Knowing how to stack firewood the right way and in the right place can save you a lot of time and headaches getting ready for the season. Read on for how to get it done.
- When stacking split firewood, take time to place each piece with stability and airflow in mind, in that order.
- Ensure the ends of each piece are exposed to get the best seasoning effects from sun and wind (rectangular face cord stack).
- Place pieces ensuring overlap with each preceding piece to ensure stability. Green unseasoned wood should be stacked with bark facing down to speed drying.
- Alternatively, seasoned wood exposed to the elements should be stacked with bark facing up to shield the firewood from precipitation and the resulting unwanted moisture.
- With safety in mind, stick to a 4 ft. stack height to enhance stability.
Firewood in the U.S is typically stacked in a rectangular face-cord type configuration (see pic), with anywhere from 1- 3 face cords stacked parallel to each other, with supports of some kind on the ends to keep the stack together.
These supports could be part of a homemade or commercially bought firewood rack, or other stacks of wood in a crisscross column type stack on each end, or two trees, which is a common solution.
Another stack option is the Holz Hausen (aka Amish stack, beehive stack, etc.), a circular firewood configuration, known for its inherent stability and interesting and good looks if done right.
A Holz Hausen can take up a lot of space, so consider that if your firewood stacking real estate is at a premium. You might want to stick with a rectangular face cord stack in that case.
Before I go any further I want to cover a couple of things I mentioned already, specifically the terms face cord, seasoned firewood, and green firewood, in case some readers are unclear on what they are.
What Is a Face Cord?
First, let me state what a cord of wood is. A cord of wood is a rectangular stack of wood that measures four feet high x four feet wide x eight feet long (4 ft. x 4 ft. x 8 ft.). See the image below.
A face cord is typically a fraction of a cord when a cord is divided along its length of 8 ft. A face cord is typically one quarter, one-third, or one-half of a cord, depending on how long the individual cuts of firewood are, 12, 16, or 24 inches typically.
What is Seasoned Firewood?
Seasoned firewood is firewood that has been split, stacked, and dried to a moisture content of 25% or less. 20% moisture is the standard in some circles.
Regardless, the less moisture the better when seasoning wood. If you want to be more precise, an inexpensive wood moisture meter will give you exact numbers. The takeaway here is less moisture, less fire pit smoke.
Seasoning typically takes anywhere between six months and 3 years depending on the type of wood, seasoning storage conditions, etc.
Seasoned wood is typically gray in color and has no smell, unlike green wood which I will cover next.
What is Green Firewood?
The bottom line, green firewood is unseasoned firewood.
Green firewood contains too much moisture to burn effectively and often produces more smoke than unseasoned wood when burned.
Don’t use it unless you are out of options.
What Makes a Good Stack of Firewood?
For me, a good stack of firewood is first stable. I’ve got small children running around and I want them to be safe around it so I typically stack it lower to eliminate the risk of it falling over.
If that's not a concern for you, I recommend a 4 ft. stack as I mentioned prior. It's the typical height of a cord of wood and relatively stable height if stacked properly.
Next is adequate airflow. Ensuring air flows freely around the ends and in between the stacked firewood is a key part of seasoning wood the right way and the most quickly.
Cherry can season in 3-4 months and black locust, a favorite of this site, can season in about six months if the conditions are right.
Also, the positioning of your stack of firewood to take maximum advantage of sun coverage and prevailing winds (west to east in the U.S.) is a good choice when selecting a storage spot. Both factors will, at a minimum, aid the seasoning process and speed it up in the best of cases.
How to Stack Firewood So It Doesn’t Fall Over
When stacked, the firewood should be stacked deliberately, not just thrown on the pile. Take your time when stacking or come back to it later when you can.
I recommend building one row at a time to enhance stability. I’ve seen people build one side up and then go do the rest.
Doing it this way takes away the stability benefits of having all pieces of firewood “interlocked” when stacked sequentially in rows.
Some may argue with this or have a different method, but that’s how I do it.
Firewood pieces should be stacked loosely to provide airflow, but well seated on supporting pieces and overlapped with pieces before and after it.
The bottom line is don’t stack the wood like a puzzle, jamming wood into every nook and cranny. Stability and airflow are the goals.
Using Live Trees for Firewood Stack Support
If the outdoor storage spot you have selected is in an area with trees, consider using two trees as the primary supports for your rectangular firewood stack.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, this is a very common go-to for outdoor firewood storage. No materials are necessary and mature trees will provide excellent support to your stack as it grows.
Moving on; I gotta say it, make sure both trees you select are healthy and look like they are going to stay that way for the near to far term.
If either tree shows signs of rot, insect infestation (looking at you termites!) or anything else that might affect the integrity of the tree, go find another pair of trees that will get the job done.
Put enough additional strain on a compromised tree and it will fail eventually and so will your stack of firewood.
Firewood Pro Tip: The advantage of using the 8 ft space in this case, or for any stacking option for that matter, is to gauge whether or not you got your money’s worth for the firewood you ordered.
You might pay for a cord or face cord from a supplier but never lay eyes on your order, literally stacked in a cord or face cord configuration, before it's delivered.
It may or may not have ever been stacked before sale but parceled out for delivery via another in-house “proprietary” method that produces a ballpark figure.
Whatever the case is, you paid for what you paid for and you should get it. The shortfall is on the supplier.
With that said, most firewood suppliers in my experience are honest and deliver as promised and if they don't the first time, they’ll make it right.
