I have gone through about 2 cords of cottonwood this winter in my stove. It was cut and cross stacked this summer and seasoned just fine. It starts with just crumpled newspaper, (no kindling needed), but does burn quicker than fir or maple, so I use it in the daytime and longer burning wood at night. These were about 30" in diameter trees and I used a splitter to make 6" slabs and it split very easily. The one thing that I learned on this site that I believe helped was to leave the trees dry out till the leaves were papery before bucking and splitting. I wouldn't pay for cottonwood but if its free and easy access, I'd take it again. Maybe there are different subspecies of cottonwoods, the ones around here are "black seeded cottonwoods", they grow like weeds and are real messy. Also, it smelled as described when dropping but there is no noticeable odor when burning, as far as I can tell. I also burned a small spruce this winter, about 18" diameter, and agree, it sounded like a sting of firecrackers in the stove. Burns hot but fast.