Wood: Cords and Pounds

By Joshua Bardwell, originally posted in February 2010 at Jackbooted Liberal.

The truck has started to pay off. Issa and I have brought home two truck-loads of wood, to become firewood for later. The final amount remains to be seen, because it hasn’t been split yet, but I estimate it to be about 2 “ricks”, or about 2/3 of a cord. For perspective, we were paying about $65 a rick for seasoned, ready-to-burn wood, delivered but not stacked. Since we paid about $6,000 for the truck, I figure that means the truck is two-100ths of the way towards paying for itself.

I’d like to take a minute here and express my frustration with non-specific units of measurement. See, a cord of wood is exactly 128 cubic feet of wood. You can give it to me in a 4x4x8 stack, or a 4x2x16 stack, or whatever combination you please, but a cord is a cord. But people never seem to sell wood by the cord. Instead, they sell by the “rick,” at least that’s what they call it here in Tennessee.

A rick is a 4×8 stack. Notice any missing dimensions? That’s right. A rick is 4 by 8 by whatever length the wood is cut to. So a person who cuts the wood to 18″ is giving you a heck of a lot more wood than someone who cuts to more like 14″. And you never know until they deliver the wood, which makes it damn near impossible to comparison shop, which is, in my opinion, why people like to sell by the rick.

I guess in the long run, it probably works out, because most people cut to about the same length, but the engineer in me just hates the lack of precision.

Anyway, the bed of the truck is about 45 cubic feet. A cord of wood is exactly 128 cubic feet, and a rick usually works out to about 1/3 of a cord, or about 42 cubic feet. So the bed of the truck is, conveniently, almost exactly one rick. Ain’t that handy.

I found a place near my house where some trees had been felled for a construction project. They were cut into 2′-4′ long pieces, and laying on the ground. Some of them had already been run through the chipper, so I felt pretty confident nobody would mind me taking them. Issa and I finished filling up the bed of the truck, and she said, “Do you think we’re over the truck’s weight rating?” Well, I hadn’t much thought of it until that very moment.

It turns out, we have a truck stop near our house, so for about $10, we could have figured out exactly what we weighed. Keep this tip in mind if you own a truck and/or a trailer, because you can overload those things really easy and not know it. You don’t have to be a semi to go through the scales. But since I didn’t think of that, we just drove home real slow and tossed the wood off on the ground.

But we’re not the first to have this kind of question, and I found [a] nifty little booklet that contains a table of nominal weights for a cord of various types of wood. The heaviest type of wood is oak, at up to 5500 lbs per cord of green wood. Which means that if we were to pack our truck bed full of oak, it would weigh about 1900 lbs. I think our truck’s payload capacity is about 1700 lbs, so I guess we might have been over-weight, but not by much.