modern homesteading firewood

How Much Is A Cord of Wood? All You Need to Know About Firewood.

If you’re ready to start enjoying the pure satisfaction of burning natural firewood, whether it is for the function of heating your home or simply for your own relaxation and pleasure, read on!

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This article breaks down the fundamentals of firewood, including how much is a cord of wood.

There’s been a huge resurgence in real wood-burning fireplaces – and it’s pretty obvious why. Gas and electric fireplaces just don’t offer the same satisfaction as burning real firewood.

The smoky smell, the relaxing crackling sound, the little bits of ash dancing in the light – these are just a few of the things that make real firewood such a treat to burn.

How much is a cord of wood - Know Your Firewood Measurements

How much is a cord of wood ? First things first, you’ll need to know how firewood is properly measured and sold.

The main legal term used for firewood measurement is a cord.

The origin of this term goes all the way back to 1610 when wood was sold in bundles and literally tied together with cord. People were pretty much limited to what they could carry with their own two hands back in the day, so a cord of firewood back then was much smaller than what it is now

Today, a cord of wood is 128 cubic feet of stacked firewood. This includes the wood, bark and airspace. This measurement is based on individual pieces of firewood being stacked parallel, properly aligned and tightly together.

A standard piece of firewood is 16 inches long. A cord of firewood fits into the following dimensions: 4 feet high x 4 feet wide x 8 feet long.

It looks like this:

how big is a cord of wood

( via Madden Brothers )

Half of a cord is 64 cubic feet and fits the dimensions 4 feet high x 16 inches wide x 12 feet long.

It looks like this:

Half a cord of wood

(via Madden Brothers )

A third of a cord is 42.6 cubic feet and sometimes referred to as a “face cord,” or a “rick.” It fits into the dimensions 4 feet high x 16 inches wide x 8 feet long.

It looks like this:

1/3 cord of wood

( via Madden Brothers )

A quarter of a cord of wood is 32 cubic feet and fits into the dimensions 4 feet high x 16 inches wide x 6 feet long.

It looks like this:

1/4 cord of wood

( via Madden Brothers )

Wood can be measured and sold in even smaller increments of a cord; a fifth, a sixth, and so on. If you want more information on firewood dimensions and measurement, check out World of Forest Industries or Tinder Pro.

By now, you should get the general idea of how much is a cord of wood, and what varying fractions of a cord look like. But before you run out to pick up your firewood, there are a few more factors to think about.

A cord of wood can greatly vary in weight.

The total weight will depend on the type of wood. For example, a cord of softwood might weigh 2,500 lbs and a cord of hardwood could weigh 5,000 lbs. We’ll cover the difference between softwood and hardwood later on, and discuss which is right for your needs.

With that in mind, these are the types of vehicles you would need to carry each amount of firewood:

  •  A small pick-up truck can carry ¼ of a cord.
  •  A ½ ton short-bed pickup-up truck can typically hold ½ of a cord.
  •  A long bed pickup truck with racks can hold a full cord of wood.

If you want more information on how much firewood different trucks can carry, go to the US Forestry Service website.

Firewood Terminology

There are more terms to know than just measurements. The following are important terms to know:

Seasoned Wood: Firewood that has been cut, split and sheltered from the elements for around nine months.

Seasoned Firewood

All firewood contains water, and depending on the type of wood, it will need to be seasoned for possibility a shorter or longer amount of time. (Oak needs to be seasoned for a full year – or even two!).

Freshly cut wood can have a water content of 50%, and seasoning brings this content down to around 20-25%.

Seasoned firewood is lightweight, easier to start, produce more heat, and burns cleaner.

Bark-less or De-barked Wood: Firewood that has been cut, split and has zero bark. This is normally a very clean wood.

Compressed Fire Log: Sawdust compressed into a log and held together with resin.
Note: this isn’t “real firewood,” and can be quite pricey, but it does give off more heat than typical firewood.

Green Wood: Firewood that has been cut, split and not been seasoned or kiln dried.

If you burn green wood instead of waiting until it is seasoned, the heat produced by combustion has to dry the wood before it will burn, which uses up a large amount of energy that otherwise could have been converted to heat. It will give off a lot smoke and be quite unpleasant.

We strongly recommend not burning green wood, or wood with more than 30% moisture indoors.

Kiln Dried Wood: Firewood that has been cut, split, and baked in a kiln to reduce the moisture content. This wood is cleaner than seasoned wood, and is normally 100% bug free thanks to baking in over 200 degrees.

Hardwood Vs Softwood

hardwood vs softwood

( via Certainly Wood )

Not all wood is created equal! Wood is classified as either hardwood or softwood.

Woods are also given a BTU number – a measurement gauging its heat and thermal energy. One BTU is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water by 1 degree.

Hardwood has higher BTU than softwood, making it better for intense heat and long-lasting fires. For this reason, it is the better choice for heating your house and using for cooking. It also emits less smoke than softwood, and creates hot coals, which makes re-starting a fire easier.

