During periods of high heating prices, firewood has provided a viable alternative to gas, oil or electric heat.

Firewood is usually sold by the "cord" which is the measure of a pile of wood equal to 128 cubic feet. However, some cords that are sold may have less measure and only be 'face cords' with less wood.

Logs are often stacked in piles 8-feet long to help measure them.

The State of Pennsylvania requires firewood to be sold as a specific volume measured in cubic feet. Since fireplace logs are usually cut to shorter lengths (often around 16 to 18-inches long) the volume calculations become a bit more difficult.

If you stacked 18-inch long logs in a neat pile 4-feet tall, it would have to be just over 21-feet long to equal a true measure cord of 128-cubic-feet.


One cord of neatly stacked firewood should measure:

4 feet x 4 feet x 8 feet = 128 cubic feet


Wood is often sold by the "face cord" which is a stack of wood 4 feet high and 8 feet long, with logs of varying length. The length of the pieces of firewood will determine how much wood is actually contained in a face cord. If the logs are 24 inches long, a face cord will contain 1/2 cord; if the logs are 16 inches long, a face cord will contain 1/3 cord.


Carrying these calculations a bit further, a full cord of 16-inch length pieces would be a stack 4 feet high x 24 feet long. Air space in most stacks (due to the irregularity of logs) will average approximately 25% to 30% of the total volume.

firewood bundle  
The volume of this small bundle of firewood sold at a mini-mart is labeled as .75 cubic feet



Hardwoods (oak, hickory, beech, locust) have better heat value than softwoods because the wood is denser.


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. Black Cherry


Some types of wood are more user-friendly since they're easier to start on fire and will burn much better. Ash is often called "the Firewood of Kings" since it burns well even when freshly cut.
Generally speaking, woods high in resin content (pine, spruce, fir) aren't used in the home fireplace, since resin build-up in a chimney can promote chimney fires.
Woods that 'pop' and spark are also considered less desirable for burning. No matter what type of wood is burned, it's important to practice good maintenance by having a chimney periodically inspected and swept.
Rating the overall quality of firewoods is open to some debate, but the categories below should give the reader a rough idea of where the various woods stand.

Overall Rating

Type of Firewood

Ash, beech, hickory, sugar maple, oak
Black cherry, black locust, red maple, black walnut
Elm, sweet gum, poplar, white pine


Source: The Chimney Safety Institute of America

To aid in the prevention of chimney fires and carbon monoxide intrusion and to help keep woodburning fireplaces and wood stoves functioning properly, the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) offers the following safety tips for new and returning wood burners:
Get an annual chimney check. Have chimneys inspected annually, and cleaned as necessary, by a qualified professional chimney service technician. This reduces the risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisonings due to creosote buildup or obstructions in the chimneys.
Keep it clear. Keep tree branches and leaves at least 15 feet away from the top of the chimney.
Install a chimney cap to keep debris and animals out of the chimney.
Choose the right fuel. For burning firewood in wood stoves or fireplaces, choose well seasoned wood that has been split for a minimum of six months to one year, and stored in a covered and elevated location. Never burn Christmas trees or treated wood in your fireplace or wood stove.
Build it right. Place firewood or firelogs at the rear of the fireplace on a supporting grate. To start the fire, use kindling or a commercial firelighter. Never use flammable liquids.
Keep the hearth area clear. Combustible material too close to the fireplace, or to a wood stove, could easily catch fire. Keep furniture at least 36" away from the hearth.
Use a fireplace screen. Use metal mesh or a screen in front of the fireplace to catch flying sparks that could ignite or burn holes in the carpet or flooring.
Be careful not to overload the fireplace. Add one manufactured firelog at a time or no more than a couple of pieces of firewood. A fireplace is not designed to function as an incinerator and should never be used to burn glossy paper or garbage.
Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Place detectors throughout the house and check batteries in the spring and fall. When you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time, remember to check your batteries.
Never leave a fire unattended. Before turning in for the evening, be sure that the fire is fully extinguished. Supervise children and pets closely around wood stoves and fireplaces. 



Source of wood grain photographs and most descriptions below:
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture


White Oak

White Oak wood

White Oak is light to dark brown with a medium to coarse texture.  It is mostly straight grained with longer rays than red oak.  When people work with white oak, they must keep in mind that it dries slowly. Leaves have rounded "lobes" resembling fingers.

