Firewood Supply and Species Used for Firewood

Sawlog and Firewood Supply

In 2014 the sawlog and firewood supply were a struggle in the summer, getting off to a slow start with a lot of rain. Fortunately a drier than usual September and October allowed a good period of productive logging. Many mills managed to bring in a good inventory, which we need to be able to saw continuously through the fall mud season and keep paying the bills. Some parts of New England, such as southern New Hampshire, were not as fortunate with weather as the rain did not let up for them. While sawlog supply worked out well for many people, the firewood/pulpwood supply ended up low for everyone.

Variations in supply and demand in the markets for firewood and pulp are normal, sometimes wide variations. What has changed is the market. More pellet mills are being built and more people are going into the firewood business, to meet the demand of people putting pellet stoves and wood stoves into their homes. These markets are supplied by a gradually decreasing number of loggers and since everyone is subject to the whims of the weather, we are likely to see more years like this year when there is not enough material to meet demand. Everyone who needed the lowest quality logs has had difficulty getting in raw material, whether they are a paper mill, firewood producer or pellet mill. No one in those markets was able to bring in enough low grade material in the fall of 2014.

This is the constant dance of inventory, with price fluctuations caused by weather and the strength of the various markets for products made from low quality wood. In 2014 we raised the price of firewood twice. The first time was because we had not raised the price of firewood in two years. The second price increase was needed since the firewood logs were 15 percent more expensive than the previous year because of weather and the demands of the market. In late 2014 log length firewood and pulpwood were very difficult to buy, since that time of year is when loggers are hunting and conditions in the woods are rarely good for logging without soils with good drainage. Every year is different, with a new set of concerns about weather, competition and what the markets will do.

Species Used for Firewood

There are many places on the Internet to find information about BTU values for various hardwood species used as firewood. One of those places is WorldForestIndustries.com and the following table is from that site. The species that we normally have in our raw material stream for making firewood are in bold in the table.

Firewood BTU of Eastern Hardwood Species, from: worldforestindustries.com

Species Million BTU’s per Cord Pounds Per Cord Dry
Osage Orange 32.9 4728
Shagbark Hickory 27.7 4327
Eastern Hornbeam 27.1 4016
Black Birch 26.8 3890
Black Locust 26.8 3890
Ironwood 26.8 3890
Apple 25.8 3712
Beech 24.0 3757
Northern Red Oak 24.0 3757
Sugar Maple 24.0 3757
White Oak 24.0 3757
White Ash 23.6 3689
Yellow Birch 21.8 3150
Red Elm 21.6 3112
Kentucky Coffeetree 20.8 3247
Gray Birch 20.3 3179
Paper Birch 20.3 3179
White Birch 20.2 3192
Green Ash 19.9 2880
Black Cherry 19.5 2880
American Elm 19.5 3052
White Elm 19.5 3052
Sycamore 19.1 2992
Black Ash 18.7 2924
Red Maple (Soft Maple) 18.1 2900
Catalpa 15.9 2482
Aspen 14.7 2295
Butternut 14.5 2100
Willow 14.3 2236
Cottonwood 13.5 2108
American Basswood 13.5 2108

A Note About White Birch

In the past we have treated white birch as an "off species" for firewood and some people expressed concern about finding it in their woodpile. We investigated this issue over the summer and believe much of that negative image is because white birch will dry very little when left not split; the bark serves to retain moisture in the log, more so than with many other species. Wood gathered for firewood will not have dried, while other species will have done much more drying. Also, pieces of white birch laying in the woods continuously damp means the log deteriorates quickly. Everyone has kicked a piece of white birch laying on the ground in the woods and seen the piece fall apart. We believe these qualities of not drying well for burning and rotting quickly on the ground have given the general public a poor opinion of white birch as firewood.

The University of Maine, which we reference on our main firewood page, shows 18.6 million BTU’s for soft maple. The information available varies slightly from web site to web site, however the data is always telling the same story. When white birch is cut, split and dried reasonably promptly after harvesting, there are slightly more BTU’s available per cord than for soft maple. We have always considered soft maple a good species for firewood. After looking at the tables on various web sites, we concluded that white birch is just as good or a little better than soft maple so there is no reason to exclude white birch from the firewood supply.

In the past we have sent small quantities of additional firewood to a few customers because of the inquiries about white birch in the mix. Those adjustments will no longer be made as we now consider white birch to be a valuable part of our species mix for firewood. In addition, when Rutland Plywood burned down in the fall of 2014, then went out of business, the main local market for white birch logs disappeared. Losing that market made it more difficult for local loggers to make a living and for landowners to utilize their white birch logs. We believe it is important to utilize every commercially useful species. We believe that adding white birch to the firewood mix is long overdue and with the loss of Rutland Plywood, that change is even more important for the loggers making their living in the forest and for the forestland owners trying to get value out of their timber and pay for the costs of owning land.

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