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What is a Cord of Wood?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A cord is a precise amount of wood, measuring 128 cubic feet (3.62 cubic meters). The term “a cord of wood” is often used in the firewood industry, where wood is typically sold by the cord to consumers, and it also appears in some discussions of timber products. In the case of firewood delivery, it is very important to be aware of how much wood is in a cord, as some firewood dealers unfortunately skimp on their cords in the hopes that consumers will not notice.

The measurement of a cord is arrived at by stacking the wood, ideally as tightly as possible. A full cord measures 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet (1.21 by 1.21 by 2.43 meters). As a general rule, the first stacking of the wood comprises the official measurement; if wood is stacked in the yard of a dealer and measured as a cord, for example, this is accepted as the true measurement. If, on the other hand, someone throws loose wood into a truck, delivers it, and then stacks it, this stack will be measured to determine how much wood there is.

The idea emerged in the 17th century, when stacks of wood were literally measured with a cord. The standardized measure was supposed to make it easier for people to buy and sell wood by creating a unit of measurement that reflected the most common configuration of wood. From the beginning, though, the measurement fluctuated, as it can be influenced by how the wood is stacked and handled, gaining or losing as much as 10% of its volume.

People also sell wood in partial cords. A rick, for example, is a third of a cord. Some people refer to a “pickup cord,” which can measure anywhere from a half cord to a quarter of a cord, depending on the size of the pickup and how the wood is loaded. Since many dealers deliver in pickups, this can be frustrating for consumers, as they will not know how much wood they have until the wood is stacked, and of course payment is demanded on delivery.

When someone is buying firewood, there are a couple of ways that he or she can ensure that the wood is measured accurately and the price is fair. One way is to go to the dealer's yard and inspect a cord of stacked wood before it is delivered. Shoppers may be able to get a discount on the wood if they have a truck and can drive to pick it up. Someone might also want to insist that the dealer stack the wood on delivery so that it's clear how much there is. The best way for a consumer to make sure that he or she gets a full cord of wood, however, is probably to rely on word of mouth recommendations from friends, as fair dealers generally become known in their communities.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon993985 — On Jan 04, 2016

Absolutely. Most folks don't use firewood, but for those few who do, a cord remains the measurement of choice!

By anon268836 — On May 15, 2012

How many pieces of wood would I expect to get out of a cubic meter of thrown firewood?

By anon233466 — On Dec 06, 2011

The price of cord wood varies on the area it is sold, much like christmas trees. In the city, you'll pay $100 for a 6 foot spruce tree,whereas in the country, a 6 foot spruce might cost you $20.

Where I am, a cord of wood delivered and stacked can run from $85 to $100, less if I buy more.

If I cut it myself, the cost of the saw is $300, fuel is $25; bar and chain oil is $7; divided by the amount of wood, I use eight cords a year so $332 dollars gets me the saw, fuel and chain oil (providing I do not hit any rocks while cutting), plus my time to cut it.

I average the local costs of cord wood to $92 x 8=$736

minus the cost of equipment $332 = $404. The question we all have to ask, is it worth the difference for me to cut it myself, or pay the extra to have someone else do it? Actual cost wise it is cheaper to burn wood in most cases, but in doing so, you've got your time, the mess, cleaning the chimney and a lot of other factors to consider, and the wood doesn't load itself in the stove either.

If you do not have a back up heat source, you're pretty much committed. No traveling, short nights of sleep, and the colder it gets, the more wood you'll burn. I'm about two cords short of getting a heat pump with propane or natural gas as a back up.

By anon233459 — On Dec 06, 2011

I burn wood here in Missouri to heat my house. It takes an average of eight, that's eight cords of wood to keep my house at 72 degrees from late november to April. The wood is cut in 36 inch long pieces and split only if the width of the log is more then 16 inches across. My house has 10,000 square feet of living area. I prefer green white oak firewood, so as soon as the leaves fall we start cutting.

By anon136987 — On Dec 25, 2010

How come a "cord" of wood has the same number of BTU's, as there are seconds per year?

By anon130953 — On Nov 30, 2010

how much should i pay for a cord of wood?

By anon96792 — On Jul 16, 2010

the state of Oregon declares that staked cords or some division thereof are the only legal methods of selling firewood. thrown cords are not legal here.

By anon85359 — On May 20, 2010

I deliver wood. Today I was asked by a referred client for a cord of wood. I was obliged to clarify the volume and the stacked versus thrown volume. The stacked volume can be considerably less than the thrown volume therefore adding confusion. The final stacked volume depends on how well stacked, gaps and the size and shape of the chunks.

Wood is generally sold and legally by thrown volume. Taking the above factors into consideration a cord is equivalent to as much as 5 cubic metres of thrown wood.

By anon59509 — On Jan 08, 2010

A "face cord" is only one third of a cord if it is 16" long wood. A face cord is not really a legal definition, but is generally accepted to be a pile of wood that is 4' x 8' on the "face" and one cut length long, all pieces stacked parallel to one another (not cross-stacked on the ends. Therefore a face cord of 16" wood is indeed 1/3 of a full cord, but if it was 18" long it would be 3/8 of a full cord, if 24" long it would be 1/2 of a full cord, if 12" long only 1/4 of a full cord. Often times the term "rick" is used interchangeably with face cord, but again neither one is a legal definition.

By anon53171 — On Nov 19, 2009

A face cord is one third of a cord.

By anon51128 — On Nov 03, 2009

what is a face cord?

By anon50326 — On Oct 27, 2009

if you are cutting your wood into 18" length then to make a cord that is stacked 4 foot high it would have to be about 21 1/2feet long.

By anon49790 — On Oct 22, 2009

a cord of 18" wood, 4' high, stacked in a single row, would be aprox. 14' long.

By anon45400 — On Sep 16, 2009

anon26762: The answer to how many pieces of wood are in a cord is one. An eight foot section of a tree four feet in diameter, more or less.

By anon43634 — On Aug 31, 2009

what is a cord of wood if it measures 18" in width, all in one long row.

By anon26762 — On Feb 18, 2009

how many pieces of wood in a cord?

By anon21733 — On Nov 20, 2008

Re: a cord of wood

Surely now most measurements are metric we should sell firewood like they do on the continent, in cubic metres. The pickup truck has a box on it which measures 1mX1mX1m. When it's full you've got a cubic meter. If you buy a lorry load it comes in 2 meter long sections which you then cut up so, typically, a 5mX2mX2m load comes to 20 m3 - enough for several winters for most people. Bu the main point is you always know what you are getting,

4'X4'X8' made good sense when wood was hauled on a cart, but is it really useful today?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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