White Oak tree

White Oak bark

White Oak leaves are lobed

Black Locust

Black locust cordwood

Very coarse bark with hard, 'stringy' wood that can be difficult to split. Often used for fence posts since the wood resists decay when in contact with soil.

Black locust bark

Black locust firewood

Black locust branches

Smaller branches on Black Locust trees have sharp thorns. The compound leaves are usually blotchy-looking by late summer due to a leaf miner insect.

Shagbark Hickory

Hickory wood

Hickory is pale to reddish brown and coarse textured.  The grain is straight, but can be wavy or irregular.  The wood has good strength, but hickory has a reputation as being difficult to work with.  It has a tendency to split and can be difficult to dry.

Shagbark hickory log

Shagbark hickory bark

Shagbark hickory firewood

Shagbark hickory leaves

Shagbark hickory leaves with their fall color. Shagbark hickory bark earns its name by lifting off the tree trunk in a 'shaggy' fashion.

Sugar Maple

Maple wood

Hard Maple varies in color from light to dark reddish brown depending on its growing area.  It has a close fine texture, and is generally straight grained.  However, "curly," "fiddleback," and "birds-eye" figure can also be characteristic of this wood.  Hard Maple dries slowly.

Sugar maple leaves
Sugar maple leaves just prior to fall coloration with bright yellow and orange.

Sugar Maple bark


Beech wood

Beech is heavy, hard, and strong.  It is reddish brown in color and straight grained with a close uniform texture.
Extremely smooth bark makes it easy to identify Beech trees.

Beech bark

Beech leaf

Red Oak

Red Oak wood

Northern Red Oak is mostly straight grained with a coarse texture.  The wood is hard and heavy, and a pinkish reddish brown. Red Oak has shiny silver bark on the upper branches.

Red oak log

Red Oak leaves

White Ash

NOTE: Rapidly being killed-off by the spreading EAB (Emerald Ash Borer). Ash firewood should not be transported, to slow spread of the EAB.

Video of EAB symptoms
Are your trees OK?

Ash wood

Ash is grayish brown to a pale yellow streaked with brown in color.  The wood is straight grained with a coarse uniform texture.  Ash is light in weight; and is used in making baseball bats. Referred to as the 'Firewood of Kings' since it splits easily and burns well, even when freshly cut.  [See special message below]

White Ash tree

White Ash bark

Feb. 2006 - Special message about Ash firewood:
Emerald Ash Borer is causing major destruction of ash trees in Michigan (over seven million trees so far), Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, and Ontario, Canada. Since this insect can move from location to location in firewood, the agriculture department is asking people not to transport firewood. Therefore, do not move firewood - use local firewood. If you've already transported firewood, burn it!

Red Maple (aka 'Swamp Maple')

Red Maple wood

Red Maple wood is usually straight grained.  The wood varies from light to dark reddish brown.

Red Maple fall leaves

Red Maple bark

Black Walnut

Black walnut cordwood

Deep-furrowed bark. Tree drops green husked walnuts in the Fall. Wood has dark brown coloration. It's difficult to grow most garden plants around Black Walnut trees due to their secretion of 'juglone' from most tree parts.

Black walnut bark

Black walnut firewood

Black walnuts on the ground in the fall

Black walnut leaves

Black Cherry (aka 'Wild Cherry')

Black Cherry wood

Cherry has a fine uniform straight grain, smooth texture, and may contain small gum pockets.  Cherry is distinctively a rich red to a reddish brown in color. Cherry firewood is easy to split and very common in Pennsylvania. Logs don't store as well outside as other types of cordwood -- keep wood piles dry with good air circulation.

Cherry firewood

Black cherry bark (also known as 'Wild Cherry')

Cherry cordwood

Black cherry or 'wild cherry' leaves



The Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture expanded the Commonwealth's quarantine on firewood movement on August 9, 2010 from 12 counties to 43 counties, so the quarantine now covers the western two-thirds of the state and all hardwoods, not just ash.

Do not move firewood!

Pennsylvania’s Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) quarantine now includes the counties of: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Crawford, Cumberland, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Potter, Snyder, Somerset, Tioga, Union, Venango, Washington, Warren and Westmoreland counties. 

It is hoped the quarantine will slow the spread of the beetle by restricting the movement of all ash: nursery stock, green lumber, logs, stumps, roots, branches and wood chips. The quarantine also includes all other hardwoods, to include hickory, maple and oak.

Emerald Ash Borer information
(PDF 513MB)


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