Firewood and Cordwood

Nature’s stored solar energy!

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Think of the great memories around a fire pit or camp fire. Toasting marshmallows or having your favorite beverage as you watch the flames dance. Firewood also serves as an alternative to heating with gas, oil or electric heat.

Firewood is usually sold by the "cord" which is the measure of a pile of wood equal to 128 cubic feet. However, some cords may have less cubic measure and only be 'face cords' with less wood volume.

Firewood logs are often stacked in piles (or racks) that are 4-feet or 8-feet long to aid measurement.


Pennsylvania firewood regulations

The State of Pennsylvania requires firewood to be sold as a specific volume measured in cubic feet. Since fireplace logs are usually cut to shorter lengths (often 16 to 18-inches long) the volume calculations become a bit more complicated. If you stacked 18-inch long logs in a neat pile 4-feet tall, it would have to be just over 21-feet long to equal a true full measure cord of 128-cubic-feet.

One full cord of neatly stacked firewood is:
4 feet x 4 feet x 8 feet = 128 cubic feet


Face Cord of Wood

Wood is often sold by the "face cord" which is a stack of wood 4 feet high and 8 feet long, with logs of varying lengths. The length of the pieces of firewood will determine how much wood is actually contained in the face cord.

  • If the logs are 24 inches long, a face cord would contain 1/2 full cord.

  • If the logs are 16 inches long, a face cord would contain 1/3 full cord.

Carrying these calculations a bit further, a full cord of 16-inch length pieces would be a stack 4 feet high x 24 feet long. Air space in most firewood piles (due to the irregularity of logs) can average up to 30% of the total volume.

  The volume of this bundle of firewood is labeled    0.75 cubic feet    so it would take 171 of these bundles to equal a full cord.

The volume of this bundle of firewood is labeled 0.75 cubic feet so it would take 171 of these bundles to equal a full cord.


Heat Value of Cordwood

Hardwoods (oak, hickory, beech, locust) have better heat value than softwoods because the wood is denser

APPROXIMATE HEAT VALUE RANKING FOR COMMON FIREWOOD IN THE NORTHERN U.S. WITH #1 BEING BEST:

1. White Oak
2. Black Locust
3. Shagbark Hickory
4. Sugar Maple
5. Beech
6. Red Oak
7. White Ash
8. Red Maple
9. Black Walnut
10. Black Cherry


  
Characteristics of Firewood

Some types of wood are more user-friendly since they're easier to set on fire and burn much better. Ash is often called the "Firewood of Kings" since it burns well even when freshly cut.

Generally speaking, woods that are high in resin content (pine, spruce, fir) aren't used in home fireplaces since resulting resin build-up in a chimney can promote chimney fires.

Woods that 'pop' and spark are also considered less desirable for burning. No matter what type of wood is burned, it's important to practice good maintenance by having a chimney periodically inspected and cleaned or “swept.“

Rating the overall quality of firewoods is open to debate, but the categories below should help give you a rough idea of where the various firewoods stand.

Overall Rating / Type of Firewood

EXCELLENT - Ash, beech, hickory, sugar maple, oak

GOOD - Black cherry, black locust, red maple, black walnut

FAIR - Elm, sweet gum, poplar, white pine

POOR - Spruce


Photos of Common Firewood Trees

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Ash (White)

Ash is grayish brown to a pale yellow, streaked with brown. The wood is straight grained with a coarse uniform texture. Ash is light in weight; and is used in making baseball bats. Referred to as the 'Firewood of Kings' since it splits easily and burns well, even when freshly cut.

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Beech

Beech is heavy, hard, and strong wood with good heat value. It is reddish brown in color and straight grained with a close uniform texture. Extremely smooth bark makes it easy to identify Beech trees.

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Black Locust

Very coarse bark with hard, 'stringy' wood that can be difficult to split. Good heat value. Often used for fence posts since this wood resists decay when in contact with the soil.

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Black Walnut

Deeply furrowed bark. Tree drops green husked walnuts in the Fall. Wood has a dark brown coloration favored for woodworking. It's difficult to grow most garden plants around Black Walnut trees due to their secretion of “juglone” from most tree parts.

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Cherry (Black)

Cherry has a fine uniform straight grain, smooth texture, and may contain small gum pockets. Cherry wood is distinctively a rich red to a reddish brown in color. Cherry firewood is easy to split and quite commonly used as an all-round good firewood in Pennsylvania. Logs don't store as well outside as other types of cordwood so keep wood piles dry with good air circulation.

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Oak (Red)

Northern Red Oak is mostly straight grained with a coarse texture. The wood is hard and heavy, and a pinkish reddish brown. Red Oak trees have shiny silver bark on the upper branches. Good heat value.

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Oak (White)

White Oak is light to dark brown with a medium to coarse texture. It is mostly straight grained with longer rays than red oak. When people use white oak, they must keep in mind that it dries slowly. Leaves have rounded "lobes" resembling fingers. Good heat value.

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Hickory

Hickory is pale to reddish brown and coarse textured. The grain is straight, but can be wavy or irregular. The wood has good strength, but hickory has a reputation as being difficult to work with. It has a tendency to split and can be difficult to dry. Good heat value.

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Maple (Red)

Red Maple or “Swamp Maple” wood is usually straight grained. The wood varies from light to dark reddish brown.

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Maple (Sugar)

“Hard Maple” varies in color from light to dark reddish brown depending on its growing area. It has a close fine texture, and is generally straight grained. Hard Maple dries slowly.