Firewood (Cordwood) Math Problems

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, July 13, 1914:  I remember now what I did today, which wasn’t anything unusual.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma—You remembered. . . so please tell us. . . WHAT did you do?

Did you work in the fields? . . . weed the garden? . . . can green beans? . . . stack fire wood for next winter? (Oh, never mind. . . Maybe this is the wrong time of year for stacking wood.)


Several days ago a reader commented that he’d enjoy a post about stacking firewood. Well, here goes-

I haven’t seen any old articles about how to stack firewood, but I have seen cordwood problems in a hundred-year-old arithmetic book:


Cordwood is 4 ft. long.

A cord of wood is a pile 8 ft. long and 4 ft. high.

A cord of stove wood is a pile of wood 8 ft. long, 4 ft. high, and of any length that will fit a stove.

Rule: To find the number of cords of wood in a pile, multiply the length of the pile by the height in feet and divide by 32.


1. How many cords of wood are there in a pile 18 ft. long and 4 ft. high?

2. At $6 per cord, what is the value of a pile of oak cordwood 40 ft. long and 6 ft. high?

3. Which is cheaper for a man living in town: to buy stove wood 16 in. long at $3 per cord, or to pay $6 per cord for cordwood and give a man $2 to saw and split it into stove wood?

4. How many cords of wood 16 in. long can be placed cross-wise in a wagon bed 10 ft. long, 3 ft. wide, and 14 in. deep?

5. Make an estimate of the number of cords of wood in the fallen trees that are wasting on your father’s farm. What is the value of this wood at $2 per cord?

Rural Arithmetic (1913) by John E. Calfee

You may also enjoy these previous posts with other hundred-year-old math problems:

Hundred-Year-Old Rural Math Problems

Unusual, Odd, and Strange Math Problems

More Unusual, Odd, and Strange Math Problems

Old Math Problems

Cube Root Word Problems

1911 Algebra Problems: The Lusitania and Molasses

27 thoughts on “Firewood (Cordwood) Math Problems

    1. Interesting. . . I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re right. She did write this diary entry differently from how she wrote most of them.

  1. Love your post (although I must admit I barely skimmed over the math problem….always hated those!). Grandma’s teasing us again…

  2. I love her diary entry! The clothes and technologies may change, but teen-aged girls are still teen-aged girls!

    1. I understand! I haven’t actually solved the problems, but found it interesting that textbook writers a hundred years ago apparently thought that wood stack problems were a good topic for word problems.

  3. I’m pretty sure I could solve them all. But……….it is early, coffee calls, I’m hungry…….let’s see what other excuses I can come up with. 🙂

  4. My memories of wood as fuel date back to my boyhood visits to my maternal grandparents’ farm in Oklahoma. In the 1940’s they still heated and cooked with wood and I liked that. It was different and it gave me a warm feeling (pun intended). Adventurous, campy. Being near the fire felt protective from the cold parts of the house, and watching the flames through the little window and stirring the embers was great fun.

    Accordingly, when I retired from the Navy in 1981 I decided it would be both thrifty and pleasant to have a wood-burning stove in our rec-room. I soon learned, the hard way, that my boyhood impressions lacked insight into the realities of burning wood. Here’s a list of what I learned:

    1. Wood isn’t actually that cheap, primarily because of labor and transportation costs.
    2. Wood is dirty. It collects dust, debris, insects and sometimes varmints as it sits, waiting to be used.
    3. Carrying wood into the house can be onerous, especially when the weather doesn’t cooperate. Think snow and freezing rain.
    4. Wood will rot in place if it isn’t used in a year or two.
    5. Wood piles have to be situated at a distance from the house because they can and often do attract termites.
    6. Wood quality varies wildly. All must be cured after cutting, one season at minimum and preferably a year. Soft wood is almost useless. Oak is good. Thorn tree burns so hot it can be dangerous.
    6. Wood, all kinds, does not burn cleanly. In addition to having to scoop and dump ashes (being careful that embers don’t start a fire and threaten houses), the smoke is heavy with tar and pollutants that coat the inside of chimneys and stove pipes, sometimes so heavily that the coating itself can catch fire. Cleaning adds to labor and/or expense.

    Bottom line: reconfirmation that the view from adulthood is ever so different from one’s childhood. I just love central gas heat!

    1. The list is wonderful I’ve never had a wood burning stove, but learned a few of your lessons from the little bit of wood that we burn in our fireplace each winter.

    2. Jim, you quite obviously learned many good lessons from doing it yourself rather than just watching your grandparents do it. Pretty typical of life. I have had first-hand experience with burning wood off and on my entire life, including the present, so I can tell you that there are still lessons to be learned that make burning wood easier than some of the things you mention. Still, there is plenty of work involved.

      1. @ authorjim,

        Actually, I didn’t list all the lessons I learned about handling wood. Here’s a couple more:

        1. Even after wood is sawn, it burns better when split.
        2. Kindling is important.
        3 When splitting a log, do not let the axe glance off and hit your leg.
        4 When driving a wedge to split a log, do not hit your thumb.
        5. When splitting wood, wear eye protection.

  5. Every generation finds a new way to torment its children with word problems. I can remember struggling over problems that had to do with wall-to-wall carpet when I was kid, and thinking, “I know how how to solve this: hire someone!”

    1. I’m sure that the textbook writers of each generation tried to find “relevant” topics that would be of interest to students–but they can be tormenting.

  6. Your Grandma, certainly left some teasers. lol

    I remember being amazed at my parents figuring up how many cords of woods that we’d need for the winter and being almost smack-on-the-nose with the amount. I reckon it would be second nature to know if a person used wood to burn or sold it to burn.

  7. I was surprised to see that you actually did a post on firewood and more surprised at the number of comments. Several of the comments express an aversion to doing math but, while it took some effort and thought back in 1913, the problems would all be quite simple with a hand-held calculator. I might also add that the descriptions given for a cord of wood are all for what is known as a face cord. A true cord of firewood is 128 cubic feet and was typically described as a stack 8 feet long, four feet high and four feet wide. I am sure this is ho hum information to most people today but was common knowledge in your grandmother’s day. I am surprised that nobody mentioned the old riddle, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” As usual, it was a good post.

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