View Full Version : Best timbers for the fire?

05-03-12, 03:49 PM
Hey all,

Doing some more research and I'm trying to find out what timbers are best for different types of fire.
Which timbers burn low with good heat but little flame (Like River Redgum) which are best for putting out good light, etc.

I have long lists of timbers from OS for these tasks, but really very little for our Australian timbers. Since we bushcrafters are a practical lot and put great emphasis on efficient use of resources I thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of best timbers for different tasks here at home.

05-03-12, 04:30 PM
Ironbarks are the best i've found to get nice big hot coals, big penetrating heat, and it doesn't burn really fast. It's not the best if you're using a knife to baton though. I've had problems with redgum and resin content causing it to not burn quite right. I've found burning it in a drum with some decent holes near the bottom is a lot better than an open fire. White Cypress is my favourite to start or restart fires with, as it puts out a strong smell which i've found to help with insect numbers. It does tend to crackle and pop like most pine, but not enough to cause me any problems.

A friend of mine cooked with ironbark for quite a while and at the end of it he started to get sick from the build-up of chemicals / resins on his cookware. The steam would condense on the outer of the lid and then find its way back in when it dripped down. I'd say this would be the same with most woods but his experience was with ironbark.

05-03-12, 04:38 PM
Not wanting to sound facetious, but its much like that “Best Survival Knife” question. The log I’m standing next to is usually the best wood for My fire !

In many part of Aus, we seem to have forests which consist (predominantly) of only a very small number of tree types. When I’m camping its often in the high country, and the trees are “all” snow gums, or all mountain ash. Given that I want to take dead wood and not carry it far, that’s what I use.

Outback is a bit different, because you usually need to carry wood with you, in which case it tends to be what a question of what the grader has knocked over !

I know this isn’t really an answer to the question you are asking, but I think there is a bit of a different approach to timber in Aus camping, as compared to the Northern Hemisphere, where they have a range of timbers in more open forests and perhaps there is more selection at a camp site ?

The people I know who harvest wood for heating, once again, are generally driven by what’s locally available (on their block, or nearby), rather than quality per-se. Generally “eucalypts” are large enough to be worth cutting up and generally they all seem to burn well.

I think the Aussies who are most interesting in wood are the people who use the timber as timber eg knife makers, furniture makers and other crafts men and women who are looking for particular features.

Having blabbed all that, I am aware that many aboriginal people were very particular about which timbers they used, especially for cooking and for medicinal purposes. For instance they may want woods which would quickly form a hot ash for cooking johnny cakes, or coals to cook meat, or glow all night etc. I think this is more what you are getting at. I must admit my knowledge is not extensive and unless I look it up in a book, I can’t really comment on specifics. They have a very different approach to “camping” that us modern folk !
(PS I'll have a bit of a read and see what I can find out)

Meanwhile I’m interested to see what others think ?

05-03-12, 06:35 PM
This is just a general reply from what I grew up with. We burned anything we could lay our hands on and it was just called "gumtree", but I do know the anticipation when a load of Mallee Roots would turn up (to rare as it cost to much to buy, all the city peeps paid way to much for it so you had to know someone with a favour), it was the "Gränsfors Bruks" of it's time in wood burning, hot and good endurance. The other one I'll mention I don't have a name for, helped a mate restump his house and the guy who was putting in the new concrete stumps said the timber was from the Otway Ranges Vic, grabbed in the 20's/30's. It was deep red, produced a blazing fire with good endurance and left the finest, I mean talcum powder, fine soft almost pinkish ash and no coals to speak of.

Big Bill
05-03-12, 07:51 PM
For me anything that is near at hand..........for me that mostly Mountain ash, various wattle, tea tree and other trees such as snow gum,she oak, Beech etc etc..........I like the smaller fallen bits of Mountain ash to start a fire, cooking and for light....with bigger pieces of this and wattles for the main fires body with tea tree in the for the bugs...........Thats what I generally end up with in any case when I'm bush close too home......

05-03-12, 08:18 PM
Where the timber grows and the rate it grows will effect the density. Blue gums growing east coast rain forrest gullies grow heaps faster than an iron bark on the western slopes so the wood will be less dense. The amount of moisture in the wood also is a factor and it has to evaporate during combustion to allow it to burn. This is why you get resin in flues and cookwear. Green or moist wood needs a bigger fire to keep going just to dry the wood. Out west with Mulga or Gidgee you can easily sustain a tiny fire and just put a little log on now and then and they will keep burning to dust.
I camp heaps and have an internal and outside fire at home so i have burnt evrery type of wood i can get my hands on.
Hope that helps

05-03-12, 08:26 PM
Oh, and also. the saps in some wood is combusible so it aids burning although due to the wood being greener the duration is less. Pine and messmates are like this.

