The aspen tree is a deciduous hardwood that thrives in cold, mountainous parts of the world. It is found throughout the western states of the United States, although the tree’s numbers are greatest in Colorado and Utah.

Aspen is used for making crates, toys, furniture, and construction studs, but is it worth splitting for the fire? This guide looks at the pros and cons of aspen and whether it makes good firewood.

Should I use aspen for firewood?

Aspen is a fast-growing, sustainable firewood that is easy to split and offers minimal sparks and smoke. Its BTU heat output is low, so this wood is best used for kindling or mixed with denser hardwoods like oak or beech.

  • Straight fibers make it easy to split.
  • Relatively low heat output.
  • Burns clean with little sparking.
  • Mild or neutral fragrance when burning.
An infographic showing aspen firewood performance statistics
Dashboard stats for aspen firewood.

Aspen firewood burn qualities

1. Heat output

Heat output is an important consideration when evaluating firewood. A higher BTU means less wood is needed to keep the home warm through winter.

Aspen firewood provides 18 million BTUs of heat per cord, similar to softwoods like cottonwood and white pine. That’s much lower than popular hardwoods such as oak and maple.

  • Low BTU shouldn’t stop you from burning aspen; it lights easily and makes excellent kindling.
  • Aspen can also be used as a handy way to reduce the annual firewood expense. It is typically cheaper than dense varieties like oak, so mix it to reduce your heating bill.
  • Those who live in milder climates may find aspen suitable as a primary source of firewood. Burning a few logs each night will take the chill off the air, creating a cozy home.

Check out the following table comparing the heat output of aspen to various other common types of firewood.  

Wood varietyHeat per Cord (Million BTUs)
White fir14.6

2. Smoke

An eye-watering smokey fire is no fun. No matter what wood you burn, it needs adequate seasoning before burning. Unseasoned green wood is high in water content, smoking excessively as it burns. It is also much less efficient, using its energy to evaporate water instead of giving off heat.

Properly seasoned aspen burns clean and won’t fill the room with smoke. It is a better option than conifers like spruce or pine.

3. Ease of splitting

Aspens are classified as hardwoods, but they’re much softer than most. Its straight grain and soft wood make for easy-splitting wood.

Keep in mind some rounds may be twisted and full of knots. These will require a heavy-duty maul or splitting axe to break apart. For most people, though, splitting is a simple task.

Splitting aspen when it’s green is usually the best option. The wood splits with less effort, and you’ll speed up the drying process.

4. Sparks

Popping and sparking can create a fire hazard. Random embers may burn the carpet or your skin. Thankfully aspen burns clean without a fireworks display.

For a fast-growing tree, aspen is low in resin. Although it has some sap, drying will remove most of this. Low amounts of sap and resin mean very little popping and sparking.  

5. Aroma

Aspen gives off little or no fragrance as it burns. Meat smokers and roasters that enjoy adding flavor from the fire should combine aspen with another variety of firewood like hickory or apple.

Most will enjoy the mild smell that comes from aspen as it burns. However, those preferring a more pungent scent may want to look for fruit trees that provide a pleasant fragrance in the fire.

6. Coaling

Firewood that produces excellent coals will provide longer-lasting heat. Aspen isn’t ideal for coaling, so the fire needs frequent feeding to keep up the heat intensity.

Dense wood like oak, maple, and hickory are better choices for their coaling properties.

7. Creosote buildup

Creosote is a highly flammable substance that deposits inside chimneys as the fire burns. Regular flu cleaning is needed to prevent unwanted fires.

While some tree varieties produce high levels of creosote, aspen has no more than popular hardwoods like black locust. The firewood must be well-seasoned first, to reduce its moisture content.

A common aspen tree isolated on white background
A common aspen tree makes decent firewood.

How long does it take to season aspen?

Aspen firewood that’s been split will take 6-12 months to season depending on the climate. Reduce seasoning time by using fallen trees that have already lost moisture. Alternatively, some firewood sellers offer kiln-dried wood that’s ready for the fire.

Tips for seasoning aspen

There is a range of options for speeding up the seasoning of aspen. Living in a warm, dry climate is an excellent starting point. You can also accelerate the drying time by following these tips:

  • Position correctly: face the cut ends towards the prevailing wind and avoiding shady, damp areas.
  • Space out the rows: build stacks with a small gap between each one to help circulate the air.
  • Chop the wood: split the logs to increase the surface area exposed to sunlight and wind.
  • Raise the wood: lay the aspen on planks or pallets to create airflow beneath.
  • Cover the pile: use a tarp to protect the stacks from rain and snow while keeping one side exposed to the wind.
  • Stack properly: Learn some useful firewood stacking techniques and lots more in our guide to firewood storage.

Types of aspen

The main types of aspens in the U.S. are big tooth and quaking.

Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides): A straight, deciduous tree that can reach 80 feet tall. This species has smooth white bark and thrives in cold, elevated regions. Also known as the trembling aspen, white poplar, American aspen, or mountain aspen.

Bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata): A short-living tree rarely growing above 60 feet. Other names include Canadian poplar and white poplar.

A small stack of split aspen firewood on a white background
A pile of aspen ready to burn.

Commonly asked questions

When is the best time to chop aspen for firewood?

When practical, chop down aspens between winter and early spring. During this cold time of year, sap and moisture content is lower, resulting in faster-seasoning wood.

Is aspen good for smoking meat?

Aspen has a very mild aroma and isn’t recommended for smoking meat, as your food won’t have much additional flavor. The wood also burns fast, which isn’t ideal for smoking. Better options for meat smoking include cherry, hickory, or apple. Get our complete list of cooking woods here.

How can I identify aspen firewood?

To identify aspen wood, look for smooth gray or greenish-white bark. The heartwood is often light brown, while the wide sapwood section is off-white or pale yellow. Aspen has a uniform medium texture and a straight grain.

Is aspen firewood expensive?

The price for a cord of aspen will generally range between $150 to $250 in the United States. While this is less than varieties like oak, remember that aspen burns fast. You may need 50% more wood to provide the same heat.

Can I burn aspen wood in a fire pit?

Aspen burns clean and is suitable for firepits. However, it burns quickly, so denser hardwoods are a better option. Aspen is an excellent fuel for getting firepits started. Learn how hardwoods compare to softwoods here.

5 fast facts about the aspen

  1. The aspen tree is part of the Salicaceae (willow) family.
  2. They are members of the Populus genus, along with the poplar and cottonwood. 
  3. Forests of aspen are popular with wildlife like deer, moose, bears, birds, and elk.
  4. Aspens grow from Alaska and Canada down to Mexico.
  5. The trees’ iconic leaves shimmer in the breeze, putting on an impressive show.

Summing up

This article discusses whether aspen makes good firewood by examining its qualities such as heat output, smoke, ease of splitting, sparks, aroma, coaling, and creosote buildup.

Aspen is a fast-growing and sustainable type of wood that is easy to split and produces minimal smoke and sparks. But its BTU heat output is relatively low, so it is best used for kindling or mixed with denser hardwoods.

Aspen is a reasonable primary heat source for those living in milder climates. It is also a handy wood to take the chill off the air in the shoulder seasons.

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