The Best Trees for Wood Burning Stoves

Not all firewood species are created equal.
Not all firewood species are created equal. (Image: Robert Kohlhuber/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Wood burning stoves make a terrific addition to practically any home. However, determining the best firewood will be strongly influenced by your geographical location, because not all firewood species grow everywhere. Additionally, firewood is bulky and difficult to transport. The best wood is the one with the highest BTU output per unit of volume (usually a cord, which equals 128 cubic feet) which is available close to where you live.

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Black Locust

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) is an excellent firewood candidate. According to the WorldForest Industries data table, a seasoned cord produces about 26.8 million BTU. Perhaps the greatest attribute of black locust is its availability. According to the USDA Plants Profile, the tree grows across the entire lower 48 United States, meaning it is plentiful and may not need to be transported great distances, which would add to its cost. If you have limited space for wood storage, a facecord (slightly more than 1/3 cord) of split black locust will yield about 10 million BTU.

Osage Orange

Sporting a heat output of 32.9 million BTU per cord, osage orange (Maclura pomifera) is a terrific fuel for your wood stove. The USDA Plants Profile for this species indicates that it too grows across most of the U.S., making it readily available. The wood of osage orange is rock hard but possesses a few negative characteristics, as well. The limbs have an abundant number of thorns, and the tight grain and rough outer bark make this native hardwood difficult to split. If you cut this tree yourself, it will definitely heat you twice.

Northern Red Oak

Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) is another excellent firewood option. The USDA Plants Profile map indicates that this species grows across more than half of the continental U.S. With a heat output of 24.0 million BTU per full cord, Americans have burned red oak since European colonists first arrived on our shores. If harvested green, red oak splits easily, air dries to a moisture content of about 20 percent over the course of an average summer and is not prone to rotting due to rain.

Sugar Maple

With a growing range and heat output equal to that of northern red oak, sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is another superior fuel choice. Sugar maple is a dense wood with a tight vertical grain. Straight chunks will split easily when green or dry. Maple syrup makers frequently burn the wood of culled trees when they boil their syrup. If there is a downside to sugar maple, it's that the wood will begin to deteriorate quickly if left in contact with the soil. If you cut your own, stack it on pallets while it dries.


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