Is Box Elder Good Firewood? (Also Known as Manitoba Maple)

Even though it is a member of the maple family, the box elder (Acer negundo) is often seen as the outcast of the family. Box elder is one of the most common trees in North America. It is fast-growing and can spread without much intervention. Although it is a brittle tree and tends to break at the slightest inconvenience. But how well does box elder do as firewood?

Box elder is a tolerable wood to burn for a short period of time. Producing a BTU of between 17.9 – 18.2 million per cord, box elder burns warm enough to heat your house during normal weather conditions but is unable to keep warm without regular fire maintenance.

is manitoba maple good firewood

What Are The Varieties Of Box Elder Wood?

There are 3 cultivated varieties of box elder, though their wood-burning qualities do not differ. Those varieties are:

  • Baron Boxelder
  • Flamingo Boxelder
  • Variegated Boxelder

Box elder also goes by many names, dependent on the region. A few are ash-leaved maple, sugar ash, and – in Canada – Manitoba maple.

What Are The Physical Characteristics Of Box Elder Wood?

Here is a quick summary of a box elder woods characteristics:

NameBox Elder
Heat per cord (Million BTUs)17.9 – 18.2
Weight dry (lbs per cord)2630
Weight green (lbs per cord)3590
Seasoning time6 – 12 month
Resin/ Sap ContentMedium
Splitting DifficultyDifficult
Coal ProductionPoor
Cerocote Build-upLittle

For more information on firewood weights and BTU check out this chart.

Is Box Elder Easy To Split?

Some woods tend to be easier to split when they are dry, but box elder is better to split when still damp.

This is because the box elder grows in twisted, misshaped branches. Waiting for it to dry allows the wood to harden and become more difficult to split.

When damp, it is found to be easier to split.

What Does Box Elder Smell Like?

While poplar and tamarack firewood develop a pleasant smell, box elder does not.

Box elder releases a bad smell when freshly cut which gets slightly diluted once the wood has been split and seasoned. But even then, it still can produce an unpleasant aroma as it starts to rot quite fast.

How Much Sap Content Does Box Elder Have?

Seeing as box elder is part of the maple family, it is a tree that is rich in sap. Specifically sugary sap.

Though box elder is still a hardwood, its sap does not get as messy as some softer woods like fir and pine that produce an enormous amount of resin.  

If you want less sap to contend with while processing your box elder wood, then cut it during winter. There is less active sap in the wood during the colder months.

Moisture Levels Of Box Elder

Though box elder tends to prefer moist soil to grow, it can also survive in dry soil too. This means that typically, the box elder carries more moisture than others but is not necessarily a wet wood.

When it is wet, it is an extremely heavy wood to carry, gaining almost 1000 lbs per cord. So keep this in mind when transporting box elder firewood.

Heat Output and Efficiency of Box Elder

Box elder wood is a burning anomaly.

Generally, hardwood burns for longer at a higher heat as it tends to be denser. Softwood, therefore, burns quickly and gives off little heat. Box elder is a little different.

It is hardwood with low density, burning similarly to tulip poplar firewood or alder and other softwoods.

Producing a BTU of between 17.9 and 18.2, you will get enough heat from box elder to warm a room, but it will not last all night as oak varieties would. Though it does light quickly so you can get a fire going quickly.

If you only have box elder to hand, then you can keep a constant fire burning by adding more wood often. But if you want a fire with little need for maintenance, use box elder as a fire starter then switch to a hardwood that has a high BTU such as hickory, locust, or birch.

Fire Characteristics Of Box Elder

As well as wood characteristics, it is important to determine the fire characteristics of the Manitoba maple to see where it is best burnt.

Creosote build-up

There are several things that can contribute to rapid creosote build-up, including burning wet wood in your fireplace and burning wood that produces a lot of smoke.

Firewood tends to produce more smoke the wetter it is, but even when box elder is seasoned well, it can still produce a moderate amount of smoke.

Because of this, box elder will cause more creosote build-up than other hardwoods like oak and hickory and even other maple varieties.

Amount Of Smoke

Despite often becoming overly dry during seasoning, box elder still produces a moderate amount of smoke when burnt. More than tulip poplar which has very similar characteristics.

That is why many advise saving box elder for outside use only.

Does It Produce Coals?

Like oak, hickory, and other hardwoods, box elder does produce some coals, but they are of very poor quality.

It is important for firewood to produce good quality coals in order to keep burning for longer. However, some firewood burns off more ash than they do coal. Box elder is one of those woods.

Is It Okay To Burn Box Elder In A Fireplace?

For firewood to be suited for a fireplace, it must both be safe enough and efficient enough to burn indoors.

Box elder produces more smoke than other woods with similar BTUs like sycamore. Likewise, a box elder fire can spark more and produces more ash than other hardwoods.

So long as you have a closed fireplace, box elder can be burned in a fireplace.

Producing a BTU of between 17.9 and 18.2 means that you are able to heat a home for a moderate amount of time so long as you replenish the stove often.

How Long To Season Box Elder Wood?

Box elder can be ready to burn after only 6 months of seasoning but wood in moister and colder regions could take a year to season properly. You will be able to tell when the wood is nearly ready to use as it will be considerably lighter than when first cut, or you can use a moisture meter. The moisture content should be lower than 20%.

It is worth noting that box elder is as likely to get overly dry as it is to rot. That is why it is a wood best used within a year of splitting.

Is Box Elder Firewood Expensive?

The price of box elder stays in the same range as other softwoods. For a cord of split and seasoned Manitoba maple, you can expect to pay around 300-350USD. It is considered to be expensive taking into account the characteristics of the wood.

Pros And Cons Of Using Box Elder as Firewood


  • Moderate heat production
  • Fast seasoning
  • Widely available


  • Quick to rot
  • Requires constant maintenance
  • Unpleasant smell
  • Moderate amount of smoke

How Does Box Elder Compare To Other Firewood?

Even though it is a hardwood, box elder does not have as high a BTU as other maple firewood. Still, it does produce a moderate amount of heat compared to some fir and aspen woods.

Box elder does generate more smoke when it burns than other hardwoods which increases the risk of creosote build-up, but still less smoke than the slow-burning Chestnut varieties.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How To Cover Up Bad Firewood Smells? 

There is no real way to prevent bad-smelling firewood from stinky up your house. It definitely helps to season it properly to minimize the odor, but your best bet is to mix the wood in with nicer smelling firewood to cancel out the smell.

What Moisture Content Firewood Should Be? 

In order to burn effectively, you want your firewood to reach a 20% or lower moisture content. Any higher and your firewood will smoke and spit excessively while producing little heat. 

How much is in a Rick of wood? 

A Rick of wood is a 4 by 4 by 8-foot cube of firewood. The breadth of the Rick will slightly change based on where you get it.


To conclude, box elder is low-tiered firewood, suitable to use outdoors as it is known to smoke more than other hardwoods. It does burn hot enough to be an effective heat source for a home but it does require constant maintenance.

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