The birch tree is a small to medium-sized tree that is commonly found in the cooler parts of the Northern hemisphere. Its distinctive papery bark and colorful leaves make the tree a popular choice for landscaping.
If you’ve got an old birch that’s ready to be felled, you may be wondering whether it burns well? In this guide, we’ll take a close look at whether birch makes good firewood and how it compares to other popular varieties.
Is birch good for firewood?
Birch makes useful firewood that produces moderate levels of heat and gives off a pleasant fragrance when burning. It tends to burn fast, so use it with slower burning oak, beech, or another hardwood that has better coaling properties. The bark from a birch tree is excellent for starting or re-starting fires as it burns fiercely.
- Will rot quickly if left in rounds.
- Moderate heat and poor coaling properties.
- Gives off a pleasant smell and doesn’t spark.
- Splitting ranges from easy to moderate difficulty.
Birch firewood burn qualities
1. Heat output
The amount of heat firewood gives off is an important consideration when you’re deciding whether to use it in the fire. Whether you’re sitting around a campfire or relaxing at home, you want it to provide enough warmth.
Birch provides 20.8 million BTUs per cord which is rated low-moderate when compared to other types of wood. It’s similar to cherry, Douglas fir, and elm for heat production.
The heat produced by birch is lower than most popular hardwoods like apple and hickory. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t burn birch if you’ve got some rounds available. Birch makes great kindling, and it can be burned in the shoulder season when temperatures are still mild.
Check out the following table comparing the heat output of birch to various other common types of firewood.
|Heat per Cord (Million BTUs)
|Eastern red cedar
Birch generally produces moderate levels of smoke, so you may get a little smoked-out if you’ve got an open fire. Wood stove owners won’t find the smoke levels a big issue.
All firewood should be well seasoned before burning. Green wood contains a lot of water and will create smoke as it burns. Unseasoned wood is also much less efficient. Instead of producing heat, the fire uses its energy to evaporate water.
3. Ease of splitting
Birch isn’t the easiest type of wood to split and may require more effort than straight-grained willow firewood or spruce.
Split the wood when it’s green to speed up the drying process. Waiting for a frosty cold morning will make splitting firewood easier. You can also invest in a splitting axe or heavy-duty maul to make the job less of a struggle.
Birch starts to rot quickly if it isn’t split soon after the tree is felled. Even when the tree is still standing, it will begin rotting once the tree dies. If you have any birch rounds that can’t be split immediately, use an axe or chainsaw to remove the inner and outer bark. This will stop the moisture under the bark from speeding up the rotting.
Birch firewood doesn’t produce many sparks. It’s much better than options like larch, pine, or mulberry. This is good because there’s a lower risk of unwanted fires or carpet burns.
Although sparking and popping are low when burning birch, take care if you’re camping or have an open hearth. It only takes one random spark to create a fire hazard.
Birch firewood performs well on fragrance once it’s tossed into a fire. The aroma will vary depending on the variety of birch. For example, yellow birch emits a lovely wintergreen smell as you split the wood. River birch is also a popular option for its fragrance once burning. White birch provides less smell, but it is still pleasant.
The wood is prone to patches of rot, which results in an unpleasant aroma once it’s tossed in the fire. As mentioned above, split birch as early as possible.
Meat smokers and barbecue enthusiasts will enjoy using birch for cooking fish and meat. Hickory and apple are also great options for this purpose.
Firewood with good coaling properties will provide longer-lasting heat. It also means you don’t have to constantly throw extra wood into the fire to keep it burning.
Birch ranks in the middle of the pack for coaling. It doesn’t burn as fast as pine or boxelder, but it’s not as good as oak, beech, or Osage orange.
Next morning, you’ll need to restart the fire as the embers will be burnt out. You may also like to check out our beech firewood review.
7. Creosote build-up
Creosote is a form of black tar that gets deposited on the inside of chimneys as a fire burns. Firewood will create varying levels of creosote, depending on the variety. Higher levels mean you’ll need to maintain the chimney regularly.
Birch won’t produce high levels of creosote, so long as it’s seasoned properly. Once fully dried out, any sap or resin that creates soot will have gone.
How long does it take to season birch?
Birch should only take 6 months to season in warm, dry climates while 12 months is recommended for those living in cooler, damper areas. Some varieties, like black birch, will season quicker than yellow birch.
Burning firewood too soon will result in a smoky fire with less heat output than seasoned wood. Keep in mind that split birch will dry out much quicker than large rounds.
Tips for seasoning birch
To speed up the seasoning of birch, check out these handy tips.
- Elevate the wood: lay your chopped birch on planks or cinder blocks to create airflow underneath the stack.
- Chop the firewood: splitting wood increases the surface area that’s exposed to elements like heat and wind.
- Cover the wood: use a tarp or similar waterproof cover to protect the firewood from rain and snow while.
- Create gaps: build stacks with a 3-5” gap between each one to increase air circulation.
- Position correctly: reduce the wood’s drying time by avoiding shady areas and facing the stack towards the wind.
Commonly asked questions
When is the best time to chop birch for firewood?
Chop and split birch firewood between winter and early spring. During this cold time of year, moisture and sap content is reduced, resulting in wood that seasons quicker.
Is birch good for smoking meat?
Birch is popular for smoking meat as it usually has an aroma that is mildly sweet and pleasant. It adds more flavor to food than hickory, apple, or cherry.
How can I identify a birch tree?
You can identify a birch tree by its triangle-shaped leaves that have serrated edges. The grey, white, or yellow bark is often peeling off the trunk and it may also have diamond-shaped marks.
How can I identify birch firewood?
Birch firewood often has a straight grain with a uniform texture. It has a reddish-brown heartwood and white sapwood, with plain, wavy patterns.
7 Fast facts about the birch tree
- The birch tree is a deciduous hardwood that has around 40 species.
- It is from the genus Betula in the family Betulaceae.
- The tree is susceptible to disease and pests.
- They are found in temperate climates of North America, Europe, and Asia.
- The birch has a relatively short lifespan of 40-50 years but can live up to 200 years if the conditions are favorable.
- Most birch trees grow to around 40 feet in height although some species may reach 80 feet tall.
- A birch’s leaves and bark make them a popular choice for ornamentals.
Birch is decent firewood that’s great for burning in the fire. It may not offer the heat output that the best types of firewood offer, but it makes excellent shoulder season wood. You’ll also do well to combine it with longer-lasting firewood like oak.
While we wouldn’t pay top dollar for birch, you certainly shouldn’t say no if it’s free. If you lop down an old birch, split the wood as soon as possible or it’ll start rotting. Once that happens, the wood won’t be suitable for burning.