Measure Your Firewood Before You Pay For It

In case you hadn’t noticed (or if you live south of the Equator), it’s almost winter. For many people, that means firing up the old wood-burning fireplace. But before you try to save money by buying firewood in bulk, here are some tips to make sure you don’t get burned.

First off, unless you have a scale that can accurately weigh several hundred pounds of wood, never buy your firewood by the ton or the “truckload.” In many states, unpackaged firewood must be sold by the cord (128 cubic feet) or fraction of the cord.

And before you pay for that cord of wood, you need to make sure it’s stacked properly. The pieces should be stacked neatly with individual pieces touching and parallel to each other. If it looks like a Jenga game or a log cabin, it’s time to re-stack.

Once it’s stacked, then be sure to measure the height, length and depth of the stack. If multiplying the three measurements together doesn’t equal 128 cubic feet, it’s not a cord.

For your protection, you should always be sure to get a receipt. In some municipalities, sellers of firewood are required by law to provide customers with detailed receipts of firewood sales.

The Weights and Measures Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology has a handy PDF you might want to read before investing all the time and money in that stack of firewood.

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  1. sonneillon says:

    While this is good advice. A convenience store employee is not going to be able to do anything if the half cord that they are selling is not quite a half cord.

    • Veeber says:

      I think half a cord is a lot of wood. I’m not sure I’ve actually seen half a cord here in maryland.

      • sonneillon says:

        Camping season in Colorado they used to have quarter and half cord bundles when I worked at 7-11. Whole front of the store was firewood. It’s a nightmare to count.

        • jefeloco says:

          You realize that a 1/2 cord bundle of wood would have been 4′ cubed, right? that is massive and would require a front loader to maneuver into someone’s truck (there ain’t no way it’s fitting in a car).

          I just now saw your reply way up there correcting yourself but I’m still posting this because it would be funny to see convenience store employees out front operating heavy equipment.

        • NickRayko says:

          Not a chance in hell. Quarter cord = 32 cubic feet, half cord = 64 cubic feet. Without a forklift or a circus strongman, that’s not going anywhere.

          • sonneillon says:

            I corrected my self to quarters and eighths. Yeah 32 cubic feet sounds bout right it was about 3x3x3. We’d sell about 2 a week and they’d just bring 2 guys, and a shit load of the 8ths, but there was no one else selling fire wood in the area. At least when I worked

      • sonneillon says:

        Actually after looking at a half a cord we did quarters and 8ths. My bad. I was like that’s a bit much our bundles were about half that.

    • Offspring22 says:

      I don’t know any convenience stores that sell unpackaged firewood….

      • sonneillon says:

        Thats what I mean the firewood is already bundled. Actually I think we did quarter and 8ths now that I look at the size of a half a cord

  2. sachmet says:

    Also, please buy firewood locally. Several states, including most of the Great Lakes area and the Northeast, actually have restrictions on transporting firewood. For more info, see http://www.dontmovefirewood.com/

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      yep, many state parks i have camped at won’t permit you to bring your own. so if you go camping, be prepared with some cash for firewood. [or don't get caught scavenging dead branches in the woods - this is also an excellent way to add to your tick collection]

      • veritybrown says:

        One really good thing about this new “don’t move firewood” movement is that you can almost always buy firewood on-site at state and national parks. We went on a two-week across-the-country camping trip last summer, and it was very nice to be SURE of being able to buy firewood at each site, instead of trying to find room in our tightly-packed minivan to transport wood or trying to find firewood sellers in towns we were totally unfamiliar with (not the sort of thing that’s easy to research online).

        • osiris73 says:

          And the state parks we’ve been to, or almost any federal or private park for that matter, totally bend you over on price because they CAN. They know you can’t bring in your own, legally, and charge you $1 per piece or more for tiny pieces. Where I live a cord of firewood on average goes for between $60 and $80 depending on the type of wood.
          What the parks charge is criminal.

  3. Alvis says:

    But how many rods in a hogshead?

  4. Wombatish says:

    Actually look at the quality of the wood as well.

    If it’s rotting or mildewing (likely to be inside the stack, or at least in between the logs) it was probably dried crappily and/or left out. It will not burn well and could make you quite sick.

    Don’t forget you don’t really want to try to burn green wood, and that it really needs to be stored for a while to dry properly. It’s cheaper, but it comes with a lot more work.

    And ask what kind of wood it is, and keep in mind that the different types burn differently (and some don’t burn well at all), and that some weigh more/less, so if you buy by the ton it’s important. If they can’t tell you, run far far away, they probably illegally cut it and have no idea what (or who’s) it is.

    Be slightly wary of the guys who go door to door with firewood, a lot of that is “by the truckbed” and they rush you so you don’t even really get to asses the quantity/quality. Some of them are legit, but the guys with stands or who sell from home are (usually) more legit because at least then you can find them again (in the case of home) or they (should) have a permit (in the case of stand).

