We've talked about fires, how to start one, how to keep it going... even how to cook over one... but this time lets talk about the wood itself
One way to get a proper campfire is to use the right wood. If you want a pot of tea in a
hurry, you will have to use a quick-starting wood such as poplar. But to broil a venison
steak, you will need hot coals such as those produced by seasoned hickory.
Wood (and trees) can be divided into two groups - hard and soft. In the case of trees, this
division is somewhat of a misnomer. Conifers are called softwoods, while deciduous
trees are called hardwoods by forest workers from pulp cutters to forestry engineers.
Although all evergreen trees have soft wood, so do many species of hardwood or broadleafed
trees such as poplar, alder, and basswood. The hardwoods with truly hard wood
are oak, hickory, maple, birch, and sweet gum.
THE HARDWOOD OR DECIDUOUS TREES
Alder The alder is a fast-growing tree of swamplands and stream bottoms. It is found
from Alaska to the Gulf coast, from Newfoundland to the mid-west, and from the
Rockies to the Pacific. It bums fast, with a quick flame and strong heat, but it also bums
Alder tends to spit and snap, so watch for sparks. It is excellent for quick boiling and
cooking and is good for baking. Because it burns fast, have plenty of it cut. It makes
excellent kindling when well seasoned.
Ash There are about fifteen species of ash in eastern North America. Their range extends
from central Ontario and British Columbia south to Florida. Ash, particularly the red,
white, and black varieties that are most often used as campfire wood, live on moist sites.
All ash are heavy hardwoods. They don't make good kindling because they tend to start
burning slowly. White ash can be used for firewood green, while red and black ash
should be seasoned first. They all throw good strong heat, and produce coals which are
ideal for broiling and frying.
Basswood The linden, as the basswood is sometimes called, is found from Maine to the
Dakotas and from southern Ontario to Kentucky. It is very light and soft. When used for
fuel, it should be well seasoned. It bums quickly and turns to ash rapidly. It spits and
snaps and throws sparks readily, so be careful and be certain the area around your
campfire is cleared of humus and dead leaves. Basswood, like all soft woods, is good for
boiling and quick cooking.
Birch The birches - black, yellow, and white - make good firewood. Black and yellow
birch are superior to white. However, trappers in northern Canada depend on the hardy
white birch to heat their cabins through the long winter. Birches are hard and heavy.
Yellow birch is found from New England to Minnesota and from Central Ontario south to
Pennsylvania. Black birch ranges from southern Maine and southern Ontario to northern
Alabama along the Appalachian Mountains. White birch, sometimes called paper or
silver birch, is found from Alaska south through Canada and the Great Lakes states to the
The bark from all these birches is easily stripped off and makes excellent kindling.
Birches burn well even when wet. They start readily, and bum slowly and with an intense
flame. The coals retain heat for a long time and are good for frying a steak or simmering
Beech The beech is a very hard wood. Its range extends from central Ontario to the Gulf
of Mexico and from Maine to Kansas. It will burn when green and give off plenty of heat.
Many outdoorsmen rate beech as highly as oak. The coals retain heat for a long time,
making them a good bet for frying and broiling.
Hickory All the hickories are excellent campfire woods, with the shagbark being the best.
There is no doubt that hickory is the finest of all campfire woods. The hickories are found
in a variety of forest habitats, and their general range extends from Maine and southern
Ontario south to Louisiana and Texas.
Hickory sawdust and chips are the best wood to use when smoking fish, ham, or bacon. A
hickory-smoked ham is far superior to the synthetic chemical-smoking process used on
supermarket hams. Similarly, a good steak - beef or venison broiled on a thick bed of
hickory coals - is much tastier than charcoal-broiled steak. It burns with a steady and hot
flame, and its coals remain hot for a long time.
Hornbeam There are two species of hornbeams - the American and the hop - and both are
very hard and heavy woods. Indeed, the hop hornbeam is sometimes called ironwood.
The range of hornbeams extends from southern Ontario through the eastern half of the
United States to northern Florida. They do not burn too well when green, but after being
well seasoned, they bum with a steady heat and produce hot coals.
Maple There are over twenty maple species in North America, but only the hard or sugar
maple makes first-rate firewood. It is hard and burns evenly, even when green. It leaves
very hot and longlasting coals for long cooking or broiling.
The soft maples, such as the red maple, burn much like poplar quickly and easily. They
are a better bet for quick cooking, but they should not be used unseasoned because they
don't bum well when green.
How does one tell the soft maple from the hard maple? It is easy by the leaf margins. The
lobes on a soft maple's leaf have serrated or saw-like margins, and the underside of the
leaf is silvery green. The margins of the leaf lobes of a hard maple are smooth, and the
underside of the leaf is dull green.
