Stacks of firewood

Stackology – The art and science of stacking firewood

It is not often that my trusty assistant (who shall remain nameless) and I get into arguments, but the stacking of split wood for drying is one place we constantly butt heads. He argues that the way they have always stacked wood has worked just fine, so why change. To which I counter that he has dropped too many trees onto his head. Needless to say, we don’t haul and stack wood together very often.

His way of stacking wood involves piles, trees, and a brooder house. Namely, throw the wood onto a pile below trees or into the old brooder house to finish drying. According to him, after a summer like this, the wood would be ready for burning. Note that I did not say the wood would be dry, just ready. In fact they ended up with a mixture of well dried wood, wood with a pretty high moisture content, and rotting wood. Burning less than fully dried wood can lead to poor combustion, smoke, and ultimately less heat.

Now, the thought of wood that I have invested timeless hours felling, bucking, splitting, and hauling ending up rutting before it can be burnt just sickens me. So I took it upon my self to set my trusty assistant down the path of enlightened wood drying. He didn’t take kindly to my preaching the “right” way to stack wood. In fact, he would often circumvent the stacking methodology I was employing while saying things like “that is more work than is needed” and “that will never work” and “I need a beer”.

Ultimately, I would win out mostly because I had the most energy and determination. The wood ended up stacked firmly and neatly in places that allowed the sun and the wind to dry the wood. Additionally, the wood was off the ground and had some kind of a cover (usually a tarp, but sometimes pieces of bark) to keep the rain off.

Getting the wood off the ground was a big part of speeding up the drying process. We have a lot of rock or slippery elm growing on the property that we don’t care for very much and that make great ground rails. I fell them when they are between two and four inches in diameter and buck them into four foot lengths. I utilize shorter lengths of rails to accommodate the uneven terrain around the homestead. Pallets are a great alternative, but best employed on a flat and wide surface.

To make sure my stacks were solid, I started them against a solid post. Trees work pretty well, but are not always in the best spot and tend to shade the wood more than I would like. Utilizing posts driven into the ground allows us to set up a stack wherever works for us. The key is to tie the posts together or tie a rope from a post to a piece of wood buried somewhere in the stack. This will keep the posts from being pushed outward by the weight of the wood. For long stacks, a string tied between the posts about a foot off the ground will help guide in placing the wood so the stack starts out and stays straight.

We tend to use shorter pieces of wood in the stove, so our stacks can’t be very tall or they would topple over. We work to stabilize the stack by placing the bigger pieces on the bottom. Pieces with fat ends can be a problem, and are best handled by matching them with skinny ended pieces or saving them for the top. Finally, placing the stacks more than 30 feet from the house is a good way to ensure that it doesn’t become the fuel that burns down the house.

None of this may seem like rocket science to folks who are well versed in stackology, but it can be hard to overcome the inertia created by decades of tradition. My trusty assistant will still go back to his old ways when I am not looking, but he can’t argue with the results I achieve compared to his efforts.