All wood is not created equal

If you use the best wood available, you’ll get the best campfire. (Photo by Bill Parker)

I don’t think there is any kind of wood from any kind of tree that won’t burn.

Want a campfire? Burn wood – use any kind of wood, it will burn. Some wood will burn fast, some slow, some will make great coals, some will make lots of smoke, other kinds will make lots of sparks. Obviously, it’s not all the same.

I recently wrote a column about how, when I was a Boy Scout, I learned to build a campfire. I mentioned in the column that one of the Boy Scout lessons involved instruction about what kinds of wood made the best campfires.

So what is best?

There’s no set list saying oak is better than ash, or ash is better than maple and on down the list. However, there are some general rules to consider.

  • Hardwood is better than softwood. Think of it this way. The energy in wood is basically stored sunbeams. It takes much longer for an oak, hickory or other so-called hardwood to grow than it takes alders, cottonwood or other species of fast-growing trees. The longer-growing trees require more sunlight to grow so they take in more sunshine. In effect, the heat and flames from burning wood is the stored-up sunshine being released. Since it takes longer (more sunshine) to produce an oak, the wood is harder, the wood contains more stored sunlight and it burns longer, with more heat.
  • In general, deciduous trees (the kind that shed leaves annually) make better firewood than coniferous (evergreen) trees. In part it’s the speed-of-growth thing again, but many pines, spruce and other conifers have saps and oils in the wood that aren’t particularly tasty on marshmallows and wieners.
  • Regardless of the kind of wood used, dry wood is better than wet wood. Wet wood will burn (if you have enough dry wood to get the fire started) but it won’t burn until almost all the moisture is “cooked” out of it. Much of the heat and energy in the firewood is used up drying the wood so it will burn. That heat and energy is not available to toast your cold toes, marshmallows or wieners.

In a pinch, any kind of wood will do to make a campfire. But another of the lessons I learned in Boy Scouts is their motto. Be Prepared. Bring or gather the best kind of wood and you’ll have the best campfire.

Categories: Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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