Oak There are about sixty species of oaks in North America. Most of them make good
firewood, but some have to be seasoned first. Probably the best is white oak, which will
start well and burn when green.
The red and water oak should be seasoned first. The oaks are all hard and dense woods
that bum slowly and produce hot coals. The only exceptions to this are the willow oak
and the scarlet oak, both of which bum fast. They can be used for quick boiling, while the
other oaks are a good bet for long cooking and broiling.
Poplar The poplar family contains the aspens and the cottonwoods. They are rapid
growing trees. Some of the species are the first trees to recolonize old burns. Some
species grow on high, dry, and sandy soils. Poplars range from Newfoundland to Alaska
through the Rocky Mountain states, the Great Lakes, into New England, and south to
Poplar wood is light and soft. It bums quickly when dry. It is also a good wood for fast
boiling and cooking, and it is ideal for getting a brown sheen on biscuits in a reflector
oven. When dry, it makes good kindling.
Sweet Gum This bottom land tree is a beautiful sight in the autumn. It is found from
Connecticut to Florida and west to Texas. It has a fairly soft wood and burns quickly,
thus it is best used for quick cooking.
THE SOFTWOODS OR CONIFERS
Balsam Fir The balsam fir lives on moist bottom lands. Its range extends from
Newfoundland to northern Alberta and south through the northern Great Lakes states to
the Atlantic seaboard. It is very soft and resinous, with a high moisture content when
green. It is difficult to start a flame when green, hence it should be used only when
seasoned. It burns quickly when dry and throws a fast heat. It spits and snaps while
burning, so be careful. The balsam fir is basically a quick-cooking wood. Small, dry,
pencil-thick branches make good kindling, even when broken from a live tree.
Cedar The outdoorsman should concern himself with only red, white, and western red
cedar for campfires. However, cedars are only third-rate as campfire woods. White cedar
and western red cedar live on moist sites, while red cedar prefers open areas. Cedars, as a
group, are widely distributed over North America. All cedars are light and soft woods
that do not bum well when green. When seasoned, they ignite and burn quickly, but still
give off a lot of smoke. Great if you want to keep the bugs away, but otherwise....
When cedar burns, sparks pop and fly, so the campfire must be in an area well cleared of
debris and humus. Cedar bark, when dried and shredded, makes tremendous tinder for
Douglas Fir This large western evergreen is not really a fir, but is related to the spruces. It
ranges from southern British Columbia to central California and as far east as Montana. It
is a soft and light wood that bums quickly. It tends to be smoky. It is suitable only for
Pine The pines are widely distributed on the sandy soils of this continent. They are light
and soft woods. White, red, jack, and lodgepole pines burn well even when green.
Pitchpine has to be seasoned to burn well. Pines all throw a surprising amount of light
and are generally easy to ignite.
The pines are for quick cooking. They tend to pop and throw sparks, so be careful. They
also blacken cooking pots. If you are using pine as a campfire wood, coat the outside of
your pots with soap for an easy cleanup before putting them on the fire.
Spruce The spruces are widely distributed evergreen trees. White and black spruces range
from coast to coast and from Alaska to the Great Lakes. Western white, Douglas,
Englemann, and Sitka spruces are western species, while red spruce is found from Nova
Scotia through New England to central Ontario. The spruces are light and soft. To be
good campfire fuels, they should be seasoned. They start easily when dry and make
excellent kindling, but they never burn as fast as some of the other softwoods, hence they
are a good bet for all-around campfire cooking, as long as hot, long-lasting coals are not
needed. Small dead branches of standing spruce trees make good fire starters, even in wet
weather, but they do throw sparks.
Tamarack The larch, as the tamarack is sometimes called, is the only conifer that sheds
its needles every fall. There are several species of larch. The larch belongs to the pine
family, but is a much better firewood than the pines. Tamaracks range from
Newfoundland north to the Yukon and south into the Rocky Mountain states, the Great
Lakes states, and into New England. It lives on moist, boggy soils. Its wood is the densest
and heaviest of all the conifers, and is best when seasoned. Many northwoods
outdoorsmen prefer the tamarack for firewood over all the other species except perhaps
white birch. The larch bums with a strong and even heat, and is fairly long lasting, but it
doesn't leave as good coals as the birch. When burned green, it spits and sputters.
edit on 30-8-2011 by DaddyBare because: fixing a formatting prob
edit on 30-8-2011 by DaddyBare because: fixing my horrible
edit on 30-8-2011 by DaddyBare because: (no reason given)