With these suppliers, you may even get a little more firewood than you ordered on some occasions, but some suppliers will shortchange you deliberately, or on occasion, by mistake. Just be aware.
Make sure you understand the terminology and details of your firewood supplier’s offerings, and most importantly, the dimensions, to know what you are getting. Don’t be afraid to ask if something’s not clear.
Using Criss-Cross Stack Columns for Firewood Stack Support
Another solid solution for stabilizing the ends of your rectangular firewood stack is using criss-cross stack columns out of what you already have plenty of on hand, firewood. These columns should be at least the height of your stack and the same width when completed.
The width of the column can be adjusted by stacking logs for the column side-by-side until you reach the anticipated width of the firewood stack you are building them for (see pic below).
Stacking Firewood Off the Ground
Consider using pallets, pressure-treated 4 x 4s, railroad ties, etc. along the length of the foundation of where your firewood stack will sit.
This will keep the stack off the soil and away from ground moisture that can rot your firewood. Rotted firewood won’t support the bottom of your stack very well and could result in it falling over at some point.
If you burn through your firewood regularly, cycling your stacks, then this shouldn’t be too much of a concern. If you take a while to burn through your wood, consider one of these options or something similar to keep your firewood off the ground.
How to Stack Firewood in a Rack
If you are stacking your wood in a firewood rack with fixed vertical support on each end (see examples below) you’ve got a little more latitude with your stack quality.
However, take your time here as well because firewood can spill out of the rack if each piece isn’t well supported by the others around it, particularly when you start removing wood for use.
The approach to firewood stacking on a rack is basically the same as it is on the ground. Row-by-row, with loosely stacked but well-supported pieces that overlap and allow for proper airflow.
Commercially available firewood racks are typically designed to keep firewood off the surface it's sitting on so concerns related to ground moisture are minimal.
If you would like to make your own firewood rack at home, like the one below, pallets, pressure-treated 4x4s, railroad ties, etc. will work just as well with this setup to keep your wood off the ground.
Stacking Firewood Indoors
Not a fan of stacking firewood indoors unless it is the kiln-dried type right from the supplier, or small amounts of wood from outside that I’m going to burn right away.
Kiln-dried firewood costs a little more, but it is seasoned and ready to burn, and free of insects on day one.
Second, airflow in enclosed spaces isn’t always optimal to keep moisture to a minimum with seasoned wood and dry enough to season green wood. Not to mention the introduction of insects and other vermin into your home, garage, shed, etc.
You could create an optimum environment for storing wood inside using a shed or similar enclosure, that is kept dry, is well ventilated, and secure from insects, mice, etc. but it will obviously cost you to do so. If you take your firewood very seriously, this might be the way to go.
Conclusion: How to Stack Firewood
All the headaches aside, stacking firewood can be an enjoyable experience and one that can leave you exhausted while delivering a sense of accomplishment, especially if you are stacking a whole cord by yourself.
A little attention to the details upfront will leave you with a well-stacked pile of wood that will season or remain seasoned and stay safely standing for as long as you need it to.
Thanks for reading.
For more on how to stack firewood the right way, take a look at this book on how it’s done in Norway. It's a surprisingly entertaining and interesting look at “old-school” Scandanavian firewood chopping and stacking.
Pick it up in your local bookstore, library, or through Amazon; it's called Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way, by Lars Mitting, Abrams Image Publishing, 2015
I think you'll like it.
How is kiln-dried wood processed?
According to Carolina Morning Firewood, a firewood supplier with locations in Ridgeland, SC, and Atlanta, GA, kiln-dried firewood is produced by drying recently chopped green wood in a specially designed kiln for two days at 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Their goal is to get the firewood to a moisture content of between 15-20%. The process not only dries the wood but kills all insects, larvae, and mold in accordance with the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.
Fun Fact: Carolina Morning’s process removes 1,000 lbs (just shy of 120 gallons) of water from each cord of wood processed.
Is it a good idea to cover a firewood stack to protect it from rain or snow?
There are different schools of thought regarding the use of covers such as tarps and custom-fitted options.
One side believes that covers trap moisture (condensation) in the upper regions of the firewood stack that can accumulate and trickle down to lower parts of the stack. Not a good thing of course.
The other side of the argument believes the downside of condensation buildup is minimal and that keeping precipitation in the form of rain and snow off firewood is of greater concern.
I’m on the fence personally because condensation buildup from a cover is a concern. However, I think keeping direct rain and snow of the upper regions of the stack is important as well. My compromise is to use a cover that does not touch the wood, allowing airflow but keeping the elements off the wood.
Many store-bought firewood racks provide this as a feature (what I do) and I’ve seen homeowners use a rig of sorts with a tarp that keeps it above the wood, providing top cover from rain and snow.
How many calories are burned when stacking firewood?
I had to look this one up. According to an August 2018 post on a health advocacy page run by the Harvard Medical School, in 30 minutes a person weighing 125 lbs will burn 180 calories, a person weighing 155 lbs will burn 223 calories, and a person weighing 185 lbs will burn 266 calories.
Get out there and stack some wood! It’s good for you, Harvard says so. ; )
What is a rick of wood?
I actually wrote an article on this very question here. A rick of wood is essentially another name for a face cord of wood.
The phrase has English roots back to the 1600s and basically means a stack of some kind, in this case, firewood. In the U.S. the phrase is most commonly in use in the midwest.
I thought this question might be useful considering the topic of the article, as you may hear this term used by firewood suppliers when shopping for wood.