When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time on hiking trails and in campsites. A major part of those experiences was the wood fires that we used to burn. As a kid I never considered which types of wood are used.
I didn’t know what type of wood we were using; all I knew was that it was wood, and it allowed us to keep warm in winter (when we had a fireplace) and that the fires would burn for quite a while.
With all that in mind, I wanted to know about a specific type of wood – birch. It doesn’t seem to be as commonly used as oak so I got curious.
Is birch good firewood?
Yes, birch burns well and, when it’s burned, generates a bright flame and a fair amount of heat (20 – 26 million BTUs depending on the species). It’s easy to split, and dries out quickly. It also doesn’t throw a ton of sparks, and doesn’t give off too much smoke.
There are around 60 different types of birch trees. They are deciduous (meaning they lose their leaves in the fall) and typically grow in cool, moist woodland climates, living for 60 to 80 years.
What are the good characteristics about using birch as firewood?
- ☑ It burns well
- ☑ It generates a good amount of heat (20 – 26 British Thermal Units)
- ☑ Modest smoke while burning, and doesn’t spit or throw a lot of sparks
- ☑ Splits easily and dries quickly once processed
- ☑ Birch sap is sweet and it doesn’t make a mess
Birch Species are Plentiful
One of the best, and curiously most overlooked, attributes about birch as a firewood is how plentiful it is in much of the country.
There are various birch species that grow well and densely throughout the United States, all the way from Alaska down through Canada and East to New England and then southward through much of the Deep South, and into parts of Florida.
This makes birch widely available at the local level in many places, and you generally won’t have to track it down and pay accordingly like you would with a more specialized or exotic wood in a given area.
And if you don’t live in the United States then you need not worry, because birch species grow throughout the rest of the world, and are especially common in Europe, much of Asia and parts of Africa.
Though not as common as other kinds of trees in many places, they are still present and available as firewood.
Birch is an Efficient Choice
Although most species of birch are not the hottest burning type of firewood available, it is a better choice than most woods and usually cost effective.
Consider that the upper maximum BTU rating for a cord of wood is about 26 million BTUs. This is typically only achieved by a few hardwoods, while most of your common softwoods like pine tend to rate significantly less, anywhere from 20 to 21 million BTUs per cord.
Birch, depending on the species, rates anywhere from 20 to 26 million BTUs per cord, meaning that it will reliably beat most softwoods in heat output, and remains competitive with your typical mainstay hardwoods like oak.
Some species of birch, as we will discuss in the next section, or among the very best firewoods that you can get, period.
Why Does Birch Burn So Well?
Though all wood burns, some types of wood burn better than others. This is due to the density and moisture content of the wood.
Birch is a type of hardwood that has a high density, which means it contains more cellulose and hemicellulose. These two compounds are responsible for releasing heat when they burn. Birch also has a low moisture content, which means there is less water vapor to release when the wood is burned.
As a result, birch burns hot and clean, making it an ideal wood for use in fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. In addition, the pleasant aroma of birchwood smoke makes it a popular choice for smoking food. .
Birch has a Pleasant, Mild Aroma
A fringe benefit for some, but a primary value for others, birch has a pleasant smell that is not overpowering. Some species smell almost minty, like wintergreen, while others have a woodier, spicier note that is more comparable to kitchen spice or incense.
Compared to the intense smell of cedar or the nasty odor of red oak or elm and other similar words, this is definitely another perk for birch as a firewood.
Keep Birch Bark for Tinder
One last trick concerning your birch firewood: keep some of the bark and let it dry out really well for use as tinder. Dry birch bark catches fire readily and burns quickly, making it a great fire starter for getting a fire going in the first place.
For use in your own fireplace or stove, or else kept as a component in a fire starting kit among your survival gear, birch bark has been used this way for millennia and still does a great job today.
The only real problem with using birch, aside from its moderate smokiness, is that it also contains a pretty good amount of creosote and that you must split it quickly after chopping down a tree because it retains water.
The bark is quite tight, which allows the wood to retain absorbs high moisture content; this means that it tends to rot from the inside if left for too long. Proper sizing and a tidy stack that will give it plenty of air are essential.
- Must be processed quickly.
- Can be smoky if improperly sized and not burned hot.
- Moderately high creosote content is harder on chimneys and flues.
Creosote Buildup Can Be a Problem
It isn’t all good news for birch. Birch isn’t the smokiest firewood around, but neither is it the cleanest.
We could say that it is somewhere in the middle, and although it is not known for popping and sparking it is known for creating a fair bit of creosote buildup in your exhaust flue or chimney.
This, of course, can and must be managed as usual but compared to other, cleaner burning woods it will definitely accelerate your maintenance intervals.
Also, particularly when it is not burned properly or properly sized you’ll definitely notice a backdraft of smoke in your living space if your stove or fireplace is not properly maintained. Sadly, yellow birch, despite its other good attributes, is smokier than most species.
There is not much you can do to mitigate this except to ensure your birch firewood is to extend seasoning time for a bare minimum of 6 months but 9 to 12 months is even better.
Then, make sure your fire stays good and hot as this will help to ensure a complete burn and reduce smoke output.
