With so many types of firewood on offer, it’s hard to know which is best. Some produce more smoke and sparks than heat, but is oak firewood any good? This guide reveals whether it’s worth the effort to split.
Is oak good firewood?
Oak is one of the top firewood options, offering a long, slow burn and intense heat output. It takes longer than most other woods to season fully, 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
Firewood’s main purpose 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, white oak offers 29.1, and Gambel is 30.7. A higher BTU is desirable, and oak rates above almost every type of firewood. 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 produce minimal smoke once dried. Remember that burning any green or wet wood will result in lots of smoke.
Based on smoking, oak is superior to Douglas fir, pine, birch, and elm.
Want to know if oak or hickory is better? We created a guide comparing hickory and oak firewood to determine the best.
3. Ease of splitting
Splitting oak ranges from easy to difficult. Most agree it is easier to split than elm, beech, or gum but tougher than ash, cherry, maple, or willow.
The oak species 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, produce few sparks.
To avoid sparks, check out our review of hickory firewood. It’s an excellent option for clean burning wood with no major sparking.
Oak varies in smell depending on the type of tree the wood comes from. White oak is far superior, with a fragrance like fresh sawn wood or vanilla. Red oak often has an unpleasant aroma which does little for the ambiance of a living room.
If you regularly smoke meat, then oak is a good choice. Its slow-burning coals are ideal for barbecues, smokers, and roasters. For more ideas, check out our guide on the top types of wood for cooking.
Winemakers use white oak to produce wine barrels. The timber imparts 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 with good coaling properties will keep a campfire or home warm all night. It also allows a fire to be re-lit by adding some kindling the following day.
Oak is a dense hardwood; a large log will burn most of the night in a wood stove. Compared to pine, basswood, fir, and aspen, oak is much better for coaling.
7. Creosote build-up
Creosote is a type of gunky tar that makes chimney ventilation less effective and may cause health issues. Some varieties, like pine, generate a lot of creosote build-up.
Oak produces low levels of creosote so long as it’s sufficiently seasoned. No matter what wood you select, cleaning your chimney once a year is a good idea.
The Pros and Cons of Burning Oak as Firewood
- Easy to find in North America
- High heat and low smoke output
- Excellent coaling for extended heating
- White oak can be a challenge to split
- Red oak may smell bad in the fire
- Can take 2-3 years to fully season
Tips for seasoning oak
Burning unseasoned oak that needs more drying time is a bad idea. The fragrance and smoke will be unpleasant.
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 speed up 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: increases the surface area exposed to sunshine and wind.
- Space out the rows: create a series of stacks with a 3-5” gap between each 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, oak may not be a good option if it is still green. We recommend at least two years of seasoning as the wood contains a lot of 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 energy by evaporating excess moisture.
Is it better to burn ash or oak?
Ash and oak are excellent firewood options that keep you warm during the colder months. Oak is the best option as it has a higher heat output and better coaling.
Is oak sap messy?
Oak is a clean wood 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?
Check the end grain and look at the annual rings to identify oak. Also, look for lines or rays running perpendicular to the rings, starting at the center point. To identify the tree, look for acorns which are a giveaway sign.
Did you know?
- There are roughly 600 species of oak around the world that can be evergreen or deciduous. Source.
- Oak trees usually live over 200 years and grow 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 superb, provided it is sufficiently seasoned for at least two years. It has one of the highest heat outputs, burning long and clean.
Depending on the variety of oak, it can be difficult to split, especially if the wood has knots and twists. Some may save themselves the trouble and use a chainsaw to do the job.