05-03-12, 09:17 PM
Ah,woods ain’t woods, they can be the difference between having a really relaxing socialtime with a well cooked meal, enough light to see around camp, and enough heatto keep it pleasant, to the opposite of beingcovered in smoke, being forced to cook on one of those stove contraptions, andsitting in the dark waiting for bed time to arrive.

Ihad to put the thunking cap on for this one to remember all the places and the campfiresthat we made over the years. Obviously, it’s really unlikely that a campfirewill burn only one species of wood, particularly in the coastal regions of Ozwhere mixed species occur. Three areas stand apart – rainforest, alpine anddesert areas – in these areas often only one or two species of tree provide decentquality burning wood.

Ironbark,Stringybark, Red Gum, Scribbly Gum, Blue Gum and Ribbon Gum - all burn well, goodfor deep, long lasting and penetrating heat with generally large coals. Perfectfor heating, cooking, and a bit of light; I think the light issue is dependentupon how fresh the wood is, for example, if it’s old wood that’s been laying aroundfor a long time, the volatile oils tend to diminish. If it’s fairly fresh, thatis, dried out but still characteristically stringy and tight grained, then ithighly likely that it will burn very well and be a reasonable lighting source.If you stack up a fire before going to bed, it’s almost certain you’ll find hotcoals in the morning to restart a fire. We’ve found these woods burn so hot andfor so long that even after a heavy night’s rain, there’s still enough heat inthe lower portion of the fireplace to restart it.

SheOak and River Oak (Desert Oak too) - these burn really well, but tend to burnto fine ash so it’s unlikely that if you stack up a fire hoping for the coalsto be hot in the morning, it probably won’t be. Good light source. Need tomodify cooking practices to get the most out of burning these woods. (The smoketends to smell a bit too and will probably leave a thick resin on your billy.)

Turpentine– as the name suggests, burns well but stinks and leaves a resin on cookware.Unlikely to burn this wood exclusively.

Sassafrasand Coachwood – since these are generally found in deep ravines and rainforestareas, the wood doesn’t burn that well - lots of smoke, but persistence paysoff once the wood gets going. It burns nicely and provides a moderate heat witha bit of light. From memory I think it burns to small coals – neither ash norlarge coals.

Wattles– all wattles tend to burn really well. I think one or two are poisonous, butit would be highly unlikely to burn wattle exclusively as it burns to ash veryquickly – perfect for starting a fire (kindling) not so great to cook with asit flames rather than provides long term coals. The perfect wood to start afire when first arriving at camp as you can place the billy on it and by thetime you’ve laid out the tent and gear, she’ll have a rolling boil just rightfor a cuppa and a bickie! (Just before deciding to head out and collect ‘real’wood for cooking and heating.)

Banksia– like wattles, Banksias burn well, but many species provide really good longlasting heat, light and coals. Some just burn to ash. Again, it would be rareto have a camp fire made exclusively from Banksia. Even though finding an exposedand dried Banksia stump in the bush is as rare as rocking horse crap, they burnREALLY well and are great for providing heat on a cold winter’s night. That deepred glow kind of heat.

Melaleuca(Tea Tree, Paper Bark) – burns really well and, like the Oaks, burns to ash andsometimes small coals. Can leave a resin on cookware. Good heat and light –burns with an intense heat i.e. volatile oils.

Personally, I'd rather use a stove than burn pine - pine sucks, it stinks when burnt and leaves a treacle like resin on cookware.

Hope this assists.

06-03-12, 01:43 AM
Gents thanks...

@Walker: that is the kind of info I'm looking for, so many thanks on that account...

Ok, so how about woods that spit and the like, since we want to be able to sit around the fire and not burn holes in our kit, etc... ?

06-03-12, 08:07 PM
Gents thanks... @Walker: that is the kind of info I'm looking for, so many thanks on that account... Ok, so how about woods that spit and the like, since we want to be able to sit around the fire and not burn holes in our kit, etc... ?

No probs, just wish more people would share information - like ye olde stuff via Le Loup or data gained through experience; no use dying with knowledge and not passing it on. Also, apologies for the linked words in my previous post - it was written on WORD and copy/pasted. For some reason it runs some of the words together - technology, bah humbug!

With regards to wood that spits:

Pine can spit excessively, particularly if it has been a wet season prior to it being got = sap ladened.

Similarly, almost all of the woods I've mentioned will spit if they are damp, had a growth spurt because of wet weather, or are sap ladened because of the same.

It's perhaps noteworthy to add that the denser the wood i.e. a typical Aussie hardwood, will not spit if it is not water ladened (laying on the ground in damp conditions or after long/frequent periods of rain) as most, if not all, don't have a large amounts of sap like 'green cancer' (pine).

