There are many varieties of Cedar trees often classified as true Cedar species and false Cedar species. This article will discuss false cedar species growing in the United States: Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and Western red cedar (Thuja plicata), commonly referred to as cedar in the English language.
So is cedar firewood good?
Cedar is not good firewood, but it makes an excellent material for kindling. Because of cedars’ high sap content, it burns aggressively fast and due to that, it is not recommended to use it without mixing with other, more stable types of firewood.
What are the Varieties of Cedar in the United States?
The two cedar varieties we are talking about in this article are eastern red cedar and western red cedar.
When talking about species that have only a slight geographical difference in the name, we would assume that the species are pretty much indistinguishable. That is not the case with these two varieties when it comes to their characteristics as trees and firewood.
The lists in the next section will give a detailed overview of the two trees as firewood.
What are The Physical Characteristics of Cedar
|Red cedar, Eastern||Red Cedar, Western|
|Heat per cord ( Million BTUs)||13||18.2|
|Weight dry (lbs per cord)||2060||2632|
|Weight green (lbs per cord):||2595||2950|
|Seasoning Time (months)||9-12||12-18|
|Resin / Sap Content||High||High|
|Distribution||Eastern North America||Pacific Northwest|
As you can see looking at the table, it is easy to distinguish one cedar from another. The most notable factor would be the size of the tree as well as the distribution area where the species are found.
Here is a more detailed table showing the most common tree species in the US by BTU and cord weight.
Is Cedar Easy to Split?
Both cedar trees are easy to split for firewood, especially the eastern red cedar. The only notable difference would come from the diameter of western red cedar.
The mammoth size of the tree’s diameter will make splitting slightly more difficult, furthermore, the western species are also denser.
Overall, with a decent ax, it is fairly easy to split both varieties, no matter if the wood is green or already dried.
What Does Cedar Smell Like
Cedar species have a very pleasant scent, highly valued among their users. To put it in words, all cedar species have one thing in common: citrus-like sweet scent with a camphoraceous undertone.
The smell is most notable right after splitting the wood or after cutting the tree down. Once the wood is seasoned, the scent is not as notable.
How Much Sap and Resin Content Does Cedar Have
Cedar is a softwood that belongs to the cypress (Cupressaceae) family of trees. Most softwood trees like fir and pine are known for high sap content and cedar is not an exception.
The sap found in cedar is oily in nature, giving it the fragrance that the tree is known for. Even though cedar is rich in sap, the sap is not messy or sticky compared to other softwoods.
The high amount of oily sap content does affect the burning qualities of the wood negatively, but more on that later.
Heat Output and Efficiency of Cedar Wood
Referencing the table above, you can see the two types of cedar we are discussing in this article have a huge difference between heat produced by a cord of wood, ranging from 13 to 18.2 million BTUs.
The difference between eastern red cedar and western red cedar is solid 5.2 million BTUs per cord in favor of western red cedar.
However, this does not mean that western red cedar is considered good firewood. Like most softwoods, both of the species are considered to be poor to mediocre at best in quality.
Fire characteristics of X
When it comes to the fire characteristics of these two species, things are not getting better. Besides the low heat output value, cedar also has poor fire characteristics.
As firewood, cedar catches fire easily due to its sap content and low density, at the same time it also burns extremely quickly and throws a lot of sparks. When I say extremely quickly I mean really quickly and almost uncontrollably.
Because the cedar tends to catch fire fairly easily, its preferred use is as a fire starter or kindling to light up more dense hardwoods like mulberry or maple firewood.
Let’s have a deeper look.
Because of the high sap content cedar does not burn as clean when compared to hardwoods like locust firewood or Oak firewood.
Since it does not burn as clean as hardwoods, it also creates more creosote compared to premium firewood. That creosote will then start accumulating on the walls of the chimney or flue.
If you are not familiar with the term creosote, it is a byproduct of burning. The more sap wood has, the dirtier the smoke is, contaminating the walls of your chimney.
Amount of smoke
Cedar produces a medium amount of smoke, even if seasoned properly. The reason behind high levels of smoke, again, is the high sap content.
