How to Measure a Cord, Face Cord and Loose Thrown Cord of Firewood – Don’t Get Ripped Off

Firewood is a great SHTF fuel source. You can use it for heating and cooking, and for many people, it’s a local, renewable fuel. If you have a bit of land and you’re not afraid of a little physical labor, all you need is a chainsaw (or axe if need be), splitting maul and a wedge. It’s the physical labor that scares many people off. Even if you have it cut, split and delivered, as I do, you have to stack and move it, load and clean the stove, etc. It’s not as easy as just turning up the thermostat with natural gas or home heating oil. Of course, there’s a difference in the quality of heat. Wood heat feels more … penetrating.

Firewood’s value, like any fuel, will skyrocket in a SHTF situation. Everyone will look at wood for fuel and market value. If you’re in the firewood market now or post-SHTF, you’ll want to make sure you don’t get ripped off. Here is how.

Firewood is sold by the cord. A cord is 128 cubic feet. Most people visualize a cord of wood as a stacked pile 4′ high, 4′ wide and 8′ long (4 x 4 x 8 = 128).

That is the way a cord of wood is typically sold. You cut the tree into 4′ lengths and cut those lengths twice, making 3 sticks of wood 16″ long. The wood has to be neatly stacked to be sold as a cord, no room for excess space.

People that don’t need or can’t afford a full cord, may buy what’s called a face cord. A face cord is just what it sounds like, look at the face of cord of wood in the pic above. A face cord is a stack of 16″ sticks stacked 4′ high and 8′ wide.

This sounds straightforward, but not always. People get shortchanged often. Here in Maine, the most heavily forested state in the nation, wood is a popular heat source. Firewood is a big market here. Many times in the fall or winter you’ll read about Maine’s Attorney General’s Office educating consumers and prosecuting the loggers that shortchange them.

Dealers may advertise and price firewood by the “truckload” or “pile” or what have you, but they’re not supposed to according to Maine law. They can sell firewood by the cord and by the loose thrown cord. A loose thrown cord is just as it sounds, firewood tossed into a pile or container. Firewood tossed into a 4′ x 4′ x 8′ bin is not a cord, because when it’s stacked, the size goes down. A loose thrown cord should consume around 180 cubic feet of space and once stacked, be somewhere around 128 cubic feet (according to Maine law) for 12-16″ sticks. Sticks sold in 2′ lengths and sold as loose thrown should consumer around 195 cubic feet.

When I buy firewood in the spring it comes loose thrown in 16″ lengths. I build a stack as long as I can beside my driveway then I calculate the cubic feet to make sure I wasn’t shortchanged. Well, I did that the first few times I used my firewood dealer. I don’t check it anymore, it looks about right and I trust him now.

- Ranger Man

BTW: In a TEOTWAWKI situation, many places in the United States could have firewood markets like those in Africa, where firewood is rare and so valuable that scrap brush and trees are gathered to be sold in street markets.

  • Western Mass Man December 3, 2010, 8:27 am

    I stick to buying log truck loads.
    If you have the time and energy, this is the cheapest way to go.
    The last load I bought was spring of 09. Cost 650.00. I got roughly
    7-8 cord out of it. This winter, i’m still burning that load, and I’ll probably have some left for next year.

    Reply
  • Jarhead Survivor December 3, 2010, 10:18 am

    When I was a kid my dad would load me and my brother up in his old beat-up pickup truck and head out to the woods with a bucksaw, chainsaw, and an axe and we wouldn’t come back until we had the truck full of wood. I can still remember walking through the woods with an 8 foot log on my shoulder and one of those skinny alders whipping me across the cheek in the freezing cold. Grrrrrr! But I’ll tell you something; it installed one hell of a work ethic in us boys. Nothing like -10 degree temps to motivate you to work hard since that was the only way we heated back then.

    Reply
  • PreparedCity December 3, 2010, 1:03 pm

    For suburban and city dwellers like myself, I didn’t understand the full value of wood-as-fuel until I had a girlfriend who had a wood stove in her parent’s basement. They heated their whole (modern, non-special) house on that thing – the heat was incredible! Your typical suburban fireplaces is practically worthless compared to the heat and efficiency of a good wood stove.

    Reply
  • GoneWithTheWind December 4, 2010, 1:40 pm

    Where I live sections of the forests are “cleaned up” every summer and the dead wood is cut to about 4-6′ and placed in small piles. Most of it is not logs but typically there would be 6-10 log sized pieces in each bundle. With the first heavy rain these piles are lit and burned off. Technically taking the wood without a permit would probably get you a fine but there is no shortage of wood.

    Reply
  • Jerry December 5, 2010, 5:16 pm

    We live in a log cabin I built in the hills of Montana. We heat exclusively with a woodstove. It’s kind of a way of life or a pattern I guess.

    Like Jarhead said, my boys and I will cut wood throughout the year, buck it, split it, and stack it. With no TV, work takes much of the time. Feeding the chickens, milking the goats, tending the rabbits and a garden in the summer along with cutting wood keeps a kid out of trouble (usually!) and teaches them how to work hard – life is work and that can be rewarding. Better than sitting on their butt playing video games all night and sleeping in until noon!

    Reply