The 'wet area' species like sassafras and coachwood will crackle and spit a bit. On some occasions they can actually pop or explode. Because they have a tendancy to smoke from the start, a slow gradual heat tends to allow excessive moisture to steam and thus reduce the chance of it popping or exploding.

This is perhaps the key with all woods to avoid it exploding and spraying hot coals everywhere: with wood that is suspected to be moisture ladened, a gradual increase in heat will turn the moisture to steam with a gradual release rather than a quick build up and explosion.

I suppose the key in building a safe fire is to know the timber species, construct the initial fire from quick burning ones (wattle, pine, small kindling, etc) then progressively build it up to the other species. One key trick is to progressively lay wood parallel and close enough to the fire so it dries out but not smoke. This is usually done throughout the evening to ensure a well balanced fire i.e heat, light and longevity. (In the Oz bush it's easy to know if the wood is drying out bacause all the bugs and crawlies come scampering out of the wood looking to cool their butts!)

On that note, it's pertinent to mention, only use enough wood to do the job at hand - besides the safety implications of large fires in the bush, fallen timber is a habitat to many species.

Do I get a mention in your book? (No fees necessary - gratis, just a mention) :_sii:

(Also, for those who MUST use stones to make a ring around a fire - prefer if you didn't - please don't use river stones as they will most likely explode like a grenade because their interiors are saturated.)

06-03-12, 08:13 PM
Cheers again Walker... I'm sure I could find space in the Aknowledgements... it's looking like a couple of pages long so far...lol

06-03-12, 09:32 PM
Great question Templar, and some great answers here as well. I read somewhere that a moisture content of 12% -I think it was- is optimum and just as important as wood type..obviously green wood is not much good for burning. Another thing that helps, is mixing woods; Stringy bark burns more efficiently if you throw in a hotter burning wood like red gum, or a few briquets.

I hope this is readable enough, I just scanned it in. It came with a wood fire that I purchased, maybe 10 years ago. But it's a good lead on what you asked for, Templar. :)


06-03-12, 09:38 PM
PDF of above available here:

http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cts=1331030257953&sqi=2&ved=0CCcQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thefireplace.com.au%2Fpdfs%2F Firewood%2520Species%2520And%2520Their%2520Propert ies.pdf&ei=v-hVT6KYOcy0iQfTttH2CA&usg=AFQjCNF9Ga2V0ZgS_8swCFfvnrKiybY7wQ&sig2=cgix_Z-H1x-_iepr0YgCQQ

06-03-12, 11:02 PM
Coincidentally, on the topic of wood, my partner just stared laughing shortly after opening and reading a newly arrived Hemma guide to the Kimberlies.

Beware of Gyrocarpus americanum otherwise know as "Shit wood", it's a light wood that when burnt gives off the odour of fresh richly scented dog shit. Not only does the stench fill the air but it renders any food cooked on it, inedible.


07-03-12, 04:55 AM
Coincidentally, on the topic of wood, my partner just stared laughing shortly after opening and reading a newly arrived Hemma guide to the Kimberlies.

Beware of Gyrocarpus americanum otherwise know as "Shit wood", it's a light wood that when burnt gives off the odour of fresh richly scented dog shit. Not only does the stench fill the air but it renders any food cooked on it, inedible.


Casurina is not far off that and leaves your gear stinking for weeks.

07-03-12, 07:49 PM
Edit : oops sorry Mini Taplow got hold of my iPhone
Please disregard!

07-03-12, 08:08 PM
Cheers Gents...

08-03-12, 08:00 AM
Ok, few I know of.

River red gum - burns with good heat & low flame. Great for creating coals. Good for cooking over due to high retained heat. Also good for forge fuel.

Blue gum - extremely dense wood. Most often people will see this wood in the form of telephone poles & pier pylons, etc.
Same features as red gum but tends to burn for longer although with not quite as mucvh heat.
Hard wood to get started, especially when wet, but once started it burns with incredible heat & low flame.

Apple box wood - burns very brightly with good flame propergation. Gives off high heat & light but consumes reasonably fast.

Malley root. I doubt there's anyone here thhat doesn't know the basic features of this one. Burns hotter'n hell for quite long periods.
Almost briquette like in it's qualities.

Native cherry. Not a great camp fire wood. Reletively soft & therefore doesn't hold heat well.
Is fairly quaickly consumed & can be quite smokey. Often hard to start as it's found in areas of high rainfall & is often quite wet.

Mountain ash - burns extremely well with good light & high heat. Can be quite smokey depending on the moisture content but can also bur4n very clean & dry.

Snow gum - often a diffcult wood to get sttarted due to high moisture content as it's found in areas of high rain fall. Once burning offers good heat & light but is consumed fairly fast.

That'll do for now I 'spose.