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5 Incredibly Easy Ways to Reduce Fire Pit Smoke

In my opinion, there are few downsides to any get-together around a fire pit.   However, one of the most common and

In my opinion, there are few downsides to any get-together around a fire pit.  

However, one of the most common and fixable problems you hear a lot about is excess fire pit smoke.

In this article, we’ll get to the bottom of what causes it and what you can do to reduce fire pit smoke before your next backyard gathering around the fire.

Excess fire pit smoke is typically the result of the incomplete burning of firewood due to excess moisture in the wood, typically “green” wood or older wood that has not been able to adequately dry.

The burning of wood types that contain pitch/sap and other naturally occurring substances can also be a factor in excess fire pit smoke production.

Improper stacking of wood during the fire building process that causes fuel to smolder instead of burn can also be a contributor to the amount of smoke you may experience.

Choosing the right kind of wood that is both adequately dried and not naturally predisposed to smoking excessively when burned should keep the game of fire pit musical chairs to a minimum when the wind shifts.  

We’ll get a little more into detail on what dry wood, or seasoned wood as its commonly called, really looks like,  what smoke the least (and most) and what the fire pit industry is doing to help keep smoke to a minimum on their end.

Let’s get going…

Why Does My Fire Pit Smoke So Much?

Wood smoke comes primarily from the burning of certain chemicals that are part of the natural makeup of hardwoods like oak, hickory, and ash, and softwoods like pine, fir, and spruce, to name a few.  

When these chemicals are heated inefficiently they turn to smoke which is released into the air around your fire pit.  ‘

In an efficient, well-burning, hot fire these chemicals are typically burned off quickly before smoke is able to form in any significant way.

As mentioned before there are other contributors but this is the most likely cause of most wood smoke.

Smoke from Green or Improperly Seasoned Firewood

Long story short, seasoned wood is firewood that has a moisture content of at least 30% or less, the lower the better.

It gets to that level of moisture through an indoor or outdoor aging process under the right conditions or after a much quicker (and more expensive, but thorough) kiln drying process.

The bottom line is that dry wood burns efficiently and as a result, it doesn’t smoke a lot.

Freshly cut wood, a.k.a. “green” wood, is made mostly of water and that water is not going to allow that wood to burn the way you want it to.  It’s going to smoke badly.

Likewise, older wood that was chopped and split months or years ago can burn poorly as well if it is constantly exposed to wet weather and not permitted to fully dry.

Firewood dried/seasoned over time will naturally have a lighter feel when handled, have a more hollow sound when contact is made, no noticeable smell, and a bit of a gray tint depending on the seasoning conditions.  

Wood moisture levels can be tracked with an inexpensive handheld moisture meter which can be picked up at your local hardware store.  

30% moisture is the minimally acceptable number, but 20% or less is ideal and you should find that’s at least the standard with most kiln dried firewood available in your area.

If you really want to reduce fire pit smoke effectively, using the right wood at the right moisture level is going to give you the most bang for your buck.

Other Causes of Excess Fire Pit Smoke

In addition to moisture, there are a variety of other drivers that could be the culprit if you are having regular trouble with fire pit smoke.

Some of the following, combined with high moisture, could already be making your recent fire pit burns a smoky mess.  

Take a good look at what firewood you’ve been using, or plan to use, to see if it shares anything in common with what we are about to cover.

Debris Buildup In Your Fire Pit.  

Old and potentially damp ash, embers, and other debris that has accumulated in your fire pits from recent burns could slow the stunt the ignition of your current fire, resulting in a fire pit they not only won’t catch but will smoke a lot as you stumble around trying to figure out what to do.   

Firewood with High Pitch (Sap) Content.

Growing up in a rural, heavily-wooded area in Southern New Jersey (Cape May County) I remember there was always a standing “rule” against burning pine.  

Anyway, softwoods like pine, juniper, balsam, spruce, etc. can burn very hot for short periods of time, making them a good firestarter wood.

With that said, these wood types with pitch that has been exposed to air and hardened can smoke quite a bit when burned.

In fact, “fatwood” from the heartwood of pine trees, has been used for hundreds of years as a firestarter wood.

The terpene in hardened tree sap, which is in high concentration in fatwood, ignites quickly, helping the rest of the fire get started.  

5 Ways to Reduce Fire Pit Smoke

1. Use Well Seasoned or Kiln-Dried Firewood

As we covered above, wet wood is bad when trying to keep fire pit smoke down.  Using adequately dried wood will produce much less smoke and perform much better and for a longer time.

2. Focus on Using Firewood Types That Naturally Smoke Less

Oak, ash, hickory, and maple are good examples of low-smoking hardwoods.  

3. Take the Time to Build a Fire That Starts Quickly and Burns Long

The way you stack your firewood in your fire pit is going to have a direct impact on how quickly the main fuel sources ignites and really starts to burn efficiently.

That efficiency is a key contributor to keeping smoke from forming and burning it off quickly if it does.  

4. Keep Your Fire Pit Clean After Every Use to Reduce Fire Pit Smoke

Old fire pit debris (ash, embers, partially burned firewood, etc.) from prior burns may become damp if left out in the elements.

Building a new fire on top of this debris may inhibit your ability to get a good fire started.

Take a moment to clear your fire pit of all debris after it has completely cooled.

If you are able, cover the fire pit, turn it on its side or completely over, or store it indoors to keep water from collecting (and rust from forming).

5. Consider Using a Smokeless Fire Pit to Drastically Reduce Fire Pit Smoke

Fire pits have evolved quite a bit in the last few years, going from simple metal bowls or masonry fire pits with a fire ring to a new take on old technology.

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