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Firewood is any wood like material that is gathered and used for fuel. Generally, firewood is not highly processed and is in some sort of recognizable log or branch form.

Firewood is a renewable resource. However, demand for this fuel can outpace its ability to regenerate on local and regional level. For example in some places in the world and through history, the demand has led to desertification. Good forestry practices and improvements in devices that use firewood can improve the local wood supplies. As a Biofuel, some consider firewood to be a form of solar energy and to be relatively carbon neutral.
Firewood on the way to market.

Firewood terms

Since firewood has been used by humans for a long time, there are many terms and concepts to describe it.

North America

Firewood can either be seasoned (dry) or unseasoned (green). It can be classed as hardwood or softwood. In most of the United States, the standard measure of firewood is a cord or 128 cubic feet, however, firewood can also be sold by weight. The BTU value can have an impact upon the price.

Harvesting firewood

Harvesting or collecting firewood varies by the region and culture. Some places have specific areas for firewood collection. Other places may integrate the collection of firewood in the cycle of preparing a plot of land to grow food as part of a field rotation process. Collection can be a group, family or an individual activity. The tools and methods for harvesting firewood are diverse.

North America

Some firewood is harvested in "woodlots" managed for that purpose, but in heavily wooded areas it is more usually harvested as a byproduct of natural forests. Deadfall that has not started to rot is preferred, since it is already partly seasoned. Standing dead timber is considered better still, as it is both seasoned and has less rot. Harvesting this form of timber reduces the speed and intensity of bushfires. Harvesting timber for firewood is normally carried out by hand with chainsaws. Thus, longer pieces - requiring less manual labour, and less chainsaw fuel - are less expensive and only limited by the size of their firebox. Prices also vary considerably with the distance from wood lots, and quality of the wood. Buying and burning firewood that was cut only a short distance from its final destination prevents the accidental spread of invasive tree-killing insects and diseases. Generally speaking, a distance of 50 miles (83 km) from cut site to final burning site is considered the longest distance that firewood should be moved.

Normally wood is cut in the winter when trees have less sap so that it will season more quickly. Most firewood also requires splitting, which also allows for faster seasoning by exposing more surface area. Today most splitting is done with a hydraulic splitting machine, but it can also be split with a splitting maul.

Preparing firewood

In most parts of the world, firewood is only prepared for transport at the time it is harvested. Then it is moved closer to the place it will be used as fuel and prepared there. The process of making charcoal from firewood can take place at the place the firewood is harvested.

Firewood axe or maul.
Hydraulic splitting machine.

Storing firewood

Stacking firewood in a shed.
A Holz Hausen firewood stack is one of the many creative ways to stack wood.
There are many ways to store firewood. These range from simple piles to free-standing stacks, to specialized structures. Usually the goal of storing wood is to keep water away from it and to continue the drying process.

Stacks: The simplest stack is where logs are placed next to and on top of each other, forming a line the width of the logs. The height of the stack can vary, generally depending upon how the ends are constructed. Without constructing ends, the length of the log and length help determine the height of a free-standing stack.

There is debate as whether wood will dry quicker when covered. There is a trade off between the surface of the wood getting wet and allowing as much wind and sun to access the stack. This cover can be a large piece of plywood or an oiled canvas cloth, although cheap plastic sheeting may also be used. Wood will not dry when completely covered. Ideally pallets or scrap wood should be used to raise the wood from the ground, reducing rot and increasing air flow.

There are many ways to create the ends of a stack. In some areas, creating a crib end by alternating pairs of logs helps stabilize the end. A stake or pole placed in the ground is another way to end the pile. A series of stacked logs at the end, each with a cord tied to it and the free end of the cord wrapped to log in the middle of the pile, is another way.

Under a roof: There are no concerns about the wood being subjected to rain, snow or run-off. The methods for stacking depend on the structure and layout desired. Whether split, or in 'rounds' (flush-cut and unsplit segments of logs), the wood should be stacked lengthwise, which is the most stable and practical method. Again though, if the wood needs further seasoning there should be adequate air flow through the stack.

Storing outdoors: Firewood should be stacked with the bark facing upwards. This allows the water to drain off, and standing frost, ice, or snow to be kept from the wood.

Round stacks can be made many ways. Some are piles of wood with a stacked circular wall around them. Others like the American Holz Hausen are more complicated.

A Holz hausen, or "wood house", is a circular method of stacking wood which results in accelerated drying and a small footprint. A traditional holz hausen has a 10-foot diameter, stands 10 feet high, and holds about 6 cords of wood. The walls are made of pieces arranged radially, and tilted slightly inward for stability. The inside pieces are stacked on end to form a chimney for air flow. The top pieces are tilted slightly outward to shed rain and are placed bark side up. If constructed correctly, this method of stacking can produce seasoned firewood in as little as three months.

Heating value of firewood

The moisture content of firewood determines how it burns and how much heat is released. Unseasoned (green) wood moisture content varies by the species, green wood may weigh 70 to 100 percent more than seasoned wood due to water content. Typically, seasoned (dry) wood has between 25% to 20% moisture content. Use of the lower heating value is advised as a reasonable standard way of reporting this data.

The energy content of a measure of wood depends on the tree species. For example, it can range from 15.5 to 32 million BTUs per cord. The higher the moisture content, the more BTUs that must be used to evaporate (boil) the water in the wood before it will`burn. Dry wood delivers more BTUs for heating than green wood of the same species.

Here are some examples of BTU content of several species of wood:

Wood Species Heat Value
Tamarack 22.3 MMBTU/Cord
Birch 21.3 MMBTU/Cord
Red Fir 20.6 MMBTU/Cord
White Fir 16.7 MMBTU/Cord

MMBTU/Cord = Million BTU per Cord

The Sustainable Energy Development Office (SEDO), part of the Government of Western Australia states that the energy content of wood is 4.5 kWh/kg or 16.2 gigajoules/tonne (GJ/t).

Measurement of firewood

Firewood at a local market ready for sale.
Usually firewood is sold by volume. While a specific volume term maybe used, there can be a wide variation in what this means and what the measure can produce as a fuel. For example, a "cord" which is made from 4 foot logs, will not be a cord when it is cut into 1 foot logs and these split so each piece will fit through a 3 inch circle. A measure of green unseasoned wood with 65% moisture contains less usable BTUs than when it has been dried to 20%. Regardless of the term, firewood measurement is best thought of as an estimate.


In the metric system, firewood was normally sold by the stère (= 1 m³ = ~0.276 cord). It can also be sold to consumers by the kilogram.


  • Faggot a bundle of small pieces of wood.

United States

In the United Statesmarker, firewood is usually sold by the cord, a stacked 128 ft³ (3.62 m³), corresponding to a woodpile wide × high of 4 ft-long logs. The cord is legally defined by statute in most states. Stacked wood obviously takes up more space than solid wood - the actual wood volume of a cord may be in the range of 80 to 100 ft³.
  • A "Face cord" is a stack of wood that is 4 feet by 8 feet and is only the length of the logs in the stack.
  • A "Rick" is another regional name for a face cord.
  • A "Load" refers to some mutually agreed upon amount that will fit into a carrying device.

See also


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