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Forest Products Extension

Tips for Buying Firewood

Burning wood in a fireplace or stove can be an economical source of heating and can provide a cozy focus for your home. On the other hand, buying firewood can be a daunting experience, as most sales are rather informal affairs.

There are three main things to look for when buying firewood: whether the wood is dry, the wood species, and the quantity being sold.

When a tree is harvested, the wood is “green” – it contains a lot of water. This makes the wood a poor fuel for fires. The wood must be dried – “seasoned” – before it will be useful for burning. Wood species vary in the amount of water they contain when green and the ease with which they dry out. Ash wood dries easily and so requires little seasoning time. Oak, while it is excellent firewood when dry, dries very slowly so it requires a long seasoning period. Wood will dry much faster if it is cut to the final length as soon as possible (12” to 24”). Splitting will also speed drying. Wood that is left in the log form will dry very slowly. It can be very difficult to tell if firewood is seasoned by looking at it but if there are lots of cracks (“checks”) in the ends of the pieces, that can be a sign that the wood is getting dry. You should only buy well-seasoned firewood, unless you are able to wait a year before burning it.

Any wood species will make an acceptable fire (if the wood is dry). Heavier woods such as oak and hickory are often preferred for firewood because the have more fuel value per piece. An oak or hickory fire will last longer and produce more heat than a fire made with pine. Lighter woods can be mixed with heavier wood, and may be preferred as for kindling for starting fires. In any case, the wood species mix in a load of firewood should be clearly understood.

Wood is sold in various quantities. Ricks, racks, truckloads, face cords, bush cords and other terms are in common use. The only official measure that is generally accepted is the cord – a stacked pile that measures 4' high by 4' deep by 8' wide (128 cubic feet). If the firewood is cut into 16” lengths, a cord (sometimes called a “bush cord”) will contain three rows. Each of these rows is one “face cord” or “rick.” Firewood stacked neatly in the bed of a full-size pickup truck will amount to about ½ of a cord (64 cubic feet).

In some states, a “loose thrown cord” is also a legal measure. This is an advantage for firewood producers who want to simply dump their product into large trucks, rather than stack it neatly. A cord of wood will occupy more volume when it is “loose”: a loose-thrown cord of 16” long pieces will fill 180 cubic feet, a cord of loose-thrown 24” long pieces will occupy 195 cubic feet.

Wood is an excellent, economical and environmentally-friendly fuel. The collection and sale of firewood provides jobs and can encourage landowners to remove unhealthy or low-value trees from their woodlots, thus improving the health and productivity of Tennessee 's forests. As long as the species mix, degree of seasoning and volume of the load is clearly understood by the buyer and seller, the firewood business benefits everyone.

Learn more about firewood from Virginia Cooperative Extension

Adam M. Taylor
Tennessee Forest Products Center
2506 Jacob Drive
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996

Phone: 865-946-1125
Fax: 865-946-1109

Adam Taylor's email