A Quick Guide to Firewood: Beech and Box Elder

Beech Wood

Firewood. If you live in an area with a cold, snowy climate, the firewood is one of your main lines of defence against the bitter cold. However, many people still don't realise the importance of knowing about firewood types. These people do away with learning about the different tree species in their areas, robbing themselves of a wealth of valuable knowledge. After all, if you use firewood on a regular basis, it pays to know how firewood works.

Many people incorrectly assume that any type of wood can be used as firewood. We don't make the same assumption for fish: We know some type of fish are inedible and even poisonous. The same concept can be applied to firewood. Wood burns. It is its nature. Exposed to fire, the wood will burn into ash. However, not all wood burn the same. Some types of wood burn brighter and hotter than others. Some, on the other hand, tree species are poisonous, and burning its wood can release the dangerous toxins.

A person who doesn't bother to learn how to differentiate firewood is like a fisherman who can't tell one kind of fish from another. This is important especially if you make your own firewood, whether by hand or with a log splitter.

You might be surprised to know that there are over sixty thousand tree species in the world. One species is definitely different from another, even those within the same family or genus. The same variations that make poplar trees different from the birch also influence the way the wood reacts to fire. Some wood types burn fast and hot, while other species can burn for a long time at low temperatures.

People who live in northern areas or cold climates often use firewood for cooking and heating. Understanding the differences between the wood species endemic to your area can help you build better and hotter fires at a lower cost. Not only will you be able to burn better wood, you will also save money in the process.

Here are the profiles of three of the most popular tree species. I hope this guide can help you choose the right type of wood for you.


The beech (Fagus) is a type of deciduous tree native to North America, Europe and Asia, with close relatives in Australia & Oceania and South America. There are at least ten species within the beech family. The East Asian beech, unlike other members of the beech family, tend to have low-hanging branches. The most common type of beech is the European beech.

The beech is quite hardy as it can grow in a wide variety of soil types, whether basic or acidic, as long as the soil isn't waterlogged. Beech is quite easy to identify due to its unique bark. Some people have likened the bark of beech trees to elephant skin, that is, the surface is smooth and coloured grey.

The beech is oval in form with distinctive dense branching, In forests, the branches tend to move upwards, while beech trees in open areas often feature branches that droop closer to the ground.

Beech is a generally good firewood type since it provides above average heating value. It should be regarded as a desirable type of firewood. However, beech wood can be difficult to split, especially with an axe. You may have to use a log splitter to process beech wood.


Box elder is a species of maple common throughout the North American continent. It can also be found in the British Isles, Continental Europe, China and Australia, where it is considered as a pest invasive species. The box elder is also known as maple ash and ashleaf maple.

The box elder grows fast but has a short lifespan. It can grow up to 80 feet tall, with a trunk diameter of up to 50 centimetres wide. The tree grows in open areas with lots of water and sunlight.

Box elder wood is often considered unacceptable for most uses, including for firewood. The wood easily breaks and attracts pests. As a general rule, box elder wood makes for very poor firewood. It burns too fast and does not produce good coals. You will find yourself constantly adding wood to the fire just to sustain it. Stay away from box elder firewood unless there's literally nothing else better.

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