The boxelder tree is a drought-resistant variety of maple that is native to the United States. Its wood doesn’t have much commercial value, often used for wood pulp, boxes, or cheap furniture. If you’d like to know whether boxelder is good firewood, then read on. We’ll take a close look at how it compares to other popular varieties.

Is boxelder good for firewood?

Boxelder isn’t great firewood, offering below-average heat output and poor coaling. It is also known to give off a foul aroma and moderate levels of smoke in the fire. At best, we recommend using boxelder for kindling or combining it with other wood like oak.

  • Burns fast, producing low levels of heat.
  • May produce a bad aroma, especially if rotten.
  • Low sparking but moderate levels of smoke.
  • A soft core that tends to rot quickly.
Infographic of boxelder firewood data

Boxelder firewood burn qualities

1. Heat output

If you live in a cold climate, then heat output should be your first consideration when evaluating firewood. Whether you’re sitting around a campfire or relaxing at home, you want it to provide adequate warmth.

Boxelder provides 18.3 million BTUs per cord which is at the lower end of the spectrum. That’s at a similar level to aspen, white pine, Western red cedar, and hemlock firewood.

The heat produced by boxelder is lower than most hardwoods like apple, hickory, or rock elm. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t burn it if you’ve got some old logs lying around. Boxelder still 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 boxelder to various other common types of firewood.  

Wood varietyHeat per Cord (Million BTUs)
Eastern red cedar13.0
White pine15.9
Western red cedar18.2
Black Locust27.9
Bitternut hickory29.2
Shagbark hickory30.6
Rock elm32.0

2. Smoke

Boxelder often produces moderate levels of smoke, so you may end up with a smoked-out house and watering, red eyes if you’ve got an open fire. Wood stove owners won’t find smoky wood such be a big issue.

Any firewood must be well seasoned before getting tossed in the fire. Green wood is high in water content and will create smoke as it burns. Unseasoned wood is also much less efficient; the fire uses all its energy to evaporate water rather than produce heat.

3. Ease of splitting

Although some may hit the jackpot with straight-grained wood, most find boxelder difficult to split. Over time, it tends to become gnarly with plenty of knots as well. If you’re used to spruce, willow, or bur oak, then your first time splitting boxelder will be a challenge.   

You’ll want to split boxelder when it’s green as this will speed up the drying process. Waiting for an icy cold morning will make splitting firewood easier. You may also want to invest in a heavy-duty maul or splitting axe to make the job easier.

4. Sparks

You won’t have to deal with many sparks using boxelder firewood. It’s much better than options like pine, mulberry, or larch. This is good because there’s a lower risk of burnt carpet or unwanted fires.

Keep in mind that even though sparking and popping are low, you should still take care if you’re camping or have an open hearth. All it takes is one random spark to create a fire hazard.

5. Aroma

Boxelder firewood doesn’t perform well on fragrance once it’s tossed into a fire. The wood is prone to patches of rot, which results in a foul stench that some find extremely unpleasant.

Not all boxelder firewood will smell. If you’re lucky, it may simply give off a slight unoffensive aroma.    

Meat smokers and barbecue enthusiasts are much better to use another variety of firewood like hickory or apple.

6. Coaling

Firewood that has quality coals will provide longer-lasting heat. It also means you don’t have to add wood to the fire as frequently.

Boxelder ranks in the bottom few for coaling. That means you’ll need to constantly feed the fire if you want to keep its heat intensity up.

At Axe Adviser, our nickname for boxelder is gopher wood. Once a log gets tossed into the flames, it’s time to go-for more.

Next day you’ll need to restart the fire from scratch. The embers will be burnt out, unlike popular wood like oak. You may also like to check out our oak firewood review.

7. Creosote build-up

Creosote is an unpleasant black tar that gets deposited on the inside of a chimney as fires burn. Different firewood types create varying levels of the stuff. Higher levels mean you’ll need to clean out the chimney more often.

Although creosote isn’t a big deal when you’re choosing firewood, it’s still worth mentioning. Boxelder won’t produce high levels of creosote, so long as it’s seasoned properly.  

How long does it take to season boxelder?

Boxelder will take 6 months to season in hot, dry climates while 12 months is recommended for those living in cooler, damper areas. If you burn firewood too soon, it will result in a smoky fire with less heat output than seasoned wood.

Keep in mind that split boxelder will dry out much quicker than large logs. Big logs will hold their water as much as oak and maple.

Seasoning time can be reduced if you can find an old boxelder tree that’s been dead for years. Much of the moisture content will already have been removed from the wood.

The boxelder typically grows 30-50 feet tall.

Tips for seasoning boxelder

There are plenty of ways to speed up the seasoning of boxelder. Follow these handy tips to dry your wood faster.

  • Chop the firewood: splitting wood increases the surface area that’s exposed to wind and heat.
  • Lift up the wood: lay the boxelder on planks or cinder blocks to create airflow beneath.
  • Create gaps in the rows: build stacks with a 3-5” gap between each one to increase air circulation.
  • Cover the wood: use a tarp or suitable cover to protect the stacks from rain and snow while keeping one side exposed to the wind.
  • Position in the right place: reduce drying time by facing the stack towards the wind and avoiding shady areas.

Commonly asked questions

When is the best time to chop boxelder for firewood?

Boxelder should be chopped and processed for firewood between winter and early spring. During this cold time of year, sap and moisture content is lower, resulting in wood that seasons quicker.

Is boxelder good for smoking meat?

Boxelder isn’t ideal for smoking meat as it usually has a neutral aroma. If there’s any rot then the wood will have a pungent, offensive smell that isn’t what you want for smoked food! Better options for meat smoking include cherry, hickory, or apple.

How can I identify boxelder?

Boxelder has few branches with a short trunk that has greyish-brown, furrowed bark. Check the leaves for 5-7 leaflets that have sparsely serrated edges.   

Closeup of a boxelder branch showing its green leaves.
Boxelder leaves are slightly serrated.

Fast facts

  • The boxelder tree’s botanical name is Acer negundo from the family Sapindaceae.
  • Also known as boxelder maple, ash-leaved maple, or Manitoba maple.
  • Boxelder bugs are commonly found on the boxelder tree and are considered a nuisance pest in the United States.
  • The tree grows to a height of 25-50 feet and is considered the ugly duckling of the native tree world.
  • Boxelder is extremely heavy when wet but very light once dry.

Summing up

Most firewood is fine for burning, especially if it’s free! But some varieties are better than others. If you want quality firewood, then avoid boxelder as its heat production is low, it’s smoky, and the job of splitting isn’t easy.

If you’ve got the opportunity to get some for free, then consider using it with another hardwood that has better coaling properties. You’ll get more heat and constantly adding more wood to the fire won’t be necessary.

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