Question: What Exactly Is a Face Cord of Wood?

If you rely on any kind of wood-burning appliance for winter heat, whether it is primary, supplementary, or just because you enjoy the ambiance, you’ve got to have plenty of firewood on hand. If you live in a truly cold region or off-grid, this can be a matter of life and death!

a wood pile
a wood pile

In such places, firewood is usually sold readily year-round, but sometimes you’ll see strange terms in the advertisement. A common one is face cord. What the heck is a face cord of wood anyway, and how much is it?

A face cord is a unit of volume that refers to a stack of firewood that is 8 feet long, 4 feet tall, and 16 to 18 inches deep.

Well, now you know! If you’re dealing with large volumes of firewood, a face cord is one of the smallest that will give you a substantial quantity. There’s a lot more you need to know about this unit of measurement, and about purchasing it generally, so keep reading.

What Exactly is a Cord?

Hold onto the term cord when referring to firewood, you aren’t alone. This is a very old unit of measurement, and today you’ll only see it really used in the United States and Canada.

A cord refers to a volume of any dry firewood or pulpwood, but if you aren’t in the logging industry or purchasing firewood for your own use, you’ll probably never encounter it.

The term likely got its name from a standardized measuring tool that took the form of a string or some other piece of cordage as it could be quickly and easily used to assess dimensions and subsequently volume when wood was stacked.

Neat stuff, but you don’t need to know that to understand and purchase intelligently when you see the terminology.

Now, keep in mind that we’re specifically talking about a face cord, not a full cord or bush cord. Those are much larger units, but we’ll talk about that in a little bit. Don’t worry, there’s not going to be a quiz on the math!

A Face Cord Should Yield Between 42 ½ and 48 Cubic Feet of Wood

Now, I just mentioned that a face cord is a unit of volume. Even though we use dimensions to establish what that volume is, nominally, we should still be getting a given quantity of firewood one way or the other if someone has done their job when measuring it.

A face cord should yield between 42 ½ and 48 cubic feet of firewood in total, with the variation coming predominantly from whether or not you’re dealing with 16-inch pieces of wood or 18-inch pieces of wood.

Depending on who you buy from and what part of the country you are in, you’ll likely see them sized one way or the other.

It’s important that your face cord contains pieces of wood that are the same length and roughly the same shape so that they will stack neatly and tightly together. Otherwise, you might pay too much…

Don’t Get Cheated: A Face Cord Should Be Snugly and Neatly Stacked

The reason why it is so important for the wood in a face cord, or any cord, to be stacked properly, meaning neatly and uniformly sized, is so that there is no dead space.

The more space or gaps there are in the stack, the more you wind up paying per piece of wood. Remember, we’re supposed to be paying for volume!

Slick, shyster sellers will sometimes try to mix in deliberately undersized pieces of wood with larger ones to create gaps that will save them money, allowing them to stretch their wood supply to make more cords for more prospective buyers…

Don’t fall for this trap. There are always going to be some small spaces and gaps in a stack of firewood unless they have been machine-cut into square or rectangular boards, but don’t let someone cheat you.

Measure to Protect Yourself

Even though we are trying to buy firewood by volume, we can establish that volume simply by measuring the dimensions of the stack as mentioned.

Bust out a measuring tape or tape measure and get to it: the stack should be 8 feet long, 4 feet high, and uniformly between 16 inches and 18 inches deep; that’s the length of the individual pieces of wood.

A trusty seller won’t mind a bit. If they start squirming or acting insulted, you’re probably onto something.

But do keep this one thing in mind: a face cord doesn’t indicate the strictly linear measurements I just gave you; it instead refers to the cubic feet, the volume of the wood.

If the seller claims that they are selling a true face cord despite it not conforming to the measurements of the stack, you can calculate the volume yourself by taking measurements and multiplying the length by width by height. Then you’ll know!

Always bring that measuring tool with you when buying, especially from a new seller!

A Face Cord Might Be Referred to as a Stove Cord or Rick

Something else to keep an eye out for when shopping for firewood is that a face cord might be referred to as a stove cord or rick.

“Stove cord” is easy enough to figure out because the individual pieces of firewood are already pre-sized to fit into a wood stove or a fireplace. As for rick, how a face cord came to be known as such is lost to time!

Firewood from a Face Cord is Pre-sized to Fit in a Fireplace or Stove

The biggest practical difference between a face cord and a standard cord is that the wood in a face cord is already small enough to go straight into your stove as mentioned.

The pieces of wood you’ll get in a standard cord are much longer, and unless you’re throwing them in a bonfire or a grand fireplace, this means you’ll have some chopping to do to get it ready to burn, even if it is already well seasoned!

If you are buying firewood to save time or if it seems like you’re getting a particularly good deal on a standard cord; you might have to make up the savings in sweat equity if you know what I mean!

Three-Face Cords Make a Bush Cord

A bush cord, or standard cord, is a tightly packed stack of firewood measuring 8 feet long, 4 feet high, and 4 feet deep. If you’ve done some quick mental math, you know that it takes 3 face cords to make a full bush cord.

There’s also a way that allows you to easily run the numbers yourself when shopping for firewood prices or subdividing a large quantity of firewood for sale or use.

How Heavy is a Face Cord of Wood?

It all depends on the type of wood and its moisture content. Moist, heavy hardwoods will weigh a lot more, and the maximum weight of a face cord will probably be around 1,670 pounds. Well-seasoned softwoods will be significantly lighter.

Also, don’t forget to keep in mind that slightly longer pieces of wood, 18 inches, will actually add up to a substantial increase in weight.

And I want to impress upon you that when you’re buying wood by the cord, including a face cord, you aren’t buying it by weight; you are buying it by volume!

If you rush home and weigh your wood and it seems light for the size of the stack, it does not mean that the seller ripped you off.

How Much Heat Can You Get from a Face Cord?

Depending on the type of wood, your wood-burning appliance, and how much you need to stay comfortably warm, a face cord of wood will give you anywhere from one month to about 2 weeks’ worth of firewood.

What Will a Face Cord Cost You?

This varies dramatically from region to region, and also depends on the season, but you might be able to pick up a face cord for about $75 or as much as $300. The type of wood also plays a big part.

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