Oak and ash are both excellent firewood options, but which is best for your home? Each has its pros and cons, which we’ll look at in this comparison guide.

If you don’t have time to read, skip down to the summary guide to get fast answers. Click the play button below if you’d prefer to listen to the main points.

Is oak or ash the best firewood?

Oak and ash are two dense hardwoods that provide good heat. They also burn clean and produce excellent coals. For heat output, oak gives off more heat but requires an extra year of seasoning. White ash is often a challenge to split, while most oak is straight-grained and splits easily. Overall, we think oak is a better choice of firewood.

Infographic comparing oak and ash firewood
A comparison infographic of ash and oak firewood.

Heat output

Oak provides more heat than ash as it burns, although they aren’t miles apart. Either is a good option for keeping a house warm in winter.

Green ash provides 20.0 million BTUs of heat per cord, while white ash provides 24.2 million BTUs. Red oak produces 24.6 million BTUs per cord, white oak offers 29.1, and Gambel is 30.7.

Smoke

Oak and ash give off low levels of smoke in the fire. Sitting around a campfire or kicking back at home, you won’t get sore, red eyes from a smoky fire.

It is important to season the wood properly before burning it. If the wood has higher than 20% moisture, it’ll smoke more than it should and radiate less heat.

Splitting

Hardwoods like oak or ash are sometimes back-breaking work to split, while others are easy. Ash wood varies in difficulty depending on the species. Green ash is considered one of the easiest types of wood to split, even using a hatchet. White ash is much tougher, requiring a powerful splitting axe or maul to get the job done.

The process of splitting oak also ranges from easy to difficult. White oak often has knots and twisted fibers, while red oak has straight grains that easily break apart.

Seasoning

Oak takes longer to season than ash, so factor this in if you’re in a hurry for firewood. White oak has high levels of water content, which takes a long time to remove. Allow at least two years, but preferably three for best results. Red oak may only require 18 months.

Green ash has softer fibers with less water, meaning it can be seasoned in under a year. White ash will require anywhere between 12-18 months to dry properly.

Learn more about storing firewood for stacking methods and tips that help firewood season faster.

Closeup of a pile of stacked oak
Allow at least 2 years to season oak.

Sparks

Ash and oak burn without excessive sparking or popping. They don’t give off a fireworks display like softwoods containing more sap and resin.

Few sparks mean that both wood varieties are suitable for burning outdoors. You can toss them into a campfire with less chance of embers flying out and starting a forest fire. There’s also less opportunity to get burns to the carpet due to popping wood.

Aroma

Oak and ash give off a pleasant fragrance while burning. They are mild, without any overwhelming odors. They’re good options for people that want heat without too much accompanying smell.

White oak is superior to red based on scent. Some describe it as smelling like fresh-sawn wood, while others liken it to vanilla.

Oak and ash are slow-burning, so they’re great for cooking. However, neither will impart plenty of extra flavor, unlike some alternatives like hickory and mesquite.

Discover the best types of wood for cooking here.

Coaling

Oak is exceptionally dense, which makes it one of the best for coaling. A large log will burn through the night in a wood stove. You won’t need to add more fuel to the fire frequently. 

Ash also burns slowly and creates good coals, but oak is superior. Green ash isn’t great for coals, so consider combining it with oak if you have both.

Image of a log smoldering in the fireplace
The coals from oak firewood are usually better than ash.

Creosote

Creosote is an unpleasant black sludge deposited inside chimneys as the fire burns. Some firewood gives off a lot, meaning the chimney requires cleaning regularly. Leaving it to build up can result in blockages or a house fire.

Ash and oak both produce minimal creosote. To get a clean-burning flame, they must be sufficiently seasoned before use.

Sustainability

While some oak species are endangered, there are good red and white oak populations in the United States.

The Emerald Ash Borer beetle has decimated five of the six most prominent ash tree species in North America (Agrilus planipennis). The green, white, and black ash species have entered The IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered. Source.

Comparison Summary Table

 OakAsh
HeatVery highModerate to high
SmokeLowLow
SplittingVaries by speciesVaries by species
Seasoning24 months+6-18 months
Insect infestationsLowHigh
SparksLowLow
AromaMildMild
CoalingExcellentGood
CreosoteLowLow
SustainabilityRed and white oak are not endangeredMost species are critically endangered

Overall winner

Oak and ash make excellent firewood that will burn hot, slow, and clean. If you have a choice, we recommend oak as it burns hotter and produces better coals.

Tree sustainability should also be weighed into your decision. Ash populations are being decimated throughout the United States, so only use wood from a tree that’s already fallen or dying.

Freshly chopped oak isn’t an option if you need firewood within a year. It won’t have had time to properly season resulting in a smoky fire that gives off less heat. If you’re in a hurry, choose ash, as it seasons much quicker.

Related reading:
What’s the difference between hickory and oak firewood?
Comparison of oak and maple firewood.

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