By Ray Lagoe
ike any business the firewoodindustry has developed a lan-guage all its own. For thenovice wood buyer this terminologycan be complicated and sometimesdownright misleading. And like anyprofit-making business, there are hon-est dealers and those who are just outto make a quick buck. Your first lineof defense is understanding the busi-ness and its language.In the early '80s my wife and I fledthe city and bought our dream home inthe country. Soaring energy costs dueto the energy crises coupled with ournew found status as “country folk”convinced us to install a combinationwood/oil furnace in the basement toheat our new home.This led to my first experience inbuying firewood, and it was a disaster.When I needed fuel oil, all I had to dowas call and have it delivered — sowhy not the same with the firewood?Big mistake.Delivery of my first load came whileI was at work. My wife checked thetruck, assured herself that it was whatwe ordered, paid the man and askedhim to put it by the garage door. Did Imention that it was a dump truck? Hebacked up to the garage door, and youcan guess the rest.So here I am in the second week inDecember with the season's first bigsnowstorm filling my driveway withbig snowflakes, and I have 6 cords of “green,” wet, unsplit firewood block-ing the garage door. And my snow-blower, of course, is inside.So after my crash course in theschool of hard knots (sorry about that)I talked with a few old-timers, read upa bit, and familiarized myself with thefirewood business. Hopefully thisinformation can help you avoid someof the mistakes I made.
How it is sold
Firewood is sold in several differentways: cut and split, in chunks, as logs,and as slabwood. Cut and split is theleast amount of work. Pieces are cut12 to 24 inches long and split to a rea-sonable size, so all you have to do isstack it. Some dealers will even dothat for a small additional charge.(You may have to do
splitting,depending on the size of your stove.)Chunks (sometimes called billets)are pieces cut 12 to 24 inches long anddelivered unsplit. These are usually alittle cheaper to buy, but leave youwith the task of splitting. Some peoplefeel you get less wood per load thisway, but I haven’t noticed a big differ-ence once it’s split and stacked.The most economical way to buyfirewood is in log length. You havethe advantage of cutting pieces to anylengths you want, and you save asmuch as 30 to 40% a cord. The disad-vantage is the time, labor, and equip-ment involved. If you have the toolsand are handy with a chain saw, this isthe best way to go. A load of logs runsaround $300 (prices vary by area) andwill average around 16 face cord —less than $20 a cord. (I'll explain
shortly.)Slabwood is the cheapest to buy —saw mills will sell it as cheap as $10 apickup load. Slabwood is the piecescut from the sides of the logs at themill. They are two to four inches thick and of uneven lengths. This is usuallya mix of hard and soft woods andmakes excellent kindling and fuel forsmall woodstoves.
What is a cord?
The traditional measure for firewoodis the
A standard cord measuresfour feet high, four feet wide, andeight feet long — an average of 128cubic feet of wood and air space. Theactual volume of split firewood in acord is between 75 and 95 cubic feet,depending on how small it is split andthe skill of the stacker.Today the term
often refers to a
(sometimes called a
is a pile of fire-wood cut 12, 16, or 24 inches long,stacked four feet high and eight feetlong. This varies from state to state,and since there are no consumer lawsregulating firewood, measurementscan be very confusing to the buyer. If you don’t know the dealer, ask forspecific measurements.For the remainder of this article, theword
will refer to a
When buying more than a cord ortwo, you may be quoted a price by thesize of the truck. A six-wheeler load(six-wheel dump truck) cut and splitaverages about five to six cords of wood. Unsplit chunks average closerto five cords and are a little cheaper.If you buy wood in log lengths, youhave two choices, ten-wheeler load ortractor trailer load. Jerry Graham, theforeman at Black Creek Lumber, saysthe average ten-wheeler load will be15 to 16 cords of wood (when cut 16to 20 inches long). A tractor trailerload will average about 24 cords cutthe same length.Jerry suggests finding a dealer thathas a crane mounted on his truck sothe logs can be stacked instead of dumped. Stacked logs are much easierto separate and cut. A ten-wheelerload of logs can get pretty tangled upand just about doubles the bull work.
Choices of firewood
(See the Nov./Dec. 1993 issue of
for an article on low cost fire-wood.)Firewood is almost always sold asmixed hardwoods; a lot depends onthe types of wood native to your area.Bottom line: the denser the wood, thebetter the heat (see chart) and the lesstrouble you'll have with soot and cre-osote build-ups in your chimney.Most softwoods are lightweight andresinous, they burn quickly and pro-
July/August 1994 Backwoods Home Magazine
Firewood: how and what to buy