This can save your chimney or stove and also keep the smoke out of the rest of your home.
Types of Birch to Use as Firewood – and Some Alternatives
I mentioned earlier that there are around 60 different species of birch, and you could probably use all of them for firewood in some capacity. With that said, the most commonly used species for firewood are:
- ❌ White Birch (with its characteristic white bark and pleasant scent, also known as paper birch!)
- ❌ Grey Birch
- ❌ Yellow Birch (also known as Swamp Birch)
- ❌ Black Birch (also known as Mountain Mahogany, Sweet Birch, and Cherry Birch)
Which Species of Birch is Best?
Hands down, the best birch wood to use in your fireplace is black birch. It has a heat output, and burns for a long time (thanks to its density). Behind the black birch, yellow birch firewood is also recommended as it’s a dense, hard wood that burns well.
White birch is a good fire-starter but it’s not as good as the main wood. It’s incredibly soft in comparison black and yellow birch; it also tends to throw out a plenty of smoke when burned so that’s another disadvantage.
Regardless of which species you use, birch will burn pretty quickly so in order to keep a merry blaze going you’ll have to mix it in with some slower burning woods like cherry, ash, and/or oak.
Birch Wood Isn’t the Same as Aspen
Something that many articles on the topic of birch as firewood have noted, is that birch and aspen trees are sometimes mixed up.
There are, however, some notable differences between them. The two identifiers you can look at when trying to identify/differentiate between the two are: the bark and the leaves.
Birch bark is chalky, and thin sheets/layers can be peeled off. On the other hand, aspen bark is much smoother. Regarding the leaves, aspen leaves are heart-shaped, whereas birch leaves are long and oval-shaped.
Birch trees are also quite short, only growing about 80 feet in height, whereas aspen trees can reach up to 100 feet.
Now, if you never really paid attention to what type of firewood you were using, I get it. At the end of the day, wood is wood. If it can be split and burned to create a fire and keep me warm, I’ll use it!
Is Maple or Birch Better for Firewood?
While both maple and birch are hardwoods that burn well, there are some key differences between the two. Maple is a denser wood, so it burns hot and slow, making it ideal for long-term fires.
Birch, on the other hand, is a lighter wood that burns more quickly. This makes it better for shorter fires or for igniting a larger fire. In terms of cost, birch is typically cheaper than maple, making it a good choice if you’re on a budget.
However, maple is more widely available, so you may have an easier time finding it.
Birch Versus Other Types of Wood
Ash is a hardwood that burns hot and long. It’s also very easy to split, which makes it a good choice for those who don’t want to spend a lot of time preparing their wood. However, ash
an be difficult to ignite, so it’s not the best choice if you’re looking for a quick fire. Birch is a softer wood that burns relatively quickly.
But it’s also very easy to ignite, so it’s a good choice if you’re looking for a fire that will get going quickly. Birch also has a pleasant aroma when burned, which some people prefer over the smell of ash.
So which is the better choice? It really depends on your personal preferences. If you’re looking for a hot, long-lasting fire, go with ash. If you want a quick fire that’s easy to ignite, birch is the way to go.
Oak is a hardwood, which means that it burns slowly and evenly. This makes it a good choice if you want a long-lasting fire.
However, oak can also be difficult to ignite, so you may need to use a starter log or kindling. Birch is a softer wood, so it lights more easily than oak. In addition, birch burns hot and fast, making it ideal for creating a quick blaze.
However, birch wood can also create more sparks than oak, so you’ll need to be careful if you’re using it in an enclosed space.
Ultimately, the best type of wood to burn depends on your personal preferences. If you want a slow-burning fire that will last all night long, go for oak.
But if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to get the fire going, birch is the way to go.
If you want a hot fire that burns brightly and quickly, then hardwoods like oak or hickory are your best bet. If you’re looking for a slow-burning fire that emits a lot of heat, then softwoods like pine or spruce are better choices.
Wood with a high density and low moisture content will burn slowly and evenly, providing sustained heat over an extended period of time. The best firewood for slow-burning fires is typically hardwoods like oak, hickory, or maple.
Birch firewood typically needs to season for at least six months before it is ready to use. Once the wood has been properly seasoned, it can be stored for up to two years.
Softwoods such as pine and poplar burn quickly, so they aren’t ideal for firewood. You should also avoid unsafe wood like treated lumber, as this can release harmful chemicals when burned.
Hardwoods, like oak and maple, tend to burn hotter and produce less smoke than softwoods, like pine and cedar. That said, seasoned wood that has been properly dried burns with less smoke than unseasoned wood.
The most efficient wood to burn is well-seasoned hardwood. Hardwood is denser than softwood, so it burns slowly and evenly. This allows you to get more heat from less wood, making it a more efficient option for heating your home.
Burning birch bark is perfectly safe, though it won’t produce a very long lasting fire. As long as you’re not burning the bark indoors, there’s no cause for concern.
Greg spent most of his childhood in camping grounds and on hiking trails. While he lives in the suburbs nowadays, Greg was raised on a small farm with chickens. He’s a decent shot with a bow, and a huge knife enthusiast. Find out more about Greg.