    Also if you order delivery ask if they’ll stack it for you. Most do already but some don’t unless you request it, and they will stack it a lot neater and faster than you will c:

    I live in the South so usually buy very little (if any) firewood, but I happened to be up in Washington State one year when the door to door guys started coming around, and watching my Grandfather try to find firewood for the year was fun, and he taught me a lot.

    And if any of this is in the PDF, my bad, nothing beyond the first page will load for me.

    • Kibit says:

      I wish my neighbors in my condo unit paid better attention to the wood they buy. A lot of it is green, and they keep it outside on the ground and uncovered. Then they burn before the chimneys have been inspected and most of them don’t have carbon monoxide detectors. Also, often times their wood reeks when they burn it. It’s so gross.

      I have no problems with people burning wood. Just take care of your wood, burn it properly and safely.

      My family used to burn during the winter and my brother and I use to help stack and dry the wood.
      My husband and I do not, we found that for us it is actually more expensive to burn than to use our electricity, especially since we would need to buy wood since my HOA would not be happy if we cut down the trees on the property. :) We do keep a few bundles on hand, just in case we have a power outage.

    • KeithIrwin says:

      Hey now, don’t disrespect my wood stacking skills, you don’t even know me. Every winter my dad would buy a cord and we’d all have to go stack it. We got pretty good. I promise you that we definitely stacked it better than the one time when the guys did it for us. They don’t really care that much if it’s stacked to be stable through disassembly because they’re not the ones who are going to have to be taking it apart piece by piece later. We certainly did because we were. We also paid attention to how changes in the stacking would make it easier or harder to pick up the wood later.

      • Wombatish says:

        I guess Seattle just has awesome firewood guys.

        The guy who delivered it for them offered to stack it and did it in an awesome lattice pattern so they could take as much or as little as they want really easily, and if it did get rained on it would dry. And he was like, tossing them on there, perfectly in place. An obviously practiced hand.

      • NickRayko says:

        Just one cord? Pssshhht. 10 cords a year, in an old, under-insulated house in Vermont with steam radiators when I was a kid.

        And yes, I had to walk 5 miles in the snow, uphill both directions, to school ;-)

  5. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Alternatively, if they are bound in smaller stacks, and you are reasonably sure each bound stack is the exact same size, you can measure one and multiply.

  6. McRib wants to know if you've been saved by the Holy Clown says:

    Nobody’s going to stick around while I stack 2 cords of wood and then measure it on my sloped property. They’re going to want to be paid when their truck dumps it in a massive pile in the center of our driveway.

    That said, get a receipt is always sage advice.

    • Griking says:

      Exactly. In fact, around my parts they charge extra if you want it stacked so you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

    • Cicadymn says:

      Man, delivered firewood? Nice. I always have to get the truck and go do it by hand. Which has it’s plus’s like measuring before hand and finding the best cord to get both in wood quality and size.

      You might as well pay them 20 bucks to stack the wood for you. You can watch while drinking a nice scotch and pretending their plebeians.

  7. Liam Kinkaid says:

    I understand wanting to get the amount that you’re promised, isn’t it, in this case at least, much more convenient to weigh the value of the money you’re giving up vs. the quantity/quality of wood you’re getting? Who cares if it’s exactly half a cord or a little less? If you’re satisfied with the price, you’ve made a good purchase and be happy with that. Worrying about it more than that just makes you die earlier.

    • veritybrown says:

      This was my reaction as well. When it comes to consumer issues that are worth getting really anal about, the *exact* amount of wood you’re buying isn’t even on the list. If the amount of wood you see and the amount of money you paid for it balance out reasonably well on your personal mental scales, it would be a waste of your time and effort (and probably destroy the goodwill of your firewood provider) for you to spend an hour carefully stacking and measuring a cord of wood to make sure you get every single board inch you paid for.

      • trentblase says:

        Cool, don’t count the bills either when I hand you your change. Just flap it a couple times and see if it “sounds” about right (a la scrooge mcduck). I mean, if the stack of ones I gave you looks about right, why bother counting?

      • Pepster says:

        I think you’re both off a bit. This isn’t about making sure you got 128 cu-ft, instead of 127, not ir is making sure you paid, to-the-penny exactly what you should.

        It’s making sure someoene doesn’t dump 95 cubic feet of wood in a jumbled heap, then charge you for a full cord (a 25% ripoff) – just because he thinks you’ll take his word on what a “Cord” is.

    • Chili con sumerist says:

      I agree. If you’re just buying wood at the garden mart, and it looks like a good amount of wood for the price you’re paying, who cares if it corresponds to some obscure measure of volume. Two exceptions: if you’re comparison shopping just based on price, you need some objective measure to compare by. Or if you’re buying sight unseen and somebody’s just going to come with a truck and dump it in your yard, you need to be able to have an accurate idea of what you’re buying. Otherwise, unless you have some gut sense of what a cord should be/cost, there’s no reason to get picky.

