Holzhaufen: A Guide to Stacking Wood in a Woodpile

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Set and level the pole.

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

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.

When the first course is complete, it should have a slight
inward pitch all around, with the inner ends of the logs
about two inches lower than the outer. The course should
also be approximately level around the outer few inches of
the logs. Move the foundation logs in or out as necessary
to achieve a consistent pitch and height. Check the ends of
the radial logs once more with the board to be sure the
diameter is still the way you want it. As you move the slat
on its axis to check each log, use it to help you eyeball
the course’s perimeter. At any given point, the board
should look reasonably level from tip to tip — from the
outer edge of one side to the outer edge of the opposite

Next, lay a supporting circle of kindling splits across the
radial logs a few inches in from the outer ends. The
purpose of these stringers is to help maintain the logs’
inward pitch and level perimeter, and to bridge any
unavoidable gaps in the first course.

Now lay the second and subsequent courses just as you did
the first, placing a round of stringers on top of each
course. Check every log with the guide board to be
sure the radial configuration, desired diameter, and level
perimeter are maintained. Too much or too little inward
slope will cause problems, too.

When the pile gets to be two or three feet high, fill the
hollow core with logs placed on end. Pack them tightly, but
not so snug that they put pressure on the outer wall. Now
continue building the pile, filling the core whenever it’s

When you get within two or three feet of the holzhaufen’s
intended top, stop using splits between the courses and
stack each circle of logs just a bit closer to the pole
than the one before. This will reduce the pile’s
circumference and gradually reverse the logs’ pitch until
they meet and rise upward in the middle, creating a
cone-shaped top. “Shingle” the roof with logs placed bark
side up to shed rain and snow, and there you have it: a
genuine holzhaufen!