Califonia Bountiful

Hot tips for cozy fires

Sept./Oct. 2011 California Country magazine

Whether used to heat your home or fuel a campfire, wood is a must-have item for many Californians. But there are some things to consider before you buy—like how much wood is in a "cord"? And what kind of wood burns best? Here are some tips from the firewood experts.

Get what you pay for
The California Department of Food and Agriculture says a cord is 128 cubic feet. To be sure you have a full cord, stack the wood neatly by stacking it in a row, with individual pieces touching and parallel to each other, making sure the wood is compact and has as few gaps as possible. Then measure the stack. If the width times the height times the length equals 128 cubic feet, you have a cord of firewood. If your wood purchase is short, contact the seller. Take photos.

Get it in writing
Wood can only be sold by the cord or by fractions of a cord and your bill of sale should specify the quantity of wood purchased. When you buy firewood, make sure to get a sales invoice or delivery ticket showing the name and address of the seller, the date purchased or delivered, the quantity purchased and the price paid.

Unpack, restack
When the wood is delivered, ask the seller to stack it. There may be an extra charge for this, but it's best to know if your delivery is short before the seller leaves your property. Or stack the wood yourself. Measure the wood before using any. If the cubic measurement indicates that you did not receive the correct volume, it's time to talk with the seller.

If the seller can't or won't correct the problem, contact your county agricultural commissioners office and ask for the weights and measures department—before you burn any wood. They can advise on ways to resolve the issue.

All wood is not created equal
Another important matter is making sure the kind of wood ordered and delivered is correct. Different woods burn differently and produce varying amounts of heat, which also affects the price. For example, oak burns more slowly and produces less smoke while pine burns faster and produces more soot and smoke. Educate yourself about the type of wood that will best serve your needs.

Seasoned or unseasoned?
Firewood can either be seasoned (dry) or unseasoned (green). Firewood typically takes about nine months to become seasoned. It can be classed as hardwood or softwood. Some firewood is harvested in "woodlots" managed by farmers for that purpose or it can be harvested as a byproduct of natural forests. Deadfall that has not started to rot is preferred for firewood, since it is already partly seasoned. Burning wood that has not been properly seasoned will produce less heat, burn poorly and create unnecessary soot and smoke.

Cut your own
You can, of course, cut and gather your own firewood. That can take a healthy amount of time and also requires an investment in equipment such as axes, saws and splitters. It also demands a working knowledge of cutting wood. Cutting in public forests requires permits from the U.S. Forest Service or state agencies, such as the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Check the rules before cutting.

Stick close to home
The National Firewood Task Force addresses the risk of interstate forest pest movement on firewood to help limit inadvertent spread of forest pests, like the Asian longhorned beetle, which has been found in California and immediately eradicated, and the emerald ash borer, which is spreading faster than expected in forests in the eastern United States.

In California, there is concern about the spread of sudden oak death, a mold-like pathogen that kills trees and woody landscape plants. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is combating these invasive pests with quarantines, public awareness campaigns and other efforts. Some states, including California, have adopted regulations limiting the movement of firewood.

Don't pack a pest
To avoid moving invasive pests in firewood when camping or hiking, buy it at the destination rather than hauling it and purchase only local firewood. Many recreational areas have firewood for sale. Check when reservations are made. Burn all firewood at the destination—don't take it back home.

Contact information for county departments of weights and measures is available online at or by phone at 916-229-3000.

The California Energy Commission offers consumer information on the use of firewood, including a chart of the heating value in various types of wood at

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