The juniper is an evergreen conifer that has needle-like leaves and a pleasant woody fragrance. This softwood comes in a range of shapes and sizes, so many of the smaller ornamentals are too small for firewood.
This article will discuss larger varieties like the Western and Rocky Mountain juniper. If you’d like to know whether juniper can be used for firewood, then read on. We’ll take a close look at how it compares to other popular varieties.
Is juniper good for firewood?
Juniper makes useful kindling and can be used as shoulder season firewood if you’re in a pinch. While this wood gives off reasonable heat, it burns fast which means you’ll need to top up the fire frequently to keep it going. Season juniper well before using or you’ll end up with a smoky, unpleasant fire that gives off minimal heat.
- The prickly needles are messy and unpleasant to handle.
- Burns fast and gives off smoke and sparks.
- Cedar is a better option if it’s available.
- Gives off moderate levels of heat as it burns.
Juniper firewood burn qualities
1. Heat output
If you live in a cold climate, heat output should be placed at the top of the list when evaluating firewood. You need to stay warm, whether it’s a relaxing night at home or huddled around a campfire.
Juniper provides moderate levels of heat, although this varies by species. The western juniper is a great option, providing 26.4 million BTUs per cord while the rocky mountain juniper variety offers 21.8 million. Alligator junipers have a BTU rating of only 17.2, similar to spruce and other pine trees.
Tip: Read our article on what is a cord of wood. It’s a super-helpful guide that anyone interested in firewood should check out.
With the exception of western juniper, we wouldn’t rely on this wood as a sole heat source to get through winter. Even with the western variety, you’ll be feeding the fire constantly to keep it going.
Juniper makes handy kindling that lights easily. The logs can also be burned in the shoulder season when temperatures are still mild. They’re excellent combined with a slower burning wood like oak.
Check out the following table that compares the heat output of juniper to various other common types of firewood.
|Wood variety||Heat per Cord (Million BTUs)|
|Rocky mountain juniper||21.8|
Juniper will typically produce moderate levels of smoke. Wood stove owners won’t find this a big problem, but anyone with an open fireplace will end up with a smoky room.
Seasoning the wood will go a long way to reducing smoke levels. If it’s still green then the wood will have high moisture content. This results in smoky fires that are less efficient. Instead of giving off heat the flames use their energy to evaporate water.
3. Ease of splitting
Juniper is a softwood that’s usually quite easy to split using a maul or splitting axe. Difficulty varies by species and the softer types like alligator juniper are especially easy to process.
No matter what variety you have to chop, if it’s knotted and gnarly wood then the job will be much harder. Waiting for a cold, icy morning will make splitting a little easier.
Split juniper when it’s green to make the drying process quicker.
Juniper is well-known for sparking and popping in the fire, similar to tamarack, mulberry, and pine. Although some may enjoy the fireworks display, it increases the chance of embers burning the carpet of starting an unwanted fire. Extra care should be taken if you’re using it in the outdoors.
For some, sparks won’t be a huge deal-breaker when choosing firewood. Anyone with a wood stove or enclosed fire have a much lower safety risk.
Juniper gives off a lovely fragrance as it burns, similar to cedar wood. Its welcoming smell is deep and rich, providing a subtle hint of juniper berries and pine needles.
The aromatic qualities of juniper firewood make it useful for adding wood smoke flavor to food. Game, vegetables, and fatty meat like pork are delicious slow cooked using some juniper chips. You’ll want to use some slower burning wood with juniper as it burns fast.
Juniper has poor coaling properties which will be a dealbreaker for many. This wood catches alight fast, then dies out just as quick. To maintain decent heat, you’ll have to constantly feed the fire.
Next morning, the fire will have long ago turned to ash. All the embers will have burnt out, meaning it needs to be restarted from scratch the next day.
7. Creosote build-up
Creosote is a sooty black buildup that gets deposited on the chimney walls as a fire burns. Higher levels mean you’ll need to clean out the chimney more often.
Unseasoned juniper contains a lot of sap and resin which produces high levels of creosote. Never burn green juniper. Properly dried juniper will give off less creosote, but it still won’t burn as cleanly as most popular hardwoods.
The pros and cons of juniper firewood
- Good kindling or shoulder season wood.
- Seasons fast, especially in dry climates.
- Gives off a pleasant aroma as it burns.
- Most varieties are easy to split.
- The chips are great for cooking with.
- Burns fast and provides few coals.
- Pops and sparks a lot as it burns.
- Messy, sappy wood with prickly leaves.
Tips for seasoning juniper
Juniper is a fast-seasoning wood, but there are some ways to further speed up the process. We’ve pulled together some handy tips to help minimize drying time.
- Split the firewood: smaller pieces of wood increase the surface area that gets exposed to sunshine and wind.
- Position correctly: reduce drying time by avoiding areas prone to shade and facing the exposed wood towards the wind.
- Lift up the wood: Use pallets to keep the firewood off the ground and create airflow beneath the stack.
- Create gaps: build wood stacks with a 3-5” gap between each one to encourage air circulation.
- Use a cover: use a wood shed or tarp to shelter the stacks from the elements while exposing one side to the wind.
Commonly asked questions
When is the best time to chop juniper for firewood?
Try to split juniper between winter and early spring when the temperatures are coldest. The wood will season quicker as moisture content and sap content will be lower.
How can I identify a juniper tree?
Junipers vary by species, but you’ll know it’s a common juniper tree if it has leaves that look more like scales than the needles. The leaves are glossy green, pointy, and have a white band on the top side. A juniper’s bark is reddish-brown and peel off in thin strips.
What is the best juniper firewood for heat?
There are almost 60 species of juniper tree but only a few grow big enough to be used as firewood. Western juniper provides high heat output, while the shaggy and rocky mountain varieties provide moderate levels. Alligator juniper has one of the lowest BTU heat ratings and is best used for kindling and starter wood.
How long does it take to season juniper?
Juniper seasons quicker than most other types of wood which is useful if winter is approaching fast. Allow 6 months to season in hot, dry climates and 12 months for those living in cool, damp areas.
Dead junipers will have already lost some of their moisture so seasoning time could be reduced.
Juniper is an average firewood that won’t compare to hardwoods like hickory or oak. Although some species give off decent heat, they burn fast and have disappointing coals.
If you’re desperate for a firewood source and don’t mind constantly adding more wood to the fire, juniper is fine. It’s also good used as kindling or mixed with other wood like maple that burns slower.
When using juniper in the fire, keep in mind it often sparks and pops. Keep a fireguard up if you have an open fireplace.