With so many types of firewood on offer, it can be confusing to decide which is best. Some produce more smoke and sparks than they do heat; others burn all night, clean and hot. So how does oak perform? Is it worth the money or your time to chop down? We’re about to take a close look at whether oak makes suitable firewood.
Is oak good for firewood?
Oak firewood is one of the top firewood options, offering a long, slow burn and intense heat output. It takes longer than other wood to season properly, but you’ll get fuel that keeps burning all night.
- A wood source that’s abundant throughout most of North America.
- An excellent option for wood stoves, indoor fires, outdoor campfires, and BBQs.
- Red oak is generally easier to split than white oak.
- Produces a mild aroma and low levels of smoke and sparks.
Oak firewood burn qualities
1. Heat output
The main reason we need firewood is to create heat, so it’s an important consideration. Although the heat output of oak will vary depending on the species, rest assured they’re all rated highly in this area.
Red oak produces 24.6 million BTUs per cord, while white oak offers 29.1. A higher BTU is desirable and oak rates above almost every type of firewood on offer. Osage orange firewood creates a fiery 32.9 million BTUs while beech, honeylocust, apple, and pinyon produce similar heat output to oak.
Check out the following table comparing the heat output of oak to various other common types of firewood.
|Wood variety||Heat per Cord (Million BTUs)|
|Western red cedar||18.2|
Seasoned oak that’s been well-dried will give off very little smoke. For indoor fires, this is ideal firewood. You don’t have to worry about going to bed with sore, red eyes from smoke.
The top firewoods like ash, hickory, and oak all produce minimal smoke once dried. Keep in mind that burning any green or wet wood will produce loads of smoke.
Based on smoking, oak is superior to Douglas fir, pine, birch, and elm.
3. Ease of splitting
Oak can range from easy to difficult when it comes to splitting. Most people find it easier to split than elm, beech, or gum, but tougher than ash, cherry, maple, or willow.
The species of oak will play a big part in the ease of splitting. White oak tends to have twisted fibers and knots which put up a stubborn defense when you try to chop them. On the other hand, red oak has straight grains and should be easy to split, so long as the wood isn’t too full of water.
Quick tip: try splitting oak on a freezing day as the wood comes apart easier.
Sparking and popping wood could start an unwanted fire or burn someone. Thankfully, oak is a safe wood that doesn’t produce many sparks. It is far superior to mulberry, pine, and catalpa, which are well-known for their fireworks display once in the fire. Most common varieties of firewood, like hickory and maple, don’t produce many sparks.
If you want to avoid sparks, check out our review of hickory firewood. It’s a great option if you want a clean burning wood with no major sparking.
Some types of firewood produce a fragrance that gives your house an enticing homely feel. If you regularly smoke meat, then you’ll also want to pay attention to the aroma wood gives off.
Oak varies in smell depending on the type of tree the wood comes from. Red oak will often have an unpleasant aroma which won’t do much for the ambiance of a living room. White oak is far superior, with a fragrance that some describe as fresh sawn wood while others liken it to vanilla.
Winemakers use white oak to produce wine barrels. They use the timber to impart flavor and aroma into the wine during the aging process.
Coal is what results from burnt firewood. It impacts how well a fire burns and how long it will last. Wood that had good coaling properties will keep a campfire or home warm all night. It may also allow a fire to be re-lit the next morning, simply by tossing in a few small logs.
Oak is a dense hardwood that can go the distance. One large log will easily burn all night in a wood stove. Compared to pine, basswood, fir, and aspen, you’ll find oak is much better for coaling.
7. Creosote build-up
Creosote is a type of gunky, black tar created by firewood. Some varieties like pine create a lot of creosote build-up in chimneys. This makes ventilation less effective and may cause health issues. You’ll find that oak doesn’t create a lot of build-up, so long as it has been seasoned for sufficient time.
No matter what wood you select, it’s a good idea to clean your chimney once a year.
The Pros and Cons of Burning Oak as Firewood
- Easy to find in North America
- High heat and low smoke output
- Excellent coaling for longer heating
- White oak can be a challenge to split
- Red oak may smell bad in the fire
- Can take 2-3 years to be fully seasoned
Tips for seasoning oak
Seasoned wood means it has been thoroughly dried. Burning oak that hasn’t been seasoned is not a good idea unless you’re desperate. The fragrance and smoke won’t be enjoyable.
There are ways to speed up the seasoning process. Living in a state like Texas is a good starting point. The hot, dry climate is ideal for seasoning. If you don’t have this type of weather to assist, follow these tips to expedite your oak wood seasoning.
- Stack in the right place: accelerate drying time by positioning the face of the stack towards the wind and avoiding shady areas.
- Split the firewood: by splitting the logs, you increase the surface area that gets exposed to sunshine and wind.
- Space out the rows: create a series of stacks with a 3-5” gap between each one to assist with air circulation.
- Raise the wood: lay the wood on some planks or pallets to allow airflow under the wood.
- Cover the wood: use a tarp to protect the stacks from rain and snow while keeping one side exposed to the wind.
- Use a criss-cross pattern: when stacking the wood, facing the wood in opposing directions will help dry the wood faster, but you’ll also need more room to store it doing this.
Commonly asked questions
What oak tree varieties are popular for firewood?
In the United States, white oak (Quercus alba) is a popular type of firewood that includes swamp white, white, bur, post, chestnut, and chinkapin oaks. Red oak is also readily available as firewood, with popular varieties including black, scarlet, northern red, southern red, and pin oaks.
How long does oak take to season?
If you need firewood urgently, then oak may not be a good option to buy or chop down green. We recommend at least two years of seasoning as the wood is packed with water – it needs time to get its moisture content down to 20% or less. Of course, you can burn it earlier, but the heat output will be much less. Instead of providing heat, the fire wastes its energy evaporating the excess moisture.
Is it better to burn ash or oak?
Ash and oak are both excellent options for firewood that’ll both keep you warm during the colder months. Oak is a slightly better option as it has a higher heat output and better coaling.
Is oak sap messy?
Oak is a relatively clean wood variety that won’t spill much sap or resin onto you or your clothes. Cleaning your axe will be much easier than if you decide to split pine.
How do I identify oak wood?
To identify oak, check the end grain and look at the annual rings. If it’s oak, you should also be able to see lines, or rays, running perpendicular to the rings, starting at the center point.
If you’re looking at a potential oak tree, take a look for acorns which are another giveaway sign that it’s an oak tree.
Did you know?
- There are roughly 600 species of oak around the world that can be evergreen or deciduous.
- The oak tree usually lives over 200 years and grows to heights of 70 feet or more with huge trunks.
- A wide range of animals feed on the oak’s acorns including raccoons, crows, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and quail.
Oak firewood is a superb option, provided it is sufficiently seasoned for at least two years. It has one of the highest heat outputs and it burns long and clean.
Depending on the variety of oak, it can be difficult to split, especially if the wood is riddled with knots and twists. Some may choose to save themselves the trouble and use a chainsaw to get the job done.