Is Catalpa Good Firewood?

Catalpa (aka catawba) prefers the colder, northern regions of the United States, often crossing in Canadian territory. The tree is a genus of the Bignoniaceae family and is widely available in the areas where it does grow. But is it worth burning as firewood?

Often mistaken for softwood, catalpa is quite poor firewood. It only generates 16.4 million BTUs per cord once seasoned, mostly because it is very quick to burn out. If you want a short fire during the warmer spring or autumn months, catalpa is perfect. Otherwise, go with firewood that produces more heat.

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What Are The Varieties Of Catalpa?

Though there are several varieties of catalpa all over the world, there are only two types that are native to North America:

  • Southern catalpa
  • Northern catalpa

There is not a lot of difference between these trees either when growing or when turned into firewood. It doesn’t matter much which one you will end up using as firewood.

What Are The Physical Characteristics Of Catalpa?

Heat per cord (Million BTUs)16.4
Weight dry (lbs per cord)2360
Weight green (lbs per cord)4560
Seasoning time8-12 months
Resin/ Sap ContentLow
Splitting DifficultyModerate-Easy
SmellSlightly Spicey
Coal ProductionPoor
Creosote Build-upLow

Is Catalpa Easy To Split?             

With a tight, even grain, catalpa is moderately easy to split. So easy, in fact, that it could be split with an ax or a maul without any difficulties.

The only issue is that catalpa tends to grow twisted and warped. This can result in a fair few knots forming within the wood.

So, much like Bradford pear logs, the straighter piece of catalpa you can find, the easier it will be to split.

How Much Sap Content Does it Have?

Though the bark of a catalpa tree can be oily, its sap levels are low.

Any sap that is present once catalpa has been cut will dry out very quickly. Its sap will not present a problem for catalpa’s burning qualities.

What Does it Smell Like?

Some people say that catalpa has an unpleasant smell, others quite like it. But the general consensus is that as a greenwood, it carries a spicy undertone.

When used as firewood, catalpa can develop an unpleasant scent if it has not been properly seasoned.

For a sweeter-smelling wood, you should choose sugar maple or tulip poplar. They are both pleasantly sweet as logs and when burnt.

Heat Output And Efficiency Of Catalpa

Catalpa does not have a good heat output. It performs poorly, especially for hardwood, with a BTU of 16.4. That is the same heat efficiency as most pine woods have.

What makes catalpa such a poor source of heat is its density. As a wood, it is very light and will not last long enough to generate real heat. This is why catalpa has such a low BTU.

Fire Characteristics Of Catalpa

As a wood that produces very poor coals and is light in density, catalpa firewood will not provide a long-lasting fire. Unlike denser woods, like tamarack or hackberry which will provide a slower burning fire.

Its low sap content also means that there will be only a few sparks created by the fire. The flames it creates are not aggressive in nature and will be moderately hot while they burn.

Does Catalpa Burn Clean?

With little sap to fuel smoke production, catalpa is clean-burning firewood.

That being said, even if you were to build a fire completely out of catalpa and continue to replenish its wood to keep the fire going, it still wouldn’t produce much smoke. Unlike pine which would smoke if given the chance due to its resin content.

Catalpa’s quick burn and lack of smoke mean that it will not contribute a lot to creosote build-up, even if you restock the fire often.

Is It Okay To Burn Catalpa In A Fireplace?

In terms of being safe for fireplace use, catalpa passes the test. Next to no sparks or smoke means that you would not have to monitor the fire as often and will have less creosote stuck to your chimney flues.

However, while you can use catalpa in your fireplace, you may not want to.

Even if you are fine with using ample wood to keep a catalpa fire going, you will not get a lot of heat from it. Perhaps it would keep your home warm enough to ward off the autumn evening chill, but that is about it.

You should instead use catalpa as kindling. It is quick to ignore and will burn hot enough to help other, better-quality woods catch the light.

How Long To Season Catalpa Wood?

Being low in both moisture and sap means that catalpa wood only requires a seasoning time of 8-12 months.

It is important to ensure that your firewood has been seasoned for long enough before you use it. Otherwise, it will smoke a lot more and will create safety issues for your fire – as is the case with unseasoned catalpa.

Luckily, catalpa is rot-resistant. So, if you fall on some bad luck and cut a wet catalpa tree, you can leave it out for longer than 12 months to properly season.

Pros And Cons Of Using Catalpa As Firewood


  • Easy preparation
  • High-quality kindling
  • Low creosote production
  • Little smoke


  • Very short burning time
  • Insufficient heat output
  • Can smell unpleasant
  • No coaling

How Does Catalpa Compare To Other Firewood?

For a hardwood, catalpa is terrible firewood compared to other hardwoods. It has a considerably low BTU, matching that of pine and cedar rather than ash or elm.

The light density of catalpa means that it burns up very quickly, making it inefficient firewood when put up against other hardwoods.

Though it does season considerably quicker than oak or black locust and has a low sap content, it will not smoke as much when used as kindling as pine or fir would.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is Catalpa Toxic?

The wood itself is not toxic to humans. However, the roots and leaves of a catalpa tree are poisonous to both humans and animals, so do not burn the leaves under any circumstance.

Can I Use Catalpa On My Stove? 

You may be able to get enough heat out of catalpa firewood to heat your stove adequately, but it is not preferred firewood. The fast-burring qualities of the wood would make it difficult to properly cook or heat your home. However, the wood would be safe to burn on a stove because of the little smoke and few sparks it gives out.

Which Firewood Burns For The Longest Time? 

There are lots of things to consider when estimating how long wood will burn: coaling qualities, density, moisture content, heat output to name a few. Hickory wood performs exceedingly well in most of these categories and is likely to burn for considerably longer than most other firewoods.


Catalpa should not be your first choice of firewood. It may be categorized as hardwood, but its burning qualities do not match hardwood standards. If you are after a quick fire that will see you through a breezy autumn evening for an hour or two, then catalpa will work great. Otherwise, only use catalpa wood as kindling or for outdoor campfires.

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