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Cottonwood Firewood

There are a lot of mixed opinions regarding cottonwood firewood.  While many people consider it a poor firewood choice, there are others who have no issues burning the wood and are actually pretty happy with the results.

So, why do so many people despise the wood while others consider it a decent firewood choice?

To answer this question lets look at some of the characteristics of the tree and the firewood it produces.

The Eastern Cottonwood is one of the largest trees in North America ranging from southern Canada to the eastern United States.

The Fremont Cottonwood can be found throughout the southwestern United States and into northern Mexico while the Black Popular is native to Europe and western Asia.

Cottonwood trees grow very fast making them desirable for timber production.  The fibrous wood is used for shipping crates, pallet boxes and pulp for magazines.

The trees are also commonly planted as shade trees or used as windbreaks. Cottonwoods prefer moist soil and they usually grow along ditch banks and the bottom lands of rivers and streams.

Cottonwood Firewood Usage

A visitor to our website had this question regarding cottonwood:

"When cutting cottonwood I've found it's hard to split even when using a splitter.  Is this a hardwood or softwood?  I was told it's a softwood.

It's also full of moisture.  Is it ok for firewood?  Any help would be appreciated."

- Patrick (Cheshire, CT)

Cottonwood trees are classified as a hardwood even though the wood is relatively soft and not very dense.  Cottonwood firewood has a low BTU rating but that doesn't mean you can't use it for firewood, it just means it doesn't supply as much heat as other popular hardwoods like oak or beech.

Cottonwood is very wet, stringy and heavy when green which makes it hard to move and difficult to split.  When the wood is really wet it seems to absorb a maul or splitting axe rather than splitting apart.  I think you'll find it splits a lot easier once it dries out a little bit.

Cottonwood Tree

Since it's really wet when green I recommend letting the wood season 1-2 years.  Once you have it split up, stack it off the ground and cover up the top portion of the stack if possible.

A lot of people consider cottonwood completely worthless and won't burn it.  Some common complaints are the wood smells horrible when burning, it smolders and smokes and it creates minimal amounts of heat with a lot of ashes.

Although the wood does smell a little different when it burns I don't find the smell unbearable and I've had pretty good luck with cottonwood firewood.  However, the wood has to be dry.  If you try to burn it wet I'm sure you won't be happy with it.

When the wood is dry it splits pretty easy and makes good kindling.  It's also easy to light.  A couple of hot coals left in a wood stove from the night before will quickly light a dry piece of cottonwood.  


If someone tries to give you a free load of cottonwood I definitely would not pass it up.  Over the years I think cottonwood has been misjudged by people who have never given the wood a fair chance.

Although the trees are usually huge causing the rounds to be heavy and difficult to move, the firewood it produces will definitely heat your home.

Since it's lightweight when dry it does burn quicker than other hardwoods but overall it's a decent firewood choice.

Cottonwood will produce 15.8 million BTUs per cord.

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