Not too many generations ago, parents of the blushing bride would cast a wary eye over the prospective partner’s ability to neatly and accurately stack Firewood. You may be tempted to discard this incentive as belonging to the past, but there are some very compelling reasons to stack Firewood correctly.
Here we will go through some essential elements of how to stack Firewood so that your winter nights will be happily spent in the cosy warmth around the fireplace.
The Factors that influence the condition of Firewood
The moisture content of Firewood is the most significant factor in the performance of your Firewood. Wet Firewood will burn very reluctantly, fill your home with smoke, and choke your chimney. Consequently, stacking Firewood is so much more than impressing your potential mother-in-law.
Stacking firewood properly allows for a fire that provides the best possible amount of heat and very little smoke. Freshly felled logs have a high moisture content, and if you do make a fire with them, a significant amount of heat will be lost due to the moisture content.
Correct stacking is simply arranging your logs to optimize the natural release of moisture from the wood into the atmosphere. Nature tries with every muscle to eradicate imbalance. Winds blow from high to low-pressure zones.
Things dry because their moisture content is higher than the ambient, and stacking encourages the drying process. So what steps should you be taking to ensure an efficient transfer of moisture from the log?
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After a long and noisy day with the chainsaw, the last thing you want to do after getting your load of logs home is to stack them. You can happily delay the process by suggesting you will stack the logs after you have split them.
Splitting logs provides a significant advantage to the drying speed for two reasons.
Firstly, the drying rate improves as the surface area exposed to the atmosphere is increased. Next, logs generally have bark on the outside, and bark does a great job at protecting trees from losing moisture. Exposing areas of the log not covered by bark increases the drying rate. So, for both these reasons, the extra effort in splitting your logs will reward you on those upcoming cold winter nights.
Splitting logs also provides another benefit when stacking. Split logs offer a far more stable and space-efficient stack.
Splitting logs is hard work. You might have the romantic image of a muscled torso wielding a gleaming maul and logs splitting left and right. Unfortunately, the reality is a little different. Some woods like Elm, Sweetgum, and Cotton Wood are tough to split, and serious consideration should be given to buying a mechanical splitter if you intend to split a large load of logs.
Where to pack your Stack
Your Stack will dry quicker if placed in an area where the logs are exposed to the sun and wind, and the wood is protected from precipitation. So, a roof is a good idea, but it will also reduce the amount of sunshine that will get to the logs.
There is a partial solution to this. Orientating your Stack to expose the logs to morning and afternoon sun will get you some advantage.
Fitting a tarp over your Stack is not a good idea. The tarp will reduce both the effect of the sun and the wind and generally seems to encourage rot and mold.
A roof higher than the top of the Stack is an efficient setup that will accelerate the drying process.
The good old woodshed is an excellent example of the ideal facility to dry Firewood. It protected the Firewood from rain and snow but allowed the wind to do its job. In addition, the floor of the woodshed kept the logs off the ground, which is one of your Stack’s critical issues. Ensure that your logs are kept off the ground no matter where you make your Stack.
You may be tempted to stack your logs in the garage or perhaps in the cellar. Unfortunately, both sites are not suitable.
Storing Firewood in the garage could be a severe fire risk so avoid that. Down in the cellar, things tend to be a little damp. Added to this, storing Firewood in the cellar will involve a lot of carrying wood up and down the stairs.
Wood provides nutrition and accommodation to a host of insects and mammals. Dead timber is an ideal habitat for wildlife that will happily migrate from the logs to your walls and furniture if given the opportunity.
So, storing your Firewood for any length of time indoors exposes your home to considerable risk from insect infestation. Best to keep your Firewood outside and away from the walls of your house.
How to size the logs in your Stack
Hopefully, your logs are of a similar length, and the size is correct for the fireplace where they will burn. The logs have all been split, and a suitable position has been identified where the logs will be stacked.
Step one is to ensure that the orientation is correct. Typically, this would entail a stack in a north-to-south direction, allowing the morning and afternoon sun to get to the logs. However, local conditions may dictate an alternative orientation, but the important consideration is to orientate the Stack to maximize exposure to the sun and prevailing winds. Remeber, the wind plays a more significant role in the drying process.
Now that you have found the perfect spot for your Stack, you will need to raise the floor area to prevent your precious Firewood from touching the ground. Pallets are a cheap way of doing this, or a row of bricks or blocks will suffice. What you need is some space between the ground and your logs.
Some Stacking Methods
One of the most efficient ways of ensuring efficient seasoning is to stack the logs in a single layer with the ends of the logs exposed. Pack the logs reasonably tightly, and the irregular shape of the split logs will allow for sufficient airflow through the Stack.
You will require some support at the two ends of your Stack, and perhaps you are lucky enough to have two trees near your house that are spaced appropriately apart to be used as end supports. Then you will be able to build your Stack between the two trees.
Another alternative is to build two end pillars to support the Stack. End Pillars consist of stacking pieces of regular length and shape in layers at the end of the Stack. Each successive layer is placed at ninety degrees to the layer below it.
This creates strength and weight to support the Stack. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the end pillars are absolutely upright to avoid the whole Stack collapsing.
The Nordic Round Stack
An alternative method of stacking Firewood comes from the Nordic countries, and Germany also has a version. Here the individual pieces are stacked in a circular fashion. Sometimes referred to as a beehive or circular Stack, this stacking method is highly space-efficient and can be very attractive.
To start your beehive Stack, you will need to draw a circle with a six-foot diameter on a preferably level piece of ground. It’s not critical if the ground is not one-hundred percent flat because you can level the Stack using thinner and thicker logs to bring the layers up to level.