Hardwood grows at a slower pace, since it is denser. Hardwood is understandably more money than softwood, given it is has a higher centration of solar energy, meaning it will last longer and give off more heat.

Popular hardwood trees are oak, sycamore, beech, ash, and birch.

Softwood is much more common than hardwood. It is estimated to make up 80% of the world’s production of timber.

Softwood is what you probably assume it is, based on its name: low density, light, quick to ignite. Softwood seasons faster than hardwood, making it ready to use sooner. It works great for kindling and starting your fire.

Softwood emits more smoke than hardwood, making it burn out quicker. This wood isn’t ideal for wood stoves or overnight burning (because it wouldn’t last).

Popular softwood trees are spruce, pine, and larch.

The Right Type of Firewood

We recommend sticking to softwoods for kindling and hardwoods for firewood logs.

Hardwoods

Oak

One of the best species for firewood logs, oak is very dense and burns very hot. It’s a slow burning log perfect for heating your house or cooking with.

The downside: oak must be seasoned for a full year (or even two if you have the patience!) and it doesn’t ignite easily. It requires continuous high heat to get it burning really well. This process can be helped along with a softwood, such as pine or fir.

Birch

Birch is a beautiful log that gives off a lot of heat. However, it burns pretty fast for a hardwood.

Be careful with this species – it might be less expensive than others, but you will run through it quickly. Mixing this wood with other firewood is a good idea.

Maple

Even though this wood is hard to split, it’s definitely worth it for the efficiency and heat it produces. The downside to this wood is the same as oak: it’s difficult to ignite. Once it gets going though, it lasts a long time and emits very little smoke.

Softwoods

Pine

Widely available, easy to split and easy to start: pine is a great wood to use as kindling and combine with other types of firewood.

If you like your fires to crackle and pop, be sure to use pine. It splits nicely, dries quickly, and will get your fire going in a snap. It also has that classic aroma we all know and love…

That being said, it has a high sap and resin content and can burn messy, leaving oily soot deposits in your chimney. On top of that, with all that crackling and popping, sparks will fly.

So, don’t use this wood as your main firewood and don’t use this wood indoors.

Fir

Like pine, it is easy to split, easy to start, and produces a fair amount of sparks. It’s less messy then fir, and can be used indoors if you want.

It’s another great option for kindling.

Buying Firewood

wood burning stove

( via Hearth and Home Shoppe )

Buying Firewood by The...Truckload ?

How much does a cord of wood cost ? Always use caution when buying firewood. In Canada, there are three legal units to measure and sell firewood with: a cord, a cubic foot, and a stacked cubic meter. Sellers that use terminology that isn’t legally binding is essentially meaningless. Stay away from firewood that is sold by the “truckload,” or “rack.”

If you aren’t in Canada, we highly recommend looking into the legal units accepted for firewood in your area. You don’t want to get ripped off and be left cold!

The terms “face cord,” and “rick of wood” aren’t legally binding and can mean different things to different people. It’s not a great idea to buy firewood that is being sold in either term of measurement. Normally these terms mean 1/3 of a cord, with firewood pieces measuring at 16 inches in length. This isn’t a guarantee though.

If the firewood you are wanting to buy isn’t measured by the cord, make sure you know the cubic footage. Keep in mind that the height x width x length should equate to 128 cubic feet if you are paying for a cord.

Not all cords are equal – make sure you give your firewood a good visual before you decide to buy. If it appears the pieces of firewood aren’t stacked together very tightly, the volume of a cord should be closer to around 180 cubic feet.

For more advice on firewood transactions visit Canada's Innovation, Science, and Economic Development website.

What to Look for When Buying Firewood

If you are looking to buy seasoned wood, which is more expensive given the amount of time it needs to be stored and the fact that it is ready to burn, there are a few factors to keep your eyes open for.

Seasoned firewood typically has dark ends, with cracks and visible splits, since the moisture content is quite low by this point. It should be lightweight and make a “clunk” sound if you knock two pieces of it together.

Green wood will look and sound the opposite: heavy, fresh ends, and makes a “thud” when knocked with another piece of wood.

Price of Firewood

The price of firewood will vary depending on the area you live in, the type of wood you want to buy, and whether or not the wood has been seasoned.

Prices will also fluctuate with supply and demand.

The easiest thing you can do to find out how much firewood sells for in your area is compare a variety of prices from different sources. It’s not the quickest method, but it will guarantee that you get a fair price when you go to purchase.

How much firewood do you need ?

Unfortunately, the answer relies on different variables, much like the price of firewood. You will have to assess your own needs and consider the type of wood you want to use. We can give you some examples and tips, however.

Learn from Modern Homesteading:

It’s better to have too much firewood than too little. Even if you just want a fire for relaxation and don’t depend on it for heat, it’s a major let down if you run out of firewood to burn. Of course, if you depend on firewood for heat and/or cooking, it is even more important you don’t run out of wood.

