On the cover:
T-N Millwork
Private Residence, Hanover, NH
Photography: Rich Frutchey


 

 
How to Stack Wood


By Laura Jean Whitcomb

What is there to know about stacking wood? You crisscross some sticks on the ends, pile up the middle, cover it, and, voila, your wood is ready for winter.

If only it was that simple. My woodpile — three rows, each 20-feet long — has toppled over twice, infested our house with ants, and is the new home for a family of chipmunks. I’ve scoured the Web, talked to the experts and have come up with a few tips to keep your woodpile dry and upright until wood burning season.

Seasoned Vs. Unseasoned

It’s not about spices; it’s about sap. Unseasoned wood still has sap in it, making it hard to burn because it is too wet. (Freshly cut wood can be up to 45 percent water.)

Why are we talking about seasoned wood when we should be talking about stacking it? Well, if your woodpile is stacked correctly, wood will be seasoned for free. The sun and the wind will do its job, and you won’t have to pay a vendor $25 to $50 more for dry, ready-to-burn wood. You’ll also find it is easier to start fires, the wood produces more heat, and the wood burns cleaner (less creosote is deposited in the chimney).

Wood takes anywhere from six months to a year to season, so if you’re buying and stacking a cord, make sure it was at least cut last spring.

Wood takes anywhere from six months to a year to season, so if you’re buying and stacking a cord, make sure it was at least cut last spring. How can you tell if the wood is seasoned? Knock two logs together and listen for a clear “clunk.” (A muffled “thud” means the logs are still wet.) Take a look at the logs. Pick one up; it should be relatively lightweight. Check out the ends: well-seasoned wood will be cracked.

Storing Firewood

“There are many different ways to stack a woodpile,” says Dalton West, owner of D.J. Firewood in Unity, NH. He describes a jig — wood stacked inside pressure treated timbers, allowing you to store the wood in a tier that, by design, holds itself up. He has also seen woodpiles stacked inside four-foot steel posts. “Halfway up the post, you take a rope or a wire and wrap it from one post to another,” he says. “This keeps the poles from spreading due to the weight of the wood.”

I described my woodpile to West, thinking that the length of the stack (20 feet) might have made it unstable. More likely, he says, it is because of the ends. “When you square off the end —placing two or three logs in one direction, then placing two or three logs 180 degrees in the other direction on top — make sure it leans back toward the woodpile,” West suggests. “It will be less likely to fall over.”

John Tinkham from Londonderry, NH, is also known as the The Firewood Guy on his Web site (www.firewoodguy.com). He gives me a few more ideas to fix the ends. “When you come to the end of the rows, you can do one of three things: use stakes (steel U-post used for fencing) to support the ends, taper the height of the rows down to about half the height of the original height of the rows, or block the ends to a height less than that of the original rows,” he says.

To Tarp or Not To Tarp

Clear tarp, black tarp, no tarp — what is best? Dave Marcoullier, Assistant Extension Forester, and Steven Anderson, Extension Forester from The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, recommends stacking wood under a shelter to keep outside moisture off the stack. A tarp, or plastic sheet, is one type of shelter that can also speed up the drying process by increasing the temperature underneath. Make sure that there is proper ventilation — a few holes here and there will do — for the moisture to escape, or purchase specialty plastic sheeting made to maximize solar heat intake.

Tinkham’s preference is black tarps. “I have noticed from using a clear tarp, condensation will form on the inside of the tarp whereas no condensation will be present while using a black tarp,” he says. “Many years ago, a farmer suggested using a black tarp because that’s what they use to cover bales of hay to prevent condensation and mold. I would suggest only covering the top of the firewood until it becomes seasoned, and cover it fully when the firewood becomes dry and seasoned.”

The University of Florida’s Cooperative Extension Service suggests that you can cover your woodpile with any waterproof material — plywood, sheet metal, plastic sheeting — but make sure that it will not blow off and that it is adjustable as the wood is used or replaced.

Practice Makes Perfect

Stacking firewood usually takes some practice. Here are a few tips for good results:

▪ Store firewood at least 10 feet from any wood structure: the house, a fence, desks, garages, etc. This way insects or fungus won’t be able to infect anything other than the woodpile.
▪  The more surface area exposed to air, the more rapid the drying. The stack should be located in an open area for good air circulation.
▪ Stack wood loosely and keep it off moist ground. Experts recommend stacking your woodpile at least six inches off the ground. Palates, treated fence posts and old cross ties make nice foundations.
▪  Keep area around wood clear of weeds, leaves, and debris to discourage unwanted pests (insects, ants, field mice, snakes) from making their home in the wood.
▪  Store firewood outdoors. According to www.firewood.com, storing large quantities of wood in the house, warm garage or basement can be bad news — the heat will trigger insect and fungi or spore activity and bring about hatching of any insect eggs in or on the wood.
▪  If you do store wood in a shed or garage, leave the windows or garage door open as much as possible on good weather days to encourage air circulation and dry out the firewood.
▪ Stack split logs with the bark side up to help shed the rain.
▪  Tinkham, The Firewood Guy, suggests keeping the top of each stick level to the stick next to it. You might have to select some pieces or reverse some pieces to make this happen, but it will make your woodpile more stable.