  8. sjsutton says:

    Easier said then done. I’m not sure my woodguy is going to wait while I stack the cord of wood and then measure.

    • Pax says:

      If he won’t wait while you make sure you’ve actually got the amount of wood you’re paying for – then his honesty is something you should be questioning, while keeping your wallet CLOSED in his presence.

      • npage148 says:

        WTF, have you ever had a truck load of wood dumped at your house? NO wood guy is gonna hang around while you and your friends stack up cords of wood.

        • Saltpork says:

          Absolutely not, they have other customers.

          At the point of delivery is not when to measure. If you want to be that anal do it at the point of purchase. Go out to the guys property and pick it up yourself.

          A full cord is normally about 2 full size truck loads if you’re not stacking it(i.e. throwing it) into the bed.

      • veritybrown says:

        If you’re anal enough about getting every single board inch you paid for, you won’t have the problem next time–he’ll just refuse to sell wood to you because you’re not worth it. It takes a lot of time to stack wood to achieve the maximum possible density in a cord of wood. This is why a lot of people DO sell wood by the truckload these days instead of by the cord. It isn’t set up to be a method of cheating the customer; it’s related to the value of the seller’s time. I can almost guarantee that, if you went to the effort necessary to compare the two, you would find that you’re paying more per board inch for carefully corded word than for a truckload.

      • kdorian says:

        You’re out of your mind. If you want to see if it’s a full cord, come pick it up yourself. If you want it delivered, it’s going to be dumped, and it’s paid for before they unload – because hell if they have time to stand around and wait, they have three more deliveries this afternoon!

  9. c!tizen says:

    LAME! The title led me to believe this was going to be about letting hookers measure your… n/m.

  10. dba says:

    > In case you hadn’t noticed (or if you live south of the Equator), it’s almost winter.

    Um, no… if you live south of the Equator, it’s almost summer.

    • Difdi says:

      Yes, which is exactly what Chris said. South of the equator, it is indeed almost summer. Reading the article before posting reduces the chances of looking foolish.

      • psm321 says:

        If you read carefully/literally, that is NOT what Chris said. Not reading carefully is what leads to things like this: http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2010/12/01/the-case-of-the-school-bus-the-stop-sign-and-the-missing-at/

        • jesirose says:

          It seems to me that’s more a problem of an extra comma than a missing at. You don’t stop AT the school bus. You stop when approaching it.

          “A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop, when approaching from any direction any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children.”

        • Michael Belisle says:

          There is a bit of a difference between a blog and a criminal statute. The Court of Internet Opinion is permitted wide latitude in divining the intent of a fucking blog post that is not afforded to a court of law when answering questions of criminal concern.

    • JonathanR says:

      Exactly, so they wouldn’t have noticed that its almost winter…

    • Michael Belisle says:

      Thinking about what Chris meant to say for a second would allow you to realize that you’re being a pedant. Why else would he mention “south of the Equator” unless he was trying to say that you may not have noticed because it isn’t almost winter?

    • SpamDel says:

      Stephen Fry, A much more sage wordsmith than you @dba, has some harsh words for you and your ilk.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7E-aoXLZGY

  11. leprechaunshawn says:

    Let me simplify this….

    Make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for.

  12. danmac says:

    I usually weigh the wood by holding an armful at a time on my personal scale, subtracting my baseline weight from my wood-carrying weight and tabulating it on a spreadsheet. I get lots of splinters, but totally worth the effort.

  13. Miss Dev (The Beer Sherpa) says:

    If you call a firewood place and ask “how much is a cord?” and they don’t say 128 cubic feet, then you should go elsewhere.

  14. DanRydell says:

    Firewood is often sold by the “face cord” which they sometimes just call a cord. A face cord is 4’x8’x(the length of one piece). Typically it’s about 1/3 of a full cord.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      RTFA. It specifically states it is illegal to use the term “face cord” to sell firewood. The term “cord” is literally the only term you can use to describe what you are getting.

      • DanRydell says:

        That’s great and all, but it still happens. I’m not going to balk at buying a face cord, because I’m not a brainless idiot who can ONLY deal with government-approved units of measure for dead trees.

        • cameronl says:

          Yup, around here (southern CT) a “cord” is usually a face cord. I’ve tried asking several sellers if their cord was a full cord or face cord, and generally just got a blank stare.

          Real rough: the back of a full size pickup is a face cord. If it’s got 4′ high sides on it filled with wood, that’s about a full cord.

      • Blueskylaw says:

        It’s also against the law to murder someone, but guess what?

