Elms are hardy trees that can live for over 300 years if disease doesn’t get to them. Their dense foliage makes them an excellent shade tree, but does burning elm in the fire make sense? How does it compare to other varieties of wood? In this guide, we’ll look at whether elm makes good firewood.

Is elm good for firewood?

Elm makes decent firewood that will keep a home cozy and warm in winter. Although it doesn’t provide the heat output that hardwoods like oak and hickory do, it is still an acceptable wood for burning. Keep in mind that elm needs to be seasoned for at least 12 months before use, or it’ll provide unpleasant levels of smoke.

  • Green elm is smoky and smelly so never burn this wood until it has been seasoned for at least 12 months.
  • Elm is okay for heat output, but it doesn’t compare to popular firewood options like hickory or oak.
  • Elm doesn’t pop and spark and has excellent coaling properties.
  • If you leave elm too long, it will be incredibly difficult to split with an axe or maul. A chainsaw may be your best option.

Elm firewood burn qualities

1. Heat output

To evaluate firewood, looking at heat output should be your first consideration. Whether you’re sitting around a campfire or relaxing at home, there’s no point in making a fire if it doesn’t provide warmth.

BTU measures heat output, so look for a higher value when choosing suitable firewood. American Elm provides 20.0 BTUs which is much higher than wood like spruce, red cedar, and fir. However, it scores poorly when stacked up against dogwood, Osage orange, and beech. Overall, elm ranks around the middle of the pack on heat.

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

Wood varietyHeat per Cord (Million BTUs)
Eastern Red Cedar13.0
White Fir14.6
American elm20.0
Siberian elm20.9
Red oak24.6
White oak29.1
Osage orange32.9

2. Smoke

Elm firewood has a bad reputation for smoking out the room, but don’t let that stop you from tossing it into a fire. Green wood has a high water content that gives off a lot of smoke, so make sure it’s fully seasoned. Give the wood at least one year, but two is even better. In a nutshell, chopping up elm is a good long-term play, but don’t expect to use it within a few months of felling the tree.

Compared to other popular wood types, elm emits a moderate level of smoke. It’s better than pine or Douglas fir, but not as good as ash, maple, walnut, oak, or cherry.   

3. Ease of splitting

Splitting wood with an axe is a hell of a workout and it’s a great feeling once the job is done. Some wood like pecan is a breeze to process, but splitting elm is a whole new ballgame. It is notoriously hard work splitting a cord of this wood, requiring a well-maintained axe, technique, and power. There will be some pieces that are borderline impossible to split without a chainsaw.

If you’re like us and find splitting wood cathartic, you may not feel the same way after dealing with elm. Consider yourself pre-warned. 

4. Sparks

Sparking and popping wood has the potential to burn down a house or start bush fires in the outdoors. It can also be unsettling when you’re trying to relax. Thankfully, elm produces minimal sparks, like most popular varieties of firewood. 

A flaming campfire giving off a lot of sparks.
Firewood that causes a lot of sparks can cause bush fires.

5. Aroma

Some types of firewood produce an amazing fragrance that gives your house an enticing homely feel. If you enjoy smoking meat, then you’ll also want to pay close attention to the aroma wood gives off.

Unlike hickory or cherry, elm firewood will win no awards for its smell. It absorbs the smells of its surroundings, so if the tree is near swampland or a septic line then look out! Another reason elm may smell is that it can house bugs, beetles, and diseases. You’ll find any bad smells will dissipate as the wood dries.

After a year it should have a neutral fragrance; it’ll have a preferable smell to catalpa, but still won’t match the aroma from burning cedar or applewood. Check out whether apple firewood is any good here.     

6. Coaling

The quality of coal produced by firewood impacts how well a fire burns and how long the fire will last. As a rule, wood that releases a lot of heat when burning will make good coals. That means wood like apple, honeylocust, and oak have excellent coaling properties.

