Firewood Method

It’s probably safe to assume that most readers of this magazine are well aware that firewood needs to be reasonably dry before it’s burned, and that it’s a pain to move, so you’d better have a system for it. Our readers are not the ones calling the firewood dealer in November to get that winter’s load of green wood dropped in the middle of the driveway, then parking on the street, covering the unstacked mound of wood with a blue tarp, and calling it good.

And yet – let’s not be smug about it – even though we know what we should be doing, many of us have less than perfect technique. Or put differently, we’re constantly refining our less than perfect techniques because perfection is impossible to achieve. Yes, we should be seasoning our stacked wood in full sun with good air circulation for at least a year before it’s burned, but we often get behind on it, or far ahead enough that the wood starts to degrade. Some of us don’t have full sun anywhere in the yard, so that rule goes out the window. Many of us have domestic partners who aren’t keen on skidders and log-length firewood parked beside the side door, and so we process and stack away from the house against our better judgement. We know it’ll be a schlep, but it’s either that or alimony.

And so I thought I’d share the way I do things, not because I have it figured out, but just because this is what works for me, at this moment, with my current set up. It will inevitably change as circumstances change. The hope is that others will read this and then share their firewood management set ups, and other readers can cherry pick some techniques they find inspiring.

My process starts on a firewood landing that’s about 300 feet from the house. I harvest and skid my own wood, so in choosing the site I made sure there was enough room to drop hitches of logs and still turn around. I also made sure it was accessible to a log truck, as there could be unforeseen events in the future that would necessitate log-length delivery. This will all sound obvious to some, but it’s taken me years to have this clarity. I’ve spent much of my life as a kind of wood squirrel, which is to say someone with little caches all over southern Vermont. A friend would cut a tree down and I’d haul it away. A logger had ends on a landing and I’d go up and scrounge. A tree would fall in the forest and I’d drive to it, buck it, and haul away the bolts. I’m so done with this. I’ve ruined my back and truck’s suspension enough that I’m enforcing discipline, promising myself that from now on I’m only going to cut log-length wood on this landing. I might actually stick to it.

Anyway, I buck and split the wood there, then stack the wood a few steps away in a long, single-row pile that curves. The curve is because until very recently I didn’t live right next to the woodlot, and so I had to haul the wood two-cords-at-a-time in a borrowed dump-body truck. A curved pile gave me more area from which to draw from as I pitched wood manually into the dump body. Old habits die hard. The curve also allows me to separate my wood. In the north/south section I stack odd-lengths and low-btu species for the shoulder seasons, including pine this year that was left over from a sawmilling job. The east/west section and the curve is high-btu species.

I cover the pile with wide pine slabs, which is not a perfect cover but is good enough considering this isn’t the pile’s final destination. And my roofing tin is all currently employed covering lumber, so you use what you have.

I let the wood season for a year on this landing. I then schlep it to a covered area beside my living room in the spring, so it can finish curing under full cover. The space by the house is big enough to hold three cords. In past houses I’ve lived in I always stacked the near-the-house wood in double-width rows and covered with old roofing tin, which worked but required constant maintenance. Having the permanent roof is a luxury. You’ll notice there’s a cool little wood box, too, which allows me to get wood into the living room without having to carry it through the door. This cleverness is courtesy of the late Henry Fairfax Ayres, a man about whom I’ll tell you more in a blog I’ll file this coming sugaring season.

So that’s my system. Some of you reading this have your own cleverness, including stacking techniques, covering techniques, wood-crib-building techniques that allow you to use a tractor and forks instead of your pickup. Please share with the group, and if you’d like to include a picture, send that to me directly – I’m dave(at)northernwoodlands.org.

Photo Gallery

 
Discussion
  1. Bruce Green → in MA
    Oct 27, 2017

    Dave, GREAT article!  I did a similar method years ago!  One thing you neglected to mention: providing a “foundation” for the stacks.  I used cinder blocks and 2x6s as the base, allowing no ground contact. Thanks, Bruce

  2. Nancy Holmes → in Newcastle, ME
    Oct 27, 2017

    Useful and amusing article - BUT -  I’ve got to blow the whistle on the gender bias. My spouse had little interest in firewood work and I enjoyed working with it.  A stack of drying wood near the house is a lovely thing - sort of like well filled canning jars.  Splitting wood is great for the abs, and testosterone is not required to run a chain saw.

