Cedar trees are evergreen conifers that have a lovely woody fragrance and needle-like leaves. Although they come in various varieties, this article will focus on the Western red cedar and Eastern red cedar. They’re both commonly found in the United States and are also referred to as false cedars.
If you’d like to know whether cedar is good firewood, then read on. We’ll take a close look at how it compares to other popular varieties.
Is cedar good for firewood?
If you’re looking for firewood that offers high heat output, then cedar won’t be your best option. Eastern and Western red cedar both provide less heat than maple, black locust, and hickory. But don’t toss it away, the wood is excellent used as kindling or combined with other, slower-burning varieties like oak.
- Burns fast, producing low levels of heat.
- Poor coaling properties and gives off lots of sparks.
- Smoke gives off a nice aroma which many enjoy.
Cedar firewood burn qualities
1. Heat output
Anyone who lives in a cold climate should put heat output at the top of the list when evaluating firewood. Whether you’re sitting around a campfire or relaxing at home, you’ll need adequate warmth.
Cedar offers relatively low heat output compared to most other common firewood types. Western red cedar provides 18.2 million BTUs per cord while the Eastern variety only offers 13.0 million.
Cedar has similar BTU ratings as buckeye, sassafras, white pine, and spruce. Compared to the best firewoods on offer, it is much lower. Gambel oak and Osage Orange give off much more warmth than cedar.
Of course, low BTU doesn’t mean you shouldn’t burn the wood if you’ve got some old logs lying around. Cedar still makes useful kindling that lights easily, and it can be burned in the shoulder season when temperatures are still mild.
You can check out the following table that compares the heat output of cedar to various other common types of firewood.
|Wood variety||Heat per Cord (Million BTUs)|
|Eastern red cedar||13.0|
|Western red cedar||18.2|
Cedar tends to produce moderate levels of smoke, so if you’ve got an open fire, we wouldn’t suggest using this wood as your only fuel source. Wood stove owners won’t find smoky wood such a big issue.
Any firewood must be well seasoned before getting added to the fire. Green wood is high in moisture content and will create smoke while burning. Unseasoned wood is also a less efficient fuel; the fire uses much of its energy to evaporate water rather than giving off heat.
3. Ease of splitting
Splitting cedar can vary depending on the tree you’ve felled or the logs you buy. In general, Eastern red cedar is easy to split, while Western red cedar takes a bit more brute force. No matter what variety you have to chop, if you’ve got knotty, gnarly wood then it won’t be easy to process.
Remember to split cedar when it’s green as this will speed up the drying process. Waiting for an icy cold morning will make splitting any firewood easier. You can also buy a heavy-duty maul or splitting axe to make the job easier.
Cedar is notorious for sparking and popping as it burns. It is similar to pine, tamarack, and mulberry. This isn’t ideal because there’s a greater risk of unwanted fires or burns, whether you’re at home with an open fire or are sitting around a campfire.
In most cases, sparks aren’t a huge deal-breaker for choosing firewood. If you’ve got a wood stove or similar enclosed fire then sparking isn’t much of a safety risk. If you’ve got an open fireplace then make sure you have a fireguard in place.
Cedar rates as one of the best types of firewood for its fragrance. When burning cedar firewood, you can expect a pleasant-smelling fire that permeates the room.
- Eastern red contains pungent natural oils that are pleasant. Also known as aromatic cedar, it is used in chests and closets to keep unwanted insects away.
- Western red gives off an earthy, citrusy smell that some compare to a freshly sharpened pencil.
Any cedar will emit a decent aroma as it burns, much better than some cottonwood logs or unseasoned red oak.
If you enjoy the smell of cedar then you’ll find it makes great firewood for campfires. Just keep an eye on those sparks.
Firewood that has quality coals will provide heat that lasts longer. You won’t have to add wood to the fire as often.
Cedar ranks in the bottom few for coaling. That means you’ll need to constantly feed the fire if you need to maintain a hot, roaring fire.
You’ll need to restart the fire from scratch the next day. The embers will be burnt out, unlike popular wood like hickory. You may also like to check out our oak firewood review.
