One of the most important considerations for successfully building and managing a fire is fuel selection. Much of the time this will be wood of one kind or another.
Each and every species of wood has different characteristics that will affect things like intensity, burn time and other pertinent factors. Pine is one wood that you might choose to burn, but common prepper lore warns us that pinewood is a poor choice for building a fire. Is this true?
Will pine wood work as firewood? Yes, pine will definitely work as firewood, and is both safe and readily sourced. Pine does have a few shortcomings when used as fuel: it is full of sap which can result in sparks and spitting, a fire hazard in addition to depositing considerable amounts of creosote in chimneys. Pine also burns very hot and brightly, meaning you will need considerably more fuel to keep your fire going over time.
Success with pine as a firewood is a matter of understanding its strengths and weaknesses, then working to maximize the former while minimizing the latter. Keep reading and we will give you the scoop on using pine as firewood.
Pros of Pine
As with any wood, pine is host to a few advantages when used exclusively as firewood. It is far from the disaster that some haters would make it out to be.
In fact, a few of these advantages might be significant enough that you can rely on pine as your primary fuel depending upon the circumstances.
The single, biggest advantage to using pine is that it is extremely plentiful, and can usually be had for very cheaply as seasoned firewood, sometimes for free. Depending upon your fire building requirements, this could be all you need to know.
When hardwoods cannot be found or cannot be purchased for the right price, you will always be able to depend upon obtaining pine pretty much wherever it grows. Like the song said, if it is free it is for me!
Pine is also a wood that burns quite hot and quite brightly. This can make it a good choice if you need a lot of heat quickly, or just as an opening burn to rapidly heat up a structure.
When used in smaller quantities or as shavings, pine also makes an excellent fire starter due to its hot burning characteristics.
Pine sap, long a pain in the butt for loggers and others who process pinewood, has many useful properties, not the least of which is it being excellent tinder all by itself.
These qualities make pine a dependable firewood even on its worst day. That being said, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows if you are relying on pine, and you’ll need to know how to deal with its shortcomings. We will discuss them in the next section.
Pitfalls of Pine
You might view the hot burning nature of pinewood as sort of a double-edged sword for our purposes. Yes, it burns very hot with bright leaping flames, but the flame that burns twice as bright will only burn half as long, and pine is a short-burning wood.
The same characteristics that make it good for cranking out a ton of heat very rapidly mean that you’ll be feeding the fire far more often than you would be with slower and more evenly burning hardwoods. This inefficiency is the chief complaint of those who dislike pine as firewood.
Pine’s sap that I mentioned previously is also problematic, especially in an indoor setting. The sizzling, sparking and jumping droplets of sap that will burst out of your burning pine can inflict painful burns on you, and potentially even start a fire elsewhere beyond your chosen confines.
This is likely a small concern if you have built a fire outdoors, but if you are burning pine in an open fireplace in your den you will have to be on your guard. Burning a lot of pine wood means you’ll need to be even more on your toes than normal.
Additionally, the more sap that your pine contains, the more smoke will be emitted when it is burning. This can range in importance from aggravation to major hazard.
Again, outdoors not such a big deal. Indoors, if your ventilation system is not functioning properly you’ll know in very short order once you start burning pine.
The amount of smoke and fumes that can build up in a short time are truly impressive. Beyond being an annoyance and air quality hazard, the smoke will deposit creosote in any chimneys or flues.
Anyone who owns a woodstove or a home with a fireplace and chimney knows that removing creosote is essential in order to prevent a house fire, and if you are burning pine exclusively or nearly so you’ll have to engage in maintenance more frequently to keep the creosote at bay.
Seasoning, Processing and Other Concerns
Pine is not a particularly difficult wood to cut or process, except the fact that knots are likely to be especially tough and resinous. Exercise caution when cutting or chopping.
However, ask anyone who’s ever spent a fair bit of time processing pine how the experience treated them and there are likely to shoot you an evil glare; pine sap, mentioned several times throughout this article, will get all over you and all over your tools, and it is a certified pain in the butt to deal with.
Any clothing that becomes heavily impregnated with sap should probably just be relegated to the trash bin, unless you have some specialty detergents or cleansers that can remove the sap before it hardens.
Power tools can be cleaned by cutting other, non-pine woods and allowing friction to remove the sap. Manual tools can be treated the same way with less effectiveness or manually cleaned with any chemical that can dissolve the sap.
Also it should be noted that seasoning pine doesn’t really do much to dry up or otherwise eliminate the issues caused by sap.
If anything, the dried sap burns even faster in well-seasoned pine. At best you might cut down on some spitting and sizzling, but you will not cure the pine of its shortcomings!
Don’t believe the hand-wringing and naysaying of some people who would warn you against using pine as firewood.
Pine is completely safe and definitely usable, though it has some drawbacks you will need to learn to deal with, namely the fact that it is smoky, burns very hot and fast, and the sap is a pain in the butt both before and during burning.
But the fact that pine is so plentiful means it might make a fine primary fuel if you don’t mind tending to your fire a little more often.