Liquid amber, sweetgum, or liquidambar refers to a genus of trees that was recently reconsidered, and now is part of the Altingiceae family. The genus is predominantly an ornamental tree native to north and central America. Though liquid amber is the most popular hardwood available in the east of the US, does it make good firewood?
For hardwood, sweetgum performs great. It has a good enough BTU of 20.6 million per cord to keep you warm during the colder months without overheating your fireplace. But because of the hard grain and difficulty to process it, people tend to avoid liquid amber or sweetgum in favor of an easier wood to process.
What Are The Varieties Of Liquid Amber?
The genus consists of roughly 15 species, but there is only really one species available in America: American sweetgum.
The liquid amber genus is referred to as sweetgum, red gum, and satin-walnut.
What Are The Physical Characteristics Of Liquid Amber?
|Heat per cord (Million BTUs)||20.6|
|Weight dry (lbs per cord)||2250 – 2950|
|Weight green (lbs per cord)||3850 – 4550|
|Seasoning time||12 months|
|Resin/ Sap Content||High in resin|
Is it Easy To Split?
No, liquid amber is a hard wood to split, full of interwoven grains that harden considerably once seasoned. That is why you should take the opportunity to split liquid amber while it is still wet.
Even then, you will find that liquid amber doesn’t really split but tears into smaller pieces by brute force.
It is difficult to get a clean, consistent split from it, so make full use of your hydraulic splitter.
How Much Sap Content Does Sweetgum Have?
Though its sap content is not as high as pine, liquid amber is full of resin. This can cause problems for the fire itself, making it crack and pop.
Still, it will not make for a messy split. And, because it is resin-like sap the liquid amber harbors, the wood will dry out quickly.
What Does it Smell Like?
As a wood, liquid amber has a fiat yeast smell to it, close to the smell of beer. But this smell is very faint and is not enough of a scent to make for unpleasant firewood.
You will find that unseasoned liquid amber takes on a very pungent, unpleasant smell both while splitting and while burning.
Ensure that your liquid amber firewood is fully seasoned before burning to avoid this smell filling your home.
Heat Output And Efficiency Of Liquid Amber
Depending on how much resin remains in liquid amber, it can produce heat as high as 20.6 BTUs. This makes it an excellent source of heat, matching with black ash and Douglas fir heat production.
That is hot enough to keep you warm during the milder winter months.
Fire Characteristics Of Liquid Amber
Though it is hardwood, liquid amber produces poor coals and burns quicker than other hardwoods.
You can prolong the burning time of sweetgum by burning bigger logs, but you won’t be able to make its fire last through the night unless you mix it in with longer burning woods.
The fire that liquid amber creates may be short-lived for hardwood, but nevertheless, it will burn hot.
With such a high resin content, liquid amber will catch the light as quickly as poplar. The issue is that this resin also means that the fire will most likely pop and spark.
Does Liquid Amber Burn Clean?
After liquid amber has been seasoned, it will produce only a low to medium amount of smoke. Partly because of its bark as well as its resin or sap content.
One of the main issues with liquid amber is that its high resin content will cause a fire to pop and spark. It’s common knowledge that depending on where you use the wood, flying sparks can be a hazard.
If you have been burning wood in a fireplace for longer than a year, then you will know that creosote is a black, highly flammable tar that sticks to the inside of your fireplace and chimneys.
Is It Okay To Burn Liquid Amber In A Fireplace?
Seasoned liquid amber firewood is ideal for starting a fire in your fireplace. It will not produce a suffocating amount of heat but will offer enough warmth to keep your house heated on a cold winter evening.
As long as you have a fireplace screen, or a fireplace with a closed door, the sparks, and pops that a liquid amber fire creates will not be an issue.
Of course, you will want to make sure heat you have seasoned your liquid amber firewood for long enough to keep the smoking to a minimum.
How Long To Season Liquid Amber?
A lot of people do not use liquid amber as firewood due to how hard it is to season.
Typically, the wood should only take 12 months to reach a suitable moisture content.
However, the interlocking grains of the liquid amber wood will cause excessive wood warping. This can prevent the wood from drying out completely by liming the reach of airflow.
Sweetgum is also prone to rotting, so it is a race against the clock to ensure that the wood is seasoned before it starts to grow moldy and rot.
Pros And Cons Of Using Liquid Amber As Firewood?
- Quick to season
- Efficient heat
- Little creosote production
- Easy to ignite
- Tendency to spark
- Medium smoke
- Difficult to process
- Quickly burns out
How Does Liquid Amber Compare To Other Firewood?
Many compare liquid amber to pine, saying that it burns the same just without the ridiculous levels of sap.
But liquid amber is still hardwood and will last longer than pine. Though not as long as most hardwoods because of sweetgums’ lower density.
Its BTU does match some softwoods, like better burning pine varieties and douglas fir, but that does not mean that it is a bad wood to burn. Just that it is not as good as premium class hardwoods.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Can I Burn Liquid Amber In A Stove?
Liquid amber is the ideal stovetop firewood in terms of heat. Its heat is hot enough to cook your food during mild winter months or even early spring.
Is Liquid Amber A Hardwood?
Though many say that it performs like a softwood, liquid amber is still a hardwood. It is the most common hardwood currently used in the southeastern parts of the United States.
How To Prevent Seasoning Firewood From Warping?
There is little you can do to stop wood from warping. All firewood warp while seasoning, while the level of warping highly depends on the moisture content and the physical characteristics of the wood.
In summary, liquid amber provides good heat but can be dangerous to burn in an open fireplace because of its sparking nature. It is also one of the most difficult woods to process, so many opt for safer, easier-to-process firewood.
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