Cord Wood: Know the Differences


Firewood is part of winter living on many homesteads, farms, and ranches.  Some folks have a ready source of timber on their land while others seek an outside source to keep them warm.  Examples of sources would include US Forest Service Land (with appropriate wood cutting permits), lumber yards that sell cord wood, as well as lumber mills that cut wood on site.

cord wood

cord wood

If you don’t know what a cord is in reference to wood, it is a standard unit of measure for firewood.  Specifically, a cord is 4′ high  x 4′ wide  x 8′ long.  But you can also purchase a half cord, otherwise known as a face cord.  Its measurements are 4′ high x 2′ wide x 8′ long.  You can also buy smaller increments if you desire.  Some folks may buy in odd increments, such as what will fit in the back of their pickup or trailer.   Regardless of the dimensions, all firewood is sold based upon dimension rather than weight.

Factors that Affect Pricing:

  • Pick up versus delivery
  • Seasoned versus green firewood
  • Proximity of mill to wood source(s)
  • Quantity purchased
  • Tree species of firewood
  • Availability of scrap wood
  • Forest fire wood

  Pick Up Versus Delivery

It takes time, heavy equipment, and manpower to load, deliver, and unload a cord of wood.  Some companies may quote the same price per cord for pick up and delivery, but then charge a delivery fee in addition to the cost of the firewood.  Sure, you can pick up the wood yourself, but keep in mind the manpower (you) and the time it will take to load up, drive home, and then unload.  Do you place a dollar amount on your time?  There is no right or wrong answer here.  Go with the option that works best for you.

Seasoned Versus Green Firewood

You may ask yourself, “Does this matter”?  The answer is yes!  Seasoned firewood will burn more readily compared to green (the wood still has a very high moisture content).  In fact, green firewood is almost impossible to burn.  Seasoned firewood is pretty easy to identify.  The ends of the wood have begun to crack (or check) from the drying process.  The bark also tends to loosen on seasoned wood.  And it is not uncommon for the bark to fall off when you pick it up.  Seasoned firewood is also lighter in weight compared to green wood of the same species due to the water content.  It is worth noting that hardwoods take longer to season given that they are denser than softwoods.  So this means that a hardwood may take a couple of years to adequately season which may result in a higher price compared to green as well as softwoods since the vendor has more time invested in it compared to softwoods).  Softwoods season sooner and they are easier to light (which makes it a great option for kindling).

seasoned firewood

seasoned firewood

If you think that you can just cut down a tree (not a snag) then split it into to firewood to use as firewood for use later that week or month… forget it.  This is the perfect example of green wood.  Attempts to light the wood will be met with frustration, perhaps some smoke, but no flames.  Trust me, go with seasoned.

 Proximity of Mill to Wood Source(s)

This is a matter of logistics.  If the vendor is close to a forest (and has a cutting permit), cords sold to the consumer tend to cost less compared to a vendor who may be 500 miles away (or more) from a wood source.  It comes down to shipping costs.  The greater the distance, the higher the costs.  And those costs get passed onto the consumer.

Quantity Purchased

If you are going to buy a couple of cords, most vendors will not provide a discount on pricing.  That means that you will pay the full retail cord price for each cord.  But if you are going to purchase enough cord wood to fill a semi trailer, discounts are typically available.  If not, find another source for your firewood.

Tree Species

Hardwood firewood is often more expensive than softwood because of several factors.  The primary reason is that hardwoods burn longer versus softwoods.  This is especially important if you plan on heating your home with firewood overnight.  With hardwoods burning longer due to them being denser than softwoods, they tend to have coals leftover in the morning.  And as anyone who has started a fire knows, it is easier to restart a fire if you have a bed of coals compared to just ash in the combustion chamber of a wood stove or fireplace.

Examples of hardwoods: oak, maple, ash, elm

Examples of softwoods: cottonwood, pine, cedar, fir

Scrap Wood

This wood is typically the odds and ends leftover from the lumber milling process.  It may also be odd pieces from splitting cord wood, remnants of wood posts, wood pallets, or other scrap wood suitable for burning.  This type of wood is often sold for less than the cost of standard, seasoned firewood.  Be aware that some scrap wood may contain nails if it was originally fabricated into fencing or pallets.

Forest Fire Wood

As the name implies, the wood comes from trees that were damaged/killed in forest fires.  But let me ask you this, did you know that just because a forest fire destroyed trees, it does not mean that it necessarily burned them all to the ground?  In the even of a fast-moving fire, the flames may skip across the tree canopies as the winds whip them along, leaving the trees in tact.  Generally, the outer bark has been burned, but the fire may not have penetrated into the wood itself.  It is this type of wood that wood mills seek when they go in for salvage logging.  Once back at the mill, this wood is cut into firewood lengths and then split.  This type of wood is generally sold at a discount when compared to standard, seasoned firewood.

standard firewood vs forest fire wood

standard firewood vs forest fire wood

As you can see, not all cord wood is the same.   And since it is not all the same, pricing is not the same.  Get to know your vendors.  Pay them a visit.  Find out what they have on hand.  Ask if it is possible to get different species (if they carry only softwoods and you really want hardwoods, find out if they order it as well as how much it would cost).  Determine what your needs are.  Heating the house overnight?  Or would you like an easy to start fire in the backyard firepit?  Armed with all of this knowledge, you can select cord wood to suit your needs.


4 responses »

  1. our family owns a sawmill business and sells all the by products including firewood, sawdust, bark mulch and wood chips Your descriptions of the firewood process is right on target. I could use your post as a marketing tool! Thanks for posting valid information. Sharing on GarmanbrothersInc on facebook, too.

    • Living at the base of the mountains in Colorado, firewood is part of our fall & winter routine. Most of our firewood comes from small mills in the area and we have used all of the types of cord wood listed. (And since there is a forest fire season in the state, that means there is generally forest fire wood available). Glad you found the post accurate. And thank you for sharing!

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