Founder’s Note: As Manward digs deep to fulfill its mission, we’ve focused a lot of our energy on health and financial topics. But today we’d like to revisit a piece we wrote from our early days. This reader-favorite classic may not be crucial Know-How, but as the weather starts to change, the timeless skill we describe below could certainly be interesting. If you’d like to see more practical, hands-on Know-How like this in the Digest, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We spent the weekend off the grid. No running water. No electricity. And not a peep about the damned election.
Where we were, there aren’t enough votes to lure in a circus… let alone circus freaks.
It’s living at its finest.
The weather was some of the coldest of the season so far. Not frigid, but our bodies needed help to stay warm.
We spent much of the weekend working on a skill every man must master. With winter coming… our attention turned to firewood.
We felled a trio of trees. We blocked their logs off the ground so our roaring chainsaw could do its work. And then we picked up the maul and wedge.
Orumph… ping. The heavy hammer strikes the wedge.
Orumph… ping. A split starts to crawl through the log.
Orumph… crrrrk. One log is now two.
If we did it once, we did it a thousand times. We’ve got wood for the winter… but not this winter.
Splitting firewood is just the beginning of building a fire. An experienced woodsman knows green firewood is like a fat old Frenchman… it’s cold, smokes a lot and doesn’t do much work.
Good firewood is seasoned firewood.
WATER IS WASTE
The old-school rule of thumb is that a chunk of hardwood dries at the rate of about an inch per year. That means a 6-inch limb – because it’s round – will take three years for its core to dip below the ideal 20% moisture rate.
How do we hasten the process?
First, we split the wood. We create more surface area for the sun to tickle with its warmth. The more exposed wood, the faster the evaporation.
But what most folks don’t realize is that it’s the woodpile that makes or breaks an operation.
A lot can go wrong.
Stack your wood on the ground, and you’ll lose the bottom layer to rot. Put it in a straight line, and you’ll surely stack it again. Cover it and make it look pretty, and the sun won’t do its job.
The best way to dry firewood, to the surprise of many, is to expose it to the elements. The sun and the wind will do the hard work.
But if you’ve ever visited a hardcore wood burner, you probably noticed an odd-looking woodpile. If you’ve ever seen a circular or ball-shaped pile, you’ve seen what the Germans have dubbed a holz hausen… or what us English speakers call a wood house.
Outside of a kiln, it’s one of the most efficient and therefore fastest ways to season firewood.
Don’t let the image above intimidate you. The concept here is simple. The shape and the density of the pile keeps it dry and warm and creates a sort of chimney effect that pulls the moisture out and upward.
It’s easy to build.
Start with a layer of gravel or pallets or anything else that will keep your woodpile off the damp ground. From there, build your circle. Most folks aim for an 8-foot diameter.
The first layer of wood is critical and is different from all the rest.
You see, the split logs should lean inward – at about a 20-degree angle. It’s what will support the spherical shape of the pile.
To get the angle, your first layer of wood should lie perpendicular to the circle’s radius. In other words, simply make a circle of small logs (2 or 3 inches thick) laid end to end.
On top of that base, simply stack your wood parallel to the radius – again, ensuring the base layer holds the outward end of your log higher than the inward end. Each log should be pointing inward and downward.
From there… start stacking.
Once your wood house rises about 2 feet or so, some folks will add cross braces. You can use small 8-foot-long logs. If your pile is tight, you shouldn’t need them. Either way, once the house is up to your thigh, you can start loosely tossing logs into the center of the house.
Keep stacking the perimeter and tossing logs into the middle. Fill it up.
Once you’re running low on split logs or your wood house is up to your chest, start building the roof. It’s simple. Just build concentric circles – each one half a log smaller than the previous – until the roof reaches its peak. Built this way, your house should contain just over a cord of wood.
From here, Ma Nature will do all the hard work.
While your wood won’t cure overnight, a solid holz hausen will get the job done much faster and more evenly than a typical backyard wood pile.
With this sort of pile, you won’t have to wait two full years to build a fire (typical with a traditional stacking setup). Wood you cut this fall should be keeping you nice and warm next winter.
Get splitting… and start stacking.
Even if you won’t ever use this skill, at least you can talk about it like a pro.