The sassafras tree is a deciduous hardwood that’s native to Asia and eastern North America. It is well-known for its aromatic properties, but is the wood worth splitting to burn? This guide will help you decide if sassafras makes good firewood.
Does sassafras make good firewood?
Sassafras isn’t recommended as a primary source of firewood as its heat output is low, and the wood tends to spark and pop while burning. However, it’s light and super-easy to split, making it ideal for kindling. Sassafras is also valuable shoulder season firewood when the temperatures aren’t too low.
- Low BTU heat output firewood.
- Often pops and sparks.
- Seasons relatively quickly.
- Straight wood that’s easy to split.
Sassafras firewood burn qualities
1. Heat output
Sassafras provides 19.5 million BTUs per cord, which compares to other low-rating options like boxelder, hemlock, and cedar. Denser firewood types, like oak or mountain mahogany, will serve you better in cooler climates.
For the shoulder season, sassafras works fine. It also makes great kindling, so it is worth the effort to split if you can get the wood for free.
Check out the table below, which looks at the BTU ratings for a range of firewood varieties.
|Wood variety||Heat per Cord (Million BTUs)|
Sassafras produces minimal smoke as it burns. That means you won’t end up in a smoked-out room. You can relax around campfires without choking smoke blowing into your face.
There is a big difference between seasoned sassafras and green wood. While thoroughly dried firewood won’t smoke much, burning it unseasoned will produce a lot of smoke.
3. Ease of splitting
Sassafras is very easy to split by hand using an axe or maul. Most find it one of the easiest types of wood to chop up, which certainly increases its appeal.
Like most wood, splitting it while still green is a good choice. It will speed up the seasoning process significantly. Sassafras also tends to harden as it cures, making the wood fibers tougher to split.
Extra reading: 25 practical tips for splitting firewood.
Whether you’re relaxing in the house or enjoying the outdoors, firewood that pops and sparks isn’t ideal. No one wants embers on the carpet or landing in their lap.
Sassafras contains high levels of sap, so it typically sparks and pops a lot in the fire. If you use this wood indoors, ensure the fireguard is in place. Never leave campfires unattended, or you may have a forest fire on your hands.
Sassafras gives off a lovely aroma during splitting, reminiscent of sipping root beer. Once seasoned, the wood gives off a pleasant but milder, musky, and sweet fragrance.
There is much debate about whether sassafras is safe for use in barbecues, meat smokers, and roasters. Some websites claim it is not suitable for cooking with as the smoke is toxic. However, many firewood forums advise that it adds delicious flavor to pork, beef, and poultry. We haven’t cooked with this firewood at Axe Adviser, so we’ll leave you to decide what to believe.
Note: The USFDA currently prohibits sassafras bark, oil, and safrole as flavorings or food additives. Source.
Sassafras lacks density, so it burns fast and has poor coaling properties. You’ll need to add more logs to keep the heat intensity up. Sassafras will make decent firewood if you’re happy to feed the fire all night.
Once sassafras logs burn, they tend to leave a lot of ashes. That means more cleaning up the next day.
7. Creosote build-up
Any firewood will produce creosote as it burns. This black substance coats the chimney’s inside. Left long enough, it will cause blockages and could result in unwanted fires.
Well-seasoned sassafras gives off minimal creosote. You should only need to service the chimney once a year.
How long does it take to season sassafras?
Sassafras is a quick-seasoning type of wood that only requires six months before it is ready to use. We suggest allowing a few months of additional drying time if you live in a wet, cold area.
Tips for seasoning sassafras
Follow these quick and easy suggestions to speed up the time required to dry sassafras.
- Stack in an appropriate location: expedite drying time by avoiding shady areas and positioning the stack’s face towards the wind and sunlight.
- Space the rows: create wood stacks with a small gap between each one to promote air circulation.
- Split the firewood: split the rounds to increase the surface area exposed to wind and sunshine.
- Use a cover: take advantage of a tarp cover or use a wood shed to protect from the elements.
- Elevate the wood: lay the wood on pallets or planks to promote airflow and prevent unwanted moisture, disease, and insects.
Learn more about how to store firewood correctly here.
The pros and cons of burning sassafras
- Easy to split
- Ideal for firewood
- Pleasant fragrance
- Poor coals
- Low BTU output
- Tends to spark
6 fast facts about sassafras trees
- The scientific name for sassafras is Sassafras albidum, a member of the Lauraceae family.
- Trees reach a height of 30-60 feet once matured.
- Its leaves are lobed or oval-shaped; the tree has dark drupes like blueberries and golden yellow flowers in clusters.
- The blossoms smell like root beer in spring.
- Three species native to North America include Sassafras albidum, Sassafras tzumu, and Sassafras randaiense.
- Developing trees have smooth, reddish-brown bark. Once mature, the bark has a pungent aromatic smell and develops furrows and ridges.
- The tree is also known as saloop, cinnamon wood, saxifras, and ague.
The firewood from a sassafras tree provides around 19.5 million BTUs per cord. This is lower than many other hardwoods like maple and oak.
Sassafras is typically easy to split, so it’s worth chopping and using for kindling. It lights much easier than denser hardwoods, so use it to get the fire roaring. Then add slow-burning wood, so you don’t have to keep feeding the fire all night.