The catalpa is a fast-growing deciduous tree that enjoys the warmer regions of East Asia, the Caribbean, and North America. It grows to a height of 40-60 feet and has soft wood that’s useful for furniture making.

If you’d like to know whether catalpa is good for firewood, then keep reading. We’ve pulled together a super-handy guide that compares this type of wood to other popular firewood varieties.

Is catalpa good for firewood?

Catalpa is considered below-average firewood that has low heat output and is best for using in the shoulder season or as kindling. It may produce moderate levels of smoke, and some consider its aroma to be unpleasant. If you can get catalpa for free it’s probably worth using, but we wouldn’t recommend spending too much money on the stuff.

  • Gives off low levels of heat and burns fast.
  • Some varieties give off a foul odor when burnt.
  • Difficulty to split ranges from moderate to difficult.
  • Is good firewood combined with slower-burning wood.
Infographic showing catalpa firewood statistics
Catalpa firewood data

Catalpa firewood burn qualities

1. Heat output

Heat output is an important consideration when you’re deciding which firewood is best for your home. It needs to provide adequate warmth, especially if you’re in a freezing part of the world.

Catalpa provides 16.4 million BTUs per cord which is at the lower end of the spectrum. That’s at a similar level to white pine, aspen, and hemlock. Its heat output is lower than popular hardwoods like beech and oak.

A low BTU rating doesn’t mean the firewood isn’t worth using though. If you’ve got some logs lying around, catalpa will make useful kindling, and it can be burned in the shoulder season when temperatures are still mild. You may also want to combine catalpa with other wood that has better coaling properties like oak.

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

Wood varietyHeat per Cord (Million BTUs)
White fir14.6
White pine15.9
American Elm20.0
White oak29.1

2. Smoke

Catalpa will give off moderate levels of smoke when it burns. While it’s not as bad as firewood like Douglas fir, you may end up with red eyes if you’ve got an open fire. Wood stove owners won’t find smoky wood a big issue.

Keep in mind that all firewood needs seasoning before it’s tossed in the fire. Wood that is still green is high in water content and will smoke as it burns. This is inefficient as the fire uses its energy to burn off the water rather than produce heat.

3. Ease of splitting

People have mixed opinions on how easy it is to split catalpa firewood. If you get lucky, the wood will be straight-grained and easy to chop into small pieces or kindling. However, some catalpa is very difficult to split. Most would agree that rounds of catalpa are tougher to split than willow or spruce.     

Try to split catalpa when it’s still green as this accelerates the drying process. If you’re finding it difficult to split, then wait for an icy cold morning to make the task easier. A good quality splitting axe or maul will also help. 

4. Sparks

Catalpa doesn’t give off a lot of sparks as it burns. It’s a better option than pine, larch, or mulberry. This is great because there is less chance of burning the carpet or starting an unwanted fire.

Although catalpa doesn’t spark and pop much, you should still take care if you have an open hearth or are out camping. One random spark when your back is turned could create a fire hazard

5. Aroma

Burning catalpa has a mild, spicy kind of fragrance that gets mixed ratings. While some think it’s okay, others find it extremely unpleasant, describing the smell as foul. 

If you need wood for smoking, we don’t recommend catalpa as it burns fast and many people don’t enjoy its aroma. Barbecue enthusiasts and meat smokers are better off using another variety of firewood like cherry or hickory.

6. Coaling

Firewood that produces good quality coals means you’ll enjoy the warmth for longer than wood that has poor coals. There’s also less need to keep adding more wood to the fire, so you set the fire and then relax.  

While catalpa is technically a hardwood, its density is soft and fast burning. This firewood pales in comparison to beech or cherry. 

The next morning, you’ll need to restart the fire from scratch if it’s a cold one. The embers will have burnt out long ago.

If you are looking for firewood that produces excellent coals, we suggest checking out our review of oak firewood.

7. Creosote build-up

Any firewood will create creosote build-up inside the flue. This is a black tar-like residue that can block up chimneys if left long enough. You’ll find that well-seasoned catalpa doesn’t produce high levels of creosote.  

How long does it take to season catalpa?

Catalpa will take 6-8 months to season in hot, dry climates. Those living in cooler, damper areas are best to give the wood at least 12 months before burning. Burning firewood too soon will result in a smoky fire with less heat output than properly dried wood.

You’ll reduce the seasoning time if you’ve got an old catalpa tree that’s been dead for some time. Most of the moisture will have already been removed.

Tips for seasoning catalpa

To speed up the seasoning of catalpa, follow these helpful tips that don’t require a lot of extra work.

  • Position correctly: reduce drying time by pointing the exposed stack towards the wind and avoiding shady areas.
  • Split the firewood: chopping up your wood will increase the surface area that’s exposed to heat and wind.
  • Cover the wood: use a tarp or similar cover to protect the stacks from elements like snow and rain.
  • Lift up the wood: lay the catalpa on planks of wood to create airflow beneath.
  • Set up gaps between the rows: build stacks with a 3-5” gap between each to encourage air circulation.
A young catalpa tree isolated on a white background
A young catalpa tree.

Commonly asked questions

When is the best time to chop catalpa for firewood?

Try to split catalpa for firewood between winter and early spring. Sap and moisture content is lower during the colder months, resulting in wood that seasons quicker.

How can I identify catalpa?

A catalpa tree can be identified by its scaly browning-gray bark and heart-shaped leaves that grow in whorls of three. They also have long inedible seed pods which hang from the tree branches.

If it’s spring, you can also look for trumpet-shaped blooms that are a giveaway sign you’re looking at a catalpa.

Catalpa tree with a lot of seed pods and blue sky in the background
Catalpa trees produce long inedible seed pods.

Fast facts

  • The catalpa tree is also known as the catawba, Indian bean tree, cigar tree, caterpillar tree, western catalpa, and hardy catalpa.
  • The tree is part of the family Bignoniaceae.
  • Catalpas have a lifespan that ranges from 50 to 150 years, making them excellent ornamental trees.
  • Three common species include the Southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides) which is native to the southeastern U.S.; Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) that’s native to the midwestern U.S.; and the Chinese catalpa (Catalpa ovata) which is a Western China native.

Summing up

Catalpa produces 16.4 million BTUs of heat per cord, which is lower than most popular varieties of firewood like oak or beech. It is best used in the shoulder seasons or split into kindling.

Well-seasoned catalpa will light easily and burn fast. If you use it without another type of slower-burning wood, you’ll have to frequently add more to the fire.

If you can get catalpa for free or at a low price, then it’s worth burning. Otherwise, you’ll usually find better types of firewood on offer.

Similar Posts