Stacking Firewood – Where Is the Joy?

Sometimes hard work can simplify things, ease the mind, instill a sense of accomplishment just at the right time. Cutting and stacking firewood does that for me. Stacking is especially enjoyable. A well organized wood pile is a visual and aromatic delight, a Robert Frost poem come to life.

Of course, a well ordered wood pile is more than homespun sculpture. Whether relying on wood to heat the home or sharing relaxing times around an outdoor fire pit, the way firewood is stacked impacts seasoning, burn-ability, energy efficiency, safety, convenience, value and cost.

Correctly stacking firewood is not as easy as it looks, which I learned the hard way. Fortunately, you will not have to, if you “take the road less traveled by” and apply a few time-tested techniques.

First, determine if the wood is green, wet or dry, an important factor in determining location. If green or wet, the best place is the one most exposed to sun and wind. If dry, a shed or covered area is better to keep the wood from over-drying. In either case, keep the firewood stack at least 20 feet from your home.

The condition of the wood also influences how to form or shape the stack. For instance, greater attention given to creating air flow is needed for green or wet wood.

No matter what the location or stacking technique, start by laying two parallel rows of planks about 15″ apart and perpendicular to the direction the firewood ends will point. Keeping wood off the ground, cement or other surface creates air flow, helps prevent mold, and ensures the bottom rows will season with the rest of the stack. I prefer using 4 X 4 timber, but other materials, such as long, straight branches, 2 X 4’s, and pallets work just as well.

If you are concerned about termites, carpenter ants or other critters taking up residence in the wood pile, consider first treating the ground, with insecticide. It is not wise to burn chemically treated wood in the fireplace or outdoor fire pit, so do not apply insecticides directly to firewood.

Stacking wood in contact with other wood also encourages rotting and infestation. For this reason, firewood should be stacked in single rows.

To the fun part. A decision is needed for how to secure the ends in order to keep the stack intact. Herein lies the mark of a good firewood stacker. There are several options. For example, two perfectly placed trees will do.

Or, a popular and effective technique is to build two vertical ends with firewood by crisscrossing alternate layers Lincoln Logs style. To ensure stability, care is needed in selecting and placing the pieces. It may take some searching, but each one should be straight with little or no taper, twisted grain or uneven sides.

Though not as aesthetic, driving a metal stake into the ground where you want to form each end is faster. However, the size and depth of the stakes may limit how high you can stack the wood.

For more stability, drive a stake into the ground and tie it back into the stack with twine. Every three or four rows, fasten twine to the stake using a slip knot. Lay the twine along that row and loop it around the end piece of the next row. After two or three pieces of wood are stacked on the twine, the stake will draw snug to the pile for a strong vertical end.

Still another way is to forget the stakes and wrap the twine around end logs at both ends of your stack. Done correctly, the pile will be quite stable.

Spending hours stacking wood only to have it fall into a heap is very frustrating and extremely dangerous if you or a loved one is in the wrong place when it topples. Therefore, do not rush. Take time to form straight sides and stable rows. Unless you are a seasoned stacker, keep from building your pile more than four feet high.

Almost second nature with a little practice is putting the larger end of a firewood piece on the low side of the stack to keep the top row level. Frequently checking the other side from where you are stacking, as well as surveying the stack from one end, will help in keeping the sides straight. If the stack starts to lean, use the back end of a maul to tap wood pieces into alignment. The higher the stack, the harder it is to straighten, so check early and often.

To reduce freshly cut firewood’s water content to about 20%, which is needed for optimal heat generation, do not tightly press the pieces together along a row. Rule of thumb is far apart enough for a mouse to pass, but not a cat.

Bark has an interesting role to play as well. When stacking green or wet wood without covering, stack bark side up to prevent some of the rain from soaking into the wood. With covering, stack bark side down to dry the wood faster.

To cover or not to cover a wood pile is an ongoing debate. Except in very wet climates, my preference is to leave it uncovered, which seems to augment rather than hinder seasoning. It is likely one method is not much better than the other.

If you prefer to cover, never completely cover the wood, which will rot rather than dry it. Best to leave the ends of the stack uncovered and the overhanging tarp at least a foot or so from the ground on the sides.

If you want an easier way to organize your wood pile, a heavy-duty firewood rack may be ideal. No need to worry about configuring the base or ends of the stack; that’s exactly what a firewood rack is. Different lengths are available to handle the amount of wood that needs to be stacked. For instance, a 36″ model holds 3/8 face cord. A 144″ model holds 1 1/2 face cord.

Except for cleaning up the leftover chips and twigs, which when dry make great kindling, all that is left is to admire your handiwork. While you do, take time to sit back, smell the fresh wood, breathe the clean air, listen for the sound of birds or other wildlife, and read your favorite poem.