Sustainable Hardwood Options Used as Firewood


Selecting the right firewood for heating our homes in colder seasons is crucial, considering its environmental impact. However, not all firewood is created equal, so opting for sustainable firewood is paramount amidst growing concerns about deforestation and climate change. Sustainable firewood, sourced from renewable origins, not only safeguards forests but also diminishes our carbon footprint, and sustainable hardwood is one of the most popular. These come from forests where the balance of different trees and plants is carefully maintained.

When trees are cut down, those who do the cutting make sure not to damage the environment too much. They leave some trees around rivers and plant new trees in places where the forest was disturbed by the cutting equipment. This is great news. However, for lumber companies to get a special certification called FSC, they need to do even more. They have to keep records showing exactly where the wood came from, starting from the forest and ending up on the store shelves. This proves that the wood was legally harvested from a forest that’s certified as sustainable.

This guide emphasizes the significance of choosing sustainable and durable hardwoods. It’s essential to prioritize firewood harvested in a manner that maintains forest health and fosters regrowth, ensuring a sustainable supply. By favoring eco friendly wood, we endorse responsible forestry practices and play a role in conserving our invaluable natural resources.

The Most Sustainable Woods Used as Firewood

In this piece, we will explore the characteristics and applications of five types of sustainable hardwoods. Additionally, we will examine the geographical regions where each variety typically grows, considering the environmental and economic benefits of purchasing wood sourced locally.

White Ash (Fraxinus americana)

White ash, after undergoing the process of kiln-drying, turning, and clear-coating, emerges as a prominent material in various realms, notably in baseball, where it powers line-drives and grand slams. This resilient wood, renowned for its shock resistance, finds utility beyond the baseball diamond, contributing to slap-shots in ice arenas, sinking snooker balls in dimly lit parlors, and navigating exhilarating whitewater routes. For those inclined towards craftsmanship, it’s worth noting that many hand tools feature handles crafted from ash.

Outside of its athletic applications, white ash’s robustness and attractive creamy hue render it a favored choice in furniture making. Possessing a coarse texture and strength akin to oak, ash offers the added advantage of being less dense, facilitating easier manipulation. Its flexibility under steam makes it particularly suitable for crafting curved furniture, trim, and artisanal pieces. Despite its rigidity, ash remains manageable with both manual and powered tools, posing minimal strain on saw blades. It adheres well to glue and provides secure anchorage for screws, albeit necessitating pre-drilled pilot holes due to its hardness. While ash accepts stains gracefully, achieving a smooth, glossy finish mandates pore filling to address its characteristic open grain.

Oak (Quercus)

White oak (Quercus alba), known for its strength, durability, and natural resistance to water, finds versatile applications both indoors and outdoors. Exhibiting hues ranging from light to dark brown, rich in tannins, and featuring straight grains with distinctive figuring, it stands as a premier choice for hardwood cabinets, flooring, and home furnishings, as well as for the construction of bridges, barrels, and boats. Its counterpart, red oak (Quercus rubra), possesses a pink to reddish-brown hue with predominantly straight grains and minimal figuring, yet it’s less suitable for outdoor usage due to its particular requirements.

The large and open pores of oak impart a coarse texture that is visually and tangibly discernible. Its growth pattern results in uneven grains, rendering boards susceptible to splitting. While oak is dense and rigid, resistant to bending under weight, it still accommodates curved designs with reasonable ease. Despite its hardness, oak is amenable to machining and hand tools, and can be stained and sanded to achieve a smooth surface.

White oak is prevalent across the eastern United States, excluding Florida and areas along the Gulf Coast, with variations also found in Oregon and California. Red oak species thrive throughout the eastern United States and southeastern Canada.

Maple (Aceraceae)

Maple is a robust and attractive wood available in both hard and soft variations. Sugar maples produce the hard type, prized for its exceptionally white sapwood. Conversely, wood from red and silver maples shares the qualities of hard maple but is approximately 25 percent less dense, making it easier to handle. To identify soft maple among lumber stacks, simply press your fingernail into the surface; if it leaves an impression, it’s soft maple.

With its pale hue, lively grain, and fine texture, maple is ideal for a range of applications, such as furniture, cabinets, doors, and flooring. Soft maple, in particular, is flexible, making it suitable for curved furniture and stair railings. Fiddleback maple, prized for its resonant quality, is the preferred wood for crafting violins.

Red maple, extending from Newfoundland to Miami and westward to Minnesota, is abundant in eastern North America. Silver maple, native to non-coastal areas of the eastern United States, and sugar maple, a significant tree in Canada with its leaf adorning the Canadian flag, round out the maple species.

Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla)

Mahogany has been a top choice for fine furniture worldwide for centuries, thanks to its exquisite texture and deep, luxurious color. This tropical wood is not only prized for indoor furnishings but also proves resilient enough for outdoor and industrial applications.

In terms of sustainability, Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata), an Australian mahogany variant, stands out as a robust option. Although challenging to work with and more abrasive on cutting tools compared to other woods, Jarrah exhibits strong adhesive properties. Featuring a coarse grain and common gum-pocket defects, it finds utility in demanding applications like flooring, railroad ties, dock installations, and heavy construction projects.

Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Black cherry stands as the sole cherry tree capable of reaching a size suitable for commercial purposes. Due to its abundance and resemblance to mahogany, it was a favored material for furniture crafting during Colonial America. Today, it remains highly esteemed for its distinctive, luminous sheen, enhancing various applications such as furniture, cabinets, flooring, paneling, doors, and trim. Notably, sustainable black cherry is also favored by some for crafting Martin guitars.

Compared to white ash and oak, cherry is softer and less dense, facilitating ease of machining, nailing, and gluing. However, it is relatively brittle, making it susceptible to splitting, chipping, or cracking under excessive pressure or impact. Cherry also boasts flexibility, allowing for easy bending, and achieves a smooth finish through sanding and polishing.

Various types of black cherry thrive across the eastern and central United States, with the majority of commercially viable trees found in the Allegheny Plateau spanning Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia. Among the trees harvested from the mixed-wood, FSC-certified forests of Pennsylvania, cherry holds the highest value.

Choosing the Most Sustainable Wood for Your Firewood Applications

Choosing sustainable firewood is crucial for preserving our forests and mitigating climate change. By opting for eco-friendly wood sourced from renewable origins, we endorse responsible forestry practices and contribute to conserving our invaluable natural resources. Let’s prioritize firewood harvested in a manner that maintains forest health and fosters regrowth, ensuring a sustainable supply for generations to come.


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