Wondering which trees you can plant and forage on the homestead for fuel and warmth? This extensive article covers the best firewood to burn, which kind of wood to use, and easy trees to grow. We’ve also included information on other uses for homestead wood like coppice trees, mushroom logs, wattle wood, garden structures, craft wood, and waste plant fuels. Trees are such versatile homestead plants and can be used not only for firewood but to create many products!
What Makes the Best Firewood To Burn?
In all honesty, the best firewood to burn is the one that’s local to you that you can afford or forage. If you’re growing your own firewood, that’s even better!
In this article, we’ll talk about the best firewood standards but simply do your best each winter to get what you locally and frugally.
To get our discussion started, let’s define some important terms.
- In the U.S., we sell the best firewood by the cord. A cord of firewood is a collection of firewood that measures 4′ by 4′ by 8′ and weighs between 1 to 2 tons, depending on the water content.
- There are basically two kinds of trees when it comes to firewood – hardwood and softwood – and they can both be burned.
Fun Fact: Hardwood refers to any broad-leaved tree, not the actual hardness of the wood.
Similarly, softwood refers to timber from a coniferous tree, regardless of the hardness of the wood. Softwood has more air pockets and is, therefore, much lighter. It can sometimes spit more often while it burns, too.
What Kind of Trees Can Be Used for Firewood?
Basically, the best kind of tree to use for firewood is the fattest, or the most dense kind. The denser the wood, the more heat generating capacity it has.
This is important to remember: Dense wood burns longer and hotter because it requires more energy (fire) to consume it.<<<—
Dry trees also make the best firewood because the water content of a tree can affect its efficiency once it’s chopped for firewood. It’s recommended that you season firewood for one year, but two years is better.
- Read How to Properly Season Firewood from Texas Real Food to learn more.
Burning green wood takes up a lot of energy evaporating the remaining moisture, which is a waste of a good fire. The prevailing wisdom has always been that this also leads to creosote buildup which can increase the risk of chimney fires.
It’s also been recommended that soft woods like pine not be burned for risk of creosote buildup. Some new research has indicated that creosote build up has more to do with the heat of the fire. A low-temperature fire results in more creosote buildup.
- Read Can You Use Pine Firewood Indoors? Dispelling the Myths from the 104 Homestead to consider this topic further.
Apart from the creosote question, the simple reality is that dense, properly seasoned wood results in more energy being used to consume it, which means a better, stronger fire.
Easy Trees to Grow and Use for the Best Firewood
Below is a list of U.S. native trees that are relatively easy to grow and use for the best firewood on the homestead. If you have a homestead with existing trees, look for these trees!
What makes the BEST firewood, or rather, GREAT firewood?
If you see a tree mentioned below and it’s marked as “great firewood” it means that:
- the tree produces dense wood
- has fast (or faster) growth
You may have to make some tough choices when it comes to your homestead firewood options. You might have trees that produce only moderately dense wood, but they’re already on your lot which is a huge point in their favor.
Similarly, you might be able to forage fast growing firewood but it happens to be wood that burns comparatively quickly and you have to use more of it. For example, poplar tree firewood burns hotter and longer than willow, but willow grows a lot faster.
As I said before, do the best you can to source your wood as locally and as economically as possible.
If you’re planting trees on the homestead for the next generation’s best firewood needs, the following trees will thrive in most growing zones.
11+ Trees to Plant & Forage for the Best Firewood
Below is a list of great firewood trees, plus other uses for trees to consider on the homestead. Most of this information is taken from my own experience and two vital homestead books:
- Coppicing and Coppice Crafts, by Rebecca Oaks and Edward Mills. The authors are based in the U.K. and this book is fantastic for anyone interested in the ancient art of coppice crafts, including wattle.
- Coppice Agroforestry, by Mark Krawczyk, is an absolute must for every homesteader. I have been waiting for this book to come out for years! It covers everything you want to know about growing and using trees for multiple purposes on the homestead and farm.
