There are many different opinions when it comes to burning alder firewood. Some people who have used it absolutely love it and only have good things to say about burning it.
However, others simply don't like it. So…...why are there so many different opinions about using alder in a fireplace, wood stove or even an outdoor wood furnace?
Just like many other species of firewood, the type of tree people choose to burn is very controversial. It also depends on where you live geographically.
For example, a majority of people who live in the northeastern portion of the United States only burn hardwoods like oak, beech, ash and maple. They consider softwoods like pine, a complete waste of time to cut, split and stack.
However, if you live in the western portion of the United States you've grown to love lodgepole pine and the well known douglas fir because they're some of the predominant trees in the area which make great firewood and hardwoods are simply not an option.
If you ask a handful of people what's your favorite type of firewood? You're likely to get a lot of different answers.
Before you decide whether or not you should add some alder to your firewood stack let's look at some characteristics of the tree and the firewood it produces.
Then, after considering these qualities you can determine whether or not you should burn it this year or even better yet, is it worth your time and energy to cut it, split it and stack it?
The alder is a deciduous hardwood tree that's a member of the birch family. The largest species of alder are the red alder, which is commonly found in North America along the west coast, and the black alder which is native to Europe.
Alder trees are unique because they have a root nodule that produces a nitrogen fixing bacterium that improves the fertility of the soil where it grows and also adds additional nitrogen for future species.
You'll typically find alders growing in moist surroundings, near creeks and other bodies of water. This is important because their root systems help stabilize riverbanks and prevent erosion. The trees grow quickly and only live for about 150 years.
The tree has many uses. For example, Native Americans used bark from the red alder to treat insect bites and poison oak. Also, the pilings that form the foundation of Venice are made from alder.
Alder is especially known for producing good quality charcoal. Although not everyone has the time to make their own homemade charcoal…...if you did, alder would be a great tree to use.
Alder is also used for smoking and flavoring meats, especially salmon. The wood gives off a sweet smell and flavor that many people find delicious.
I would not hesitate to burn alder. Since it grows rapidly, it's not as dense as other popular hardwoods but there's no reason you can't add it to your firewood supply.
It's important to make sure alder is seasoned before use and don't attempt to burn it when it's wet. Wet alder smokes a lot and leaves behind a lot of ash.
Seasoned alder firewood burns relatively fast but creates a hot fire with decent coals. Many people choose to burn the wood during the fall or spring when the outside temperatures are moderate. Or you can mix the wood in with other dense hardwoods like oak, maple or beech.
Alder is straight grained and splits really easy. The outer bark is thin so it doesn't create a big mess when you process it and it cuts pretty easy as well.
Since the wood is pretty soft, you will go though a lot of alder in a short period of time. That's why many people choose to burn a firewood mixture that contains alder, as opposed to burning strictly alder by itself.
Alder is also a popular choice for burning in a fireplace or campfire because it gives off a sweet, pleasant smell when it burns.
Here are a few helpful tips concerning alder. For best results, stack your alder firewood off the ground to prevent decay on the bottom layer. Also, if you're cutting red alder, the wet wood will stain your hands and clothes orange.
The Atlas 300 gloves work great for cutting alder (and any other type of firewood) because they protect your hands and last a long time.
When I first started cutting firewood I always wore leather gloves. Then, I discovered the latex dipped, knit gloves produced by Atlas. They're simply amazing! They outlast any leather glove I've used in the past and they're form fitting which helps with dexterity....and they're a lot cheaper.
If you have not ever tried the Atlas gloves, I highly recommend them. You won't be disappointed.
Although it's not the best firewood choice available, alder is definitely worth your time and effort spent to cut it up. Just make sure the wood is dry before you use it and I think you'll be happy with your decision to burn alder.
Alder produces 17.5 million BTU's of heat per cord.