Although elm’s BTU rating is lower than some other hardwoods, it still produces great coals. This makes it a great option for campfires. It is far superior to wood like willow and spruce for coaling.     

7. Creosote build-up

Creosote is a type of black tar that gets deposited on the inside of chimneys as a byproduct of burning wood. Although harmless in small amounts, too much isn’t ideal as it’s highly flammable and will also reduce chimney ventilation.

Firewood that’s high in sap content will produce a greater amount of creosote. Elm has low levels of sap, meaning you don’t have to worry about excessive creosote buildup. 

Tips for seasoning elm

Seasoned wood means it has been thoroughly dried. Burning elm that hasn’t been seasoned is not a good idea unless you’re desperate. The fragrance and smoke won’t be enjoyable.

Of course, there are ways to speed up the seasoning process. Living in a state like Texas is a good starting point. The hot, dry climate is ideal for seasoning. If you don’t have weather on your side, follow these tips to expedite your elm wood seasoning.

  • Stack in the right place: accelerate drying time by positioning the face of the stack towards the wind and avoiding shady areas.
  • Split the firewood: by splitting the logs, you increase the surface area that gets exposed to sunshine and wind.
  • Space out the rows: create a series of stacks with a 3-5” gap between each one to assist with air circulation.
  • Raise the wood: lay the wood on some planks or pallets to allow airflow under the wood.
  • Cover the wood: use a tarp to protect the stacks from rain and snow while keeping one side exposed to the wind.

Commonly asked questions

What is the best firewood?

The best firewood for heating your home are hardwoods like oak, birch, ash, hickory, and maple. They offer excellent heat output and burn for longer while having low levels of sap. If you’re looking for a pleasant-smelling type of wood then try hickory, apple, or walnut.

Is elm a hardwood?

Elm has a Janka hardness rating of 830 making it a soft hardwood. It has interlocked grains making it a tough wood that can be a challenge to split. 

Does elm firewood spark?

Elm is a good option if you don’t want firewood that sparks or pops. Unlike some wood such as pine, you won’t have to deal with hazardous sparks landing on people or starting fires.

What is Dutch elm disease?

Dutch elm disease is a fungal disease that gets spread by elm bark beetles. Millions of trees around the world have been decimated by this disease, with the United States and Britain suffering big losses. While the disease has created an ecological disaster, it has also meant there is a lot of elm wood on offer in forests.

American elm trees are great shade providers.

How hard is it to split elm?

Splitting elm is hard work with a maul or axe. The wood is extremely hard and if left to season first, is almost impossible to chop. Instead of chopping each log in half, focus on splitting the edges and work your way in. Sometimes waiting for a very cold day to do the chopping can help with splitting elm.

Can elm be used in woodworking projects?

Elm is a strong wood thanks to its interlocking grain. It is a versatile wood that can be used to make wheels, boats, farm buildings, toys, furniture, and good-quality axe handles.

How do I know if the wood is elm?

Working out wood varieties can be tricky, but with elm, it’s relatively simple. Look at the log’s grain and check for wavy annual rings. You’ll usually find the waviness is easier to see in the center rings. If you’re looking at the tree, check the leaves to see if they’re serrated with a slightly fuzzy layer on the underside. The leaves also grow individually along branches in a left-right-left type of pattern.  

What variety of elm is best for firewood?

American elm is commonly grown throughout North America as it grows quickly and is hardy. It offers excellent coals but has a slightly lower heat output than other popular species like Siberian elm. Red elm produces more heat, is easier to split, and is invasive which makes it a good option for firewood.

Summing up

Although elm doesn’t match up to popular firewood like oak or hickory, it’s still a reasonable choice for firewood. It often gets bad reviews for the smoke and aroma it gives off, but that’s because it hasn’t been dried for long enough.

If you choose elm for firewood, make sure it gets split straight away. It’s a stubborn wood that is hard to split and the longer you leave it, the harder it will get. Some may choose to save themselves the trouble and use a chainsaw to get the job done. 

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