The tamarack is a deciduous tree that grows in cool, temperate regions. Also known as larch, this conifer thrives near lakes, swamps, and streams and is often found near black spruces.
Do you have an old tamarack you’re considering splitting? Maybe you’re wondering if it’s worth buying locally? In this guide, we’ll look at whether tamarack makes good firewood and how it compares to other popular types of wood.
Is tamarack good for firewood?
Tamarack is a useful type of firewood that produces moderate levels of heat and is usually easy to split. While it won’t compete with popular firewood like oak for heat output, it is still fine for the shoulder season, kindling, or combining with other types of wood.
Keep in mind that tamarack gives off reasonable amounts of smoke and sparks. While most people won’t find this a problem, it may be a deal-breaker for some.
- Rates “middle of the pack” for heat output
- Gives off sparks and pops while burning
- Easy to split most of the time
- Mild fragrance that most find pleasant
- Not suitable for cooking food
Tamarack firewood burn qualities
1. Heat output
The amount of heat that’s given off by wood is an important consideration. It needs to provide decent warmth, whether you’re relaxing around a campfire or sitting on the couch at home.
Tamarack provides 21.8 million BTUs of heat per cord which is average. It will heat a room better than buckeye or cottonwood, but it’s inferior to hardwoods like Osage orange.
If you live in a very cold part of the world you may want to combine tamarack with another hotter-burning wood. Keep in mind though, that if your home is well insulated, then tamarack should keep you warm. You can also burn tamarack in the shoulder seasons or combine it with other wood varieties.
Check out the following table comparing the heat output of tamarack to various other common types of firewood.
|Wood Variety||Heat per Cord (Million BTUs)|
Firewood that pumps out smoke is far from ideal. It causes sore red eyes, which no one wants. Most people find that seasoned tamarack gives off smoke as it burns. It’s best for use in wood stoves or a fireplace that has a door to keep the smoke out.
Always season tamarack before burning it or it will billow out smoke as it burns. Unseasoned tamarack is also less efficient for burning. The fire uses most of its energy evaporating water instead of giving out heat.
3. Ease of splitting
Tamarack splits easily in most cases, especially when it’s green and full of moisture. Once it dries out, the fibers harden and become less cooperative.
A decent splitting axe or maul will make splitting much easier. If you’re struggling to chop up tamarack, try getting the job done on a chilly morning.
The crotch of tamarack is always tough to split. In this section, the limbs join to create gnarly wood that’s full of wrist-jarring knots. A hydraulic splitter may be your best option if you’re ever faced with this wood.
Tamarack tends to pop and spark a lot once it’s ablaze in the fire. This can be unsettling when you’re relaxing at night and there’s a fireworks display going on.
If you’ve got an open fireplace then make sure the guard is in place to avoid carpet burns or unwanted fires. Take care burning this wood in the outdoors and don’t leave it unattended.
The fragrance given off by tamarack is very mild. If you’re after a stronger smelling fire, then consider hickory or apple firewood.
Tamarack isn’t great for meat smoking and grilling. It burns too fast, doesn’t add much flavor to food, and is too smokey. We suggest using other more popular choices like maple or mesquite firewood.
Another feature to look for in firewood is its coaling ability. Wood like oak produces excellent coals that allow the fire to burn longer.
Tamarack produces average coals that are better than wood like pine. However, there are much better options like ash and honey locust.
You’re best to use tamarack with other hardwoods that produce better coals. That means you won’t have to keep adding wood to the fire as much.
7. Creosote build-up
The smoke from a fire deposits a tar-like substance called creosote on the inside of the chimney. Left long enough, it will begin to block the chimney, so cleaning it out regularly is important.
Like any wood, tamarack produces creosote. Thankfully, the levels are low so long as the firewood has been well seasoned.
How long does it take to season tamarack firewood?
Tamarack will take 4-6 months to season in a hot, dry climate. Those living in cooler areas that are prone to rain may need to allow 12 months to properly dry the firewood.
Tips for seasoning tamarack
To speed up tamarack firewood seasoning, try following these tips.
- Create a space between the rows: build a series of stacks with a 3-5” space between each one to help promote airflow.
- Stack the splits in the right place: speed up drying time by avoiding shady zones and facing the stack in a windward direction.
- Cover the wood: use a tarp or something similar to protect the stacks from rain and snow but keep one side exposed to the wind.
- Raise the wood: stack the wood on pallets or blocks to create airflow beneath the wood.
- Split the firewood: chop up the logs before drying to increase the surface area exposed to wind and sunshine.
Pros of tamarack
- Easy to split
- Gives off a mild fragrance
- Good for kindling and shoulder season wood
Cons of tamarack
- Average heat output
- Not great for coaling
- Excessive sparking
Commonly asked questions
When is the best time to fell a tamarack for firewood?
When possible, try to fell tamarack trees and split them between winter and early spring. During this cold time of the year, there is less sap and moisture in the wood, so it seasons quicker.
How long does a cord of tamarack last?
One cord of tamarack should last roughly 8-10 weeks; however, this will vary depending on factors like how well the wood is seasoned and the type of fireplace used.
How long tamarack lasts will vary based on the fire you’re using, the climate, and how well the wood is seasoned. Expect one cord to last around 8-10 weeks.
How do I identify a tamarack tree?
The best way to identify a tamarack tree is to look for a slender, conical tree with deciduous needles that are about one inch long.
In spring the needles are green, and they grow in clusters of 10-20. In the fall, these needles turn golden and eventually shed.
Young tamarack bark is smooth and gray but it turns scaly and reddish-brown as the tree grows older.
- The botanical name for the tamarack tree is Larix laricina from the family Pinaceae.
- Other names for the tamarack include the American larch, red larch, eastern larch, hackmatack, and black larch.
- The tree grows to a height of 40-80 feet once mature although they’re usually shorter in marsh and bog areas where nutrients are low.
- A tamarack can live to about 180 years in the right conditions.
Tamarack won’t compete with the best firewood varieties on heat output. For hotter burning wood, black locust, hickory, or Osage orange are better choices.
People who aren’t in very cold areas will find that tamarack makes decent firewood. It is certainly worth the effort to split and stack for winter. Keep in mind it’ll spark and smoke a fair bit, but for most that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.