A cord is a precise amount of wood, measuring 128 cubic feet (3.62 cubic meters). The term “a cord of wood” is often used in the firewood industry, where wood is typically sold by the cord to consumers, and it also appears in some discussions of timber products. In the case of firewood delivery, it is very important to be aware of how much wood is in a cord, as some firewood dealers unfortunately skimp on their cords in the hopes that consumers will not notice.
The measurement of a cord is arrived at by stacking the wood, ideally as tightly as possible. A full cord measures 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet (1.21 by 1.21 by 2.43 meters). As a general rule, the first stacking of the wood comprises the official measurement; if wood is stacked in the yard of a dealer and measured as a cord, for example, this is accepted as the true measurement. If, on the other hand, someone throws loose wood into a truck, delivers it, and then stacks it, this stack will be measured to determine how much wood there is.
The idea emerged in the 17th century, when stacks of wood were literally measured with a cord. The standardized measure was supposed to make it easier for people to buy and sell wood by creating a unit of measurement that reflected the most common configuration of wood. From the beginning, though, the measurement fluctuated, as it can be influenced by how the wood is stacked and handled, gaining or losing as much as 10% of its volume.
People also sell wood in partial cords. A rick, for example, is a third of a cord. Some people refer to a “pickup cord,” which can measure anywhere from a half cord to a quarter of a cord, depending on the size of the pickup and how the wood is loaded. Since many dealers deliver in pickups, this can be frustrating for consumers, as they will not know how much wood they have until the wood is stacked, and of course payment is demanded on delivery.
When someone is buying firewood, there are a couple of ways that he or she can ensure that the wood is measured accurately and the price is fair. One way is to go to the dealer's yard and inspect a cord of stacked wood before it is delivered. Shoppers may be able to get a discount on the wood if they have a truck and can drive to pick it up. Someone might also want to insist that the dealer stack the wood on delivery so that it's clear how much there is. The best way for a consumer to make sure that he or she gets a full cord of wood, however, is probably to rely on word of mouth recommendations from friends, as fair dealers generally become known in their communities.