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Okay, so you have a plush forest of alder growing behind your home, but is alder good firewood for your fireplace, wood stove or fire pit?
Should you take the time to cut, stack, and season this tree or are there better options out there?
As many of us are experiencing frigid mornings and cool breezy nights, it’s a great time to educate ourselves on different types of firewood that can be used to heat our homes, or create a campfire that everyone is sure to love.
After all, with so many choices available, it’s best to narrow your choices down and focus your harvest on only the best options!
In this article, we’re going to compare and contrast alder firewood's characteristics to determine whether or not it's the best choice for you.
The alder tree has 30 different species associated with it.
But…don’t worry we’re not going to go over all 30 species, just two.
The red alder and the black alder, which are classified as "soft hardwoods" in the birch tree family, are commonly found in North America and Europe.
These trees are deciduous, which means they lose their leaves annually.
When searching for alder, they’re most commonly spotted near bodies of water such as streams, rivers, lakes, and even the ocean.
These trees are essential for the ecosystem.
Their root systems spread out wide and far, creating this gripping hold on the soil associated with them.
This is very beneficial because it actually creates natural flood control and erosion prevention.
If that isn’t cool enough, the tree has several other uses as well.
Some additional uses are furniture, cabinetry, and turnery, which involves putting the wood on a lathe to create bowls, spindles and other items.
On top of that, the bark also has medicinal factors, such as insect bite and poison oak relief.
Perhaps one of the greatest qualities of alder is its ability to create high quality, lumpwood charcoal.
Not only is this charcoal great for creating the perfect amount of heat for your backyard BBQ, it also flavors the meal for a a smoky, yet delicious taste.
Just like many other things in the world of firewood, choices can be endless and controversial.
Depending on where you're located truly depicts what your options are, and ultimately if using alder as firewood is a good choice for you.
We know black alder is indigenous to Europe, however it can also be located in northeastern America, mainly near the Appalachian mountains and the Great Lakes.
In the northeastern region of the United States, it’s customary to heat your home with popular hardwoods like oak, beech, ash and maple because they're dense and create a long, slow burn that's perfect for overnight fires.
Don' let these woods deter you from alder though....black alder definitely has its place in your wood shed along side of these other popular firewood choices.
If you're located in the western portion of America, you're probably familiar with the red alder which is the largest of the alder trees, standing between 70-150 feet!
Just like black alder, red alder can be a very beneficial firewood if use correctly, which we will explain in more detail below.
If I had access to a supply of alder firewood, I wouldn't hesitate to use it in a wood stove or fireplace to heat my home.
Since this tree grows rapidly it develops a softer wood, which leads to a faster burn, but that's not always negative.
The faster burn makes for great starter pieces, and as we identified earlier, creates a good charcoal base.
There's one important thing to remember though.....since the alder tree thrives in wet areas, this means the wood is moist, and it's imperative that you season it properly.
On average it takes 6-12 months for alder to season.
Wet alder smokes quite a lot and leaves behind an abundance of ash or creosote.
Creosote is the substance that is closely related to chimney fires.
It can build up over time and eventually can ignite.
On the other hand, if seasoned properly it catches very well, burns fast, and leaves little to no creosote deposits.
The best way to burn alder is by mixing it into your firewood stack.
This creates an ideal blend of hardwood and softwood.
If you only have alder and no other types of firewood to blend in, it's best to use it in the warmer months like spring and fall, for its lower temperature burn.
Hardwoods are a great resource in northern America, but they can also be a hassle.
They are heavy, hard to split, and can be a pain to stack due to their weight.
Alder on the other hand is straight-grained, splits like butter, light, and is not too hard on the back when carrying it to the pile.
**Be sure to be cautious when splitting and stacking red alder. The red alter tree when wet will actually stain your skin and clothes, so be sure to wear gloves!**
There is nothing like the smell of crisp cool air with a campfire scent creeping in.
Alder releases a sweet, subtle scent that is pleasant to the nose when first lit.
In general, it is ideal for the initial light which is why so many people love to burn it in a fire pit.
The burn creates 17.5 million BTUs of heat per cord, compared to white oak which is one of the hottest burning hardwoods producing 26.4 million BTUs.
So, this is why mixing alder with other hardwoods is important.
With the fast burn, it creates enough heat and flames to keep the other hardwoods burning.
Alder does spark a lot though, so if you plan on burning the wood in an open fireplace you will want a screen or doors across your fireplace to prevent unwanted sparks from escaping.
Once the wood is lit, the flame has a pleasant and lively look to it, making this tree ideal for a campfire.
You’ll want to be prepared for a show of sparks and dancing flames!
Alder wood isn’t going to land at number one for the best firewood out there, but you won’t be wasting your time harvesting it.
It’s light, burns easily, and grows quickly.
Plus there is an abundance out there.
Primarily, it is best for a campfire for its cinematic effect and smell.
But, if properly seasoned, it is a great piece of wood to mix in your wood stove to keep the fire roaring.
We have some key takeaways to consider when using it this season :