7. Creosote build-up
Creosote isn’t a big deal when you’re choosing firewood, it’s still worth mentioning. All firewood produces creosote as it burns, but some produce more than others. It’s an unpleasant black tar that gets deposited on the inside of a chimney as fires burn. Higher levels mean you’ll need to clean out the chimney more often.
Cedar does not produce high levels of creosote, so long as it’s properly seasoned. Green cedar contains sap and resin that will result in more buildup.
How long does it take to season cedar?
Cedar takes 6 months to season in hot, dry climates while 12 months is recommended for those living in cooler, damper areas. Split cedar dries out much quicker than large logs.
Burning this firewood prematurely will result in a smoky fire with less heat output than seasoned wood.
If you’ve got an old cedar tree that’s been dead for years then seasoning time will also be reduced. Most of the moisture content will already have left the wood.
Tips for seasoning cedar
There are plenty of ways to speed up the cedar seasoning process. We’ve pulled together some handy advice to dry your firewood faster.
- Choose the right place: reduce drying time by facing the stack towards the wind and steering clear of shady areas.
- Split the firewood: chopping logs into smaller pieces increases the surface area that’s exposed to wind and heat.
- Make gaps in the rows: build stacks with a 3-5” gap between each one for increased circulation of air.
- Raise the wood: lay the cedar on planks or cinder blocks to create airflow beneath.
- Cover the firewood: use a tarp or suitable cover to protect the stacks from snow and rain while keeping one side exposed to the wind.
Commonly asked questions
When is the best time to chop cedar for firewood?
It is best to split cedar for firewood between winter and early spring. During this cold time of year, moisture content and sap are lower, so the wood seasons quicker.
Is cedar good for smoking meat?
Cedar is a resinous softwood that shouldn’t be used for smoking meat. It adds an unpleasant taste to food and creates soot that makes cleaning the smoker or grill tough work. Better hardwood options for smoking food include hickory, cherry, or apple.
How can I identify cedar?
An Eastern red cedar has short, needle-like leaves with thin, light brown outer bark than can be peeled off to reveal an orange inner bark.
Western red cedar has leaves that are in pairs on each side of the branch. They produce a strong fragrance if you crush them in your hand. The bark has vertical ridges that run down the tree.
True vs false cedars
True cedars are a part of the Pinaceae family which consists of four species. These coniferous evergreens are native to the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean through to the western Himalayas. Their wood is fragrant and can be identified by their upright cones that have a characteristic barrel shape.
False cedars come from alternative genera and families. Many are evergreen conifers from the family Cupressaceae. They often have longer leaves that form fan sprays or are awl-shaped. This is in contrast to true cedars that have clusters of short needles.
Common varieties of cedar
|Common name||Botanical name||Native area||Height||Notes|
|Cedar of Lebanon||Cedrus libani||Lebanon||4-100 feet||An excellent shade tree that will tolerate the cold.|
|Deodar Cedar||Cedrus deodara||Western Himalayas||40-70 feet||A popular weeping tree.|
|Atlas Cedar||Cedrus atlantica||Atlas Mountains||40-60 feet||Long drooping branches with unique bluish needles.|
|Cyprus Cedar||Cedrus brevifolia||Cyprus||40 feet||Short branches and umbrella-shaped crown.|
|Incense Cedar||Calocedrus decurrens||Mexico, Western United States||30-50 feet||Highly aromatic needles.|
|Eastern Red Cedar||Juniperus virginiana||Eastern North America||50 feet||Fragrant tree with cones that attract birdlife.|
|Western Red Cedar||Thuja plicata||Pacific Northwest||50-70 feet||A common false cedar that doesn’t enjoy the heat.|
The pros and cons of cedar firewood
- Gives off a pleasant fragrance
- Relatively easy to split
- Good kindling or shoulder season wood
- Low heat output
- Poor coaling
- Pops and sparks a lot
Most firewood is suitable for burning, especially if it’s free! But some varieties are better than others. Cedar has a low heat output rating and its coals are poor. For these reasons, we suggest using the wood as kindling or combined with other slower-burnings wood like maple.
If you live in a climate that doesn’t get too cold and you’re happy to keep feeding the fire, cedar will do the job. It sparks a lot though, so keep a fireguard up if you have an open fireplace.