We’ve all sat around the warmth of a campfire or fireplace. On a cold winter’s night, there is nothing better than lazing in your home with the fire blazing in the background keeping you comfortable and cozy.
While a wood fire will keep us warm, even from some distance away, get too close and you will feel a scorching heat.
What you may not know is that different types of wood burn at different temperatures. While many houses are equipped with fireplaces, you shouldn’t put any old wood inside to burn. You may think you can just leave the wood burn and wait for it to reach its maximum heat.
However, to heat your home properly, you need to have the right knowledge on how wood burns and what the best wood to use is.
Maybe you’re going camping and want to set up a campfire or you need to dispose of old wood by burning it. Whether it’s wood in your home’s fireplace or in an outside fireplace, it is useful to know how hot wood can get. The truth may shock you!
The temperature of burning wood can vary. This is because there are many different kinds of wood. Some burn at temperatures as low as 930 degrees Fahrenheit or 500 degrees Celsius, while others may burn at a blistering heat of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,093 degrees Celsius).
The temperature can also be affected by a variety of other factors.
To help you understand more about how hot wood burns at, we are going to discuss everything you need to know about what affects the temperature of a burning piece of wood as well as the temperature needed to ignite wood and much, much more.
The burning temperatures of different types of wood
Different wood species tend to have different burning temperatures. When under a medium density with an equal humidity of the surrounding air, wood usually ignites at a temperature of approximately 572 degrees Fahrenheit or 300 degrees Celsius.
There is no doubt that wood burns at a very hot temperature ranging from 1,472 to 1,742 degrees Fahrenheit (800 to 950 degrees Celsius). After the firewood is initially heated in its peripheral area, the heat then spreads inside.
Depending on the wood’s structure and density, as well as its resin characteristics and quantity, the fire temperature varies.
If a tree is porous, then it burns extremely intensely. However, the burning temperatures will not be as high with a maximum of around 932 degrees Fahrenheit (500 degrees Celsius).
Denser wood, such as ash or beech, burns at higher temperatures, around 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit or 1,000 degrees Celsius.
When we consider woods such as pine or spruce, they usually burn at 1,148 - 1,166 degrees Fahrenheit (620 to 630 degrees Celsius).
Here are some of the burning temperatures of specific types of wood:
Redwood - 687.2 degrees Fahrenheit/364 degrees Celsius
Western Red Cedar - 669.2 degrees Fahrenheit/354 degrees Celsius
Douglas Fir - 662 degrees Fahrenheit/350 degrees Celsius
Oak - 1,652 degrees Fahrenheit/900 degrees Celsius
Radiata Pine - 660.2 degrees Fahrenheit/349 degrees Celsius
Birch - 1,500.8 degrees Fahrenheit/816 degrees Celsius
Victorian Ash - 591.8 degrees Fahrenheit/311 degrees Celsius
Beech - 1,742 degrees Fahrenheit/950 degrees Celsius
Spruce - 1,148 degrees Fahrenheit/620 degrees Celsius
As you can see, the temperature fluctuates quite dramatically from one wood to the next. Therefore, there is no universal burning temperature for all wood.
At what temperature does wood ignite?
When wood catches fire, it goes through a somewhat complex process called “pyrolysis.” This three-stage process sees the wood decompose as it burns under the flames.
The first stage sees the fire reach around 320 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The wood begins to burn and this is where you start to see the surface of the wood change. Once this change starts to occur, there is no going back for the wood.
These changes include cracking, shrinking, and char marks. In other words, exactly what you would expect from burning wood. Then, at some point, the wood will catch fire, usually when temperatures are above 390 degrees Fahrenheit.
From this, we can conclude that wood ignites at temperatures between 390 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
The second stage of Pyrolysis sees the heat rise dramatically. The wood begins to decompose more rapidly while the fire starts to consume the wood at a quicker rate. This stage sees the temperatures reach about 500 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit.
The third stage will be where temperatures become known as a “burning furnace.” At this point, all the wood should have ignited completely. The only residue left behind intends to be some kind of burning coal.
The stages of the wood burning process
The whole process of wood burning is fascinating. Let’s take a deeper look at the several stages that take place:
Half the weight of a freshly cut log is made up of water. However, if the wood is dried for one season, this weight is reduced to just 20% water.
