What is a Cord? And How to Avoid Paying Too Much for One
The official measurement of firewood is a “cord”, but that word can be used differently in some regions and it can be misused by some firewood dealers.
A full cord is a large amount of wood. It measures four feet high by four feet wide by eight feet long (4 ft. x 4 ft. x 8 ft.) and has a volume of 128 cubic feet. The amount of solid wood in a cord varies depending on the size of the pieces, but for firewood it averages about 85 cubic feet. The rest of the cord volume is air space.
A 'full' cord (4' x 4' x 8') is the official, standard firewood measure, but four foot pieces are never used for home heating, and dealers rarely sell firewood in that form. So firewood is not offered for sale in the form of its official unit measurement, which is why buying firewood can be confusing.
Other terms, such as face cord, stove cord or furnace cord are sometimes used to describe a stack of wood measuring 4 ft. high and 8 ft. long with a piece length shorter than 4 ft. A common firewood piece length is 16 inches, or one-third of a full cord, but other lengths are also available.
Because a winter's supply can cost several hundred dollars, you don't want to be confused when you are purchasing firewood. If you want to compare prices from a number of suppliers, take a tape measure to the dealers' yards and measure the average piece length. If the dealer does not price the wood in the standard full cord measure, convert the price to this basic unit. Here are some examples to illustrate the conversion.
Forest Firewood sells what they call a 'face cord' for $75. You find that the pile is 4 feet high and 8 feet long, with an average piece length of 16 inches. Divide this length (16 in.) into the full cord length of 48 in. and multiply by the price.
48 ÷ 16 = 3 x $75 = $225.
Therefore, Forest Firewood sells firewood for $225 per cord.
Sparky sells what he calls a 'stove cord' for $60. It is a pile measuring 4 feet by 8 feet with an average length of 12 inches. The calculation is:
48 ÷ 12 = 4 x $60 = $240.
Therefore, Sparky sells firewood for $240 per cord.
Frontier Fuel sells a 4 foot x 8 foot x 18 inch 'furnace cord' for $85. The result is:
48 ÷ 18 = 2.67 x $85 = $227.
Therefore, Frontier Fuel sells firewood for $227 per cord.
If possible, avoid buying firewood in units that cannot be related to the standard full cord. Station wagon loads, pick-up truck loads other units are difficult to compare and can conceal a high price per cord measure.
Avoid buying firewood by telephone without going to see the wood at the suppliers yard. Ideally, you can pace off the particular stacks that you will buy so you know exactly what you are buying.
Other factors that can make a given volume of firewood more expensive, and yet possibly more valuable to you, are
- shorter lengths usually cost more because of more cutting and handling
- firewood cut in consistent lengths is more convenient to use and may cost more because the dealer gives greater attention to detail
- more finely split pieces usually cost more per cord because of increased labor
- drier wood costs more because it has been stored longer and under better conditions
- cleaner firewood is more valuable because sand or mud in the bark makes the wood less pleasant to use
It takes some experience to gain confidence in your ability to judge good firewood for your heater. Don't feel shame if you have made a bad firewood purchase; everyone who heats with wood has done that at least once.