Skip to content

Hardwood or softwood?

In recent years firewood has continued to be a popular source of heat and light for many people, particularly those who live in Scotland. Wood-burning stoves in particular have enjoyed a revival locally.

Firewood is divided into two broad categories. These are hardwood and softwood. While both have their own advantages and disadvantages, understanding the differences between the two can help you make an informed decision about which type of wood to use for your next fire.

Hardwood for firewood

Hardwood is denser and heavier than softwood, which means it burns longer and produces more heat. This makes it an excellent choice for heating homes or cooking food. Some common hardwood species used for firewood include oak, maple, hickory, cherry, and ash.

One of the advantages of hardwood for firewood is its high calorific value. Calorific value is a measure of the amount of energy released when a substance is burned. Oak, for example, has a high calorific value of approximately 8,500 BTUs (British Thermal Units) per pound, which means it produces a lot of heat when burned. Other hardwood species have similar calorific values, making them efficient sources of heat for homes and other spaces. We can confirm that oak does indeed give out a lot of heat and we recommend if burning our oak whisky staves consider using it in combination with some softwood.

Another advantage of hardwood for firewood is its density. Hardwood is typically denser than softwood, which means it burns more slowly and evenly. This can be especially helpful when heating a home or cooking food, as it allows for a steady, consistent source of heat. Hardwood is also less likely to produce smoke and sparks.

However, there are also some disadvantages to using hardwood for firewood. One of the biggest is cost. Hardwood is typically more expensive than softwood, in part because it takes longer to grow and requires more effort to cut and split. The man-hours involved with processing hardwood contribute to the cost. This can actually make it a less cost-effective option for some people.

Another potential disadvantage of hardwood for firewood is its environmental impact. Some species of hardwood, such as oak and maple, take longer to grow and are not as readily available as softwood species like pine and spruce. We are keen on using the oak whisky barrel staves as firewood because if not used as fuel they would likely be discarded. Barrels are often mended and filled multiple times so there is an element of sustainability to using staves for this purpose. This all means that using hardwood for firewood can have a greater impact on the environment, as it may take longer for the trees to replenish.

Softwood for Firewood

Softwood, on the other hand, is lighter and less dense than hardwood, which means it burns faster. Despite this good quality softwood can deliver heat energy very well. Some common softwood species used for firewood include pine, spruce, fir, and cedar.

One of the advantages of softwood for firewood is its availability and therefore its more competitive price. Softwood species like spruce are widely available and can be found in many areas. This makes softwood a more convenient and cost-effective option for some people.

Another advantage of softwood for firewood is its low moisture content. Softwood typically has a lower moisture content than hardwood, which means it burns more efficiently and produces less smoke. This can be helpful as it can reduce the amount of smoke and soot that can accumulate.

Softwood species like spruce typically have a calorific value of around 4,500 to 5,000 BTUs per pound, which is a bit lower than most hardwood species.


Overall, both hardwood and softwood have their own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to using them for firewood. The best choice for you will depend on your individual needs and circumstances. If you’re looking for a cost-effective and convenient option, softwood may be the way to go. However, if you’re looking for an efficient source of heat for your home or for cooking food, hardwood may be a better choice.

Some other factors to consider when choosing firewood include the moisture content of the wood, the size and shape of the logs, and the type of stove or fireplace you’re using. For example, if you’re using a stove or fireplace with a small firebox, you may want to choose smaller logs that will fit more easily. If you’re using firewood for cooking, you may want to choose wood that produces less smoke and soot.

Ultimately, the key to choosing the right firewood is to do your research and consider your individual needs and circumstances. By understanding the advantages and disadvantages of hardwood and softwood, as well as the other factors that can affect the quality of your firewood, you can make an informed decision that will help you stay warm and comfortable all winter long.

References and further reading