I didn’t cut as much winter firewood as I need (or want?). Being a rational sort, I decided to buy some. If I couldn’t do that, what’s the point of all those little green slips of paper?
Yeah yeah, buying what I should “make” is a cop out. I usually cut my full supply and all of the wood I have so far stacked came to me from the sweat of my brow and a few pints of unleaded for the saw. Alas, I’m only one man and can only do so much. Don’t judge me dammit, there’s only 24 hours in the day!
In a capitalist nation (which was the theory of America for most of its history) one can use money as a surrogate for labor. If I wanted additional fuelwood all I needed to do was pry open my wallet with a crowbar and buy some peace of mind.
However, before I can talk about my saga of buying it… it’s time to talk about units:
A cord of firewood is, has, and always will be defined as a stack 4′ by 4′ by 8′, or a stack in any shape that has the equivalent volume. Do some math and you’ll come up with 128 cubic feet. If you’re Canadian you can talk about cubic meters.
This is all simple stuff and the definition is really old. I wouldn’t be surprised if George Washington, when he cut down the cherry tree, stacked it in cords.
Wikipedia tells me this:
“In the United States, the cord is defined by statute in most states. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology Handbook 130, section 188.8.131.52, defines a cord and provides uniform regulations for the sale of fireplace and stove wood.”
Yawn! A sentient people should be able to measure the volume of a pile of chopped up tree. It’s not rocket science.
Also it’s time to talk about markets: Firewood varies in value and cost.
It varies by species and depends on the trees most common in your neck of the woods. In Kentucky nobody wants to burn softwood (think pine) because there’s hardwood (think oak) readily available. They’ll insist burning softwood is madness; possibly while sipping that delicious bourbon I covet so much. In Montana everyone is perfectly happy with softwood because that’s what grows there and the traditional locally available alternative is buffalo dung. They’ll enjoy burning pine and never give another thought to oak, which is only available as furniture. In Seattle, hippies will only use organic wood sustainably harvested by lesbian poets and Buddhist monks. They’d like to burn it in a hand carved chimena on the porch of their condominium and sit by it while nibbling kale flavored yogurt. This is why hippies heat with fossil fuels, move south, or die. (Here’s a hint, if you heat with electricity… basically that’s coal. Own it and get over yourself.)
Price also varies by season. In the spring nobody cares. In January, folks get desperate.
It varies by location, if you’re in a city it’ll cost more. If you’re surrounded by cornfields it’ll cost more. If you’re living in a forest in the middle of east bumfuck nowhere, then trees are basically free. In such cases firewood won’t be free but it’ll be cheaper.
The price has a floor below which it won’t go. At some point trees grow on trees but you’re paying for the labor and machinery to turn a tree into fuelwood and a truck to deliver it to your lawn.
In my location and this season a cord of split, cut, seasoned, delivered, hardwood firewood ought to cost between $150 and $200. I figure $180 is about right. (The same wood, as logs dumped en masse on your lawn, is about $50 a cord. Some assembly required! The minimum purchase is about 10 cords or about enough wood to completely cover a small house lot and sufficient mass to crush six Hyndai Sonatas.)
In theory this should be easy. Stay tuned…