When comparing hardwood vs softwood it's important to understand that all firewood is not equal.
Specific burning characteristics like heat generation, coaling qualities and lighting ability should all play a role in deciding which type of firewood will work best for you.
For starters, what will be the primary use for your firewood? Do you plan on having an occasional campfire or will you be using the wood as your primary heat source?
Since hardwoods burn longer they work better for overnight heating and will usually have coals left over in the morning so you can quickly restart your fire.
Are you going to buy all of your firewood from a local dealer or do you plan on cutting your own?
Softwoods should be cheaper than hardwoods so if you're paying the same price you should find a new supplier.
To help you decide which type to burn lets compare the two a little closer.
Generally speaking, the easiest way to identify a hardwood is by its leaf type. Hardwoods have a broadleaf and they will typically loose their leaves in the fall.
The group consists of many different species of trees but some of the most common and popular types are oak, maple, beech, ash and elm.
Hardwoods are often considered to be a superior firewood because the wood is very dense. The dense wood creates a hot, long lasting fire without a lot of smoke or sparks. The wood also creates hot coals which give out radiant heat for a long period of time.
When purchased by the cord (128 cubic feet) hardwood will produce more BTU's (British Thermal Units) than a similar cord of softwood.
However, just because the tree is classified as a hardwood doesn't necessarily make it the best choice. For example, a low quality hardwood is actually softer and less dense than a good quality softwood.
Are there any negatives to hardwood? The dense wood takes longer to season or dry out (typically between 1-2 years) and it's harder to light compared to softwood.
You can also expect to pay more for hardwood compared to the same amount of softwood.
Softwoods such as evergreen trees or conifers can be identified by their distinct needles and pine aroma. Cedar, red pine and fir are all popular species of trees classified as softwoods.
Softwoods grow very fast compared to most hardwoods resulting in a much lighter, less dense piece of wood.
This lightweight wood is typically very resinous which allows the wood to light easily and burn hot and fast. A fire built from softwoods will usually have large flames that crackle and spark.
Softwoods season faster than hardwoods and light much easier which makes them a popular choice for kindling. In fact, cedar is one of the best sources of kindling available.
One disadvantage of softwoods is the amount of smoke they create and they leave behind fine ashes with little to no coals. With poor coaling qualities, softwoods are not good for overnight burning in a wood stove because the fire will likely be out with not hot coals left over to restart it.
Besides kindling, softwoods are great for campfires because they burn quickly and produce a nice large flame. They also work great when mixed with hardwood to help freshen up a slow burning fire.
When comparing hardwoods vs softwoods it's the density of the wood that makes all the difference. Pound for pound hardwoods and softwoods will create about the same amount of heat.
However, due to the difference in density, you may need twice the volume of softwood to compare to the same weight as hardwood. More volume means more cutting, splitting and stacking.
This is why many people choose to burn hardwood over softwood if given the opportunity.