If you are the proud new owner of a fireplace or woodstove there is a good chance that you have discovered you have many different firewood options available to you. There is a good chance that you have heard about the popular burning woods like hickory and ash. That being said, there is a good chance that you haven’t heard of some of the off-brand species like sweet gum. In fact, people will go their whole lives without hearing about sweet gum firewood.
This is a type of firewood that is whitish to light pink or tan color in appearance. Due to these characteristics, some individuals will refer to the species as sapgum or sweetgum.
Is sweet gum good firewood? Sweet gum will make excellent firewood as it is capable of producing large amounts of heat, as long as you are willing to put in the extra work.
You can ask a number of individuals this question and will probably get mixed reviews, but the truth of the matter is that sweet gum is hard to split and stack.
This doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good burning wood. It just simply means that some people don’t believe it is worth the trouble when they can cut and split other species in half the time.
Sweet gum firewood might take a little more effort, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t applicable as firewood.
That being said, most people view sweet gum wood as a luxury that should be used for lumber and furniture production. The wood can be easily identified thanks to its star-shaped leaves, which usually consist of five points and spiked fruit. The sweet gum tree can grow to as tall as 150 feet and can live to be 400 years old.
Splitting Sweet Gum
Splitting sweet gum is without a doubt going to be a challenge. You can ask most experts and they will tell you that splitting sweet gum is probably more difficult than splitting oak.
This is because when sweet gum wood dries out it tends to warp really bad. When it warps it get the fibers are interwoven and makes them even harder to cut through.
The truth of the matter is that sweet gum wood doesn’t really split. It is more like ripping and tearing open an incredibly, tight sealed package. If you are going to split the wood, you could most certainly benefit from a hydraulic splitter. Even using one of these devices is going to be difficult and time-consuming.
The best time to split the wood is when it is greener. This will be right around the stage before it fully dries. If you remember from above, sweet gum tends to warp the drier it gets. This only increases the difficulty of splitting the wood. Therefore splitting earlier will make your job a little easier.
All that being said, it is possible to split sweet gum with a very sharp ax. You will just want to make sure that you start on the outside edges and work your way around the outside of the wood.
The goal is to eventually work your way to the core. A good, sharp wedge will most certainly come in handy when you encounter resistance.
If you’re new to splitting wood, I wrote a helpful guide on how to do it. You can check it out here, How to split wood by hand
Seasoning Sweet Gum
Drying sweet gum wood can be extremely tricky. This is especially true if you are going to be using the species for furniture. If you are simply going to be burning the wood then things get a little easier. The problem with sweet gum wood is that it tends to warp when it dries, as you learned above.
This not only makes the splitting of the wood harder, but it affects the overlook of the wood if you are going to use it for furniture. Most people will eliminate bowing problems by stacking the wood in tall stacks. Some individuals will even use 12-inch sticker spacing to speed up the drying time.
However, you will discover that through the seasoning process the wood will probably shrink right around 15%, which is much higher when compared to other firewood.
It is the interlocking grain that makes the warping and splitting so prone with sweet gum wood. In addition to this, the gum moves considerably after drying when the RH changes. Individuals that are looking to use sweet gum wood for furniture or other wood decorations should consider steaming the wood prior to drying.
This will help keep the RH stable and achieve an overall more vivid color. The wood usually takes about a full year to cure completely.
You might want to look into a moisture meter to test the moisture content before you burn it. You can find them on Amazon for a decent price. Here is a link to the one I have. Moisture Meter. Just make sure its 20% or lower and it’s safe to burn.
Sweet Gum Firewood BTUs
When most people consider buying firewood the first thing they look at is the BTU rating. This is important and an overall good practice because the BTUs refers to the amount of heat that the wood is going to put out. If you get wood that is underrated, you will find that you are constantly refilling the fireplace throughout the night.
If you get a good wood like oak, you will find that it will burn throughout the entire night.
As for sweet gum wood, you can rest assured that you are getting a fine burning wood because it is cable of producing 20.6 million BTUs per cord. This is pretty impressive for firewood.
The only problem that most people have with the wood is that it takes an incredible amount of energy and work to split and stack.
If you want to learn about firewood BTUs, check out my article on it. It has a chart also if you want to look up what another type of wood BTU is. BTU Of Firewood
Is Sweet Gum A Hardwood or Softwood
As you learned earlier, sweet gum is easily identifiable as it comes from a tree that produces star-shaped leaves that contain five points along with spiked fruit. Such trees can grow to be as old as 400 years old and they can reach towering heights of 150 feet.
Many people usually associated this tree with sweet gum due to their hard spiked fruits. These fruits fall everywhere around the tree and open up to reveal seeds.
Most of the time, the spiked shells are left behind and can be considered a nuisance for anyone walking around with bare feet. There has been a lot of debate over whether the sweet gum is a hardwood of softwood.
The truth is that sweet gum comes from the Liquidambar Styraciflua, which is one of the most common hardwoods in the southeastern United States.
The species can be naturally found growing in lowlands from southwestern Connecticut to Central Florida. There have even been some species found in West Illinois, Southern Missouri, and Eastern Texas. Two other notable features that make this species standout are the branches and twigs.
What Does Sweet Gum Look Like
The bark is light brown and tinged with red/grayish fissures that appear with scaly ridges. The branches usually carry layers of cork, while the branchlets are pithy with many angles. They usually appear like they are covered with rusty hairs. And as the tree matures they will turn to a red-brown, gray or dark brown combination.
As you can see, there is simply no denying that sweet gum is an incredible wood with lots of uses. Not only is it viable for burning, but it can be used in furniture and wood production. The real question of the matter comes down to how much work are you willing to put in?
Are you willing to take a little more time during the splitting stage? As far as the drying time goes, the one-year period is not much longer than it takes other woods to season, so this is not too much extra effort to ask for.
If you are willing to put in the extra work, you could be rewarded with copious amounts of BTUs and long burning time, as these are two things that sweet gum is noted for.