There is no such thing as a face cord, because the department of weights and measures doesn’t actually recognize a face cord. Firewood can only be sold in cords or fractions thereof. The problem is that this is how most firewood is sold in the state of Illinois. Sound confusing? It is. The problem lies in the fact that the dept of weights and measures doesn’t regulate firewood vendors or sales. This translates to companies selling everything from a “4×4”, to a “3×6”, to “whatever fits in the rack in your garage”, and calling it a face cord. Until the state starts to enforce the rules, consumers should make sure that the “face cord” they are buying is 4 feet high by 8 feet wide, 16 inches long, straight stacked, no criss-crossing. If this is done, you will be buying a correct measurement of a 1/3 cord; the very thing that a “face cord” was supposed to be, before it was corrupted and manipulated by the less than honest firewood vendors.
Firewood typically will reach its driest state after about 9 months, or more importantly, one summer. The heat, wind, and lack of precipitation are what dry the wood. After a summer, the wood will reach a moisture content of about <20 %. Once it reaches this state, it doesn’t matter if the wood is 9 months or 9 years, the wood won’t get any drier. There are variables such as wood type, weather conditions, air flow etc., but typically a summer season is the most crucial factor. It should be noted that wood has to be cut AND split in order to dry in this period. Wood that is cut for 9 months and then split a week prior to being sold will not be dry. With this drying schedule, it becomes apparent how much time goes into producing good dry firewood.
The reason there is such a broad spectrum in pricing is the apples to oranges comparison. If the $80 firewood is green or freshly split, it isn’t worth 80 cents. If it is in fact dry wood, chances are great that the wood won’t stack up, literally, to the right amount. So you are paying $80 for a 4×4, or 3×6 measurement of firewood, when you’re expecting a 4×8. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out you paid $160 dollars for a 1/3 cord. Now, it should also be noted that if by some chance you can actually purchase a true 4×8 of clean, dry ready to burn firewood for $80, the same price that firewood sold for in 1985, more power to the consumer.
The reason that some companies offer free stacking is plain and simple: to rip you off. Firewood should be stacked straight up, just like you would stack if you had to stack your own wood. The scam comes with the criss-cross stacking of firewood, log cabin style. You’ve seen the wood stacked this way, whether it has been stacked for you this way or you saw it at neighbors. The logic behind this method is that it creates air space, making it appear that you received more wood than you actually received. A 4×8 stacked criss-cross style actually contains about half the amount that’s in a straight stacked 4×8. This leads to the logic behind free stacking. If they can’t stack the wood they can’t criss-cross stack it and they can’t rip you off. Not having to pay for stacking would be great, just make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for.
There are three things to be aware of when buying wood. The first is quality. You want wood that is clean, not muddy, and cut to the same lengths. You don’t want stumps or large unsplit pieces. You want something uniform that you can pick up with one hand. Secondly, you want dry wood. Wood that will burn the day you get it. Third, you want the right amount of wood. How much wood are you buying? Is that the same amount you received? Educate yourself and you will be surprised at the respect you will command from firewood vendors.
As long as the wood is dry and seasoned, there is nothing wrong with burning any species you have access to. It depends what your preference is. Long weekend fires with lots of coals? Oak, locust, or hickory. Short hot fires after dinner and a movie in your small pre-fab fireplace? Soft maple, birch, or any of the other “softer” hardwoods. Most importantly, ask questions of your firewood company. They should be professionals that know their products, and can easily match you up with firewood that compliments your lifestyle.