Hardwood vs. Softwood

Does One Burn Better Than The Other?

Whether your wood pellets are made from hardwood sawdust or softwood sawdust will have absolutely no influence whatsoever regarding how those pellets will burn. Many people will argue that only hardwood pellets should be burned in their stove and conversely, some people will argue that softwood pellets are the only way to go. NEITHER OF THESE AGRUMENTS HOLDS WATER!

You do not want to burn softwood in a WOOD STOVE (as opposed to a pellet stove) if you can avoid it. This is because in a wood stove, hardwood will burn hotter and longer than softwood will and softwood will burn much dirtier.

Now, let me break this down in two parts. First, the only reason that hardwood burns hotter and longer in a wood stove is because hardwood, in its natural state, has a much higher density that softwood does.  For instance, when you have two equal sized pieces of wood, and one is oak (hardwood) and the other is pine (softwood) you will get much more heat out of the oak than you will the pine. However, if you took a ten pound piece of oak and compared it to a ten pound piece of pine, the piece of oak is going to be much smaller than the pine. But, in ten pounds of oak, there is just as much energy (or heat) as there is in ten pounds of pine. This all comes down to density, and all wood, on a dry basis, will have equal amounts of energy (heat/BTUs) per pound.

But, remember that with wood pellets, they all start out as sawdust. And regardless of whether the sawdust is hardwood, softwood or a mixture of the two, they will all get compressed to the same high density regardless of whether the sawdust is oak, pine, maple, fir, cherry or any other species of wood. This is an absolute fact and something that is often a source of confusion for many wood pellet burners. Therefore, there really is no such thing as a “hard” wood pellet or a “soft” wood pellet….there’s just wood pellets!

This takes us to a statement that I made earlier here, that softwood, IN A WOODSTOVE, (in its natural state) will burn much dirtier than hardwood. This is true… but here is why. If you have ever seen a pine tree, you will see the sap, or pitch, oozing in spots where either the bark has been scraped or a branch has broken off. This pitch, when burned, will create a lot of creosote and the burn will be very dirty. But understand that this pitch only exists in the outer living layer of bark on a tree.  Good, clean wood pellets, whether hardwood or softwood, will have no bark in them. A good clean softwood pellet will look nice and pure, almost blonde in color. There should be no bark in them and therefore, no pitch. Therefore, unlike firewood in a woodstove, softwood pellets will have the same high density as hardwood pellets and will burn just as clean as hardwood pellets if the bark is removed.

That’s not to say that all softwood pellets are great, nor are all hardwood pellets great. Truth is, there are some great hardwood pellets out there and there are some lousy hardwood pellets out there as well. And at the same time, there are some great softwood pellets out there and there are some lousy softwood pellets out there as well. What I am really trying to emphasize here is that whether a wood pellet is made of hardwood sawdust or softwood sawdust will have no bearing or influence over the quality of that specific wood pellet. What really matters is how clean the raw materials are that make up that pellet and how low the moisture content is- that’s this big difference!