Fires are something that can really tie a gathering or campsite together. Whether you’re keeping warm or lighting a fire on the beach, there’s something about fire that attracts almost everyone.
Choosing the right kind of firewood can ensure that your fire burns well, smells good, and, keeps going throughout the evening and doesn’t produce excessive smoke.
In this article, we’ll be looking at whether cedar makes good firewood. We’ll look at some common types of cedar that are used, and what exactly cedar’s burning properties are like.
So, is cedar good firewood? Read on to find out.
Birch Firewood Facts
BTU: 13 – 18.2 Heat per Cord (Million BTUs)
Weight: 2970 lbs./ Cord (Green)
Seasoning Time: 9-12 months
Resin / Sap Content: High
Splitting Difficulty: Easy
Fragrance: Sweet & Woody
Overall Quality: Fair
What is Cedar?
Native to Lebanon, the Mediterranean, and some parts of Asia, the Cedar tree has since been introduced to many other parts of the world.
However, this is not the only kind of cedar! Although these are considered the only “true” cedars, some trees that are not strictly cedars are called “cedar” anyway.
These include North American species, such as the Alaskan Cedar and the Western Red Cedar.
Cedar is a softwood, meaning it doesn’t have as high a density as other woods like oak.
Common Types and Species of Cedar Trees Used for Firewood
Let’s look at the two most common types of cedar:
- Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
Found on the East coast of the United States, Eastern Red Cedar is commonly used for firewood where available. As a dense and slow-burning wood, Eastern Red Cedar produces a hot and long-lasting campfire. It’s known for its pleasant aroma which can add to the ambiance of a fire.
- Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata)
Western Red Cedar is primarily found in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and is an evergreen tree. Although it belongs to the Cedrus genus, it is not a true Cedar. These majestic trees can reach towering heights of 210 to 230 feet and have a diameter of 10 to 13 feet. Some of these trees have been known to live for up to 1,400 years.
The tree’s leaves grow in pairs that are positioned at ninety-degree angles to each other, creating a flat, lattice-like structure. If the leaves are crushed, they produce a fragrant and robust aroma that is characteristic of this species.
The Burn Qualities of Cedar Firewood
So, what exactly is burning cedar wood like?
You may have smelled cedar before in the context of a perfume or cleaning product — maybe even an air freshener.
It has a rich and earthy smell, along with a slight lemony note. This smell tends to be stronger in Western Red Cedars than in Eastern Reds.
Resin and Sap
Because cedar is a soft wood, it has a low wood density. As a result, resin and sap pockets can easily accumulate within the wood. Cedar has a relatively high sap content compared to hardwoods.
However, it’s definitely not the worst wood ever in terms of sap content. Other woods such as pine contain significantly more sap and resin.
Cut and Split Difficulty
Cedar is an easy wood to split. Because it’s not particularly dense, it’s easy to chop the wood with one or two strokes of an ax.
This will be refreshing for those accustomed to cutting harder woods, which often takes a bit more effort.
Cedar typically takes between nine months and a year to be properly seasoned. It’s important to wait this long and ensure that it isn’t wet, as wet wood will exacerbate poor burning qualities such as sparking, smoke, and creosote buildup.
As a soft wood, cedar can contain quite a lot of moisture. If you’re concerned about whether it’s had enough time to dry, you can get a moisture meter to check that the moisture is under 20%.
Cedar firewood burns hot and quickly, meaning that if you’re trying to keep a fire going purely on cedar, you’re going to have quite a lot of trouble doing so.
Cedar also has a lower heat efficiency than other more frequently used firewood. It has a BTU capacity of between 13 and 18.2 million BTU per cord, which is significantly lower than something like oak at 24.6 million BTU per cord on the low end.
Cedar produces a significant amount of smoke, although not a ridiculous amount. In terms of evergreen woods, it’s one of the less smoky options.
The smoke is what carries cedar’s smell, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when using it to provide a bit of flavor to some food.
Cedar’s high sap content and nature as a soft wood means it will typically have a larger
quantity of moisture and byproducts when burnt. These lead to a relatively high buildup of a substance called creosote.
Creosote is toxic and a fire hazard, so burning cedar indoors is not ideal. Making sure the wood is well-seasoned will reduce creosote buildup, but even then cedar isn’t a great choice to minimize it.
Cedar sparks a lot. You’ll want to make sure that there are no flammable materials too close to the fire, as those sparks can fly a surprisingly long distance.
This is especially important when building campfires. Ensure that all flammable materials are well away from the fire to prevent forest fires.
Where to Burn Cedar
Due to its high sap content, it both causes creosote buildup and has a high risk of sparking— neither of which are ideal qualities for an indoor fire.
Pros and Cons of Using Cedar as Firewood
- Aroma: Cedar has a pleasant aroma that many people enjoy when sitting around a campfire
- Easy to ignite: Cedar is relatively easy to ignite, making it a good choice for starting a fire
- Burns hot and fast: Cedar burns hot and fast, which is great for creating a quick and intense campfire
- Readily Available: Cedar is widely available in many regions, making it a convenient choice for campers
- Quick Seasoning Time: Compared to other firewoods, cedar will season relatively quickly, in a 9 to 12 month period
- Sparks: Cedar tends to produce a lot of sparks when burned, which can be dangerous if they land on flammable material nearby
- Resin: Cedar contains a lot of resin, which can build up in your chimney or stovepipe over time and increase the risk of a chimney fire. Particularly dangerous for hot-tent wood-burning stoves
- Smoke: Cedar produces a lot of smoke when burned, which can be irritating to the eyes and lungs
- Short-lived: Cedar burns quickly, which means you’ll need to keep adding more wood to the fire to keep it going all night long
Cedar vs. Other Firewood
Cedar has a quicker seasoning time than many other firewoods— especially hardwoods.
Softwoods, which cedar is more directly comparable to, tend to take between 6 and 12 months to properly season, and Cedar lands between the middle and the top end of that range.
Cedar is also easier to split than hardwoods. It burns hotter than many other firewoods, but also much quicker— and with the disadvantage of producing a significant quantity of sparks and creosote buildup.
The Verdict: Is Cedar Good Firewood?
Cedar can be a great pick for kindling, particularly for outdoor fires.
The pleasant smell it produces, as well as its ability to catch quickly and burn hot, makes it perfect for getting a campfire started!
However, you should avoid using cedar as the main wood for any fire where possible, due both to its high sap content (resulting in creosote) and its tendency to produce plenty of potentially hazardous sparks.
Firewood Facts – Your Guide To Campfire Fuel
There are many types of firewood you could use for your campfire. All of them offer different characteristics which make for better or worse campfires – depending on what you’re looking for.
Discover, below, the key differences between some popular firewood’s to help you determine which wood would be best for your next campfire.
For a complete firewood facts guide, check out our Best Firewood Facts Chart article.