Manitoba has an abundance of great species available for firewood use. So, whether you are looking to burn in an outdoor firepit or for home heating there is a great selection to choose from. In general, there are two types of trees that we get firewood from. Hardwood trees are trees with leaves, also know as deciduous trees. Softwood trees are trees with needles, also know as coniferous trees.
Not all hardwoods are created equal. Some are “harder” or denser than others. Wood that is denser contains more heat per volume. Let’s have a look at some of the hardwood species sold as firewood in Manitoba and their characteristics.
Ash (green and black ash)
Weighing in an average of 3,000 lbs per cord (dry weight) over green and black ash, ash is a serious heavy-weight contender amongst the firewood species. The average BTU* output for ash is 20 million BTU’s per cord. Ash throws out a lot of heat and coals nicely making it a great wood for home heating in the woodstove or fireplace. It is a great wood to add to keep the home fires burning at night or when you are out for the day. Ash is also relatively easy to split (when you need to kindle some pieces), and despite its name, it produces a minimal amount of ash for cleanout of your unit.
Birch weighs in at a very similar position to ash. It is also a dense hardwood weighing just under 3,000 lbs per cord (dry weight) and producing heat output of approximately 20 million BTU’s per cord. One of the great features of birch is its papery bark. The bark contains an oil that makes it very flammable. This makes getting a fire going with birch firewood easier than some of the other hardwoods. Using pieces of the bark that have fallen off your wood pieces works better as a fire-starter than newspaper. Birch also has a nice flame (it doesn’t coal like ash or oak) which makes it nice to sit by. Buyer beware though! Because this bark is also water-tight, birch left in the log form too long before splitting may begin to rot in the centre because it cannot breathe. Rotten wood does not have a good heat value, so always inspect your wood upon delivery to make sure you are getting high quality firewood!
Oak (Bur oak)
Oak is the uncontested heavy-weight champion of hardwoods commonly sold in Manitoba. It weighs in at 3,700 lb per cord (dry weight) and has a heat output of approximately 27 million BTU’s. What does this mean? Oak produces hot coals that throw a lot of heat for a long time making it a great firewood when heat is your goal on those cold winter days and nights. Oak does not produce that mesmerizing flame that we love to sit by though. Oak is about business. A tip on getting the most out of your oak. Make sure your fire is burn hot before you add those big bad boy pieces of oak. Oak is so dense that it will take a hot fire to ignite and thoroughly burn the big pieces that you want to use for overnight or when you are away.
Poplar (aspen or white poplar)
Poplar is the underdog of the hardwoods. Weighing in at 2,100 lb per cord (dry weight) poplar has a heat output of 15 million BTU’s. Because of this and its abundance in the province it is often priced at the lower end of the scale. Many people like the scent of poplar and it produces a nice flame to sit by. This makes poplar an economical choice for the pleasure user (firepit or fireplace/woodstove) or for one wanting some heat, but not depending on it for total heat needs. A BIG caution on poplar. There is a species in the province called black poplar. Black poplar is very poor quality. Make sure you are getting white poplar, and as with birch, make sure the quality is there. Polar bark is also air-tight and the wood can rot if not split soon enough. Also, it is important overall to burn dry wood, but this is particularly important with poplar. Burning green or wet poplar will produce excessive amounts of creosote (see link…).
As with the hardwoods, not all softwoods are created equal either. Softwoods are aptly named because they are less dense than hardwoods. But, some softwoods are harder than others. In fact, some are harder than hardwoods.
Tamarack fights in both the lightweight and heavyweight rings. It is technically a softwood because it has needles, however, it is unique in that it loses its needles each fall as a deciduous tree loses its leaves. Tamarack can contend with the hardwoods weighing in at approximately 3,300 lb per cord (dry weight) and throwing a punch of 21 million BTU’s. Tamarack is sought after by those looking for some serious heat. In fact, if you put too much wood on, it might be too hot for you to sit by and enjoy. For length of burn it will burn like ash but not as long as oak. Tamarack is for those who want to heat their home and is not recommended for outdoor firepits. One needs to watch out for those flying embers with tamarack as it likes to snap, crackle and pop due to its sap content. Sadly, tamarack is under siege in Manitoba by the Eastern Larch Beetle. A common source of tamarack is from salvage sites that are being harvested due to die back because of the beetle. While it is great that the wood can still go to good use, buyers should be wary of stands that have been left too long as rot may have set in. Again, buy from a trusted source and inspect your wood upon delivery to make sure it is free from excessive rot. Because no matter the species, rotten wood will not burn hot or long.
Pine (Jack pine)
Pine is a lightweight in the firewood world, but still has great value. It weighs in at approximately 2,700 lb per cord (dry weight) and offers a heat output of 17 million BTU’s. Pine is a great choice for the campfire or for the one who wants to relax by a nice flame in the fireplace. Many people think that pine has a lot of snap, crackle and pop, but it is its brother red pine or its cousin spruce which is sometimes mixed in that does this. The primary pine species sold in Manitoba for firewood is Jack pine. Red pine has Slightly less heat output than jack pine and will snap and pop more than Jack pine. Because it is less dense, pine kindles and splits easily and dries quickly. For this reason, pine is useful to mix in with hardwood species. One can get a nice hot fire going with pine in the woodstove or fireplace and then add on the hardwood to ramp up the heat and extend the burn. Pine also has a nice scent when burnt.
So, there you have it! The contenders in the Manitoba Firewood ring.
*BTU or British Thermal Unit – the amount of thermal energy it takes to raise one pound of water one degree F.