  15. Reading_Comprehension says:

    I cut my own firewood at home

  16. Hotscot says:

    This may be out there a bit…I buy mine from a local mom and pop supplier and just sort of trust them to give me what I order. Half cord each of Oak, Almond and Walnut as I like the mixture.

    • George4478 says:

      I only burn old-growth sequoia. It costs more but you can practically smell history going up your chimney.

  17. mszabo says:

    While partially good advice, it seems completely impractical. The cost to have the wood stacked would probably amount to a sizeable fraction of the cost of a cord of firewood,

  18. humphrmi says:

    Never had a wood delivery stacked. They don’t do it, and won’t wait while I do it. Most places that sell me wood have been around a while, and if word got out that they short sell cords, they’d go out of business. So it’s not like I have to worry about getting back my money, if someone shorts me I’ll figure it out in a couple of days and they’ll either fix it or word will get out.

    Of course, this is in small-town central Wisconsin, where I vacation. Here in Illinois (where I live) I don’t know how wood works b/c I don’t have a fireplace.

  19. stevied says:

    Private Sellers

    (aka the guy cutting down a tree on own his property)

    are not required to sell by the weight or volume.

    Once the wood leaves the property of the seller the wood must be sold by weight or volume.

    Yes, this means the toothless geezer selling wood out of the back of his truck in the grocery store parking lot must comply with the State regs.

  20. Daverson says:

    Wood is too much damn work. I burn pellets.

    • Eggman9713 says:

      That and a pellet stove is so much more efficient. It actually warms the whole house instead of making one part warm and the other part cold (from the cold air coming in to make up that going up the chimney). And buying pellets is easy. How many 40 lb bags do you want? How much per bag? Simple. I usually buy by the half-ton (25 bags) or whole ton (50 bags).

  21. Adam says:

    I work for a friend of mine who owns a tree service. When our workload slows or on days we are not removing trees I will often go to our lot and split logs for firewood. Our operation is relatively small, as we sell about 75 to 100 ricks of wood per year.

    A rick is 1/3 of a cord. Most people might have a hard time determining if they received an exact rick unless they use the same or similar method of stacking that we use. We stack our wood on top of pallets and use stakes on the ends to hold the stacks in place. I have an old steel bar that is 8′ tall with a piece of tape in the center to measure both length and height of each rick I stack to be sure that we are giving the customer the amount they pay for.

    A rick of wood can fit in most full size pickup beds. For an 8 foot bed it will fill it right to the top or a little over just tossing it in. On a 6.5 foot bed it is usually piled up a fair amount over the bed rails unless you stack some of it in the bed first.

    We charge 60 dollars per rick for our firewood picked up in our lot. The price for delivery is also 60 per rick plus extra depending on location. That’s about the same as most of the other firewood sellers here in our area.

    I would never buy firewood by weight, as some woods woods are very heavy while others are not so heavy. For instance as I was splitting some wood today I split several pieces of Beech which is very heavy…but a piece of Cherry of similar size is not quite so heavy.

    All of our wood that we split is quality wood, no trash wood or stuff that doesn’t burn well. 90% of our firewood is Ash, Oak, Walnut, Maple, Cherry, Sycamore. We never split any crap wood. If it isn’t good for firewood we take it to different landscape places which is usually a free place to dispose of wood/chips, etc and they use it for their mulch operations.

  22. qualityleashdog says:

    I buy my firewood from an illiterate man that is also on the sex offender registry for life. I know I can trust him, despite all of his other mistakes and failings, HE HAS figured out that screwing his wood buyers would not be a wise move for him, since apparently all he’s competent at is cutting wood, selling wood, and delivering wood.

  23. Gulliver says:

    I make my own wood at home. Usually it is first thing in the morning, but goes away once I pee.

  24. Levk says:

    LOL I can get firewood for free fairly easy there’s always places that have it for free, whatever you can carry or haul. Just look around you be surprised

  25. bamboozle says:

    Firewood? Here in civilization we have this amazing invention called a “furnace”. It’s efficient, cheap, and there’s normally not a danger of hot embers or brown recluse spiders.

  26. b612markt says:

    This is making me think twice of the glee I feel when I see “WBFP” in real estate listings

  27. soxfantoo says:

    In over 20 years of buying firewood…I have NEVER received a full cord of wood.
    Usually what is delivered as cord is only 50-65% of a cord.

    I try to pay extra to have the wood stacked and measure generously in favor of the dealer. When the wood is delivered, I tell the driver that ” it doesn’t look like a cord”.

    When the wood measure short…I tell they can adjust the price, bring more wood, or I can have someone from weights and measures come out to measure.

    Three times the dealer wanted the state to come out and measure…and each time they had to bring out 50-100 % more wood.

  28. jcargill says:

    I like how, in Germany, steins of beer, cups of coffee, just about everything you can sell that is measurable is assigned a standard measurement by the gov’t. if we did that here we would not have to worry about the shrink ray.