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It was early afternoon and I was getting ready to start the campfire when I noticed that we had a pretty small stash of firewood. I wondered, how long into the evening will this little pile get us? How long DOES firewood burn in a campfire? I decided to put it to the test!
A typical 16″ long piece of firewood will burn from 1.5 to 3.5 hours long. A standard cut 16″ piece of wood will have nearly become all ash at the 1.5-hour mark while an uncut round 16″ long will turn to ash after burning for about 3.5 hours.
Read more to see my experiment and to get more information that will help you figure out how long your campfire might last!
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How long firewood burns in a campfire: put to the test
I have read it time and time again, the 1/2″ rule. For every 1/2″ inch of wood you have, you will get an hour of fire.
Of course, I HAD to test this out in a typical campfire and see if that was, in fact the case. Bring on the experiment!
This stack was hickory and was gifted to us from our generous neighbor, sourced from a fallen tree near our home. It was dried, but honestly, it laid out in our pile uncovered in the elements for weeks. I started the campfire with my 6-Pack-in-a-Box method (see the bottom of the article for details). There was no accelerant used.
Some may have better set-ups for maintaining their firewood, but I feel as though this represents an average campfire situation for folks who just like to camp on the weekends.
A few things to note: I did keep the fire rather small, but again, typical campfire size for roasting marshmallows and warming your hands. Also for the majority of the burn, the wood I used in the experiment was on top of the teepee and uncovered so that I could track its progress. Every burn will be slightly different.
I tagged 2 pieces of what I felt were “typical” pieces of firewood for the campfire. Both were around 16″ long, one was a standard cut, but kind of a skinny one, 5″ wide and 2.5″ thick at its thickest point. The second piece was an uncut round and about 6″ in diameter.
*Please note that for the sake of the experiment, I didn’t cover the test firewood with other pieces for most of the burn as I wanted you to be able to see how they burned. Also, I tried to leave them in the same place and not push them around for as long as I could.
Both pieces still have a lot of burn left in them.
Our big piece of firewood is still holding up pretty well and the smaller piece is about a quarter of the way gone.
Our uncut round is holding up pretty well, but our standard cut piece of firewood burned down quite a bit in that last 15 minutes.
After an hour the heat was taking its toll much more on the standard cut piece and it was quickly being spent. The uncut round was holding up much better.
Right around the 1.5 hour mark the standard cut piece of firewood was burned to the point that it was nearly gone and I called it done. It was still burning ash chunks for some time after, so even though the wood itself was no longer burning, it would still be useful as fuel to light a new piece of wood to throw on top.
*To keep the fire going, and to try to keep it closer to real-world conditions, I eventually had to throw a piece on top of the uncut round. I also had to shift the piece in the fire once or twice toward the end, as I would at your average fire.
Half of the uncut round was gone and I needed to finally shove what was rest of it up closer to the fire so it would keep burning.
The uncut round lasted 3.5 hours before it was so spend that I could easily break it into burning ash chunks with a stick.
To me, this duration felt pretty typical and I wasn’t that shocked by the results. Still, I wasn’t even close to the 1/2″ burning for 1 hour rule that I’d read about everywhere. It could be that whoever tested that is 1000 times the outdoors-person that I am and burn a more efficient fire with firewood they have protected from the elements.
Definitely so, but I feel as though my test was close to the conditions you would see for most backyard campfires.
What affects how long firewood burns
Will your firewood burn at the same rate mine did?
There are SO many factors, unless we would test this in science-lab level precision we would have no way of figuring out how long every person’s firewood would burn.
But then, that wouldn’t represent real-life burns, now would it?
Some of the things that affect burn times are:
- Species of wood-Hardwoods are harder because they are denser, so they have more fuel per inch. Hardwoods will burn longer and hotter than softwoods. Which is which?
-Hardwoods: oak, poplar, ash, cherry, maple, hickory, birch, walnut, beech
-Softwoods: pine, cedar, spruce
- Moisture content-How well and how long your firewood has been seasoned and how it has been stored since will determine how much water it has soaked up. Well protected, seasoned, dry wood will burn longer. If you process and keep your own stash of firewood, you can more easily control this. If you snag a few bundles at the gas station most of this is out of your control.
- Level of decay-Wood begins to decay the second it is cut from a living tree, or the second that part of the tree died, so all wood is decayed. However, rotten wood won’t burn nearly as long as fresh wood. Read more below for more details.
- Weather conditions-Windy conditions can be dangerous to burn in, but a little breeze naturally stokes your fire and gets it burning quickly. Drizzle is going to put a damper on your fire.
- Fire size-a little fire is going to burn differently than a big bonfire and this will definitely affect how quickly your firewood burns!
- Wood cut-throw a stump on your fire and you’ll begin to wonder if it’s ever going to go out!
Every single campfire is going to burn differently because there are so many factors involved. But, most of the time you are having a burn for fun, not survival, and only need a general idea!
How to make your firewood stack last longer
So you’re looking at your pile and doing the math. How can this little stack last longer? I found a few ways.
The obvious answer is keep your fire small. This one is TOUGH, I know, because who doesn’t love throwing another log on the fire and having big flames? But, even if you wait 45 minutes to an hour longer than you normally would each time you throw one on, you will be conserving your firewood stack.
Forage for sticks and wood nearby. If you’re camping, chances are you are by a stand of trees or even a forest. While being safe and watching for wildlife AND poison ivy, forage around for bigger sticks or any wood you can find to enhance your stash. Even if you get a couple of hours out of it, it will extend your warmth and your fun. Make sure your campsite doesn’t have restrictions on this first.
If your site doesn’t make you extinguish your burn overnight, just add enough wood to keep the ashes and coals red hot in your pit. If you still have hot coal and ash, you can throw on wood in the morning and get a fire started pretty quickly. Have a stump or big piece of wood in your pile? Save it until later in the night and that one stump will still be going when the sun comes up.
One thing you can keep with your supplies that can help you maintain a smaller fire is campfire bellows. This can also help you start your campfire in the morning when all you have left is red hot ash and coals. The one I use is called the Pocket Bellows. It’s inexpensive and small, but effective, and you can see it on Amazon here.
Just blow through your bellows into the base of your firewood teepee and the oxygen in your breath will be adding fuel to your fire or hot ash.
Can I burn rotten firewood?
The non-helpful, but correct answer is maybe, but read our post here on this exact topic and get the right answer for YOU!
What is the easiest way to start a campfire?
If you struggle to start campfires, here is an easy diy that will help you get your next fire started QUICK!
It’s called the 6-Pack-in-a-Box and to make it you start by keeping cartons from 6-packs in your laundry room. (super classy, I know!)
Stuff the link from your dryer in each hole in the 6-pack. When that one is full, start on another one.
Also, keep small-ish boxes that a 6-pack will fit inside.
To use it, put the 6-pack carton full of lint inside the box. I put a little piece of lint in the box outside of the 6-pack carton and light it. It will go up quickly, so be ready!
Start your firewood teepee by laying the wood on the box for support. Setting up a firewood teepee without it toppling over can be tough and the box helps keep everything upright for you.
The box will burn away and you should be left with firewood that is upright and a roaring campfire!
Thanks for reading, and have fun at your next burn!
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