How Much Firewood Is in a Cord and How to Store It
Common Cord Measurements and Firewood Lengths
Mariette Mifflin is a product tester and expert in housewares and appliances. A writer on home products for The Spruce for over 10 years, her expertise is also featured in “HomeLife,” “House & Garden,” and the Chicago Sun-Times.
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Updated on 08/12/22
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Burning wood in a fireplace or other wood-burning appliance can be a comforting way to generate heat and ambiance. And depending on firewood costs and availability in your area, it also might reduce your overall heating costs. So it’s important to know what goes into purchasing and storing cords of firewood.
What Is a Cord of Firewood?
A cord is a unit of measurement for firewood. To measure the firewood, you must stack it as tightly as possible with the pieces running parallel to one another; wood stacked parallel is also called a running cord. Then, the volume of the wood is taken. It is typically 600 to 800 pieces of firewood.
Regulations about cord size can vary by country. In the United States, the definition of a cord is typically a volume of 128 cubic feet—or a stack that is 4 feet wide, 4 feet high, and 8 feet long. This can differ slightly from state to state, so do check your local cord size regulation before ordering.
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Other Firewood Measurements
While a full cord is typically 4 feet wide by 4 feet high by 8 feet long, there are several other terms used for firewood measurement:
- Face cord or rick cord: Stack of wood 16 inches wide by 4 feet high by 8 feet long; a face or rick cord is usually smaller than a full cord
- Sheldon cord: Varies in size and is often bigger than a full cord; this measurement varies based on location and seller (confirm the stack size you’re buying with the seller to make accurate cost estimates when making price comparisons)
- Bush and stove cord: Terms that mean the same thing as a full cord of wood
- Half cord or one-third cord: One-third and half cords of wood can be made up of shorter lengths of firewood, but that isn’t always the case. Full cords usually have longer logs; half and one-third-cord logs are typically 32 or 48 inches long. A half cord can have three rows of 16-inch-long logs in piles 4 feet tall, 4 feet long, and 4 feet deep. Third cords are made of two rows that total 4 feet tall, 4 feet wide, and 32 inches deep.
- Truckload of wood: This term is not specific; literally, a truckload of wood, the wood pile varies based on the pickup truck’s size. If the seller uses this term, ask for a specific measurement in cubic feet or stack dimensions.
9 Tips for Storing Firewood
If you’ve purchased firewood that’s already been split and dried, all you have to do is stack it in a convenient spot. But if your firewood is green or wet and not split, you have a little more work to do. First, split it into manageable pieces both for carrying and burning. Then, find a spot with good airflow to stack it for air drying. Avoid stacking wood between trees, as wind can move the trees and topple the pile.
How efficient the drying process is depends on how you stack your wood. Start the stack off the ground either on logs, bricks, or pallets. From there, the most practical method is to stack the wood in a row with stakes at each end. If you need to stack the wood more than one row deep, leave space between the rows for air circulation.
Moreover, because burning dry wood is recommended (green wood tends to generate a lot of smoke), stack the driest wood on top of your pile for easy accessibility. Likewise, aim to use the oldest wood in your pile first to minimize its potential for rot. Once you’re done stacking, cover only the top of the pile with a tarp or other cover to protect it from the elements but still allow for adequate airflow.
There are different types of firewood racks and holders for either indoor or outdoor use. Keeping only a day or two’s worth of firewood indoors is best. Firewood can bring in unwanted pests, dirt and debris, and pollen. And if it’s not completely dry, the moisture within the wood can create excess humidity in your home.
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How Much Is a Cord of Wood?
Q: I just bought a home with a wood-burning stove, and I want to stock up on wood. I’ve noticed wood is sold by the cord, but I’m new to this. How much is a cord of wood?
A: People who don’t regularly burn wood are unfamiliar with how much wood is in a “cord,” a unit of measurement describing a volume of wood. Woodcutters and those who burn wood in fireplaces or wood stoves intimately know this term, as they know how many cords of wood they need to make it through winter.
But what is a cord of wood, and how much wood will you need? Keep reading to learn how many cords you might need each season and how much it can typically cost.
RELATED: The Best Firewood Delivery Services for Convenient Heating
A cord is 128 cubic feet of stacked dry firewood.
How big is a cord of wood? A cord is equivalent to 128 cubic feet of firewood. That’s the simple answer, but it still doesn’t help most homeowners who don’t know how that volume translates to actual logs.
Generally, a cord of wood is 4 feet tall, 4 feet deep, and 8 feet long. Years ago, when wood stoves and fireplaces were custom-built, the wood was left long (4 or 8 feet long). Buyers would cut it to their desired length to fit inside their fire box, then use an axe or maul to split them into smaller chunks. Obviously, that was a lot of work.
Today’s cords fortunately tend to be made up of 16-inch-long logs. This means that a full cord of wood consists of 16-inch-long logs placed in three rows until the stack is 4 feet tall and 8 feet wide.
The cost of a cord of wood depends on the location, whether the wood is dry, seasonality, and the type of wood.
Lucky folks have access to free wood, but most buy firewood—and pricing can be tricky. Cords in areas without densely wooded forests will cost significantly more than in the Northeast or Pacific Northwest, where forests abound. Also, a cord of dry wood might cost $250 in the summer, but when dry wood is scarce in the middle of winter, a cord may cost up to $400.
The species of wood matters as well. Oak heats very well and lasts quite a while, so it’s generally more expensive than aspen or birch. The latter two woods burn quickly and can even contain quite a bit of pitch, which can lead to dangerous creosote. This quality makes these wood less desirable but more affordable.
One-third and half cords are made up of shorter lengths of wood.
More accurately, one-third and half cords of wood can be made up of shorter lengths of firewood, but that isn’t always the case. In the aforementioned cords of old made up of longer logs, half and one-third-cord logs were typically 32 or 48 inches long, and the buyer would resaw them.
Today, a half cord of wood may feature three rows of 16-inch-long logs in piles that are 4 feet tall, 4 feet long, and 4 feet deep. Third cords are made of two rows that total 4 feet tall, 4 feet wide, and 32 inches deep.
The logs’ lengths do not impact the volume of wood in a cord. Shorter logs will require more rows, but overall, a cord of firewood is just 128 cubic feet. The wood can be presented in any way that the woodcutter slices it.
Face cords, rick cords, and truckloads are not standard units of measure.
There are a few terms in the woodcutting industry that are thrown around, specifically when marketed to homeowners. None of these terms are standard, however, so buyers need to beware when purchasing wood in these quantities.
- A face cord of wood is one row of wood that is 4 feet tall and 8 feet wide. There is no set measurement for the depth (though it should be 16 inches), so there is no standard volume.
- A “rick of wood” refers to a pile of stacked wood of any width, height, and depth. In fact, the term “rick” can be used to describe any piled material left out in the open, including hay, lumber, and other loose materials.