To give you some perspective: a 700 square foot cabin with medium insulation, located on the West Coast where temperatures are fairly mild but damp, that uses only firewood in a wood stove for heating will need roughly 2 cords over a season. This firewood will need to be hardwood (alder, oak, or maple will do nicely).

For a newer, medium-sized house in the same area, you would want to stock up with 4 cords over the winter season.

If you want to have a temporary bonfire on the beach, you’ll (obviously) need a lot less wood. Depending on how big and how long you want your fire to last, you can get away with anywhere from an eighth to a fourth of a cord.

This should (hopefully) give you some idea of how much wood you will need for your purposes.

Chopping Your Own Firewood

You’ll need something to cut your wood with, as well as some simple things to keep you safe. You’ll want some work gloves, work boots, and safety glasses (at least for the first few times you split wood).

Wood is generally split with an axe or a maul. Both tools can do the job, so it’s really up to what you prefer. An axe is designed to split along the grain of wood to break fibers apart. Axes are lighter than mauls (axes weigh between 3 – 6 lbs, and mauls weight between 6 – 8 lbs). A maul is like a sledge hammer with a pointed axe head.

Okay, now let’s jump ahead and assume you already took out your chainsaw, de-limbed a tree, and cut the trunk into logs (also known as “bolts”).

Step 1: Set up a large un-split log as your platform to place smaller logs on to split.

This is important for a few reasons – it will raise your chopping target up, making it easier and less effort for you to cut your wood, and it will also save your axe from going into the ground if you miss.

Step 2: Place your log on the platform with any knots or irregularities near the bottom (not the top!).

Step 3: Think about your log like a pie or a pizza. Envision it in 8ths, and then take aim. You’ll want to split it in the middle first, then work on chopping the quarters.

Step 4: Pay attention to your technique.

You want the axe to come up over your head before it comes down to chop the wood. This puts gravity on your side, and makes your work easier. Be sure to bend at the knees and use your legs – you don’t want to put the strain on your back. Keep a slight arch in your lumbar spine to prevent injury.

What better source to get advice on splitting wood from than the Art of Manliness ? If you want further information, check them out.

Or, if you want some quick tricks to make this process faster and easier, read on:

Use a bungee cord around the stump you are chopping to ensure it stays upright. A lot of time and energy can be lost setting up pieces to be spilt, and this completes solves the problem. Thanks Life Hacker!

If you aren’t interested in splitting wood with an ax, or need a less physically-demanding alternative due to heath issues, OffTheGridNews has a list for you. It includes a DIY counterbalanced splitter, a Smart Splitter, and a LeverAxe. 

Storing Firewood

Storing firewood, whether you are intentionally seasoning it or just keeping it dry until the next cold spell, is extremely important to do right. This means ensuring the firewood doesn’t get wet or exposed to moisture.

Firewood that is exposed to moisture or insects increases the rate of decay, and over time, becomes completely useless. Moisture can also cause mold on firewood, and if this wood is burnt, it can cause health issues such as triggering asthma attacks, eye irrigation, and runny nose.

There are a lot of ways to store firewood to ensure moisture doesn’t get at it.

First things first, you’ll need to know how to stack firewood.

Next, we recommend using a firewood rack of some sort to keep your wood off the ground, away from dampness, bugs, and other things that can lead to decay and mold.

Instructables has a great DIY Firewood Rack for $45. It is relatively small and only holds about 1/4 of a cord, but it is a great start if you are just getting into natural wood fires.

45$ Firewood Rack

If you want a quick option, the 30 minute Pallet-Style Firewood Rack by Instructables is perfect. Pallets are super easy to get a hold of and make an easy support to keep your precious firewood off the ground. This rack will also hold about 1/4 of a cord.

30min Firewood Rack

This Firewood Rack Made Simple is also on Instructables and can hold a full rick of wood ( a third of a cord! ). It's made from regular lumber, flower garden lumber, and two cement blocks. Nice and easy! 

simple firewood rack

Give the Firewood Rack by DIY Projects with Pete a try if you want to store a little more firewood. This sturdy rack will take a bit more time and energy, but it will last a long time and hold 1/2 of a cord.

LOG FIREWOOD RACK

If you want to store a cord of wood (or more!) check out the Funky Woodshed plan by Woodheat.org

funky woodshed

You might be wondering why these firewood racks are semi-exposed. Firewood actually needs the sun and wind to remain optimal for burning, so it should never be completely covered up, unless there is intense rain or snow.

So, make sure you place your firewood rack in an area that receives sun and wind, but is also quickly accessible so you can cover it in the event of bad weather.

There are a few different options for firewood covers:

FirewoodResource.com suggests Metal Roofing.

firewood rack metal roofing

DIY Network suggests a classic tarp with bungee cords hooked to logs.

classic tarp with bungee cords

You can always go the store-bought route and purchase something like this: Pleasant Hearth 4ft Half Log Rack Cover sold at Walmart.

Pleasant Hearth FIrewood Rack Cover