People who use firewood to warm up their homes in winter would know that there isn’t just one way How to Identify Firewood.
There are plenty of different types of firewood and so, different methods for identifying them too. Some identify wood by bark, some by ash, and there exist other methods as well.
Various wood species are used as firewood. There are species that produce long-lasting, hot fires, as well as species that produce fast, hot fires. And there are species that do not burn at all.
Choosing wood that will produce the most heat and knowing which types to use will have a considerable economic impact if you decide to use it for home heating.
Some very common ways of identifying types of firewood include using leaves and bark identification, looking at the wood grains, trying the color, smell, and weight of wood, etc.
Having a good fire and keeping your fireplace in good working order depends on the choice of firewood. Willow and sycamore woods contain high moisture content and dry almost as if they were paper.
This article further contains detailed information on types of firewood and how to identify them.
Table of Contents
How to Identify Different Types of Wood?
If you’re not sure if your firewood is ready to burn, you can test the moisture with a moisture tester.
Dry, well-seasoned wood will always appear darker than green wood. Seasoned wood, on the other hand, looks yellowish or greyish compared to unseasoned wood’s fresh color.
How to Identify Firewood? What Are the Methods to Do So?
The following guide offers three general techniques for identifying firewood, along with tips on how to recognize the most common kinds of firewood. Let’s dig in!
4 Common Methods to Identify Firewood
Before we move on to our actual concern, that is, how to identify different types of firewood, let’s first take a look at what methods we may choose for the purpose.
Here are the four ways you may opt to identify firewood.
- Through Bark
- Through End Grain
- Through Color
- Looking at the Leaves
This is one of the most common methods among common people to identify firewood. There is often bark on split firewood, as well as a fairly distinct bark pattern on different types of firewood, which is observed to know the firewood type.
The bark of Shagbark hickory, for example, is extremely flaky, which makes it easy to discern from other types of wood.
Through End Grain
A firewood’s characteristics can be determined by the end grain. Foresters often use this method because the bark, leaves, etc. are less accurate than this approach.
However, foresters often use hand lenses in order to see more fine details. A hand-lens is not typically carried by the average person, so this method is only useful for wood types that have distinct end-grain patterns, like Oak and Elm.
A characteristic of Elmwood, for instance, is its wavy rings on the end grain. So, it’s easy to find among a bunch of other wood.
Firewood identification is sometimes aided by color, but it can also be hindered by it. When it comes to woods with unique colorations, such as cherry, or mulberry, color can be an excellent choice.
But many types of wood may change their colors when dried or exposed to the sun. Hence, this approach does work for some wood types but isn’t reliable for many.
Looking at the Leaves
Leaves are the most common method of identifying trees and wood, and most people learn this method first. It can be tricky to use leaves when you’re at a firewood pile because you might not have any to hand.
But you can use leaves to identify the type of wood you’re looking at if you happen to have them available. Leaf identification is pretty much easy for Maple and Oak.
Most Common Types of Firewood
Here are the ten most common types of firewood.
- Black Locust
To identify Oak firewood, there are two techniques you may use.
STEP 1: Using the End Grain Technique – Examine the end grain of your firewood. Tree rings show how old a tree is, and you can see how many years have passed since the tree was planted.
Oak also appears to be marked by lines that radiate from the center called rays, perpendicular to the rings. As far as we’re talking about firewood here, Oak is only one of two types of wood that has visible rays.
Sycamore is another type of wood where the rays can be seen, but the lines are closer together and smaller. Additionally, Sycamore is easily recognized by its white/green bark.
So, firewood with rays which isn’t Sycamore, it’s definitely going to be Oak.
STEP 2: Observing leaves – Oak leaves are alternate-simple and have a distinct shape, with five lobes. An alternate leaf is one that grows on branches in alternating directions (e.g. in a zigzag manner)
You can tell an Oak tree by its leaves if they meet these characteristics. Acorns are a hallmark of Oak trees, so if you see any, then it’s probably oak firewood.
STEP 1: Through End Grain Technique – One of the easiest types of firewood to identify is pine because it has a lot of branches and knots on its side.
For checking for sticky sap, you can use the end grain of the wood, or even just the sides. When you pick up a sticky piece of wood, you almost certainly have Pine in your hands.
STEP 2: Observing its Leaf Needles – There are no leaves on pines, but there are needles. This is pretty much helpful in identifying Pine firewood because almost all other types of firewood have typical leaves.
STEP 1: Observing the Bark – A tight bark is often a prominent feature of Maple firewood. As compared to other types of firewood, the bark of maples tends to be more closed and skin-like.
Ash bark, for instance, has parallel ridges that are almost like small wooden mountains. Additionally, Hickory bark is composed of thin “plates” that may hang or flake off from time to time.
STEP 2: Observing Leaves – Maple wood can be identified by the leaves, as this is the easiest and most common method. These leaves are the most recognizable ones around the world. You can see them on the Canadian flag, on Maple syrup bottles, and more.
STEP 1: Through the Color – Ashes can be identified by their uniform, light white/brown coloration.
All of the other types of wood in the list will usually have darker or different colored centers and outer rings, which are known as heartwoods and sapwoods, respectively.
