The term “cord of wood” has been around for a long time, going back to the early 1600s. At that time, the “cord” meant a literal cord, a piece of rope that was tied around the bundle. This became a unit of measure, which was regulated, ensuring that people got what they paid for.
While we still use the term cord for wood, few people truly understand its meaning. Therefore, it is possible for unscrupulous sellers to get away with selling whatever quantity they want and still call it a cord. While I suppose this could be done with other materials, the term cord is only used in relation to a cord of wood, specifically a cord of firewood, as we have other units of measure for other types of wood.
So, Just How Much Wood is in a Cord?
That depends in part on what you mean when you use the term cord. A literal cord, as properly measured, is 128 cubic feet, generally organized as a stack 8’ long x 4’ wide x 4’ high. However, people misuse the term regularly, either intentionally or due to ignorance.
Some people refer to a cord of firewood as a “rick” of wood; but the two are not actually synonymous. While a cord refers to a specific number of cubic feet, a rick refers to how it is stacked, specifically that it is stacked in a four foot high, eight foot long stack.
One somewhat misleading term that’s often used is a “face cord.” This is a stack of firewood that is 8’x 4’, but only one stack deep. Since most firewood is cut to 16” lengths, it would actually take a triple stack of 16” long logs or split logs to make a full cord of firewood. People who don’t know the difference might buy a face cord, thinking it is a full cord, or they might compare prices between the two, thinking they are the same.
Even though it actually takes three stacks of 16” cut wood to make a cord, there are many sellers who try to sell cords that only have two stacks. They justify this by saying that the pieces are cut longer than 16” and they might actually be. But to make that a full cord, the pieces would have to be cut 24” long. Yet they might just as well be cut 18” to 20” long.
Finally, how a cord is stacked can have as much to do with how much wood is actually in the stack, as the overall dimensions. A cord of wood is supposed to be tightly stacked, with the pieces turned as needed to eliminate air space between them. But while that is usually done by the purchaser, when they stack the wood for seasoning, it may not be done by whoever they bought the wood from. As much as a full 10 percent of the volume can be lost to poor stacking.
How Much Does a Full Cord Weigh?
Some people think that weight can be used as a means of verifying that a cord of firewood is actually a full cord. This makes sense, with the exception of trying to find a scale to weigh it with. But even if a scale can be found, it’s essential to know the type of wood and the moisture content. Cords can vary in weight from 2000 to 5000 pounds.
Moist content alone can make over 1,000 pounds worth of the weight alone. Fresh cut wood, with a high moisture content, will weigh considerably more than wood which has seasoned, so that the moisture can evaporate out of the wood. This process of seasoning the wood can take six months to a year. If the wood is not protected from rainfall, it may never fully dry, as the rain will wick up the cut ends of the wood.
Splitting wood can help with the drying process, as one of the purposes of the bark is to help hold moist in. However, wet wood is denser, making it harder to split. Besides, more moisture is gained or lost through the ends of the cut pieces, than through the long grain.
The weight of some common types of wood that might be used as firewood are:
|Wood Type||Lbs. per cord – wet||Lbs. per cord – dry|
The entire difference in these weights is water. Those woods which show a higher difference between wet weight and dry weight lose a lot of moist during the drying process. If there were an emergency and it was necessary to burn this wood wet, it would not only be harder to light the fire and keep it going, but the fire would also produce more white “smoke,” which would actually be water vapor escaping from the wood as it was burning.
When buying firewood, keep these weights in mind. Hauling that wood home might be quite a challenge. A half-ton pickup truck, for example, is really only designed to carry 1,000 pounds of weight. So, to bring a full cord of wet red oak home would take five trips, if the driver didn’t want to overload his truck. Volume is a problem too, as it’s only possible to fit about half a cord in an eight foot full-sized truck bed. If the truck is one of the newer models, with a four-door cab and a six foot bed, it only has enough space to haul about a third of a cord.
Not All Woods Burn the Same
The vast difference between these various types of wood tells us another tale as well, in addition to how much moisture they hold. That is, not all types of wood have the same density. What that means for us, when using it for firewood, is that those woods which are denser, will provide more heat per log. How much heat, measured in BTUs, is something that is known.
|Wood Type||Heat per Cord|
This table makes it clear that when buying firewood, the density of the wood is something important to consider. While some of those hardwoods might be considerably more expensive to buy, the cost per BTU could still be cheaper, due to the higher energy density contained within the wood.
Typically hardwoods which have the higher energy density are also harder to ignite. Therefore, it’s a good idea to buy some softwood, such as pine, in addition to the hardwood. The softwood can be used to start the fire and get it blazing. Then the hardwood can be fed into the fire, gradually replacing the softwood entirely.
The actual cost per cord of firewood will vary considerably by the type of wood selected and what part of the country it is being bought in. Obviously, woods that are less common in a particular area are going to cost more. But then, the rarity of those woods is likely to keep them from being used as firewood, at least in that part of the country. Still, the average price we can expect to pay per cord is between $120 and $280 for hardwood firewood in most parts of the country, when buying it off-season. prices can as much as double, if the wood is purchased in the middle of the winter.