The butternut tree is a deciduous hardwood native to eastern North America. Its attractive, light wood is easy to work with, making it popular for carving.  

If you’d like to know whether butternut makes good firewood, then keep reading. We’ll closely examine how it compares to other popular varieties of wood.

Does butternut make good firewood?

Butternut firewood produces less heat than other alternatives like oak, so it’s a better option for shoulder season firewood. Its soft wood has below-average coaling properties, so you’ll need to feed the fire regularly to keep it blazing. Butternut is easy to split and won’t smoke and pop excessively if adequately seasoned.

The butternut tree is protected in Canada and is endangered in many parts of the United States. Only use this species for firewood if it has already fallen.

  • Burns fast and produces low heat output.
  • Easy to split with any type of axe.
  • Doesn’t give off a lot of smoke.
An infographic showing butternut firewood statistics

Butternut firewood burn qualities

1. Heat output

The heat given off by firewood should usually be your first consideration. Whether sitting around a campfire or relaxing at home, you want to stay warm.

Butternut outputs 14.5 million BTUs per cord, which is low. It is similar to buckeye, basswood, and cottonwood, which all have soft-textured wood.

The heat produced by butternut is a lot less than rock elm, hickory, or Osage orange. It is best for kindling or burning in the shoulder season when temperatures aren’t too cold. You can also combine butternut with another slower-burning wood like oak.

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

Wood varietyHeat per Cord (Million BTUs)
Eastern red cedar13.0
White oak29.1
Osage Orange32.9

2. Smoke

Seasoned butternut emits low to moderate levels of smoke. It is suitable for burning on campfires or inside the home.

Any firewood should be seasoned before getting tossed into the fire. Green wood contains a lot of water and will give off a lot of smoke as it burns. Unseasoned wood is also an inefficient type of fuel. The fire uses its energy to evaporate water rather than give off heat.

3. Ease of splitting

Although butternut is considered a hardwood, it is soft and typically has a straight grain. It is easy to split using almost any axe, although a specialized splitting axe or maul will make life easier.

Some people may come across a tree that is hard to split. If it’s riddled with knots, splitting will be much more challenging. For most, though, the job should be a breeze.

Remember to split butternut when green, so the drying process is quicker.

4. Sparks

Once fully seasoned, butternut shouldn’t spark or pop too much. It tends to burn clean but fast. 

If you have an open hearth or are out camping, you should still keep an eye on the fire. Any random popping and sparking could result in burns to the carpet or your skin. A fire guard is essential for indoor open fires.

5. Aroma

Keen meat smokers and barbecue cooks will find better options for cooking food. Butternut will generally provide very little fragrance as it burns. Popular alternative varieties include apple, hickory, cherry, and maple.

6. Coaling

Wood with excellent coaling properties will provide heat for longer – unfortunately, butternut rates poorly for coaling. You will need to feed the fire frequently through the night in cold winters.

Unlike oak, which you may be able to restart the following day, butternut won’t have any smoldering coals. You’ll need to build a fire from scratch.

7. Creosote build-up

Creosote builds up on chimneys over time. It is a black tar-like substance that will cause blockages if left long enough.

Butternut won’t produce high levels of creosote if the wood has been sufficiently seasoned. Check out the next section on drying firewood to learn more.

A butternut (white walnut) tree on isolated white background
The white walnut is a slow-growing tree.

How long does it take to season butternut?

Butternut takes 12 months to season in hot, dry climates and 18 months for those living in cold, damp areas. Burning firewood too soon will result in a smoky fire that won’t reach its heat potential.

Tips for seasoning butternut

If you’re in a hurry to use your new wood, speed up the drying time by following these practical tips:

  • Chop up logs: splitting large bits into smaller pieces increases the surface area exposed to wind and heat.
  • Position correctly: speed up drying time by staying away from shady areas and pointing the wood stack towards the wind.
  • Raise the stack: lay the butternut on pallets or planks to create airflow beneath.
  • Cover the wood: covering the wood keeps unwanted rain and snow off the stack.
  • Create gaps in the rows: build stacks with a 3-5” gap between each to promote air circulation.

Commonly asked questions

When is the best time to chop butternut for firewood?

Try to process fallen butternut trees for firewood between winter and early spring. This time of year is colder, and there is less sap and moisture content, resulting in wood that seasons quicker.

How do I identify a butternut tree?

A mature butternut tree has gray bark with shallow furrows and ashy ridges. They have compound leaves made up of 11-17 leaflets arranged in a type of feather pattern.

The butternut looks a lot like a black walnut and has large nuts protected by a sticky green, fuzzy husk.

Closeup of butternut tree leaves
The leaves of a butternut tree (white walnut).

How can I identify butternut firewood?

Butternut wood has a straight grain, and its sapwood is a pale yellow color. The heartwood has distinct grain patterns and is usually light to medium tan.

7 fast facts about butternut trees

  1. The botanical name for butternut is Juglans cinerea, a member of the Walnut family.
  2. Another common name for the butternut is the white walnut.
  3. The tree thrives in well-drained soil and may reach a height of 40-60 feet.
  4. A fungus known as butternut canker (Sirococcus clavigignenti-juglandacearum) has devastated the population. Read More.
  5. The tree is slow-growing and rarely lives past 75 years.
  6. The wood is rot-resistant and a lot softer than black walnut.
  7. Butternut wood was favored for boxes, furniture, wood carving, cabinetry, duck decoys, and church altars.

Summing up

Butternut shouldn’t be your first choice for firewood as it burns fast and has a low heat output rating of 14.5 million BTUs. It doesn’t compare to hickory or oak for heat or coaling.

If you’ve got a fallen butternut tree on your property, you may want to use it for woodwork projects. It produces beautiful results, and you should find it easy to sell for this reason.

If you’re in a pinch, use butternut for firewood. It burns quickly, making it ideal for kindling. It’s also a decent choice for keeping your home in the shoulder season.

You’ll be kept busy, frequently adding more to the fire. Consider combining this firewood with other slow-burning wood like cherry or maple if you can get it.

Similar Posts