The following lists of trees aren’t all inclusive by any means! Furthermore, trees are dynamic, biological wonders that adapt to their environment and have nuanced differences from place to place.
You might experience these best firewood trees differently in your region, so don’t hesitate to experiment with both firewood and craft wood. To learn to grow any of these trees, check out your state’s conservation department, botanical garden, or university extension office.
For example, I often check out the following websites in my state of Missouri to learn more about native plants:
Does your state or region have something similar?
As an added bonus, our conservation department has a seedling tree and plant sale every year with rock bottom prices on native plant bundles. These have made my native plant and permaculture homestead designs so much easier to bring to fruition!
Does you area have anything similar?
Best Firewood Trees – The List
- Great firewood
- Makes very hot charcoal
- Protein-rich fodder for livestock
- Wood chips
- Great coppice
Interesting Note: Oaks and Mills say it’s not great for firewood but it is for charcoal. However, Krawczyk says it makes great firewood. Is this just a difference between the U.K. and U.S.?
Only experience in your region can answer that question for your homestead. So, if you already have alder trees growing, do some experimental burns with it.
Deer don’t care to browse alder trees, according to Oaks and Mills, which is handy when trying to get a new stand of firewood trees started for future generations.
Ash is strong, light, and flexible and has become a standard for a lot of handcrafted items, including baseball bats in the American Major Leagues.
- Pollarded in pasture for fodder
- Tool handles
- Excellent for wooden utensils (since it doesn’t smell or taste funny when dry)
- Great for artist’s charcoal
- Garden products
- Straw bale pins
- Walking sticks
- Gate hurdles (sections of wattle fencing)
- Hay rakes
- Wood turning
- Yurt poles
Birch trees have lovely fall color, gorgeous bark, and make a great addition to the homestead.
- Bark can be harvested for baskets and decorative crafts
- Protein-rich fodder
- Sap is used for wine in early spring
Black Locust Trees
Black locust trees are a member of the legume family, so wherever they grow on the homestead, they fix nitrogen in the soil. They propagate themselves easily and can become invasive if left to grow without management.
- Great firewood
- One of the best rot-resistant woods
- Protein-rich fodder
- Wood chips
- Garden products & structures
- Rot resistant – they have what’s called ground longevity, meaning they last buried in the soil for years
- Great for wattle and poles
- Coppice wood
- Garden structures
- Hurdles and wattle
- Bean poles & other garden structures
- Great firewood
- Wood chips
- Great firewood
- Coppice – it responds well to thinning even when mature
- Poles & timber framing
- Wood turning & furniture
- Oak bark for leather tanning
- Peeled poles for pergolas and even fence posts if using hard heartwood
It takes awhile to season oak for firewood because it’s so dense; which will be true of any seriously dense wood like oak.
- Coppice wood
- Wood chips
Tree of Interest: Willow Trees
Willow trees are fast growing and also burn very quickly, which can come in handy when first starting a fire. Willows are SUCH amazing assets on the homestead in other ways, too! Here are a few interesting things to note:
Bush varieties like basket willows are great for damp corners of your yard because they’ll even grow in standing water! If you plant greenwood willow, it will root and grow in place, provided it gets enough water.
This is like free firewood/fuel!
Willows also produce:
- Excellent biomass for fire starting
- Green hay that’s protein-rich for livestock
- Poles for living willow structures
- Weavers for baskets and wattle fences
- Artist’s charcoal
- Wood chips
- Other garden products like trellis material
- Plant and use willows for shelterbelts and windbreak designs
Smaller willow bushes and trees can grown all over the homestead and kept small with constant pruning or coppicing. Larger tree willows can also be pollarded for green hay, farm wood like wattle, and all the other things we’ve already mentioned.
Fastest Growing Trees for the Best Firewood
The term “fastest” is going to be relative to where you live and the growing conditions. Precipitation, soil type, season length, and pest pressure will all be determining factors in the amount of annual growth that’s produced.
The following are a few trees that are considered fast growing for the United States. However, if you live in another temperate country, call your local conservation or wildlife department to confirm that these will grow quickly in your climate.