  3. Kaymarion Raymond → in Western Masachusets
    Oct 27, 2017

    Because woodcutters seem to not be passing on the lore in my area had to keep two seasons worth of wood stacked in the yard to make sure it’s really seasoned. The oldtimers felled trees after leaf drop and pulled the limbed logs out only when the ground was frozen and there was snow cover. the logs were bucked into four footers and split or not, stacked in a row in the sun, usually edge of pasture or meadow in January and February. Eight feet of this could be called a cord even though when cut to stove length it shrinks 10%. In September it could be called seasoned and cut to specific stove length, split if needed and delivered. a cord could be measured by the truck cubeage as well, though if thrown in loose it will shrink another 10% when stacked. If that wood had been bought anytime before September it would have been considered green. and it used to be sold for a lower price.The key being to cut wood when the sap is down n give it a minimum of six months in the sun at least partially processed. AND to minimize damage to the woods. Now I see cutters going year round destroying the understory and cover, and no idea what green wood is and how one could save a bit of money that way. And buyers not knowing the ways to measure a cord. It is hard to find a knowledgeable and ethical woodcutter. They sure do get sorely underpaid for their back breaking work and youngsters just don’t seem to want to apprentice.

    The only tip I would add to your excellent account would be to run stacked rows north south orientation, particularly single width, if possible. Spring thaw on the south side of a pile will heave the row right over. I also found heavy rubber swimming pool liner material the ace for covering piles.  :)

  4. Bruce Wilkins → in North Maine
    Oct 27, 2017

    We don’t have a woodlot, unfortunately.  So we buy from a good supplier already cut and split, with mixed satisfaction over the years.  But, finally, he seems to understand “small”, as required for my Dutchwest stove.

    If I can’t purchase it in the fall of the previous heating season, we’ll get winter-cut wood delivered in spring.  It’s immediately “stacked in full sun with good air circulation”.

    The best devices we’ve found are “Stack-it Brackets”.  You can build the racks to your own specs.  They’re steel sockets that hold 2x4s at right angles.  We make racks 12 feet long and 4 feet tall, with pressure-treated lumber. They’ve been lasting many years now.  Sure beats the old free-standing stacks, cross-cribbing the pieces at each end, and hoping the winds and settling don’t cause it to topple!

    Then the top of each stack is covered with a recycled rubber roofing material.  Also, re-used for many years as it is highly durable.  It drapes down the 4 sides and we staple it in place.  Come October: beautifully seasoned firewood!

  5. Mchael Gow → in Rehoboth, MA
    Oct 28, 2017

    I own just over 3.5 acres of land outside of Providence. Luckily, I have plenty of room to space out my wood processing operation. First of all, I am like Dave, I squirrel for wood across the region. I have been fortunate enough to find enough wood to cover our needs for the past three seasons. I process my wood at the front of the property where I can back my trailer loads far enough back to keep the entire process away from the house. Over the past three years, I have built three shelters to house my wood. Two sheds are located near the house along the driveway, close enough to dump wood from the processing area. That wood is stacked in the sheds around mid April and left alone until October. On my covered front porch, I have a rack that holds about three weeks of wood when we are really burning. In the meantime, at the front of the property, I process the wood I find around the region. This wood is 95% hardwood with some pieces of pine mixed in for burning during the end seasons. There, I built a large platform with a tin roof where I can store the firewood until the following year. The shelter holds about 31/2 cord of wood while the others hold about two 1/2. Typically we burn only 2 1/2 cords of wood a season since it is not our primary heat source. I spilt everything by hand on a contraption I built using a old tire from the side of the road near my home. I have been burning for three years now and all my firewood has dried well below the 20% mark. As most of the people who read this magazine who burn wood, the entire experience is daunting by truly rewarding.

  6. Garry Plunkett → in Tiverton, RI
    Oct 28, 2017

    Ah, the science of cordwood management! Over 30 some years of wood stove heating my home, a couple of contrarian practices evolved that work for me. First, I don’t cover stored wood, but rather stack it on a ¾-inch crushed stone base. It drains well, gets plenty of air and sun, saves work, and burns well after a year’s aging.

    Secondly, to get the cured wood “stove-ready” I stack enough inside the house to allow several days drying and warming, so what goes into the stove ignites quickly and burns efficiently. Drying wood inside also adds welcome humidity to interior spaces, alleviating a common winter issue. That actually worked well enough that I give away my room humidifier.

  7. Allan Weber → in TN
    Oct 28, 2017

    My home in southwest NH had an attached woodshed with a tunnel from the basement to the woodshed and a lidded wood box in the mud room above the tunnel.  Didn’t even have to go outside to restock the woodbox although the woodshed was unheated so cold in the winter.

  8. Dave Coulter → in Northfield, NH
    Nov 02, 2017

    Burning firewood is almost an irony of sorts. How many of us have vowed to never depend on it as a source of heat only to find ourselves indebted to it in a “famous-last-words” bad joke?  That said, pretty much any of us that do burn firewood see it as a right of fall and winter seasons. We actually do seem to like processing it (at least a little at a time) despite our mur-murs. There truly is no other source of heat that leaves one feeling good through the body like heat from a woodstove.  Even in a power outtage we can still have heat without depending on electricity. Hmm, guess I’d better get shleping ‘ey?

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