If you’re preparing for a long trip in a log cabin out in the wild, you’re going to need to prepare logs for kindling. Sure, you could purchase a ton of pellets, or you could live the lumberjack lifestyle and chop your own logs. And make sure that you prepare at least a cord of wood while you’re at it. By the way, do you guys know what a cord of wood is?
A cord is a unit of volume measurement that is used exclusively for logs. A cord of wood is equal to 128 cubic feet that typically measures 4 × 8 × 4 feet. However, the exact definition of a cord of wood varies from place to place.
In this guide, I’ll explain what a cord of wood is in greater detail, and I’ll also talk about other ways to measure firewood and the appropriate methods of storing a cord of firewood.
How Big Is a Cord of Wood?
A cord of wood is defined as a stack of firewood that takes up 128 cubic feet of space. The typical cord of firewood measures 4 feet wide, 8 feet long, and 4 feet in height.
When purchasing firewood, or when looking for racks or other containers for firewood, the seller will most often use cords as the go-to form of measurement. So, a half-cord would equal 64 cubic feet, a quarter-cord would equal 32 cubic feet, and so on.
It’s important to note that the exact dimensions of a cord of wood don’t exactly matter. If your log cabin can stack firewood 8 feet high in a 4 × 4-foot area on the floor, it would still be considered a cord.
How Much Does a Cord of Wood Weigh?
The typical weight range for a cord of wood is 2,000 and 3,000 pounds. However, there are three primary factors that affect how much wood weighs—species, dimensions, and moisture content.
The species of the wood in question will determine how dense it is. For instance, the densities of common firewood are as follows:
Maple—39 to 47 pounds per cubic foot
Oak—37 to 56 pounds per cubic foot
White Ash—40 to 53 pounds per cubic foot
Birch—42 pounds per cubic foot
The dimensions refer to the height, length, and width of each log. The standard size for preprepared firewood is 16 inches long.
Finally, you have to consider greenwood versus seasoned logs. If a log has been seasoned—i.e., it has had time to dry—then it will only retain about 20% of its original moisture content. So, per cubic foot, greenwood could be significantly heavier.
Why Is Firewood Measured in Cords?
The straightforward, no-nonsense answer is that people have always measured firewood in cords. Legend has it that the cord as a unit for measuring volume dates back to the 17th century when bundles of firewood were tied together with a cord. At the time, the physical cord could keep 128 cubic feet of firewood together, and the term has stuck ever since.
With all that said, can you ask a supplier to sell you a certain cubic footage of firewood for an upcoming camping trip? Yes, you certainly can. However, they would most likely think about your request in cord terms—e.g., how many fractions of a cord you want—so it would just be easier to use cords as your go-to unit for measuring firewood.
Alternatives to Cords of Wood
While a cord is the most popular unit for measuring the volume of firewood, it’s not the only unit you need to follow.
I’ll briefly explain the alternatives down below.
A face cord, which also goes by the phrase “rick cord,” refers to a stack of firewood that stands 4 feet tall and 8 feet in length. The difference between face cords and full cords is that face cords follow the lengths of the individual logs.
For instance, if you chop your logs to a uniform 16 inches in length, a face cord will measure 16 inches × 8 feet × 4 feet. In this scenario, the overall volume would be 33.778 cubic feet or roughly 26% of an entire cord.
A stove cord consists of individual logs that have been cut down to 12 to 14 inches in length. The wood is almost exclusively used for fire stoves, though you are more than welcome to burn them in a fireplace or firepit.
Depending on the supplier, a stove cord could be smaller than a full cord (4 feet × 8 feet × 12-14 inches) or larger (4 feet × 8 feet × 48-56 inches). Make sure you ask the supplier for the exact measurements of a stove cord.
There are certain parts in the US that will use the more liberal loose-thrown cord when measuring firewood volume. A loose-thrown cord refers to a 180-cubic-foot stack of loosely placed wood. When rearranged and stacked neatly, you can remove the air pockets in the stack to bring its total volume down to 1 cord (128 cubic feet).
A stere of wood uses meters as its basis for measuring volume. It is equal to 1 cubic meter (1 × 1 × 1 meter), which is the same as 35.3147 cubic feet or 0.276 cords. You would most likely purchase firewood by the stere if you’re in Canada or Europe.
How to Store a Cord of Wood
Below, I’ll go over the three main rules (and their exceptions) for storing a cord of firewood.
Outdoors—Whether your logs are seasoned or not, you should prepare enough space outside your home or log cabin to store a cord of wood. The only reason you could move the cord indoors is if the logs are properly seasoned and you want to keep them away from the elements.
Uncovered—Leave your firewood uncovered to allow them to dry out. Covering them in a drape would keep the moisture locked in, preventing the logs from burning properly in a fireplace. Again, the only exception is when it’s raining or snowing.
Elevated—Never leave your logs on the ground since doing so will prevent proper air circulation. Ideally, you should stack the cord of wood on a size-appropriate rack or on a pallet. There is no exception to this rule, even when storing them indoors.
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