A view from here


Frank Slater

Good Wood For Good Heat

I was at Lulu’s Homeport one recent morning when a local woodcutter walked through the door and proudly announced, “I sold over 100 cords of wood this year.” Another local at a back table answered, “Buddy, you haven’t ever sold a cord of wood in your life.”

That got me to thinking. There are probably many newcomers out here on the Key Peninsula looking for wood right now who don’t even know how much wood is in a cord. Answer: Depends on who’s selling the cord.

A cord is supposed to be a stack of wood 4 feet high, 4 feet wide and 8 feet long, or 128 cubic feet. A rick is a stack of 16-inch-long logs that’s 4 feet high and 8 feet long. Three ricks make a cord.

But most of the wood for sale around here is not so neatly arranged.

To estimate the volume of wood in a stack, multiply the average length of the pieces in feet (16 inches equals 1.3 feet) by the average length and height of the stack in feet and divide by 128 cubic feet to get the number of cords. For example, 1.3 times 8 times 4 divided by 128 equals 0.33: one-third of a cord, or one rick.

A load of wood thrown into the back of a truck or dumped on the ground looks much larger than the same amount of wood stacked in a pile. A rick of dry wood is a full load for a medium-sized pickup truck.

Most people who use wood for heat have a dry, well-ventilated woodshed and replenish their supply in the spring so it can season over the summer. One good design is a three-sided woodshed with the open side facing away from the prevailing wind. Last year’s wood is stacked on one side and this year’s wood on the other so it can dry while the older wood is used up.

Green wood will burn but is harder to kindle, produces less heat, more smoke and particulate matter and requires more attention to your chimney. Green alder tends to form creosote and may stain your wall or stove. With dry wood and a hot fire, a chimney cleaned in the fall should be OK until the following fall. If your stove is not drawing well, check to see whether your chimney is clear. If it is partially blocked with soot, it needs to be cleaned or you risk having a chimney fire. The smoke from such a fire can make a house uninhabitable even if the fire doesn’t spread.

Green wood is wood that has been cut recently and is normally heavier than a comparable piece of seasoned or dry wood. The bark will look like it might on a live tree and the cambium—the layer between the wood and bark—will still be moist. Well-seasoned wood sometimes has checks in the end where the cells have pulled apart as it dries.

Pierce County requires all new stoves to be EPA certified to meet requirements for efficient combustion to reduce particulate matter emissions. This primarily means that a stove is built well enough to reach a high chamber temperature. Burn bans during temperature inversions can be a problem, but if the stove is your only source of heat, you can apply for an exemption from burn bans, with certain conditions.

A bundle of pine firewood is available at Key Center Food Market for $5.79 plus tax. It is clean, dry, convenient, kindles easily and makes a nice blaze but produces little heat and costs over $420 a cord. From what I’ve seen, the average cost of a cord of firewood cut, split, dried and delivered on the KP is $200 for fir and $240 for heavier and hotter burning madrona.

But, again, that depends on who’s selling the cord.

For more information, search for wood stoves at www.ecy.wa.gov.

Frank Slater, retired math teacher and Korean War veteran, lives in Vaughn.