Holzhaufen: A Guide to Stacking Wood in a Woodpile

A guide to holzhaufen, a traditional German firewood-curing stacking wood design.

| November/December 1986

Easy to erect, space efficient, and a joy to behold. Is this the ultimate woodpile? 

"Every man," wrote Thoreau, "looks at his woodpile with a kind of affection." Well, maybe so, but some woodpiles merit more fondness than others. There are those that are piles of logs dumped on the ground like pick-up sticks, and then there are those that approach the level of art.

Witness the holzhaufen, a traditional German firewood-curing stack. Able to hold as much as two and a half cords in a six-foot-diameter space, the conelike structure is a marriage of stacking wood form and function — a marvel to look at and a model of efficient design. And though the structure looks elaborate, building one generally takes only a little more time than making a conventional stack. North Carolinian Don Jennings and his son, featured in the photos, finished the nine-foot-tall, two-cord holzhaufen you see here in about two hours. (See the holzhaufen wood stacking process in the image gallery).

There are several essentials for a holzhaufen: split wood 12 to 24 inches long (the pieces needn't be precisely the same length, but uniformity helps) . . . a supply of smaller, kindling-size splits . . . and a sunny, level site. If the ground isn't level, the pile could tip, so choose your spot carefully when stacking wood. You'll need from four to six feet of circular space; the shorter the wood, the smaller you should make the holzhaufen's diameter (Don's is six feet across). You'll also need a straight pole (Mr. Jennings uses a sectional aluminum tent pole) the same height or higher than the pile you intend to build — a ten-foot stack, which can contain from two to two and a half cords, is considered maximum, while four feet is as low as you should go. (Remember, though, that this is a curing stack; if you want your dried wood to be easily accessible, and don't want to restack it, don't build a holzhaufen that's higher than you can reach.) Last, get a lightweight board, cut it as long as the pile's intended diameter, and drill a hole in its center just big enough to slide the pole through.

You're ready to start. Place the board on the ground, with the hole at the site's center, and stick the pole through it and firmly into the earth. The pole must be plumb to keep the pile vertical, so check it with a carpenter's level. Now slide the board up the pole and, using the ends of the board to indicate what will be the pile's circumference, lay a circle of end-to-end log splits just inside that circumference.

Once the holzhaufen's foundation is in place, lay the first course of logs. Again, slide the board up the pole and use it as a guide; as you position each log, make sure its outer end is precisely even with a board end, to maintain the pile's diameter. It's important, too, to resist the tendency to lay the logs parallel to one another; although they should be placed as close together as possible, they must extend radially from the center outward, like the spokes of a wheel.

12/4/2012 1:20:39 PM

WE did this this year! Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass. has their wood piled this way. The re-enactors were wonderful explaining how "they" built the stack. There, theirs are much wider, we attempted to do ours the same & ended up with a 12-15' in diameter stack that was 6' tall +-. We did the measurements & it was 3 cords of wood in one pile (now, if I could only remember the exact dimensions!). I wish there was a way to post a picture of it before it's all gone. It;s been a cold & early winter this year & half of our stack is, sadly, gone already.

10/2/2008 11:20:28 AM

Very interesting article, although it is now about 22 years old. I have been looking for a way to season about 4 chords quickly for use this winter and might give this design a try.

10/2/2008 11:20:06 AM

Very interesting article, although it is now about 22 years old. I have been looking for a way to season about 4 chords quickly for use this winter and might give this design a try.

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