A new generation of woodfuel studies focuses on the political dynamics behind access to the woodfuel trade, providing better insights into patterns of inclusion and exclusion and options for resource management. Institutional mechanisms that govern access are difficult to untangle in the context of informal trade. This paper analyzes institutions and how they regulate access to commercialize woodfuel in two areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A review of empirical data (surveys and interviews) and secondary data on wood energy value chains in the DRC is used to examine the ways that woodfuel institutions affect access to resources and to markets. The main findings are that existing formal mechanisms regulating access to the woodfuel trade are hardly enforced. Informal, socially embedded institutions generally govern access, and the trade is open to less privileged and rural actors. People who benefit from these informal arrangements have many vested interests, and current production patterns are unsustainable and not sufficiently mitigated by these institutions. New strategies are required that promote the positive aspects of informality, while supporting initiatives that contribute to long-term resource sustainability and meet the high levels of urban demand, given the lack of alternative energy sources.