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How to buy firewood

October 30, 1997

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

Conjecture that El Nino's presence in the Pacific could mean a hard winter for the Tri-State area has convinced some of John Souphard's customers to order extra firewood this year.

"They're storing up on it," said the Smithsburg-area wood seller, who said he's doing a brisk business this fall between his regulars and new customers generated from a classified ad.

"I'm a week behind on it now," he said.

It's a delivery backlog, not lack of stock, said Souphard, who makes his living selling the assorted hardwood - mostly oak with some cherry and locust - he cuts from his nine acres of land.

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Fortunately, he cut plenty of wood over the summer and piled it outside under a canvas cover so it could dry out, or "season," in time for the heating season, he said.

"I want it to burn good for the people when they buy it. That's how you get your regular customers, if it's good and dry," said Souphard, who said he has been selling wood for about 10 years.

Although the type of wood should be considered when purchasing firewood, whether it's properly seasoned is more important, experts say.

While you can burn fresher "green" wood, you won't get nearly as much heat from it as you would from air-dried wood, Washington County Extension Service Agent Don Schwartz said.

That's because the fire has to cook off the excess moisture, Schwartz said.

"With the green wood, folks are paying the same amount of money but a lot of the heat is going up the chimney," he said.

And you'll get a faster build-up of creosote - a highly combustible black or brown residue that sticks to the inner walls of the chimney, said Lt. Justin Mayhue of the Longmeadow Volunteer Fire Company.

You can tell seasoned wood by the look, feel and sound of it, wood sellers say.

Seasoned wood generally has darkened ends, is relatively lightweight and makes a clear "clunk" when you beat two pieces together. Green wood has fresher-looking ends, is heavy and makes a dull "thud."

The look and weight will vary by the wood type, said Rusty Miller, who sells hardwood he cuts on his 300-acre farm in Martinsburg, W.Va.

For example, oak should look rotten around the edges and dry in the middle, Miller said.

There is a telling quality for all types, he said.

"If the bark's stuck on, it's usually green," Miller said.

The type of wood will make a difference in the amount of heat you'll get from your fire and how long it will burn, said Ken Pryor, owner of Waynesboro Tree Service in Waynesboro, Pa.

Close-grained hardwoods like hickory and oak produce the most heat and burn the longest, Pryor said.

But a mix of hardwoods, including looser-grained varieties such as soft maple, will make a fine fire, he said.

Softwoods can be used for kindling or for fires of short duration, Pryor said.

When buying firewood, make sure you're clear on how the wood is being sold and what's included, said Patty Manown, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Don't assume that because the quoted price includes delivery, you'll come home to find your purchase neatly stacked in the yard, Manown said.

If you want the wood stacked, negotiate that into the deal, she said.

Maryland law requires wood to be sold by the cord or portions of a cord, said Bob Eaves, of the Maryland Department of Agriculture's Weights and Measures section.

A cord is a stack of wood measuring 128 cubic feet, Eaves said.

Piled up, a cord would be 4 feet high by 4 feet wide by 8 feet long, he said.

Check to make sure you have the agreed-upon quantity before using any of the wood, said Eaves, who said his office averages 65 to 70 complaints of shortages annually.

The firewood seller is required to issue a delivery ticket that includes name and address of both the seller and buyer, a description of the wood, quantity, purchase price and delivery date, he said.

While the state regulates how firewood is sold, it doesn't dictate at what price, Eaves said.

The price can vary dramatically, ranging from $60 a cord in rural areas to $175 a cord in metropolitan areas, he said.

To get an idea of what you should be paying for seasoned hardwood, check local classified ads, Schwartz suggested.

Remember, premium hardwoods such as hickory, oak and locust usually demand a little higher price than a mix of hardwoods like walnut, maple and poplar, he said.

Souphard sells his wood for $85 a cord or $55 for half a cord, with delivery included.

Stacking costs $10 extra, Souphard said.

Rusty Miller sells his for $110 a cord, $55 for half a cord, with delivery included within a 15-mile radius.

There's an extra $20 charge for stacking, Miller said.

Ken Pryor said his wood ranges from $80 a cord for a mix of hardwoods to $100 a cord for premium hardwoods like hickory, oak and elm.

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