the US and some parts of Mexico.
Cherry wood is pretty expensive, and is often used to create valuable cabinetry.
Maple trees, also known as acer trees, are deciduous trees that grow beautiful leaves that change color throughout the seasons, switching from ripe green to red, orange, yellow and brown: the leaf alone is prominently recognized from its use on the Canadian flag.
The floors of many basketball courts and bowling alleys are made from maple wood.
Bamboo trees are often found in many areas of Africa and Asia, and are highly recognisable through their tall, thin appearances. These trees grow very quickly, and are extremely tough and resilient.
The wood from these trees are often used for outdoor use, being used to create fences, scaffolding, and many types of decorative items for gardens. While it is known to be a kind of wood, bamboo isn’t actually technically ‘wood’ at all: it is a type of grass.
As we said, there are many other types of wood in the world, and these are just as good at being used for construction. These are just a few examples of useful types of wood that are used everyday for several purposes.
Is Every Type of Wood Suitable For Burning?
All types of wood will burn if you set them alight, but some are not suitable for the job.
As a rule, hardwood is much better at burning than softwood. If you were to take two logs of wood, one softwood and one hardwood, and burn them for an hour, the softwood would be close to burning out whereas the hardwood would be able to continue burning for longer.
This is because hardwood is a great deal denser and heavier than softwood, allowing it to generate more heat over a longer period of time.
The only ‘wood’ from the list above that wouldn’t be considered suitable for burning would be bamboo: this is because, as we previously mentioned, not only is it not a hardwood, but it is technically not even a type of wood.
The rest of the wood chosen for our list would be ideal to generate heat from a fire.
How Hot Does Each Type of Wood Burn?
The maximum temperature of a burning piece of wood depends on the type. The most important attribute to consider is how dense the wood is.
Beech wood, as well as ash and hornbeam, will burn at around 1000°C: these are the hottest burning types of wood that you will be able to find, due to their density.
Looking back over our list, wood such as oak and birch will burn just below this temperature, at roughly 800/900°C. Therefore, out of the wood mentioned in the above list, oak and birch are the best to use in a log fire.
Having said this, the others should burn at a fairly decent temperature and speed too, as they are all hardwoods apart from bamboo. If you were to burn a piece of bamboo, it could reach up to 1200°C, but it would burn out after a shorter period of time.
It will also leave behind a large amount of ash to clean up. This is why it is not recommended for burning.
Why Isn’t My Wood Burning?
If you have chosen a hardwood to burn but it doesn’t seem to be igniting, or is particularly hard to start up, there are a number of factors that may be affecting the flammability rates of your chosen logs.
You should always make sure that the wood is completely dry before setting it on fire. While wet wood will burn eventually, once the flames have heated it up enough for the moisture to evaporate, it is much easier to use a dry piece of wood if you want instant results.
If the wood has been completely sodden in a body for water, it may take hours for it to be able to ignite. It is also important to consider the smoke that forms from burning wet wood: this will cause anyone nearby to struggle to breathe, especially if they are in a confined space.
It is recommended that you only use dry wood if you are attempting to start a fire.
If the wood is manufactured, and is coated in any kind of varnish, it should not be burned at all. If you attempt this, the chemicals from the coating will enter the air, and will produce toxic and unhealthy fumes. It is always best to use natural wood that has not been tampered with.
So, overall, your best bet is to only work with dry, natural hardwood if you want to start a quick, easy fire without producing toxic smoke.