Beech is a lesser-known but extremely common tree in the forests of Europe and North America. Often growing in tandem with maple, beech’s smooth bark and straight stems are known for its production of beech nuts–a staple for wildlife that depends on hard mast. However, the American beech has fallen victim to beech bark disease, which has plagued beech populations and hindered their value for both wildlife and commercial timber production. Left with cankerous bark and hampered growth, beech is largely an unwanted tree–but it still makes great firewood!
In this article, we will dig into all aspects of beech and how it compares as a firewood and source of fuel, but first, here is a summary of how it stacks up:
Is Beech a Good Firewood?
Beech is an excellent, choice for firewood, ranking 4.2/5 on our scale. It has a high amount of heat and a slow burn rate along with a relatively speedy dry time. Its only downside is that it can be difficult to split, but this can be overcome with the use of a hydraulic wood splitter. Overall, it is a great staple to any woodpile, especially for those with long, cold winters and those who use firewood as their primary heating source. Beech won’t disappoint.
How Much Heat Does Beech Produce?
Beech stores a large amount of heat, comparable to oak. A cord of beech firewood contains about 27.5 million BTUs, which puts beech at the upper limits of heat content for hardwood species. In many northern hardwood forests where beech grows, beech is simply the best wood available in terms of energy storage. If high heat content is important to you, beech makes an excellent choice.
How Fast Does Beech Burn?
Beech is a slow-burning hardwood that produces excellent coals. Combined with its high heat content, this makes beech an excellent firewood for overnight burns. Fill the woodstove before you go to bed and you will have a bed of coals in the morning. Compared to other, faster burning hardwoods, beech’s slow burn offers a huge advantage, particularly for those in harsher, more northerly climates.
How Easy is Beech to Split?
Beech is a particularly difficult species to split. Beech wood is long and fibrous, making splitting a challenge under normal circumstances. However, beech is often infected with beech bark canker, which covers the stem in a bunch of nasty bumps (as seen in the photo below). The effect these cankers have on the wood is to make the grain more wavy, and thus even more difficult to split than it otherwise is. Put simply, splitting beech can be a real b****.
No doubt, the difficulty of splitting beech is its largest downside. If you do decide to burn beech firewood, you should use a hydraulic splitter. Splitting by beech by hand is simply too taxing to be worthwhile, especially considering close alternative species that can be had, such as maple, which often grows in tandem with beech.
How Long Does It Take Beech Firewood to Season?
Unlike other hardwoods like oak, beech seasons relatively quickly given its density. It will take beech firewood about a full year to season. Usually denser hardwoods with the heat content of beech take longer. Oak, for example, can take a full two years to season, so beech’s seasoning duration can be seen as a bargain of sorts.
The biggest fact which may hinder its drying time is its difficulty splitting. When wood is split into smaller pieces, it dries more quickly. Split sufficiently small, even slow-drying woods can dry in a matter of months. However, beech’s immense difficulty in splitting adds a substantial labor in time cost to this effort. While it is certainly possible to cut beech into smaller pieces, landowners and homeowners splitting a cord of beech may soon be dissuaded.
Will Fresh-Cut Beech Burn?
Unfortunately, fresh-cut beech will simply be too moist to burn. Additionally, beech bark is thin and hard, leaving little material to even ignite. Unlike birch or certain softwood species, beech will have to be fully seasoned before being used as a firewood.
Like all species of firewood, burning greener wood is more likely to produce creosote. Even if you could burn fresh-cut beech, it is best to wait until it is fully seasoned. This is especially true if you burn wood in an indoor woodstove.
How Hard Is Beech to Cut?
Beech can be a difficult wood to cut through. Being particularly dense and having a long, fibrous wood grain, beech has a tendency to dull saw quicker and take longer to saw through than other hardwood species. When cutting beech, it is important to use a sharp saw and to sharpen more frequently. Otherwise, you might find yourself producing smoke, but not cutting through much.
