Saturday, November 13, 2010

Some Good Advice For Firewood Buyers: Good Firewood Heats You Twice

Well, it's that time of year--people are starting to get ready for the winter wood-burning season. Craigslist is a great place to find reputable wood sellers, but unfortunately it's also a haven for the not-so-honest wood sellers too, as everyone has found out at one time or another. The following information should help you get the most bang for your buck when buying your firewood supply.

Basically, firewood buying boils down to two main criteria: Quality and Quantity.


Always remember "A cord of wood shall measure 4'x4'x8' [[TIGHTLY STACKED]].

"A word about pick-up trucks. One pickup truck load is NEVER a cord, unless it's a 1-ton with a dump bed or a full size truck with extensions on the bed rails. A seasoned cord of Oak weighs over 2 tons, and you can’t carry that in a regular old pick-up truck. (An unseasoned cord of Oak weighs even more, and has greater volume too.) A mid-size truck (like a Dodge Dakota) stacked tight and high is about 1/3 of a cord. A full-size truck with an 8’ bed (½, ¾, or 1-ton with a regular bed and no extensions on the rails to allow for higher stacking) if stacked tight and high is about ½ of a cord. Of course, you can fit less in the truck if it’s randomly tossed in as a pile rather than tightly stacked in the truck. Again, you can’t know how much is there for sure until you see it stacked 4’x8’ and measure the average length of a log to determine how many stacks you should get."

The single best way to ensure that you get what you're paying for when buying firewood is to have the wood seller stack the wood for you so that you can accurately measure it. Some will do this for free (especially if you help!) others may charge a small fee. I'll usually tell them that I'll pay them to stack it, but if it's not a full cord I won't pay them for stacking and I expect them to make up the short wood or discount the short load that they're delivering. Honest wood sellers have no problem with this--dishonest wood sellers don't like it. Remember that it's important to measure the length of the splits. Three rows of 16" long firewood stacked 4'x8' = 128 cu ft or one true cord. Three rows of 13" long splits stacked 4'x8'= 104 cu ft, NOT a full cord! Whenever possible, don't pay for the wood until you've had a chance to stack it and measure it to ensure you're getting what you pay for. Also, ask the wood seller give you a receipt for your purchase stating clearly how much wood was delivered and of what species. If after stacking you realize you've been shorted, contact the seller and ask him to make it right. If he won't, you can file a complaint here.


Generally speaking, hardwoods like Oak, Walnut, Ash, Elm, Maple, etc are the most desirable. They are heavier and denser than softwood species, and so piece for piece, hardwood puts out more BTU's than softwood--it also burns longer. Many people will buy their firewood in a 2-1 ratio of hardwood to softwood as they use the softwood to start the fire and generate heat quickly, and then, once a sufficient coal-bed is established in their stove, they'll throw on some hardwood and "damp down" the stove (reduce the air flow into the stove) to get some nice long burn times.

As important as the species of wood that you choose to burn is, perhaps even more important is that the wood be seasoned properly. Generally speaking, wood that has a moisture content of 20% or below is considered to be good for burning. Softwood species like cottonwood can be seasoned in as little as 6 months (after it's cut and split!!), hardwoods like Oak, and Walnut will take at least two years to season properly (AFTER CUT AND SPLIT). Now it's time to make an important distinction--firewood that will burn and firewood that will burn well.

Wood with a moisture content of 25-30% will usually burn, it just doesn't burn well. The problem with burning unseasoned wood is that a lot of the heat will just go up your chimney in the form of steam and smoke as all that excess moisture is burned-off. There's an old saying that "hissing wood is like pissing away money." Hissing wood in your wood stove=wet wood, and burning wet wood is bad for the environment, your stove, and your wallet!!! To get the most bang for your buck, it's very important that the firewood you buy is properly seasoned. As a general rule, softwoods require 6-12 months (after being cut, bucked, and split) to properly season, and hardwoods require at least 1-2 years min. Burning wood that's not properly seasoned will cost you money as you'll need to burn a lot more. For example, if you're burning Oak that has only been seasoned 1 year, you'll almost certainly use 50%-100% more wood to generate the same amount of heat that you'd get by using properly seasoned wood. In effect, unseasoned wood costs double what seasoned wood costs!!!

In my opinion, the best, easiest, and most accurate way to determine if the firewood you are buying is properly seasoned is to buy a tool called a moisture meter. A moisture meter will measure the moisture content of virtually any species of wood. In order to get an accurate reading, you must split open the piece of wood you are testing, and take your reading from the freshly-split face of the wood. Moisture meters can be bought for as little as $12, Harbor Freight sells them as do sellers on eBay. Honest wood sellers take pride in their properly seasoned firewood because they know how much time and effort it takes to produce well-seasoned wood, and they'll have no problem with you testing their wood prior to purchase. Dishonest wood sellers prey upon uniformed buyers and they are usually more concerned with making a quick buck than they are with developing repeat business. If a wood seller refuses to let you check the moisture content of their wood, you'd be better off finding another seller. Also, there are some wood sellers who aren't dishonest--they just don't know what truly seasoned firewood really is!!! The surest way to know that you're really burning seasoned wood is to either cut and season it yourself, or, buy your firewood one year in advance so that you know it will burn really well. Lastly, it's very important with today's modern EPA certified stoves to only burn well-seasoned wood in order to let your stove live up to it's full potential.

So why is it so hard to find wood sellers with properly seasoned wood for sale? Imagine the time, effort, and space that it takes to cut down the trees, transport the logs, cut the logs to stove length, and then split and stack the wood to dry--and then wait 1-2 years to get paid for all your hard work!! Extrapolate that over 25-50 cords and now you understand why so few wood sellers offer properly seasoned wood for sale!! There are however many hard-working and reputable wood sellers in our area who pride themselves on delivering the same quality and quantity of wood that they would want to burn in their home.

Bottom line: Don't get scammed--get informed!!! As with anything else, buyer beware--so try to be as informed a buyer as you can be.

Good luck, and happy and safe burning!!!

This was originally posted on the Omaha Craigslist in the Fall of 2009. The author is unknown.


Anonymous said...

Walnut is a bad burn, unless you are cleaning up tree tops after selling logs. Elm and Maple are darn near as bad.

If you really want to boil your coffee, try two sticks of seasoned oak to one stick of bois d'arc- osage orange-hedge. It'll make your smoke pipes glow like a F-14. Don't overdo the hedge; it'll warp your stove, speaking from experience.

Also, check for insects in red oak before bringing it back home. The dreaded borer will screww up the neighborhood.

Jenni said...

Thanks for the heads up. I need to get wood for my fireplace this winter and haven't had a chance to do it yet. I cut down 12 cedar trees in my backyard this summer, but I'm letting a guy take the stuff and do what he wants - cedar sucks.e