Knowing what kind of wood to burn

With increasing prices for heating, firewood provides an alternative to electric, gas, and oil heat. Cordwood is sold by the "cord" which is a stack of wood equal to 128 cubic feet, minus a small allowance for airspace between the logs.

bundle of firewoodPennsylvania requires that all cordwood be sold as a specific volume in cubic feet and designated as a portion of a cord. In other words, 32 cubic feet of firewood is of a cord. Since wood burner and fireplace logs aren't sold in 4-foot lengths, volume calculations can be a bit difficult.

Photo: Packaged bundle of firewood


Firewood is also sold by the face cord - a stack of wood 8 ft long and 4 ft high, with logs of different lengths. The length of the individual logs will determine the actual volume contained in the face cord of wood.
If logs are 24 inches long, a face cord contains cord of wood. And if logs are 16 inches long, a face cord contains 1/3 cord of wood. Therefore, a full cord with 16-inch long logs would be a firewood stack 4 feet high x 24 feet long. Air space in most piles averages twenty-five to thirty percent.


1 cord of tightly stacked firewood =

4 feet x 4 feet x 8 feet =

128 cubic feet

Heat value

Hardwoods (beech, hickory, oak, and locust) are much denser than softwoods and have better heat value.


1. White Oak
2. Black Locust
3. Shagbark Hickory
4. Sugar Maple
5. Beech
6. Red Oak
7. White Ash
8. Red Maple
9. Black Walnut
10. Cherry

Firewood characteristics

Ash is often called the "Firewood of Kings" since it burns well even when it's green (freshly cut). Some types of wood are just nicer to burn since they're easier to catch on fire, they burn slowly and don't pop or spark. With the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer, ash firewood should not be transported.
Most woods high in resin content (like pine, spruce, and fir) aren't used in the fireplace or woodburner, since resin build-up inside a chimney can lead to a chimney fire. But no matter what type of wood is burned, it's important to practice good maintenance by having your chimney periodically swept and inspected.  

split Cherry firewood log
Split log of cherry cordwood

Applying ratings to the overall quality of firewood is open to debate, but the categories below will give you a good idea of how firewood rates:

Overall Rating

Type of Cordwood

EXCELLENT Oak, beech, sugar maple, hickory, ash
GOOD Black locust, black cherry, black walnut, red maple
FAIR White pine, sweet gum, elm, poplar
POOR Spruces



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