As water is heated in the combustion chamber, it begins to evaporate. It does this by absorbing portions of the caloric energy released by the combustion process.
If the wood is wetter, more energy is wasted. This is why wetter wood tends to burst and crackle more whereas dry wood lights up and burns lightly. Wet wood can also burn at lower temperatures than dry wood.
This is because some of the energy is used to convert the water inside the wood into vapor instead of getting funneled into the fire’s flames.
If you need to put a fire out, the first place many people go is to a bucket of water. The reason water can be so effective at putting out fires is down to its sheer volume.
Water expands up to 1,600 times its original volume when it becomes heated. It then becomes steam (vapor), allowing it to absorb huge levels of heat.
When you see smoke appear from burning wood, you’re seeing a cloud of flammable gases. These occur when temperatures reach certain high levels with the presence of oxygen sustaining the combustion.
If these gases do not ignite, the smoke can either condense on a home’s chimney in the form of tar or it can escape into the atmosphere causing pollution.
How to know if your wood is burning correctly
There are some signs to look out for to see whether your wood is burning properly.
The combustion, that we mentioned above, has to happen in the presence of flames. This occurs until the wood is burnt and becomes charcoal. The result is fiery, smoke-free burning.
An easy way to check if your wood is burning correctly in your home’s fireplace is to check the chimney bricks inside the combustion chamber. These should have a yellowish-brown color and not black. If the walls are black, you may be using the wrong type of wood.
Also, the glass of the combustion chamber should always remain clean so keep a close eye on this. And the gases that come from the wood should be transparent or white. If the smoke is grey, it is generally an indication of the wrong combustion.
How hot does wood burn?
The species of a tree determines a wood’s burning temperature. Out of wood that is readily available, Victorian Ash tends to produce the lowest temperatures while burning. These flames are usually around 592 degrees Fahrenheit (311.1 degrees Celsius).
When we look at the other side of the burning spectrum, we have the highest temperatures found in birch wood. These trees can burn at temperatures of approximately 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (815.5 degrees Celsius) or even more.
As the wood burns, it goes through numerous changes, as outlined above. After these changes occur, Pyrolysis takes place, and the majority of the energy contained inside the wood is released in the form of flames and heat.
Does wood have a melting point?
Surely wood can not melt, right? Well, technically, it can. A few changes need to occur in the structure of an item in order for it to burn.
To begin with, molecules that make up the solid form of a substance need to be broken apart from one another. Then, these molecules need to move easily around each other.
While this occurs, the chemical properties of the melting object should stay the same. For instance, if silver is melted, you will be left with liquid silver instead of a new substance altogether.
Of course, wood is different from metals such as silver. When you heat wood enough to melt, it will catch fire. And when it catches fire, the wood will oxidize. The molecules that make up the wood will begin to break down and combine with oxygen in the air. The result is new compounds.
Under regular conditions, wood will not melt. Instead, it will just change its chemical structure. But, what if we removed oxygen and made the wood hot enough to melt?
The short answer is, no, it still wouldn’t melt. The water from the wood and the volatile chemicals that are within the wood would just evaporate. Therefore, they would remain the same as when they started.
Nonetheless, wood is made from long fibrous strands. These, in turn, are made out of cellulose which supplies wood with its strength and robustness.
It is not possible to break these fibers down into smaller fibers when the wood is heated. The only thing that can happen is if enough heat is directed onto these fibers to break down the carbonyl bonds within.
Yet again, this would only change the substance of the wood. Instead of cellulose fibers, all that would remain is charcoal and the wood would not have melted.
But, as we stated, it is technically possible to melt wood. As long as the pressure is kept at a standard rate and the temperature is raised to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,926 degrees Celsius), the wood could melt.
Nevertheless, this isn’t possible at the moment and there isn't any use in doing so.
The average temperature of a campfire
A normal campfire will usually burn at approximately 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit or 600 degrees Celsius. Once most of the wood has burned into charcoal, the temperature of the campfire will rise again.
This is because charcoal burns at a higher temperature of around 2,012 degrees Fahrenheit (1,100 degrees Celsius).
When a fire reaches this temperature, it becomes difficult to put out which is why so many wildfires spread so rapidly and can’t be extinguished quickly.
Remember to always put a campfire out before you leave it.
In general, wood burns up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,093 degrees Celsius). However, this can depend on the type of wood and how the fire has been structured.