If you’re looking to burn wood at home, it’s important that you buy the right wood. You may be keen to put that cosy wood burner to use, or just want the right wood to take with you on a camping trip. But, before you rush out to buy any old wood, you should be aware that not all wood types make good fuel - and some can even be dangerous. Here we look at the five worst woods for burning - and the five considered among the best.

Worst five woods to burn

1. Driftwood

While this type of wood may look attractive, it’s definitely not a good performer in home fires. Driftwood is likely to have come from the sea and is therefore likely to contain chlorine content. Chlorine comes from the absorption of salt and, when burned, will give off chemicals and toxins.

Don’t be fooled by the pretty colours driftwood makes when it burns; these are toxic chemicals and it is thought that they contribute to cancer. Freshwater driftwood can be just as bad for burning as driftwood that has come from the sea; it is likely to have been floating around in rivers for a long period of time, therefore absorbing all kinds of unsavoury substances.

2. Green wood

Green wood is wood that has only recently been harvested. In order for wood to be suitable for burning - and a range of other purposes - it needs to be properly dried and cured. If you burn green wood, it can produce something called creosote, a thick tar that blocks your chimneys. This leads to poor ventilation and possible intoxication inside your home. This also increases the risk of fire as airflow will be blocked.

3. Mouldy or rotten wood

In its natural habitat, wood is the perfect breeding ground for mould and fungi. However, when it goes through the drying process, this mould is removed, making it safe for burning. If you spot a yellow or green patch on your wood, this is mould and burning it will release various pollutants that will float around in your room.

If you burn wood that is rotten, it will be less dense and therefore won’t burn as well. This low-grade quality of wood will likely produce more smoke and unpleasant odours.

4. Plywood and chipboard

This is cheap wood that is often used to make furniture. That furniture is made by using adhesive to glue panels of chipboard or plywood together. Even if your plywood or chipboard contains minor amounts of adhesive, if this is burned it will fill your room with harmful toxins.

5. Any type of coated wood

While it may be tempting to throw old bits of furniture into the fire, it’s not ideal. Many woods used in furniture will have been coated in all sorts of substances, including paint, varnish and adhesive. These chemicals all produce toxins when burnt so before you know it, you could be breathing in thick, toxic smoke.

Top five woods to burn

1. Birch

Birch is a type of hardwood, and one of the densest you can buy. Due to its density, it offers one of the longest burn times available and reaches extremely hot temperatures. Many dried birch products come mixed with another type of hardwood to negate the natural phloem that is found in the inner layer of its bark. Without this process taking place, birch can retain too much moisture in the phloem so, although it is one of the best woods for burning, make sure you research this when buying your birch.

2. Ash

Ash logs are another type of hardwood that’s thought to offer one of the best performances when it comes to burning. Ash firewood creates a very steady and clean flame that burns particularly hot. It’s one of the most eco-friendly logs to burn as it produces one of the longest burn times.

Although it is always best to burn kiln dried wood, ash is one of the few kinds of wood that can be burnt in its green state.

Whether buying birch or ash for firewood, make sure you’re buying it with as low moisture content as possible.

3. Apple wood

Wood from apple trees is one of the most popular woods to burn on home fires. This beautiful wood has a really lovely fragrant smell, making it ideal for indoor use. It also burns very slowly and produces a manageable amount of smoke. This makes it brilliant for cooking - either on indoor stoves or outdoor barbecues and campfires.

4. Oak

Like the previous three wood types, oak is a hardwood that is particularly popular for indoor and outdoor burning. This wood needs to be dried for at least 12 months before it is ready to be used. The best quality oak for burning is arguably kiln dried oak. While kiln dried hardwood is more expensive than softwood types in terms of quantity, it offers much longer burn times, making it more eco friendly. It’s also much denser than softwood types, meaning that it will produce much less smoke. Kiln dried oak logs also produce a beautiful crackling sound when they burn, which many people love to listen to.

5. Beech

Beech - particularly the American variety - is a very good wood for burning. It is one of the densest woods you can buy, meaning that it also boasts one of the longest burn times. This slow-burning, low-moisture wood isn’t the fastest to light up, but, once it’s reached its hottest, you’ll enjoy a long, warm fire with a pleasant smell.
So there you have it. These are the best woods you can buy for your fire. Make sure they have been properly dried and cured before you buy them and don’t be afraid to spend a little more on this high-quality firewood; it’ll last longer and produce a healthy fire with minimal smoke and toxins. Remember to avoid the woods mentioned at the top of this article; no matter how tempting it may be to use discarded wood of any variety, many types are just not suitable for home fires.