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.

Does burning elm in the fire make sense? In this guide, we’ll look at whether elm makes good firewood and how it compares to other varieties of wood.

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, splitting with an axe or maul will be challenging. A chainsaw may be your best option.

Elm firewood burn qualities

1. Heat output

Heat output is an important consideration when evaluating firewood. 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 per cord 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.

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.   

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 best.

Chopping up elm is a good long-term play, but don’t expect to use it within a few months of felling the tree.

3. Ease of splitting

Splitting wood with an axe is a hell of a workout. Some wood, like pecan, is a breeze to process, but splitting elm is a whole new ballgame.

It is notoriously hard to split a cord of this wood, requiring a well-maintained axe, technique, and power. Some pieces are impossible to split without a chainsaw or hydraulic splitter.

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 can burn down a house or start bushfires 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 a pleasant fragrance that gives your house an enticing homely feel. If you enjoy smoking meat, you’ll also want to pay close attention to the aroma.

Unlike hickory or cherry, elm firewood wins no awards for its smell. It absorbs the aromas of its surroundings, so if the tree is near swampland or a septic line, look out! Another reason elm may smell is that it can house bugs, beetles, and diseases. However, 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 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. Dense wood like apple, honeylocust, and oak makes good coals.

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

7. Creosote build-up

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

Firewood with high sap content produces more creosote. Well-seasoned elm has low sap levels, so 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. Otherwise, follow these tips to expedite your elmwood 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 exposed to sunshine and wind.
  • Space out the rows: create a series of stacks with a 3-5” gap between each 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?

Hardwoods like oak, birch, ash, hickory, and maple are the best firewood for heating your home. They offer excellent heat output and burn for longer while having low sap levels. If you’re looking for a pleasant-smelling type of wood, 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 difficult 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 spread by elm bark beetles. Millions of trees around the world have been decimated by this disease, with the United States and Britain suffering significant losses. While the disease has created an ecological disaster, there is a lot of elm wood for fires.

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 tough 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 freezing day to do the chopping can help.

Can elm be used in woodworking projects?

Elm is a strong, versatile wood thanks to its interlocking grain. Use it to make wheels, boats, farm buildings, toys, furniture, and good-quality axe handles.

How do I know if the wood is elm?

Identifying elm wood is relatively simple. Look at the log’s grain and check for wavy annual rings, which are easier to see in the center rings. The tree leaves are 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 a fast-growing species that grows throughout North America. It offers excellent coals but has a lower heat output than other popular species like Siberian elm. Red elm produces more heat, is easier to split, and is invasive, making 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 scathing reviews for excessive smoke and unpleasant aroma, which could be because the wood is unseasoned.

If you choose elm for firewood, split it straight away. This stubborn wood becomes harder the longer it is left. Some may save themselves the trouble and use a splitter machine or chainsaw.

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