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Over the Garden Fence

How to measure and handle firewood

Firewood is sold in a variety of ways these days, from a small bundle at the local gas station to a truckload dumped on the driveway waiting to be stacked by you later.

Measurements for firewood go back to sometime between 1630 and 1640. Back then, you could still buy firewood by the “cord.” The story goes that the term originated from the materials used to measure the firewood – namely a line, string, rope or “cord.”

The size of a cord of firewood has remained the same – a pile of tightly stacked wood 4 feet high, 4 feet deep, and 8 feet long – 128 cubic feet. That is quite a bit of firewood to have delivered at one time. A cord of firewood equals 7.5 million toothpicks, weighs 2 tons, and has the heating value of 200 gallons of fuel oil or a ton of coal. A full-sized pickup with an 8-foot bed will hold approximately one-third to one-half cord of wood, depending on how it is loaded.

Sound like more than you want or need? There are smaller amounts of firewood, known by other terms. A half-cord is pretty straightforward, measuring 4 feet high and 8 feet long, but only 2 feet deep. Less clear is what is called a facecord. Facecords have the same height and length of a full cord and half-cord, but the depth varies from 12 to 18 inches. When getting prices for a facecord, it is best to ask for that third dimension, so you are comparing equal amounts of firewood against the asking price. Other terms you may hear are a rick or half rick. A rick of firewood is one-third of a full cord based on pieces being 16 inches in length.

Another way to look at firewood is to consider the heat value produced by burning the logs. Some woods are clearly better than others. If the percentage of moisture is the same, then the heavier the wood, the higher the heat value. The firewood should contain 20 percent or less to burn well and not smoke. Some of the favorite woods to buy include black locust, sugar maple, oak, and pear.

Once that firewood is home it should be stacked off the ground and so air can circulate. Covering the firewood pile so it stays dry is another way to ensure you get the most heat and value from the purchased wood.

Firewood should be seasoned for at least six to nine months, and logs more than 10 inches in diameter will need to be halved or quartered to dry properly. Remember, the size of your fireplace also should influence the size of your firewood. When it’s time to take some inside, only bring in enough firewood to burn in a week so you do not have issues with insects “thawing out” and becoming a wintertime nuisance indoors.

Have more questions? Find more firewood and fireplace safety tips at Stay safe and warm!

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.