Credit: By Merzperson at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia CommonsWhether you are building a cooking fire, a campfire or a fire in a fire pit, what wood to use is an important consideration: You can't just stick any old thing on the fire and hope that it will turn out all right (in an emergency you could, but hopefully you are not reading this page while you are in the middle of a dire emergency).
Firewoods cannot really be classified as good or bad as different qualities are required for different fires. For example, a good cooking fire will be hot but without much flame, whereas for a campfire you want lots of flame. Some woods spark and spit too much to be particularly safe, and you would want to avoid using wood that spits at all if you had children or nervous campers in your group. Fruit woods can even be used to add flavour to food cooked over a woodfire (apple smoked bacon on your camp breakfast anyone?).
Firewood generally needs to be left to dry out for a year or more before it will can be used. This is known as seasoning. “Green” refers to new wood that is still moist. Very few woods will burn well when green - they tend to be very smokey and produce little heat.
Here is a list of common woods you might use to make a fire and some of their properties. I hope you find it useful, good luck!
Alder – Burns too quickly and does not produce much heat.
Apple – Burns steadily and fairly hot. As with all fruit woods it smells good and can be used to add flavour to food cooked over fire.
Ash – Excellent firewood, fire will be hot with flames. Will burn even when green.
Beech – Very good when seasoned, not great when green. Can give off sparks.Credit: "<a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fire.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Fire.jpg">Fire</a>". Licensed under Public domain via <a href="//commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/">Wikimedia Commons</a>.
Birch – Fire will be bright and hot but burns too quickly. Can be used unseasoned if nothing else is available. Smell is pleasant. Birch bark is often used as tinder as it will work well even when damp.
Blackthorn - As it is a hedgerow tree you only get small logs from blackthorn, but it burns very well – slowly and hot without much smoke.
Cedar – Logs are only useful if well seasoned, thin branches/ kindling can be used green. Produces little flame making it ideal for cooking. Smells good.
Cherry – Burns slowly with decent heat. As with all fruit woods it has a pleasant scent when burning.
Chestnut – Both sweet and horse chestnut produce a good flame and heat, but spit too much to be of use.
Douglas Fir – Burns slowly. Little flame and lots of sparks.
Elder – Burns quickly without much heat but lots of smoke.
Elm – Elm is a tree with a high water content, so it must be seasoned for at least 2 years before it is dry enough to use. Burns slowly but can be smokey.
Hawthorn – A hedgerow tree (therefore small logs/branches) but makes very good firewood.
Hazel – Pretty good but burns quickly. Twigs and thin branches make good kindling.
Holly – Will burn both when green and seasoned – slowly when seasoned, very quickly when green.
Hornbeam – Good firewood, it has a hot slow burn.
Laburnum – Very poisonous. Produces nasty smoke and should definitely not be used when food is involved.
Larch – Burns well if seasoned but spits a lot.
Laurel – Burns with a bright flame, therefore good for campfires.
Lime – Poor burner.
Maple – Burns pretty well. Not too difficult to split.
Oak – Must be used well seasoned. Slow hot burn. If used green it produces an acrid smoke.
Pear – Good heat, as with all fruit woods it burns with a nice scent.
Pine – Good flame but prone to spitting. Needles catch quickly making small branches tinder and kindling in one.
Plane – Fairly good but sparks a lot when very dry.
Plum – Good heat, as with all fruit woods it smells nice.
Poplar – Burns very slowly but without much heat.
Rhododendron – Choose the thicker stems and it will work well.
Spruce – Burns very quickly with lots of sparks.
Sycamore – Must be seasoned. Burns with lots of flame and moderate heat making it good for campfires. Thin branches and twigs are good for kindling.
Thorn – Excellent firewood. Burns hot with little smoke,
Walnut – Not commonly used as firewood, but works pretty well and has a pleasant scent.
Willow – Not great for fires. May be all right if very well seasoned.
Yew – Burns slowly and very hot. Pleasant scent but prone to spitting.