For example, for my Midwest state of Missouri, the Department of Conservation has a chart of tree growth information that includes how quickly the trees grow.
- Birch – Average 3′ annual growth
- Black Locust – Can be invasive, manage appropriately – Average more than 2′ annual growth
- Oak – Average of 3′ annual growth
- Poplar – Average of 7′ annual growth
- Willow – Average of 10′ annual growth
*Bamboo’s annual growth is even more species and climate dependent than all these others. You could say that bamboo averages 3′ in height every year but you have to remember that bamboo spreads out to fill its space.
Here’s a little perspective on the lifetime growth of bamboo from BambooGarden.com:
A timber bamboo, such as P. edulis Moso that averages 35 to 45 feet at our nursery in the PNW, can reach heights of over 60 feet in the south east, but under 30 feet in colder climates like zones 6 and 7. (NE and Midwest). Consistent irrigation during the dry months, 1-3 times per week, will produce faster, healthier growth.
Best Firewood Oddballs
Bamboo burn fast and burns hot as firewood. You need to be sure to split it before you burn it to prevent explosion because a lot of air is trapped inside its walls.
Bamboo is an incredibly versatile homestead wood and with so many different varieties it can grow in many places.
Osage-Orange is native to only to the South Central U.S. It great for firewood, garden structures, and is one of the most rot-resistant woods in the U.S. It’s durable and has a straight growing habit.
It also has excellent rivability.
What is Rivability?
Riving is an ancient form of splitting wood. Rivability refers to a wood’s ease of riving. Here’s a great photo tutorial on the riving process by Hurstwic.
Riving is done with green wood like newly felled round logs. It’s also called cleaving and is a controlled splitting process that I find beautiful and fascinating. It’s so fun to watch an expert rive logs!
Instead of cutting with a saw, you use a wedge like a froe or axe head that gets struck with a hammer or mallet.
Riving is fast way to cut apart pole wood and logs into useful pieces and is a great skill for a homestead wood worker because it only requires basic tools.
Riven wood can be stronger and more durable than sawn wood because the process leaves the wood flexible and resistant to shear force which makes it wonderful wood for building.
Great Wood for Riving:
- Black locust
- Osage orange
What’s the Best Plant to Grow for Firewood?
Besides firewood there are a number of plants we can grow on the homestead to help build our fire stores. Here are some easy plants to grow on the homestead and use for starter fuel for winter and outdoor cooking fires.
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Corn stalks and cobs
- Reeds and large grasses
- Sunflower stalks
- Semi woody herbs like mature basil, lemon balm, mint stalks & rosemary
- Milkweed and native pollinator weeds like solidaster and solidago
All these plants can be easily grown or foraged around the homestead and stockpiled during the growing season. Many are more suitable to outdoor kitchen and fire pit use, but all of them burn easily and work well as kindling and fire starter material.
Products That Can be Made from Homestead Wood
In no particular order, here are products that can be made from homestead wood that can be stockpiled for your use or sold.
Is it time for a homestead side hustle? Or would you simply love to have these products for your own family and community.
- Charcoal, artist’s and blacksmith’s – also, biochar
- Furniture, rustic and turned
- Garden trellis and cloches for winter plant protection
- Holiday ornaments, wreaths, and natural crafts
- Decorative fencing and wattle
- Mushroom bolts/logs
- Tool handles
- Pole wood for arbors and other structures, even yurts
- Arbor sculpture – like our children’s garden willow playhouse
- Even waste wood like fallen stick can be put to use
As mentioned above, there are many uses for homestead shrubby and full-grown trees. The following is a list of trees that perform functions we’ve already touched on.
You’ll notice some are also make great firewood, whereas others make only middling firewood but perhaps great kindling.