How Much Smoke Does Beech Produce?
Beech produces a minimal amount of smoke when burned. It is an incredibly clean-burning wood, making it excellent for fires of all sorts. The small amount of smoke beech does produce has a nice fragrance, along the lines of oak or hickory. While not usually a first choice, it can be a suitable wood for smoking meats.
Is Beech Good For Campfires?
Because of its long burn, excellent heat output, great coal production, and low smoke, beech makes a superb firewood for outdoor campfires. It is particularly great on chilly nights in the spring or fall as well as for those camping trips, talking to friends around the fire deep into the morning hours. Throw a few beech logs on the fire and enjoy hours of warmth with family and friends!
However, because beech burns slowly, it takes a while to produce good coals. If you plan on create a fire for cooking, it might be better to start with a faster burning species like birch. If you are willing to wait a little longer (and get more heat as a tradeoff), beech still works wonderfully.
Is it Safe to Burn Beech Indoors?
Beech is a very safe species to burn indoors, and it is a great choice for both enclosed woodstoves and open fireplaces. Beech produces little smoke and few sparks, creating a safe and enjoyable burn with little chance for incident. Additionally, the fragrant smoke creates a warm aroma perfect for cozy winter nights. To limit creosote production, be sure your firewood is thoroughly seasoned prior to burning.
How Fast Does Beech Grow?
Beech is an incredibly fast-growing hardwood, however, how fast a beech tree grows depends on whether it was started from a seed or an existing root system. Beech trees can regenerate additional stems from their stumps or roots (called stump sprouts and suckers, respectively). When trees are grown from seed, they will grow at a rate comparable to other hardwoods. However, when they grow from a stump or root system, they can pull from energy reserves from a pre-existing tree, thus accelerating the overall growth rate of the tree rapidly.
The fast growth rate and easily regeneration alone make beech an easy tree to manage for firewood, but beech has another strong benefit from a forest management perspective: it is usually unwanted. The cankering that results from beech bark disease makes beech unusable for anything but pulpwood, but its easy regeneration makes it liable to overpopulate and consume a forest. Most landowners consequently want it gone, so cutting it out and selling it or using it as firewood is a great way to maintain forest health while deriving a usable product.
Is Beech Firewood Expensive?
Because it is not usable for anything but pulpwood in most cases, beech firewood can usually be had for cheap. Because of how unwanted it is from a forest management perspective, it may even be possible to harvest beech firewood for free if you find a cooperative landowner willing to give you permission or a permit. In many cases, you would be doing them a favor! In most cases however, you can expect to pay typical prices for hardwood pulpwood.
How to Identify Beech Firewood
Beech is one of the easiest types of wood to identify in a firewood pile. It will present in one of two ways, depending on whether it presents with beech bark disease or not.
Its first form will have smooth, grey bark that is hard and comes off in thick, tough pieces.
Its second form will be bumpy and full of cankerous wounds that may be covered with a mildewy white fungus.
In either situation, both the heartwood and sapwood will be a relatively light tan color, and the growth rings will be contrasted and easy to differentiate. You can see a pile of beech firewood in the picture below.
Which Is Better: Beech or Oak?
Both beech and oak are excellent choices for firewood and both have comparable levels of heat and burn time. However, each has a unique weakness. Oak takes a long time to season (around two years) while beech seasons relatively quickly. On the other hand, oak splits easier than beech and will put up less of a fight in the wood splitter. Whichever you choose depends on which weakness is acceptable to you, but both beech and oak are of approximately equivalent quality as a fuel.
Beech is a solid choice for a firewood. With high heat output, a slow burn rate with good coal production, and a reasonable dry time, beech won’t disappoint you on a cold winter’s night. Its only downside is the stubbornness of its wood fibers in the splitting process. But for all its good qualities, we can look past it and give it our seal of approval! In fact, from a forest management perspective, we’d say it is the best firewood: