The willow tree is found in many parts of the world including Europe, Asia, and North America. Their distinctive appearance makes them a popular ornamental and the wood is excellent for instruments, cricket bats, furniture, and crates.
If you’ve got an old willow that’s ready to be felled, you may be wondering whether it burns well? In this guide, we’ll take a close look at whether willow makes good firewood and how it compares to other popular varieties.
Is willow good for firewood?
Willow isn’t great firewood as it has relatively low heat output and burns extremely fast. Instead of using it as your main wood source for the fire, use it as kindling or burn it with better options like oak. You could use it in the shoulder season on its own, but you’ll have to frequently add more to keep the fire going.
- Gives off relatively low heat in the fireplace.
- Burns fast with few sparks and low smoke levels.
- Popular for smoking food like brisket and sausages.
- May give off high levels of creosote.
Willow firewood burn qualities
1. Heat output
The heat that’s given off by firewood is an important consideration when you’re deciding whether to use it in the fire. No one wants to be cold!
Willow provides 17.6 million BTUs per cord which is low in comparison to most popular types of wood. Its rating is similar to spruce, chestnut, cottonwood, and alder for heat production. The heat willow offers is lower than common hardwoods like Osage orange and oak.
If you’ve got some free willow, then we suggest using it for kindling or burning it in the shoulder season when temperatures aren’t as cold.
Check out the following table comparing the heat output of willow to various other common types of firewood.
|Wood variety||Heat per Cord (Million BTUs)|
Willow tends to produce low levels of smoke, so you won’t get smoked out sitting around an open fire. Like all firewood, it needs to be well seasoned before burning. Wood that’s still green contains a lot of water and smokes a lot as it burns. It is also much less efficient in using its energy to evaporate water instead of heating the room.
3. Ease of splitting
Most willow rounds are easy to split and won’t require a heavy-duty splitting axe. The exception is if you get wood that’s riddled with knots and crotches.
To speed up the seasoning process you’re best to chop up the wood while it’s still green. If you encounter any tough logs that won’t split easily, you may want to wait for a frosty morning when the wood is easier to break up. A good quality splitting axe or maul will also make life easier.
Willow firewood doesn’t spark or pop much in the fire. It’s much better than pine or mulberry, which may spark a lot. That means you don’t have to worry about embers marking the carpet or starting an unwanted fire.
Anyone who’s out camping or those with an open hearth should still use caution when burning willow. One random spark is all it takes to start a fire.
Willow gives off a pleasant, slightly sweet fragrance as it burns. It’s great for campfires or adding an enjoyable aroma to homes.
Sausage makers and barbecue enthusiasts appreciate the flavor that willow imparts into fish and meat. Make sure you’re using red willow for cooking as weeping willow is not advisable.
Like heat output, coaling is an important part of what makes firewood desirable or not. The better the coaling properties, the longer-lasting heat you’ll get. You also won’t have to keep throwing more wood into the fire.
Willow ranks poorly for coaling, burning fast like pine or boxelder. It is no comparison to beech or oak. The fire will need to be re-started the next morning as the embers will have burnt out.
7. Creosote build-up
Creosote is a sooty substance, similar to tar, that builds up on the inside of the chimney as fires burn. Higher levels mean you’ll need to maintain the chimney regularly.
Most firewood doesn’t produce a lot of creosote, so long as it is well seasoned. Willow will give off plenty of creosote when green but isn’t too bad once fully dried out.
How long does it take to season willow?
To season willow, allow 6 months if you’re living in a hot and dry part of the world. For those in damp, cool locations give the wood at least 12 months to properly dry out.
Burning firewood prematurely will result in a smoky fire with less heat output than seasoned wood. Split willow will dry out much quicker than large logs.
Tips for seasoning willow
Speed up the seasoning of willow by following these quick and easy tips.
- Chop the firewood: splitting wood increases the surface area that’s exposed to wind and heat.
- Elevate the wood: place chopped willow on planks to generate airflow under the stack.
- Cover the wood: use a tarp or cover to shield the firewood from rain and snow.
- Position correctly: reduce drying time by staying away from shady areas that never see any sunlight.
- Create gaps: build stacks with a 3-5” gap between each one to increase air circulation.
Commonly asked questions
When is the best time to chop willow for firewood?
It is best to split willow any time from winter to early spring. The weather is cooler so the wood has less moisture and sap content, resulting in wood that seasons quicker.
How can I identify a willow tree?
Willow trees vary in appearance depending on their variety.
The water-loving weeping willow (Salix babylonica) is the most recognizable variety that has a short trunk and drooping branches that often reach the ground. They grow to a height of 30-70 feet and have smooth, long leaves with a fine-toothed edge.
Pussy willows (Salix caprea) are smaller shrubs that usually don’t grow higher than 25 feet. They have similar leaves with pale-colored undersides and large furry catkins.
The crack willow (Salix fragilis) grows from 50-80 feet tall and can be identified by its dark brown, deeply furrowed bark. It also has brittle yellow twigs and narrow leaves that are 2-6” long.
Fast facts about the willow tree
- The scientific name for the willow tree is Salix from the family Salicaceae.
- Willows are deciduous shrubs and trees that mostly enjoy the cold and temperate climates of the Northern Hemisphere.
- There are around 400 species of willow trees.
- Other names for the willow include osiers and sallows.
- Willows grow quickly so their life span is usually only 20-30 years.
Willow won’t be at the top of your list for firewood. It doesn’t give off much heat and it burns like paper after seasoning. We wouldn’t pay top dollar for willow, but free wood is still worth the effort to split. Willow is useful for the shoulder seasons and to get fires started.