STEP 2: Looking at the Bark – The bark can also serve as an indicator if it is still on. The bark of Ash trees, especially those larger in size, is characterized by large parallel ridges. The pattern resembles a miniature range of parallel mountains.
In comparison, the bark of Hickory does not grow thinly plated like that of this tree. Maples, on the other hand, tend to have bark that is much more close-fitting.
STEP 3: SObserving Leaves – You can use this method if leaves are available and the other two methods don’t work for you.
The leaves of Ash are opposite compounds. In essence, opposite leaves mean that parallel to one leaf, another one grows in its place (e.g., directly opposite).
To be compound means that instead of one single leaf (referred to as a ‘simple’ leaf), each bud from the tree grows a sequence that we call a ‘chain’ of leaves.
STEP 1: Through Bark – Firewood and trees with sycamore bark are easy to distinguish. There is an interesting whitish-green color underneath the bark of Sycamore trees. The bark of Sycamore makes the wood look almost naked when viewed from the side. At the top of the tree and at the ends of branches, you can see the ‘naked’ appearance of the tree.
STEP 2: Observing Leaves – Leaves are also a great way to identify Sycamore trees. Maple leaves are very similar to Sycamore leaves. Their large size and shape make them easy to distinguish as compared to other groups. Specifically, Sycamore leaves are ‘simple-alternative’
STEP 3: Through End Grain Technique – Only oak and sycamore firewood have rays visible to the naked eye. As mentioned earlier, the rays of the wood run from its middle to its extremities. On the other hand, Sycamore has much smaller rays that are closer together, which makes it easier to tell it apart from Oak.
STEP 1: Observing the Color – The easiest way to identify Mulberry wood is by its color. The heartwood center of the wood called the heartwood of Mulberry should be dark red, and the outer ring called sapwood should be whitish.
This color pattern indicates Mulberry wood, so if you find it, you’ll know it’s Mulberry. Mulberries have another unique characteristic of having white streaks on the outside of their bark which are frequently found under the branches.
STEP 2: Observing the Leaves – Mulberry wood can also be identified by examining the leaves when they are present. The leaves are alternate-simple on Mulberry trees. It’s also possible to see their dark purple berries during the right time of year, which are quite tasty
These individual leaves, which grow on branches in a left-right-left pattern, are not attached to a larger ‘compound’ leaf, but rather grow as individual leaves. Their edges are jagged, and they are small in size.
STEP 1: Observing the Bark – Hickory firewood can be identified by its distinctive flaky bark. Most Hickory species have bark that grows in flaky ‘sheets’, but not all types do.
STEP 2: Observing the Leaves – In addition to using the bark, you can also identify Hickory firewood by using the leaves.
Hickory’s compound leaves have an average of 7-9 leaflets. These leaves resemble Ash leaves at first glance, but when you examine a branch that has leaves on it, you can immediately tell the difference.
The compound leaf stems of Hickory trees grow in an alternate pattern down the branches. Conversely, the leaf stems of Ash trees are opposite to each other on their branches.
STEP 1: Observing the Color – The majority of firewood is light brown, but the cherry is reddish-brown.
Other types of wood have a reddish hue, such as Mulberry. Cherry firewood is always red throughout, so you can tell you’ve got it.
Colour changes with exposure to the elements, so this is not a particularly scientific method of identifying wood. However, in 98% of cases, cherry firewood can be identified just by its color.
STEP 1: Using the End Grain Technique – The end grain is probably the best method for identifying Elm and Oak wood as a first step.
A distinctive feature of Elm firewood is its wavy annual rings, which can’t be found in other types of firewood. Annual rings are relatively uniform for most types of wood. On the other hand, the rings on Elm are wavy and almost appear blurry.
STEP 2: Observing Leaves – Elm should always be identified by the end grain, but the leaves can be used as a backup. A single leaf of an elm grows in a left-right-left pattern along a branch, and they are alternate-simple.
STEP 1: Observing the Color – Black Locust firewood can be easily identified by its bright yellow/brown color. As the wood dries, the color fades, so this technique only works for freshly cut logs.
STEP 2: Observing the Bark – In instances where the wood is too dry to see the yellow color, then the thorns which are classified as bark, are the next easiest method for identifying Black Locust.
There are only a few species of trees that bear thorns directly on the tree in the Midwest USA. Black Locust often has thorns near the area where the leaves emerge.
STEP 3: Looking at the Leaves – Additionally, if you are still not certain after using the above methods, you can still use the leaves to help identify the wood.
A Black Locust tree has alternate-compound leaves, which means that they grow from a single bud off the branch, and grow down in a left-right-left pattern. Moreover, Black Locust left has around 9 to 19 leaflets per compound leaf.
How to Identify Firewood – FAQs
A good fire and a functional fireplace are dependent on the selection of firewood. Among the best firewood are oak and hard maple.
Burning pine wood creates creosote because of its high resin content. While several wood species, including willow and sycamore, have high moisture content and dry out almost like paper when burned.
Be careful when splitting wood and buying firewood. It is difficult to tell the difference between woods once firewood has been split.