All About Cedar Firewood


From west to east, cedar is an iconic species peppering lowland forests around the world. Known for its rich fragrance and towering trunks, cedar is a species like no other. But how does cedar stack up as a firewood? In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about burning cedar. First, let’s not waste your time: here is a quick no-nonsense overview:

Is Cedar a Good Firewood?

Cedar can be a great firewood in the right context. It received a score of 3.3/5 on our grading scale, putting it in the mediocre category, but cedar is not a mediocre firewood. As a fire starter and kindling, it is an excellent firewood–perhaps even the best. As a main fuel source, however, it is exceedingly poor. When choosing firewood, it is important to take every quality into consideration to employ the right species at the right time. This is particularly true when burning cedar.

How Much Heat Does Cedar Produce?

All species of cedar create a small amount of heat. A cord of cedar will only hold approximately 15 million BTUs. To compare, a cord of maple contains 25 million BTUs, which is a substantially higher amount of heat for the same amount of volume. This puts cedar squarely at the lower end of the spectrum and makes it a very poor source of heat. Cedar has uses, to be sure, but providing ample amounts of heat simply isn’t one of them.

How Fast Does Cedar Burn?

Cedar is an incredibly light, low-density species, and so it burns extremely quickly. A smaller piece of cedar can easily be consumed by fire in only twenty minutes. One may overcome this shortcoming by simply burning larger pieces, which can work well for an outdoor fire, but for indoor woodstoves with a limited capacity, cedar will always be a poor choice for longer, overnight burns with the intention of creating a good, warm bed of coals to release heat through the night.

How Easy is Cedar to Split?

Cedar is one of the easiest-splitting woods available.. A small tap from an axe all it takes to send a cedar log flying in two pieces. this only adds to cedar utility as a kindling for starting fires, as pieces can easily be broken into stick-sized chunks that will ignite with minimal effort. Cedar is so easy to split, it can even be done with a knife. Outdoorsman often “baton” pieces of cedar to cut them into pieces suitable for kindling.

Cedar is a prime choice for starting fires from scratch simply because of how easy it is to split, ignite, and work with in every way. This is where it really shines as a firewood. While it may not be great for keeping you warm overnight, it is often the foundation of every fire, and those who heat their homes with wood should always keep some on hand if it is available.

The smooth grain of cedar firewood allows it to split easily.

How Long Does It Take Cedar Firewood to Season?

Owing to it being a lightweight, low-density firewood, cedar seasons incredibly quickly, reaching desirably low moisture levels usually within 6 months. As with any firewood, total seasoning time will depend on many factors, including climate time of year, and the size the wood is split to.

Smaller pieces of cedar will season much faster than larger pieces. Especially if you plan on using cedar primarily as kindling, it is a good idea to split pieces as small as possible so the wood can dry in optimum amounts of time. When it comes to starting a fire, the drier the wood, the better!

Will Fresh-Cut Cedar Firewood Burn?

Unlike many types of wood, cedar can burn while still relatively green. The resin and oils inside the wood will combust even when surrounding wood is damp. However, it is still best to wait until the wood is seasoned. Not only will it burn infinitely better when dry, but burning green wood can result in the production of creosote. Especially given how quickly cedar dries, it is best to season cedar prior to burning. It doesn’t take too long, and it is certainly worth it.

How Hard Is Cedar to Cut?

Because it is such a light wood with a light density, cedar is incredibly easy to cut and saw through. Even a dull saw will be able to chew through a cedar log with ease. Be warned however, that this means powerful saws with short rakers may be too aggressive. Cutting quickly is nice, but not if it comes at a loss of control.

It should also be noted that when cutting cedar off the stump, its light weight can be a disadvantage. While it is easy to saw through, the light top weight and lower center of gravity (stemming from cedar’s pronounced taper) can make it difficult for gravity to play its part in bringing the tree down. To combat this difficulty, pay close attention to the direction of lean and limb growth, and be sure you cut hinges to proper widths.

How Much Smoke Does Cedar Produce?

When seasoned properly, cedar produces an average amount of smoke. However, the smoke cedar produces is some of the most fragrant and aromatic of any species. It is a sweet, almost acidic smell that smells a bit like pickle juice. It is unmistakable, but also particularly potent. Because of softwood’s tendency to create soot, however, cedar is not suitable for smoking meats.

Cedar firewood produces an average amount of smoke.

Is Cedar Good For Campfires?

Though cedar has a quick burn rate and low heat content, cedar firewood can still be great for campfires. The soft crackle and pleasing aroma of cedar smoke can add ambience to any outdoor gathering, especially when the fire is not intended to be left burning all night.

Even for larger and longer outdoor campfires, cedar is particularly important as a kindling. Outdoor fires can be harder to light, and the ease of ignition offered by cedar makes any fire substantially easier to establish.

Is it Safe to Burn Cedar Indoors?

Cedar is safe to burn indoors as a kindling or on occasion, but it is a poor choice as a mainstay of the woodpile. Like most softwoods, cedar has a higher level of creosote production, and it has a tendency to create sparks when burning, which can be a hazard for open fireplaces. That said, the smell and crackle of a burning cedar log can add ambience to any occasion.

While safe in moderation, burning cedar has also been associated with an increased risk in asthma and other ailments. All things considered, cedar is best burned outdoors.

How Fast Does Cedar Grow?

Cedar is an incredibly slow-growing species. However, this is mostly due to the ground cedar grows on. The species tends to flourish in wet, damp environments where few other trees will grow. These are marginally sites that simply aren’t too productive. The resulting cedar grows at a snails pace.

If cedar is found growing on better sites, growth rates will be notably improved. Even then, it will still be slower compared to other species (especially softwood species) growing on similar sites.

Cedar grows relatively slowly.

Is Cedar Firewood Expensive?

Cedar is a slow-growing species that grows only in specific sites. Moreover, it has a variety of use ranging from shingles to boards, fence posts, and furniture. Because of its limited supply and multitude of uses, cedar firewood can fetch a premium over standard hardwood pulp. Even so, only the lowest quality cedar will be sold as firewood, so it won’t be a terribly high premium.

How to Identify Cedar Firewood

Cedar is a particularly easy wood to identify in the woodpile. It can be readily identified by its soft, stringy brown bark. Additionally, its wood is either tan or a deep red color in the case of western red cedar. If all else fails, cedar can easily be identified by its unique smell. Take a knife and carefully peel off a bit of wood to expose a fresh surface and give it a sniff. Cedar will have a sweet, acidic smell. To me, it smells like dill pickles.

Summary

It is hard to really say definitively how good of a firewood cedar really is. Truly, it is like comparing a wrench and a hammer. One must use the right tool for the right job, and for the right job, cedar is excellent. Just be sure you know the difference between a nut and a nail!

Zachary Lowry

A forester from northern Maine, I spent my early career working for large timberland owners, managing forest land and investments in the form of managing timber harvest operations as well as planning and managing precommercial thinning, planting, and herbicide application programs. These days I work on my own land and help timberland owners large and small manage theirs.

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