Birch trees are some of the most identifiable trees in the world. With a huge range circling around the earth’s polar region, they are one of the most abundant species in the world and have been used for everything from canoes to toothpicks. But what about firewood? How good is birch as a firewood, and what are its qualities? In this article, we will examine birch and analyze its quality as a fuel source as well as answer any question you might have. First, let’s take a quick, snapshot look at how birch stacks up as a firewood:
Is Birch a Good Firewood?
Overall, birch makes for a mediocre firewood, being mid-range in virtually all categories and receiving a score of 3.2/5 on our scale. That said, birch has some unique advantages. It is easy to ignite, and with nice coals and a fast burn rate, it can get a fire established quickly. It is a great log for small ambience fires and cooking fires, but it falls short as an overnight heating source.
How Much Heat Does Birch Produce?
Birch contains a medium amount of heat, holding approximately 20.8 million BTUs per cord. It is a much better amount of heat than most softwood species, but it doesn’t hold up to denser hardwoods like maple or oak. Combined with a faster burn rate, this is a serious disadvantage of birch. Nonetheless, it is still a viable species for heating your home.
How Fast Does Birch Burn?
Birch is known for being a fast-burning wood. A birch log can easily be consumed in about an hour. However, despite its fast burn rate, birch produces nice coals quickly, which may be advantageous if one wishes to get a fire established quickly. For this reason, birch works wonderfully as a fire starter and to get a fire burning, but it works poorly as a set-it-and-forget-it wood to keep a fire burning overnight.
How Easy is Birch to Split?
Birch Firewood is moderately difficult to split. However, birch does have a unique advantage that does help to lessen the effects of the tougher splitting. It grows straight with few limbs, meaning white birch stems are usually free of knots. As anyone who splits wood knows, knots are the bane of anyone’s existence. The lack of knots and twists is a serious relief. This isn’t to say every piece of birch will be perfectly straight of course. As with any species, there are plenty of defects one can find, but they tend to be less frequent and less obstructive in birch.
How Long Does It Take Birch Firewood to Season?
Luckily, birch firewood seasons quickly, requiring only around 6 months to reach acceptable moisture levels. If the wood is split, the drying time will be even faster. Birch (especially white birch, black birch, and grey birch) tend to be smaller trees, so once split, firewood pieces will be fairly small. Small pieces will also work to further hasten the drying process. Yellow birch, however, tends to grow larger and has slightly denser wood, so drying times for yellow birch are a tad longer and comparable to maple firewood.
Will Fresh-Cut Birch Burn?
While the wood itself will have a hard time sustaining a burn, birch bark contains an oil that readily ignites even when wet! Because of this, birch is sought after as a fire-starter by outdoorsmen around the world. In most cases, however, A green (fresh-cut) birch log will burn initially only to extinguish once the bark has burned off. Moreover, as is the case with all wood, moist birch will create more creosote than dry birch, so it is best to let birch firewood season properly being burning it. Though it is always annoying to have to wait for wood to dry, the hassle of trying to burn overly moist wood isn’t worth it.
How Hard Is Birch to Cut?
Among hardwoods, birch is a softer, less-dense species, so cutting through birch is easy. A well-sharpened saw will make short work of a cord of birch. Moreover, the thin, easily-pruned branches of birch trees will makes harvesting and processing birch firewood hassle-free. Particularly for beginners, it is a great tree to use to build fundamental chainsaw technique and safety skills.
If cutting off the stump, birch grows to smaller sizes and has a lighter crown in comparison to other species, so it is a relatively safe tree to cut down. That said, tree felling is inherently a dangerous activity and all safety precautions should be taken.
How Much Smoke Does Birch Produce?
Birch firewood produces a medium amount of smoke. The smoke it does produce doesn’t have any unique fragrance either, making it more of a nuisance. Due to the musty-smelling smoke, birch is not a great species for smoking meats.
Like all species of wood, dryer wood with plenty of airflow will produce less smoke. If you wish to minimize smoke, be sure to season your firewood as much as possible and allow your fire to breathe.
Is Birch Good For Campfires?
Birch is a top-tier choice for outdoor fires. Not only does its bark make for easy ignition (sparing the inexperienced outdoorsmen embarrassment in front of friends), but birch firewood has a unique, characteristic crackle that creates a perfect, cozy ambience to any camping trip or outdoor get-together. The rapid, light crackling of birch will conjures feelings of warmth and comfort in even the most hardened lumberjack souls.
Because birch burns relatively quickly, it also creates a bed of coals relatively quickly. This can be an important advantage when cooking over a fire. Nothing is more annoying than waking up early in the morning and having to wait for a nice bed of coals to cook some bacon and eggs.
Is it Safe to Burn Birch Indoors?
Absolutely! White birch produces few sparks and burns at moderate temperatures, creating an excellent choice for indoor burning in fireplaces and woodstoves. The only downside to burning birch indoors is its slightly higher smoke production, but this is not a major impediment to an enjoyable fire.
How Fast Does Birch Grow?
Birch is a fast-growing hardwood, which is an excellent quality for those who manage their own woodlots to grow and harvest their own firewood. Properly managed, growth rates on an acre of birch can exceed .6 cords/acre per year. However, because of its light seeds and reproductive strategies, birch can be hard to regenerate, especially white birch.
White birch is a pioneer species that grows in recently disturbed forests with full sunlight, such as after a forest fire, so the best way to regrow white birch is to create large enough clearings to recruit white birch germinants. Yellow birch, in contrast, is shade tolerant and will readily regenerate in a conventional shelterwood or selection cut harvest.
Is Birch Firewood Expensive?
Because birch is a species that is considered relatively low-grade and usually produces pulpwood, birch firewood can be acquired for fairly cheap. However, there is no significant discount to be had relative to other species of firewood. A cord of seasoned birch will run around $200. A delivered cord of whole tree green birch firewood may run as low as $60, however.
How to Identify Birch Firewood
Birch is one of the easiest species to identify in the wood pile owing to its iconic and unique bark. Birch bark has a white or golden paper-like bark that easily peels away if you pull it. The bark is what gives white birch one its common names–Paper birch. Without a doubt, the name fits.
Really, the only tree that you might mistake for birch is aspen, which has white bark similar to birch. However, aspen bark does not peel away and does not resemble paper in any way, so this is the best method of identifying and differentiating the two species.
Yellow Birch Performs the Best
It should be noted that birch (scientifically known as Betalaceae) is a diverse genus, and each species will have qualities and attributes that will differ from each other. Thus, in the birch family, yellow birch is going to perform the best and works quite well as a firewood. Heat outputs approach that of maple, holding approximate 23 million BTUs per cord. However, yellow birch is still going to burn relatively quickly, and splitting will be even more difficult than white birch, owing to the increased twists, knots, and forks.
White birch certainly has its place in the wood pile, but it is not a great primary species to burn. Use it for campfires and to get fires started, but make sure you have denser, slower burning species on hand to burn through the night.