The Kentucky coffeetree is an impressive looking deciduous that makes a great shade tree or ornamental. It is native to America’s Midwest and eastern states and is a tough species that can adapt to a variety of soils.

Are you wondering whether Kentucky Coffeetree makes good firewood? This guide looks at its strengths and weaknesses compared to other popular firewood types.

Is Kentucky Coffeetree good for firewood?

Kentucky coffeetree is good firewood that provides moderate heat and burns clean. This wood won’t spark and pop excessively and provides good coals as it burns. It’s an excellent option for the shoulder season when the mercury hasn’t dropped too low.

Important features:

  • Doesn’t give off a lot of smoke.
  • Provides moderate heat levels.
  • Has a mild, pleasant fragrance.
  • Can sometimes be difficult to split.
Kentucky coffeetree firewood statistics

Kentucky Coffeetree firewood burn qualities

1. Heat output

It’s important to consider heat output when you’re choosing the best firewood for your home. This is especially true if you experience bitterly cold winters.

Kentucky Coffeetree provides 21.6 million BTUs per cord which is a moderate level of heat. It gives off similar heat to birch, ash, and larch; however, this firewood won’t warm your house like Osage orange, oak, or dogwood firewood.  

A firewood’s BTU rating isn’t everything though. Wood that gives off low-moderate levels of heat makes useful kindling. It can also be burned in the shoulder season when temperatures aren’t too cold. You may want to toss a log of oak in with your Kentucky coffeetree to dial up the heat a little.

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

Wood varietyHeat per Cord (Million BTUs)
Silver Maple19.0
Green ash20.0
Kentucky coffeetree21.6
Gambel oak30.7
Osage orange32.9

2. Smoke

Kentucky coffeetree typically gives off low levels of smoke as it burns. It’s a much better option than softwoods like Douglas fir. You won’t end up with red eyes if you’ve got an open fire.

Seasoning coffeetree properly is essential if you don’t want to deal with too much smoke. If it’s green, the wood will contain high levels of water which makes it smoke as it burns. The fire you make will use all its energy to burn off the water rather than produce heat.

3. Ease of splitting

Splitting Kentucky coffeetree is usually easy to medium in difficulty. That is if you do it before the wood dries. Well-seasoned Kentucky Coffeetree turns hard, and a heavy-duty splitting axe or maul will be needed.

If you get landed with the tree’s crotch, you’ll have a difficult time splitting it. This is true for pretty much any tree. The crotch is an area of the tree where the branches and trunk combine. They form a twisted gnarly mess that’s a nightmare to chop.

Splitting coffeetree on an icy cold morning will make the job a little easier.

4. Sparks

While some people enjoy the theatrics of firewood that sparks and pops as it burns, it’s not exactly safe. A spark can easily burn carpets and skin or start a forest fire if you’re outdoors. 

Thankfully, Kentucky coffeetree doesn’t spark or pop in the flames. It burns clean and is a better option than firewood like pine or mulberry for your fireplace.   

For another option that burns clean, check out our review of hophornbeam firewood, also known as ironwood.

5. Aroma

Kentucky coffeetree has a pleasant fragrance that most people enjoy. It has a sweet smell that some people compare to the fragrance of burning honeylocust.

6. Coaling

Firewood that has excellent coaling properties will provide warmth for longer. You won’t need to keep adding wood as a single log will burn longer. Instead, you can sit next to the fire and relax.

Kentucky coffeetree has good coaling properties that’ll give off heat longer than wood like pine or sycamore. It won’t compete with popular firewood options like hickory and oak that produce excellent coals.

7. Creosote build-up

All burning firewood deposits creosote inside the chimney. This is a black tar-like residue that can block up chimneys. Well-seasoned Kentucky coffeetree doesn’t produce much creosote. You won’t have to clean out the chimney as often as you would burning most softwood varieties.

Looking up from the base of a Kentucky coffeetree at a large canopy of greenish-yellow leaves
A large coffee tree with leaves changing color.

How long does it take to season Kentucky coffeetree?

Kentucky coffeetree takes around 12 months to season in hot, dry climates. If you live in cool and damp regions then allow 18-24 months. Burning firewood prematurely will result in an unpleasant smoky fire with less heat output than dried wood.

Tips for seasoning Kentucky coffeetree

If you need to speed up the seasoning of your wood, then follow these helpful tips. They’re easy to implement and may save you 6 months.

  • Position well: the wood’s drying time can be reduced by pointing the exposed side towards the wind and avoiding shady areas.
  • Split the firewood: rounds that have been split will have increased surface area that gets exposed to heat and wind.
  • Protect the wood: use a cover such as a tarp to protect the stacks from bad weather.
  • Create rows with gaps: build stacks with a 3-5” space between each to encourage air circulation.
  • Raise the stack: lay the firewood on pallets to create airflow beneath.

How can I identify Kentucky coffeetree firewood?

The Kentucky coffeetree’s bark is rough and scaly gray. Its large green leaves are classified as pinnately compound. In late spring, the tree blooms with greenish-white clusters of flowers. You’ll easily identify a Kentucky coffeetree in the fall and winter thanks to its large seed pods that are dark and have a leathery texture.     

The coffeetree’s sapwood is a narrow yellowish white strip and is clearly defined. Its heartwood ranges from orange to reddish-brown. The wood grain is coarse and straight, with an appearance that’s a lot like oak or ash wood.

Pods growing an a Kentucky coffeetree

Fast facts

  • A deciduous tree that is native to Midwest and eastern North America.
  • Mature Kentucky coffeetree typically grows up to around 70 feet but may reach heights of 100 feet if the conditions are right.
  • The botanical name for the Kentucky coffeetree is the Gymnocladus dioicus from the legume family Fabaceae.
  • It is not a common tree and isn’t commonly sold as firewood.
  • Useful for fence posts, furniture, and cabinetry.
  • Its name came from early settlers in Kentucky who observed that the tree’s seeds looked a lot like coffee beans.
Closeup of a coffeetree's green leaves

Summing up

If you’ve got an old Kentucky coffeetree, aka coffee tree, on your property that needs felling, it’s well worth the effort to split. The wood produces moderate heat and burns without filling the room with smoke.

Coffeetree is great for the shoulder season and combines well with hotter burning wood on really cold nights. It also lights well, making it useful for kindling.

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