Out of all the woods you could use in a fireplace, willow wood may be the least effective. Willow wood is rated as fair to poor when being used as firewood. It produces less heat and causes more creosote than many other types of wood more commonly used in a fireplace.
When looking for wood to burn in your indoor fireplace, consider better firewood varieties, like hard maple, birch, or oak. Any hardwood will work just fine in an outdoor fireplace if it has been properly seasoned. While you can burn willow wood outdoors, it should be a last resort.
Willow Wood Firewood Details
BTU: 17.6 BTUs per cord
Weight: 4,320 lbs / Cord (Green)
Seasoning Time: 12 – 24 months
Resin / Sap Content: High
Splitting Difficulty: Easy
Smell: Strong and unpleasant to most
Willow Wood Varieties
Willow trees come in over a dozen varieties and they readily hybridize. The Weeping Willow tree is the most common variety and it’s native to China. The Coyote Willow and the Scouler’s Willow are native to North America. None of the willow varieties make great firewood, though they’re OK for outdoor use when seasoned properly.
The so-called Red Willow gives off a more pleasant smell than other willows when burned and it smokes, making it a good choice for smoking meat or fish. That said, it’s not actually a willow, it’s a dogwood.
Willow Wood BTU Value
Willow wood has a BTU of 17.6, which means it produces much less heat than many other hardwoods.
How Long Does Willow Wood Take to Season?
Willow wood may take a really long time to season, most commonly getting appropriately seasoned at two years. This is a much longer time than other hard woods, mostly because willow wood is lighter and takes longer to dry out completely. What’s more, willow wood may rot before it dries. For better results, we recommend splitting it before you store it for drying.
If you are looking for a hard wood that seasons quickly, going with pecan, mesquite or even oak could be an adequate substitution. Keep in mind that if you are burning moist wood in an outdoor fireplace, it could give off sparks and ambers that could set surrounding brush, grass, or wood on fire. Generally, aim to burn only dry wood; it will pop and smoke less and hence burn more efficiently and safely.
Resin / Sap Content
All willow varieties contain large amounts of watery or milky bark sap. The sap is rich in salicylic acid, a plant hormone that helps plants in defending against pathogens. Tree saps rich in salicylic acid have traditionally been used to treat fever, toothaches, or other pain. The pain medication Aspirin actually goes back to salicylic acid isolated from willow bark and leaves.
Burning willow bark with sap isn’t harmful, but more sap means more smoke and could be an indicator that the wood needs more seasoning.
How Much Smoke Will Willow Wood Produce?
Willow wood has a tendency to smoke, especially if not cured or dried well. If you are someone with allergies or breathing sensitivities, burning willow wood, especially in your home fireplace, may not be a great idea.
You can, however, burn willow wood as firewood in an outdoor fireplace where there is adequate space and airflow. As mentioned above and below, red willow is a good choice for smoking meat and fish.
What Does Burning Willow Wood Smell Like?
While Utah State University’s wood heating chart rates willow wood’s fragrance as slight, we found that most people don’t care for the smell of burning willow firewood and some even think it stinks.
In the case of willow, it likely comes down to the variety and your personal perception. The more common Weeping Willow variety gives off a smell similar to urine when burned. Red willow, however, has a much more pleasant odor and can even impart a sweet flavor on meat and fish when used for smoking.
Common Questions About Willow Wood as Firewood
Can You Burn Willow Wood in Your Fireplace?
Yes, you can burn willow wood in your fireplace, but an outdoor fireplace is preferable. Willow wood is thinner and has longer fibers than other woods and can smoke quite a bit if not cured well enough. Moreover, while willow wood is a hard wood, it will radiate less heat, causing less warmth within a home.
Like all woods, you cannot use willow wood as as firewood if it’s been treated for bugs with pesticide. Burning wood fibers that contain these chemicals can release harmful toxins.
What Is Willow Wood Good For?
Willow wood is a lightweight hard wood that has great shock resistance, yet it’s easy to carve. That makes it a great wood to use in both furniture and smaller, more intricate wood items or simple whittling projects.
What to Do With Your Willow Wood
While willow wood is a hardwood, it doesn’t burn too hot and instead smokes and releases soot. It shouldn’t be your first pick for firewood. If you have willow wood around your home, however, you can allow it to dry naturally over the course of two years and use it in an outdoor fireplace so that it doesn’t go to waste. If you’re interested in using up your willow wood in other ways, know that it’s a good choice for furniture making or wood carving projects. Have a look at our firewood rack recommendations for long-term storage.
Featured Image Credit: Andrew Bowden via Flickr