Hardwood vs. Softwood

Posted on by Earth Sense Energy System

“Hardwood vs. Softwood”
Choosing your pellet fuel is a personal decision that’s all about choosing the right fuel for you based on a variety of things. Your stove make and model, your budget, and the amount of maintenance you’re willing to do will make the decision on which pellet will be best for your circumstance.
POINT A:
There’s not one pellet that’s right for every person. Selecting pellet fuel is about personal preference, and a lot of times the current weather conditions outside. There may be noticeable characteristics from one stove model to the next on the cleanliness, ash content, and heat output burning the same pellet. With that said, it’s important that a customer try a few bags of all species, types, and grades of wood pellets to determine the difference for themselves.
POINT B:
Softwood pellets burn hotter and cleaner than hardwood pellets. Finding the perfect fuel is about striking a balance you’re comfortable with between price and quality. Reports do prove that softwood pellets burn hotter and cleaner than hardwood pellets. In pellet form, the density between a hardwood and softwood pellet is very similar. Wood species that have high resin/pitch values and low moisture values will provide you with the best heat output and lowest ash content. Pellets rely on the resin in the wood to bond together; the higher the resin value the stronger the pellet is. Softwoods have higher pitch values and typically we see softwoods dried to lower moisture values than hardwoods providing more heat and less ash during the burn process. Many people burn a hardwood pellet in spring and fall and a softwood pellet during the coldest months of the year. We always offer a nice assortment of both hardwood and softwood pellet brands for our customers throughout all months of the year.
POINT C:
All wood pellet fuel is not created equal. There are many different wood species within the hardwood and softwood family. Each species will have different burn characteristics; in some cases very drastic differences. Today there are a handful of pellet manufacturers utilizing B and C grade timber (formally used in the paper industry) for making wood pellets. The process involves chipping, grinding, and pulverizing the material into sawdust. This is a great idea, however the consumer need be wary. Because they use whole logs, the ability to remove the BARK is critical. Bark is not only high in ash, it also carries dirt and sand in it as it grows. With bark in the pellet you’ll see lots of ash, along with significant residue and heavier clinker formations in the fire-pot. In our testing we have received a truckload of pellets that burned great, only to find subsequent loads from the same supplier that were far from desirable. Most new mills in Wisconsin and Minnesota are utilizing this method. Unfortunately, these new manufacturers in many cases have been inconsistent in pellet processing. We only work with pellet mills that guarantee a consistent source of clean raw material and a quality manufacturing process certified by the Pellet Fuels Institute (PFI). Earth Sense regularly performs independent laboratory testing (over 50 times per year) on all of our pellet products to ensure our customers consistent, quality pellet fuel. You can be confident that you’re getting the best quality pellet fuel through Earth Sense every time with our SATISFACTION GUARANTEE!

6 Responses to Hardwood vs. Softwood

Jeff Schultz says: October 25, 2016 at 11:58 am

Very nice to see a neutral, fact-based discussion on the topic of hardwood vs. softwood pellets.
I might add that having a good working knowledge of your stove’s settings is very helpful. Some very good quality pellets may be accused of being very ashy, low in heat, and produce a lazy, sooty fire – a few simple adjustments in the air/fuel ratio can completely solve the issue. Average pellet length can be very important – your feed auger can be delivering vastly different amounts of fuel to the fire (at the same setting) due to pellet length.
The very best stoves may interpret these conditions and make these adjustments for you, other stoves may need your assistance.
So please read your manual and learn how to make minor adjustments. Most manuals are available on line in downloadable form if yours is lost, and I have always found that a phone call to the manufacturer of your appliance can produce great tips on maximizing performance.

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Scott Nichols says: March 6, 2019 at 1:41 pm

Your facts are incorrect or misleading in many ways:
1-Moisture content has no influence on ash content.
2- Species of fuel used does not dictate pellet moisture content.
3-Softwood pellets do not burn cleaner than hardwood pellets.
4- Resin, aka. pitch adds heat value, but is not what is used to bond wood fiber in a pellet. Wood pellets are bound with lignin. All trees contain lignin.
5- There are many factors that influence pellet strength. Resin is not crucial.

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Earth Sense Energy System says: March 7, 2019 at 5:52 pm

Thanks for the message Scott. I suggest you take a closer look at the Pellet Fuels Institute (PFI) and do some further research regarding.

1. The lower the moisture content in the raw material the higher the concentration of lignin. Pellet fuels with lower moisture content consistently have a lower ash content. We can provide reports from our certified testing centers.
2. Softwood raw material can be dried down to a lower moisture content than hardwood raw material. All of our premium softwood fuels we have carried for over the past 25 years have a lower moisture content then any hardwood we have ever brought in. Our Bear Mountain Douglas Fir gets down under 0.2%
3. Premium softwood fuels do burn cleaner and hotter then hardwoods. Lower moisture content, higher lignin content. We can provide reports regarding both ash content and btu/lb. A good douglas fir or pine/spruce softwood will also leave less residue/clinker formations in the firepot and typically less accumulation on the glass.
4. Yes, Lignin is what binds the raw material to form a pellet – we also refer to it as pitch/resin. Yes, all trees contain lignin, however softwood species contain significantly more in raw material form than hardwood trees.
5. There are several factors that influence the pellet strength, both in the product and in the pelletizing process. The two most crucial factors for the product/raw material, are the moisture content and the resin/lignin content of the raw material.

Additional notes: We suggest folks go out and try a few different bags of various types of hardwood and softwood pellets. From a clean stove run 3-5 bags through. Use a temperature gun to measure heat output, check your ash along with your window build-up and firepot build-up. Clean everything out and try another. You’ll see a big difference from one pellet to the next and every stove operates a little differently.

We generally offer 4-6 different types of premium grade bagged pellet fuel – both hardwood and softwood. Everyone has their preference. We sell over 40,000 tons of pellets per year, over 90% of our pellet sales are softwood. Although softwood is higher in price than our hardwood due to where it ships from, most folks see a savings by having increased heat output and spending less time cleaning their stove.

Thanks again,
ESESstoves

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Dave Keneagy says: April 15, 2019 at 1:24 pm

Why did my pellets this year make the inside of my stove black and the window was black as well

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Earth Sense Energy System says: April 15, 2019 at 5:33 pm

Thanks for contacting us. Generally when you see an inconsistent & inefficient burn like that, it has to do with the fuel to air ratio. In most cases this is a cleaning/ash blockage issue. Could also be gasket seals, combustion blower issue, burnpot issue, intake air issue. Check the simplest things first is what we suggest.

1. Do a complete and thorough cleaning on your stove and vent pipe – Heat Exchangers, Ash Traps, Rear Firewall, Combustion Blower Housing, Exhaust Vent Pipe, Etc..
2. Check your door, glass and ash pan door gasket seals. Make sure they are sealing tight all the way around. Most gaskets need replacing every 4-6 seasons of use.
3. Check your burnpot holes and burnpot placement
4. Inspect the air intake that comes underneath the burnpot – If you draw outside air check that pipe as well.
5. Inspect your combustion blower and the voltage. Should be running near line voltage during start-up and on high
6. Make sure your pellet fuel is not swelled – been affected by moisture. I also suggest always looking for the PFI (Pellet Fuels Institute) seal on the pellets you purchase whether hardwood or softwood. It certifies the product in the bag.

Hope that is helpful, any other questions please let us know.

Thanks,
ESESstoves

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