A Better Way to Stack Firewood

| 5/11/2011 7:12:00 AM

Tags: firewood, stacking, wood, cordwood, Steve Maxwell,


Besides practicality, I like heating with wood because the whole process has a beauty about it that nothing else can match. While a cozy fire in a stove or fireplace looks and feels great, even a well-stacked firewood pile is gorgeous to my eye. After twenty years of stacking wood in the usual way, last year I tried something  that I now like much better. 

On the other side of the Atlantic, Scandinavian people have been taking wood heat seriously for centuries longer than we have. They also stack wood in round piles. Curious about why, I gave it a try. I now know that round piles take less time to stack, they shed water better than straight piles, and they’re more stable. At least if you understand a few tricks for building them right, that is.

I lay out my round wood piles with a four foot piece of rope that has a loop in one end. Push a metal spike into the ground where the centre of the pile will be, then pull the rope tight and use the end to guide placement of the outside ends of the logs making up the bottom layer of wood. Keep stacking and checking several layers around the perimeter of the circle, then remove the stake and rope. Fill the centre of the circle with randomly thrown-in pieces of wood, then build more wall when you’ve filled the centre portion, tilting the wall inwards slightly for stability as you go up. Add three or four, 8-foot long wooden poles across the diameter of the circle when you’re about four feet up, then dome the top and place a tarp under the last layer of wood for shelter. Another layer or two of wood on top holds the tarp down and keeps the pile looking terrific, which, as I said, is one of the great fringe benefits of wood heat. To see how I stack wood in the round, check out my video.

Contributing Editor Steve Maxwell has been helping people renovate, build and maintain their homes for more than two decades. “Canada’s Handiest Man” is an award-winning home improvement authority and woodworking expert. Contact him by visiting his website and the blog, Maxwell’s House. You also can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and find him on . 

guy follen
10/30/2011 3:00:25 PM

Ok, in order to determine what radius of stack is required to create based on a given height - e.g. I don't want mine to be more than 6' heigh... given that a cord of wood is 4X4X8=128 cu ft. and, the volume of a cylinder is Volume=HeightXPiX(Radius) squared, then if you have three cords or 384 cu ft., and want a pile no more than 6 ft heigh, then based on this equation the radius would need to be 4.47ft. You can play with these numbers however you want - e.g. different diameters or different heights. Sorry, pi is a constant 3.14. Hope that helps.

guy follen
10/30/2011 2:25:14 PM

Hi - actually, here are a few things that are missing from this description. First, a post is usually installed virtically in the middle before building the pile. This helps with stability and to help determine how much the wood has dried by the amound that the wood sinks around it over time. Also, the wood in the middle should not be just thrown in but should be stacked up against this post standing up - this is to encourage air to flow through and up. Also, from time to time, pieces of flat wood are sometimes placed horizontally on the outer rim to ensure that the stacked wood lies flat. Finally, don't completely cover the wood with a tarp - put a hole in the middle with a raised 'roof' of sorts - or, made a cedar roof that will allow the air to escape. Oh, and unless you want to lose the wood on the bottom, don't stack on the ground - put down some gravel or cement slabs. Good luck!

6/22/2011 5:52:32 PM

This looks interesting. We have used pallets and that keeps the bottom layer out of the dirt and lets air circulate beneath the wood. Too bad they aren't made in a round pattern. Thanks for the tips. There is always more to learn. MyraSaidIt www.healthylivingtodayandtomorrow.blogspot.com

6/2/2011 8:10:36 AM

From Steve: Hello Rose, When I take wood off the pile, I start by taking the first few sticks off the tarp in one area, then start pulling wood out from the side. Have you ever played the children's game Kerplunk? It involves pulling out plastic sticks that hold up a column of marbles. The idea is to avoid letting the marbles down as more sticks are removed. I just keep removing wood from the side of the pile, while trying to keep the tarp in place as much as possible. Of course, things eventually collapse, but not necessarily badly. Living with a round wood pile you'll no-doubt develop your own technique. Also, you can make your piles whatever diameter or height you want, depending on the reach you've got. Does this help? I hope so. Please let me know.

rose spickes
5/29/2011 10:57:35 AM

I would like to have more information on this interesting way to stack wood. How do you get wood off the pile? Do you remove the wood on top, the tarp, get your wood, and then replace the top and anchoring wood? How do you reach the wood in the center of the pile, since 4 ft is beyond the reach of an average height person? Thanks!

5/25/2011 4:40:37 PM

I think that its a great idea, the only other thing that I'd do is to stack on pallets to keep the wood of the ground and speed up the drying.

eric colbeck
5/25/2011 11:39:57 AM

Interesting idea. However, I have to disagree with the comment on "air traveling up the middle like a chimney." As wood dries water evaporates from its surfaces. This produces a cooling effect (think sweat). Chimneys rely on heat and warm buoyant air to work which is the opposite effect.

5/25/2011 10:13:44 AM

seams i recall my grandfather stacked wood this way to make charcoal. i recall him saying " lets the moisture out slower stacking this way and ya get a charcoal that burns longer and hotter.

carolyn ellis_1
5/19/2011 4:10:20 PM

I don't have a woodpile, and really have no use for one. However the Holtz Holden is so innovative, I wish I had one just to look at.

5/19/2011 8:25:32 AM

From Steve Maxwell: I've dealt with wood contact in two ways. Although the outer ring of wood must always be in contact with the soil, the area within the ring can include pieces of old lumber or poles to keep the firewood off the ground. I've also had good results simply using the worst pieces of firewood for that bottom layer within the ring. Either way works. Whichever way we do it, I've never found rot to be a problem. The piles don't sit around for more than a couple of years, and although the bottom wood does get quite damp, it can still be burned after drying out. Right now at my place, for instance, we've restacked the bottom layer of wood from our round piles and are using it now, to take the chill off during cold mornings. I hope this helps. Please let me know.

suzanne horvath
5/18/2011 10:33:58 AM

Just looked up the process - it's called "Holz Hausen" (Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firewood

suzanne horvath
5/18/2011 9:59:32 AM

Looks like a great idea, but I have one question. Doesn't the wood on the bottom rot from being in direct contact with the ground? I've been starting my linear stack with a couple of garden ties, laid parallel with space (approx 1') between. Then I lay my wood across to make the stack. I was told that air circulation is essential to getting well seasoned wood. I would love to try the circular stack, but I'd have to figure a way to get it off the ground by at least a few inches.

5/11/2011 12:26:04 PM

Ive also herd of this being used to season wood alot faster than cord stacking... something like 4 months for 2 or 3 cords to go from green to seasoned... I dont think they fill the center up in those stacks though, it needs to be open for air to travel up like a chimney.. and it needs to be in direct sun most of the day.. its called something like "Holtz Holden" or something like that..

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