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Rhonda J. Ferree

Rhonda J. Ferree
Former Extension Educator, Horticulture

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Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog


Last night our furnace wasn't working properly. Thankfully our wood burning fireplace kept us cozy all evening.

Many people are particular when it comes to the types of wood they want to burn in their fireplaces. Typically, oak, hickory, and ask are sought. Each species has its own burning qualities, but on a weight basis, all species of wood generate the same amount of heat. What makes species like oak and hickory more desirable?

Duane Friend, University of Illinois Extension Educator, says the answer lied in the density or weight per unit of volume. More maple would have to be cut and used to get the same amount of heat as a lesser volume of hickory or oak.

There are several hardwoods, such as osage orange (hedge) and black locust, that have higher densities, and therefore higher heat value per cord. These wood, however, are harder to split, harder to start burning, and especially in the case of osage orange, tend to pop or spark.

How much wood is supposed to be in a cord? A standard cord contains 128 cubic feet of wood, but actually is closer to 80 or 90 cubic feet, due to the space between pieces. A facecords and rick are sometimes used interchangeably with cord, but many times these are smaller than a cord.

A standard sized pickup with wood randomly thrown in to the top of the bed will equal about one-third of a cord. If the wood is neatly stacked, the amount of wood will be closer to one-half f a cord.

Storing firewood involves more than space. Other considerations, such as location, seasoning, rot, firewood, and termites, are important. For example, firewood stored in a shady corner near buildings and surrounded by shrubs and other vegetation deteriorates more quickly than wood stored in a sunny, exposed location. Also, wood in contact with the soil is soon infected with decay, and decayed wood has considerably less fuel value than sound wood. To prevent stored firewood from rotting, it is recommended that the firewood be placed on a rack that allows air movement on both the bottom and sides of the woodpile.

Wood seasons faster without bark, and pieces with small diameters will air-dry faster than large chunks. To speed the drying time for firewood, halving or quartering the large pieces to help the seasoning process. Also, firewood stacked in the open will season faster than wood stacked under bushes, near buildings, or in a damp cellar. Firewood should not be stacked against buildings, because there is danger that termites may attack the wood and later gain entrance to the building. Plastic sheeting, or closer stacking of the top pieces, will help to protect firewood from rain and snow.

Finally, remember to be sure your chimney has been properly cleaned and inspected for this winters burning season. Fireplaces are warm and enjoyable, but safety should always be the number one priority.

University of Illinois Extension has a website dedicated to Firewood at View my YouTube video on this topic at

Have a safe and warm winter!

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