I’ve been burning, acquiring and producing every kind of firewood that exists in the CSRA for over three years. I split all my firewood by hand and am intimately familiar with the different types of wood available and their burning properties. Below are some insider tips I’ve gained in dealing with firewood.
In Augusta, Georgia, you’ll see thousands of downed trees just like you would anywhere else in the tree-covered areas of the United States. Many of the local trees in Augusta are some variety of pine (either for logging or naturally occurring). Pines (classified as soft woods) are extremely prolific and grow very quickly. The wood (especially near the bark) has a strong, distinctive smell of fresh pine because of the sap.
Pine is reputed (although not proven) to be bad for fireplace burning, because it can supposedly form deposits inside the chimney and cause chimney fires. Buyer beware. Pine is, however, very useful for starting a fire, because it is light and burns quickly and hot. It can also be an extremely cost effective option for outdoor burning in a fire pit or ring, since pine is not the most desired wood.
There are a range of technically-classified hard wood trees that grow regularly in the CSRA. The most common are oak, sweet gum, pecan, tulip poplar, cherry and black walnut. Many others grow occasionally, including hickory, chestnut and maple. There are sites available that indicate the actual heat value to be obtained per cord (128 cubic feet) of wood; this is an overly complicated way of indicating how dense a wood is.
Of the types listed above, the longest burning types are oak, pecan, cherry, walnut and hickory. The others do burn well and may actually be preferable to you for ease of burning (especially for the difficult part of actually starting the fire). However, the oak, cherry and nut-producing trees give a hard wood that lasts a long time. Three years of personal experience with local Augusta firewood has taught me the basic differentiating characteristics of various types of hardwood. This guide includes what I’ve learned from those experiences.
Almost every firewood salesmen will tell you that the wood you are purchasing is oak or another popular hardwood. Oak has a reputation for being the best burning wood. It got its reputation because, despite its hardness, it is straight-grained and therefore relatively easy to split. It has the highest consumer reputation for good burning, which is why everyone wants to refer to the wood that they are selling as oak.
You can try to match pictures from the Internet to identify the species being sold, but the best way to gain experience is to split a little of each species yourself. The grain and appearance of each type is slightly different, and having split the pieces yourself, you’ll be able to tell the difference. Pecan, for example, is a very white wood like maple, but it is almost twice as heavy.
The premium prices go to oak and hickory (and occasionally pecan) because of their hardness and use in smoking meat. You’ll often find yourself paying over $200 a cord in and around Augusta for these woods. Be sure to observe that other less-desirable species aren’t being mixed in!