As an upside, it is considered to be one of the cleanest burning evergreen wood out there.
Does it produce quality coals and why it is important?
When it comes to coal production, cedar is not the greatest in this area either. It quickly catches fire, burns hot, and then dies off quickly because of its low density.
The only way to make a cedar fire last is to use huge chunks of wood at a time. The key would be to avoid splitting the firewood into small bits and filling the stove to the top with them. Instead, it is better to use a few big chunks of cedar wood at a time.
Is it Okay to Burn Cedar in a Fireplace?
It is okay to burn cedar in an indoor fireplace as long as you mix it with other, less aggressive firewood. It should be used in a log burner, a fireplace with a closed-door not in an open fireplace.
The reason behind it is the high sap content within the species. The high sap content makes the burning highly unstable, moreover, because of the sap, it pops and throws out sparks, creating a fire hazard if not used in a closed wood burner.
How Long to Season The Wood?
The amount of time it takes to season Cedar firewood depends on a variety of factors. For example, how the wood is stored, is split, and what the weather conditions are during the drying process.
If the wood is split and stacked at a place with decent airflow, and the average temperature over 50 degrees F, you can expect the cedar varieties to be seasoned between 9 to 18 months.
On the high end, cedar varieties can have a moisture content above 89% freshly cut, but the wood is considered seasoned once the moisture content is below 20%.
On the upside, cedar is considered one of the fastest drying wood out there.
To measure the moisture content you can use a moisture meter like this from Amazon.
Is Cedar Firewood Expensive?
Cedar is not common nor expensive, compared to other firewood like Oak or Locust.
According to PORT ANGELES FIREWOOD L.L.C a half, a cord of Cedar firewood costs 119 dollars whereas a full cord will set you back around 199 dollars which is surprisingly cheap.
As another example, npcfirewood.com offers a cedar/hardwood mix at 211USD for half a cord, and for a full cord, they charge 329 USD.
Pros and Cons of Using Cedar as Firewood
- Easy to light
- Easy to split
- Pleasant aroma
- Burns hot and fast, very volatile firewood
- Low BTU rating
- Throws sparks
- Does not burn as clean as hardwoods
How does Cedar compare to other firewood?
When compared to chestnut firewood varieties or horse chestnut firewood, which have similar BTUs per cord of wood (18 and 13.8 respectively) then cedar varieties are better.
That’s because, though the amount of energy you get per cord is similar, chestnut varieties do not have a pleasant aroma. In fact, green chestnut smell is horrible. Furthermore, chestnut tends to spit more sparks even after you season it properly.
Besides that, comparing any softwood including cedar to hardwoods like locusts, white oak firewood, or even mulberry firewood, cedar loses in every aspect besides fragrance.
Frequently asked questions
Is burning cedar toxic?
It has not been scientifically proven that the smoke cedars produce is more toxic than any other firewood would produce when burnt. That aside, cedar does have higher sap content than many hardwoods, thus it produces heavier smoke and more creosote than premium firewood.
Is it safe to burn cedar in a fireplace?
Cedar is very volatile firewood that burns extremely fast and hot for a short period of time. Due to the aggressive nature of the cedar firewood, it is not recommended to use it exclusively. It is preferred to use it as a fire starter only, or if you wish to burn it in larger quantities, mix it with more stable hardwoods like oak or maple varieties.
How much is one BTU?
1 BTU is the amount of energy it takes to heat 1 lb of water by 1 F. For perspective, 1 Million BTU is equal to the energy generated by 179 gallons of oil and 7,283 kW of electricity.
Cedar is exceptional wood to use for kindling but it should not be used exclusively as firewood. Although it has a fairly low, 13 to 18.2 million BTU’s per cord depending on species, due to its high oil content it burns uncontrollably fast. The best way to use it as firewood would be to mix it with more stable, slow-burning hardwoods like locust or oak.
I am the guy behind Theyardable.com. I grew up on a homestead and I am here to share the knowledge I have and things I learn while living in the countryside.