The alder tree is a fast-growing evergreen conifer that thrives in the north temperate zone. It makes a handy windbreak and the wood is used for pulp, timber veneers, and plywood. If you’d like to know whether alder makes good firewood, then keep reading. We’ll take a close look at how it compares to other popular varieties.
Is alder good for firewood?
If you’re looking for firewood that offers high heat output, then alder isn’t your best option. At 17.5 million BTUs per cord, it provides less heat than hardwoods like black locust, Osage orange, and hickory.
If you got the alder for free, then don’t write it off just yet. The wood is excellent combined with other, slower-burning varieties like maple or oak. You can also chop it into kindling as it lights easily and burns fast.
- Gives off low levels of heat relative to popular hardwoods.
- A soft type of hardwood that’s easy to split (most of the time).
- Provides decent coals that last longer than most softwoods.
- Excellent for meat smoking and barbecuing.
Alder firewood burn qualities
1. Heat output
If you reside in a cold climate, then put heat output at the top of your list when evaluating firewood. You need to stay warm, whether you’re crouched around the campfire or sitting next to the wood stove.
Alder offers relatively low heat output compared to hardwoods like oak and apple. Alder provides 17.5 million BTUs per cord which is similar to aspen and catalpa.
Firewood with a low BTU may still be suitable for burning, especially if it’s free! You may not use alder during the heart of winter in arctic conditions, but it’s fine for burning in the shoulder season when temperatures are mild. You can also burn it with other firewood types or simply use it for kindling.
Check out the following table that compares the heat output of alder to various other common types of firewood.
|Wood variety||Heat per Cord (Million BTUs)|
Well-seasoned alder doesn’t produce a lot of smoke. It’s great for campfires, wood stoves, and open fireplaces.
The firewood must be seasoned sufficiently before it’s tossed in the fire. Moisture-laden wood will create smoke while burning. It is also a less efficient fuel, using most of its energy to evaporate water rather than keeping you warm.
3. Ease of splitting
Splitting alder is easy thanks to its straight grain and soft wood. Occasionally, you’ll get unlucky and fell a tree that takes a bit more brute force. Of course, any type of tree that has knotty and gnarly wood won’t be easy to split.
Split alder when it’s still green to speed up the drying process.
However, for most people sparks aren’t a huge deal-breaker when they choose firewood.
Anyone with a woodstove or enclosed fire won’t be too affected by sparking. Some may find popping frightens them as they doze off in front of the television.
If you’ve got an open fireplace, make sure to keep the fireguard in place.
At Axe Adviser, we love alder for its fragrance. It may not have the same punchiness as hickory, but it’s a versatile wood if you enjoy grilling and smoking food. Fish like salmon and trout and any meat is delicious cooked using alder.
Aroma-wise, alder is one of the best types of firewood for burning in the house. You can expect a pleasant-smelling fire that isn’t too overwhelming.
For a relatively low-density wood, alder produces fairly decent coals. That means you’ll get a fire that gives off heat for longer. You won’t have to keep getting up to add more wood to the fire.
Alder won’t compete with oak or beech for its coaling properties. You’ll still need to restart the fire from scratch the next day, although for many this won’t be a deal-breaker.
7. Creosote build-up
Creosote gets released by all firewood as it burns, but some varieties produce more than others. It is a type of black tar that gets deposited on the inside of a chimney. The greater the creosote that’s given off, the more often you’ll need to clean out the chimney.
When you’re choosing firewood, creosote isn’t a major consideration unless it gives off a lot of the stuff. Unlike pine, alder isn’t bad for creosote, so long as it is sufficiently seasoned.
How long does it take to season alder?
Alder takes about 6 months to season in hot, dry climates while 12 months is best for those living in cooler, damper areas. Split alder will dry out faster than if they’re left as logs.
Burning alder prematurely will result in a smoky fire with less heat output than seasoned wood.
Old alder trees that have been dead for a while won’t need as much seasoning. Much of the wood’s water content will have already dried up.
Tips for seasoning alder
If you’re looking to speed up the alder seasoning process, check out these handy tips.
- Start by splitting: chopping rounds into small pieces will help by increasing the surface area exposed to wind and heat.
- Lift the wood: by laying the alder on blocks of wood, you’ll create airflow underneath the stack.
- Separate the rows: create wood piles with a 3-5” gap between each one to increase air circulation.
- Cover the wood: use a cover like a tarpaulin to keep snow and rain away from the firewood.
- Position correctly: face the wood stack towards the wind and avoid shady areas.
Commonly asked questions
When is the best time to chop alder for firewood?
If possible, split alder into firewood between winter and early spring. There is less moisture content and sap at this time of year, so the wood seasons quicker.
How can I identify an alder tree?
Alder trees are best identified by their strobile, distinctive brown cones that appear during the fall. They are cones about 1 inch in length that hand from twigs with orange markings. The cones don’t fall off the tree until the next spring.
How can I identify alder firewood?
Freshly chopped alder is white and has a relatively straight grain. The wood rapidly turns light brown once exposed to air and may also have a red or yellow hue.
How do I tell the difference between alder and birch?
Although both trees have similar oval leaves with serrated edges, you’ll find that alders have a more rounded shape while birch leaves are pointed at the tip.
The pros and cons of alder firewood
- Gives off a pleasant aroma when burning
- Easy to split most of the time
- Makes useful kindling or shoulder season wood
- Low heat output
- May pop and spark
4 facts about alder trees
- The alder tree has the botanical name Alnus and is a part of the birch family Betulaceae.
- There are roughly 35 species of alder trees and shrubs that mostly range from 40-80 feet in height.
- Common varieties include the Green Alder (Alnus viridis), Black Alder (Alnus glutinosa), Red Alder (Alnus rubra), Italian Alder (Alnus cordata), Gray Alder (Alnus incana), Hazel Alder (Alnus serrulata).
- Small seeds within the strobiles of the alder are a useful food supply to mammals and birds during winter.
Most wood is okay to burn, especially if you can get it for free. But some are better than others. Alder produces relatively low heat output, and it tends to pop and spark. We suggest using alder from kindling or combining it with other slower-burning wood like oak.
If you live in a mild climate, then alder will do the job fine. Remember to keep a fireguard up if you have an open fireplace, to keep your home safe.