Fodder Branches/Leaves for Livestock
- Black locust
- Russian olive
- Viburnum, whole family of plants
- Mock orange
- White mulberry (some controversy over safety of leaves and wood of other mulberry – feed in moderation)
Charcoal and Biochar Base
- Hedge & Sugar maple (Acer Campestre and A. saccharum, Krawczyk)
- Willow (Salix alba and S. nigra, Krawczyk)*
*Remember that Oaks and Mills disparage willow for firewood and feel that as charcoal it is too soft and breaks up when bagged. What’s your experience?
You and I can’t eat wood but mushroom fungi certainly loves it! Dense woods are best for growing mushrooms because they have more cellulose for the fungi to eat.
Unlike something like pole wood, mushroom logs don’t need to be perfectly straight and pretty. Using waste cut logs for growing mushrooms is a great way to put them to use to generate income from the homestead. Or simply to generate mushrooms for you to eat!
Different mushrooms have different favorite woods, but among them are:
- Oak, different varieties
- Sugar maple (other maples can work)
Joybilee Farm can teach you more about Growing Mushrooms on Logs.
Rot Resistant Woods for Fences and Posts
- Osage orange – we have century farms here in Missouri with 100 year old Osage fence posts!
- Black locust
These three are usually at the top of most lists, however others also exhibit rot-resistance:
- Black walnut
Catalpa is one of my most favorite native North American trees for its lovely leaves and flowers, its elegant growth, and hardiness. It’s also good for furniture and carving.
Catalpa can be used for firewood, certainly, but it’s not THE most efficient – however, it grows everywhere in the US. Sometimes, availability trumps perfection!
A note on Rot Resistance: Black Locust and other rot resistant trees are capable of withstanding decay because of the high concentration on lignin in their heartwood. They also have fungus-fighting components that keep the wood turgid and solid over generations.
Trees are truly amazing, in my opinion.
Utensils, Tools, and Woodworking
These woods are required to have flexibility and, in the case of tool handles, shock resistance. How many tools are laying around the homestead just waiting for you and me to learn how to replace their handles with these fantastic homestead trees?
- Apple & Pear
What Trees Should Not Be Used for Firewood?
There are several trees and woody materials that shouldn’t be used to burn for fuel or warmth.
For example, greenwood should not be used as firewood because greenwood refers to a tree that has just been felled, or cut down. This means that the wood of the tree is still living, which means it has wet sap still inside.
This wet greenwood is near impossible to burn and if, by some miracle you can get it to burn, it will smoke you out of your house!
Other trees or woody material that contain toxins or poisons should also not be used for obvious reasons. Woody plants like poisoned sumac, ivy, and oak all contain oils that can be internalized when burned and cause severe reaction, which can even be life-threatening.
Chemical-infused wood like pressure-treated wood for outdoor burning can release toxins into the air you breathe either indoors or outdoors.
Similarly, don’t burn moldy wood – dangerous!
Items that should not be burned:
- Painted Wood
- Treated Wood (including furniture wood and some pallets)
Are Dead Trees Good for Firewood?
We’ve already mentioned that moldy wood shouldn’t be burned but a logical question to ask is,
- Can you burn rotten or dead trees for firewood?
While dead wood will burn, it burns fast – sometimes too fast to make it worth the effort to gather it. To make matters worse, dead wood won’t burn as hot because much of the fuel (the wood) is already gone.
- Where did it go?, you ask.
The fuel of dead wood has been eaten by fungi and broken down by the elements.
Remember that dense wood burns longer and hotter because it requires more energy (fire) to consume it. Dead wood is too porous and light to burn efficiently or with any amount of useful heat.
Also, dead wood is usually found on the forest floor which can often mean that it’s wet. Wet wood smokes!
- I guess the best question to ask yourself is, How dead is it?
If the tree has been down a year, it could be just right for burning. However, if it has been down many years and is falling apart as you try to pick it up, it’s probably dead-dead and won’t be worth much.
If dead wood is all you have in an emergency situation, by all means, burn it! Just stock as much as you can find.
Other Best Firewood Resources
Do you have a favorite wood to burn where you live? Please leave a comment on this article to let others know about it and your experience. Please be sure to give us a general idea of where you live in the world.
––>>>Pin This for Later<<<—