So, for the all-important first layer on the higher side of the circle, you would use thinner logs, and on the lower side, thicker logs. The bottom layer must result in a level base.
The logs for this crucial layer are laid out to form the circle’s circumference, and each piece should have a flat side placed on the ground. Once the circumference has been completed using flat pieces of Firewood, it’s time to start the building.
Now you need to lay your logs perpendicular to the base pieces. So the one cut side will face outwards, and the other cut side will face the center of your circle. Keep loading the pieces around the ring, making sure that the pieces slope towards the center. That the logs are angled down towards the center is essential to ensure the stability of the Stack.
Suppose you find that the pieces are losing the downward slope to the center. In that case, you can quickly remedy the situation by placing another layer similar to the base layer on the circumference, which should restore the correct slope.
Once you have got to about three or four feet, you can start to fill the center with logs that lack the required shape to fit the outside layers. Just a small word of caution here. Be careful not to dislodge the outer layers while tossing the misshapen logs into the center.
Packing your Firewood at this stage is very quick, and you should continue to build the Stack until it is about five feet tall. The center should be built up to form a peak at this stage. Then the last few outside layers are then placed over the centerpieces to create a neat cap.
The result should be an artistic and efficient Stack of Firewood, neatly rounded and secure.
The Shaker Woodpile Method
This is a variation of the Nordic stack and for this method, you will need to have a level base. Here the logs are laid out like spokes in a wagon wheel. The logs will touch in the center but there will be gaps at the circumference of the pile.
It is important that the edges on the circumference are regular but it isn’t too serious if some logs are a little short in the center. In fact, this method can accept logs that would be difficult to stack in other methods because of their irregular shape. Furthermore, the odd log that has not been split can also be accommodated in this method.
The Shaker sometimes called the Amish method, is a quick and easy way to build a stack that will be very stable and allow for good air circulation. Once the base has been constructed, additional logs are placed in layers above the base layer until the structure is about seven feet high.
At his point, it is a good idea to fit a layer of plastic the same diameter as the stack over the top layer of logs and then secure the plastic by placing further layers of logs above the plastic.
The Manufactured Rack
There are some compelling reasons to buy a ready-made log rack. They are typically very easy to assemble and provide a sturdy base for your firewood stack. They are relatively inexpensive and you can pick up a good one that will store about half a cord of firewood for around $ 70.
The rack consists of a base that keeps your firewood off the ground and two sides that hold the stack together.
Some racks are supplied complete with a waterproof roof that will keep the stack dry and still allow the wind to blow through the stack.
A stack that I really like is the Woodhaven 8ft rack which has a powder-coated steel construction and can store about half a chord of Firewood.
Related read: How to Find the Best Firewood Racks?
Have a look at it here:
A Final Few Tips
Stacking a whole load of firewood will result in some areas drying a little quicker than others. Perhaps a little more sunshine or more exposure to the wind in a small space, and there will be a bunch of logs dryer than the rest.
Test your stack every couple of weeks with a moisture meter to find where the logs are drying quicker. This will help you when the time comes to load the fireplace.
At the end of the season, there will, hopefully, still be a pile of logs left over for the next season. These logs should be stacked at one end of your stack if you have a straight stack.
These will then become the logs to be first used next winter. However, if you have a round stack, leave the logs until you have built the new season stack and then place them on top of the new stack. In this way, they will be available for your first fires the following winter.
We mentioned the dangers of storing your firewood inside the home. However, it is possible to have a small stack next to your fireplace that will provide enough firewood for a day or two so long as you avoid allowing the logs to lie inside for more than a couple of days.
Question: How long will it take to season my Firewood?
Answer: Let’s assume you have done everything right, and the Firewood is neatly split and stacked. The time to season that wood will vary between six to twelve months. The factors that influence the seasoning rate include the type of wood and when it was harvested, and the local ambient humidity.
The best time to harvest your Firewood is early Spring before the trees have begun to awaken from their winter slumber.
Deciduous trees typically have a longer drying time than Conifers, but the latter burn much faster, requiring more stock.
Question: How to check if your Firewood is ready?
Answer: Some telltale signs to guide you about the dryness of your Firewood are:
• The weight of the log. Seasoned timber is much lighter than freshly felled timber.
• The wood should have lost its smell.
• The pieces of Firewood should resonate when hit together instead of fresh timber, which has a dull sound.
• The wood should have a dull grey color with cracks at the cut ends.
Question: What happens if I burn wet timber in my fireplace?
Answer: Burning unseasoned Firewood is not a good idea. Firewood with a high moisture content creates fire with a lot of smoke.
In addition, as a significant amount of the energy produced goes into dispelling the moisture instead of creating heat, the fire will have a lesser heating ability than seasoned timber.
Your chimney will choke up with harmful residues, so rather use seasoned Firewood.
Steeped in history, the process of collecting and storing Firewood has an air of romance about it that obscures the harsh physical reality of the task. Harvesting, splitting, and storing Firewood is a lot of work, but then the gentle crackle of the fire on a cold winter’s night makes it all worthwhile.
A moisture meter is one of the most worthwhile little aids to seasoning Firewood. They are cheap and provide an accurate indicator of the moisture content in your logs.
A moisture meter will help you establish when your Firewood has got to twenty percent moisture content. That is the critical moisture level for seasoned Firewood that will ensure your winter nights are warm and comfortable.
Then there is the aesthetics. A neatly packed Firewood Stack, whether straight or circular, is attractive, so do spend time making it neat.