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River Birch as Firewood: Yay or Nay?

River Birch as Firewood

River birch trees are famous for their ornamental reddish-brown peeling bark, but is this all this tree can do? Or can they also be good firewood to keep your homes warm and cozy?

Let’s put the river birch to the test and see how it will fare as firewood. Read on to learn more!

Is river birch a good firewood?

Is river birch a good firewood
Image: Direct Native Plants

River birch makes excellent firewood for overnight heating indoors and outdoors. It is one of the hottest firewood to warm up your winter nights with its high heat output of 28 million BTUs per cord, little smoke and moderate coal production. 

Despite extremely high heat output, it burns steadily, allowing control over the hot flames. Its burn time is also extended because of its average coal production.

Although it has high sap content, most of the sap is stored in its bark, so the river birch firewood does not pop or spark, making it a safe wood indoors.

The oily sap in its bark also helps the firewood to ignite quickly, even when you’re outdoors or when it’s snowy or raining. 

River birch is one of the most popular types of wood in the United States, so much so that 13% of homes use it as a heat source or for cooking. 

Below is an overview of river birch firewood’s physical and fire characteristics.

Tree NameRiver Birch
Common NameBlack BirchRed BirchWater Birch
Scientific NameBetula nigra
Height 30 to 70 feet
Life Span50 to 75 years
Type of WoodHardwood
Dry Weight 4,066 lbs per cord
Green Weight4,845 lbs per cord
Seasoning Time9 to 12 months
Heat Content (million BTUs per cord)28
Heat ProductionHigh
Sap ContentHigh
Splitting DifficultyEasy
Coal ProductionModerate
Creosote Build-upModerate

Fire-Burning Properties of River Birch Firewood

Fire-Burning Properties of River Birch Firewood
Image: HGTV

River birch firewood is easy to split, has high sap content, emits a minty smell and produces a high heat output.

Let’s discuss how each fire characteristic affects river birch as firewood.

1. Easy to Split

Easy to Split
Image: The Manual

River birch firewood is easy to split, especially while it’s still green.

Although this wood is denser than other birch varieties, it can still be split by hand or using a hydraulic splitter.

Just a tip: Make sure you sore the bark during splitting to allow the wood to dry out thoroughly.

2. High Sap Content

High Sap Content
Image: Wikipedia

River birch has high sap content, but the good news is that the sap and moisture are retained in its bark, so fewer sparks are burned. 

On the brighter side, the oily sap left on the bark of the river birch makes it an effective kindling wood. You can ignite this wood even when it’s moist, snowy or raining outdoors.

3. Minty Smell

Minty Smell
Image: The Spruce

The river birch is almost everyone’s favorite birch wood because of its wintergreen minty fragrance. It’s not too smokey, overwhelming or intense, making it a refreshing choice for indoor fires.

4. High Heat Output 

High Heat Output 
Image: Science ABC

The river birch firewood has a high heat output of 28 BTU, making it the hottest burning birch tree variety. It also joins Butternut Hickory and Chestnut oak in the high heat output tier.

Further, river birch’s high density and close-nit fibers can sustain this extremely high heat for an extended time.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using River Birch as Firewood

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using River Birch as Firewood
Image: Gardening Know How

Here are the pros and cons of river birch firewood.

Low smoke outputModerate creosote build-up
High heat output

A prized firewood, river birch has an efficient heat output of 28 BTU but with the added benefit of long burning hours thanks to its high density and good coal production.

The river birch is another clean-burning wood. It releases little smoke and does not pop or spark, making it a safe choice for fireplaces and campfires.

However, there’s one caveat: it has moderate creosote build-up. So, when you burn river birch firewood, you’ll have to exert an extra effort to clean up the black tar-like substance in your chimney since it’s flammable and, thus, a fire safety hazard.

How does river birch compare with other firewood?

How does river birch compare with other firewood
Image: Johnson’s Nursery

River birch is the best burning birch tree variety which usually leaves its users with a good problem of the fire being too hot. It even outperforms grey and white birch woods in terms of heat output.

Compared with other hardwoods like oak and hickory, river birch creates effective fire but dries out quicker than them.

How long should you season river birch wood?

How long should you season river birch wood
Image: Healey Tree Works

River birch wood takes 9 to 18 months to season thoroughly. 

Remember, it is a hardwood with high density, so it takes a lot of time for its water content to evaporate from its trunk.

Make sure to check the wood using a moisture meter constantly and only burn it when its moisture content hits below 20%.

Here are the quality grades of river birch firewood after seasoning.

Quality GradeIndicators
Premium River Birch Firewood• Low moisture level

• Ideal for heating indoor spaces
Good River Birch Firewood• Average moisture level

• May contain common pests
Standard River Birch Firewood• Above-average moisture level

• Used for outdoor fires
Inferior River Birch Firewood• Above-average moisture level

• Insect infestations

• Mixed with other firewood to lessen the effect on heating space temperature

FAQs on River Birch Firewood

Is river birch wood good for anything?

River birch wood is commonly used as plywood, veneer, doors, paneling, and other furniture and specialty wood items.

Does river birch firewood burn longer?

River birch firewood burns two times slower than other softwoods because of its high density and good coal production that sustains the high heat and longer burn time.

Can I burn fresh river birch?

You should avoid burning fresh river birch or unseasoned wood because it will only produce a lot of smoke and creosote that will clog your chimney.

When is the best time to cut river birch wood?

The best time to cut down river birch is during winter because this is the time when they are dormant and with the least amount of sap. This will give them a headstart in drying out faster than in summer when their water content levels are high.

Is river birch good for cooking?

River birch is a good firewood for cooking because of its high heat output, long burn time and wintergreen fragrant smell when burning.

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