Dear Mr. Woodchuck,
My wife and I just had a mountain of wood delivered to our house and no matter how we stack it, keeps falling over. Any pointers? — R.P. Terrebasse
I was downstreet at the general store on Tuesday when Doc Olsen tells me about all the young folks coming up from Long Island dressed like centerfolds from the Orvis catalog. As much as they love the scenery, he says they’re about as handy as a hog winding a watch when it comes to getting wood in.
Here’s whats I tell em: When the snow piles taller than a tall Swede, you’ll want a few cords stacked and ready. Wood heats you twice: once when you stack it, and once when you burn it—that’s three times if you split it yourself.
Up here, wood is delivered in what we call cords: that’s 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet. Make sure you buy a tight cord or you’ll be paying for a lot of air space. Buy one or two cords at a time, that way you’ll know what you got room for. When that wood’s out in the dooryard, you need to let it be for a good long while to season and dry. There’s no point in bringing in wood while its green unless you want more smoke, so don’t be afraid to stack it and let it sit. Some friends of mine let it sit for six months to a year!
Some folks get into a real chewing match about what kind of pile to make and how it should look. The main thing is, ya don’t want the wood to get wet but you do want air to circulate through so it stays dry and doesn’t rot so keeping it where the sun shines a bit is best and with the cut ends facing the prevailing wind, or uphill and downhill so it gets natural downdrafts. If you can, get the wood off the ground and stack it on a pallet or something else that will allow air to get ‘round the bottom layer.
The tried-and-true method of stacking is to make towers at the ends: stacking three logs one horizontal-like, then the next three the other direction. That’s what my father did and probably generations before him. Making your corners is straightforward, but don’t take it lightly—find the very best pieces for the base and line them up three or four in a row, then pick out another to place cross-wise to the first, then build your way up. Finding flat ground up here in northern New England is scarcer than hen’s teeth, so your site selection is going to take a little time. Stop when you’re about four feet high—any higher and you’ll be asking for disaster, and then cover it with a black plastic tarp that will keep it dry and help evaporate the moisture.
If the pile isn’t standing against the side of the house or the back wall in your basement, use poles or beams of wood to prop-up or support it. And if that pile comes crashing down, swallow your pride and start over. Also, consider shimming slivers of wood into the tower’s cracks to stabilize it as the ground around the woods settles and eventually freezes.
So now, you’ve got that first cord built up and your back’s stiffer than a wedding drink, but you’re not done yet. Sweep up any bark shavings—especially birch—and any loose paper, including this here magazine, in an old basket to keep close by: that’ll help get the stove going when it’s colder than the south side of a light pole.
It’s not harder than Chinese algebra, it just takes some careful thought and practice. Plus, while I’m out setting the corners and building up the rows, Mrs. Woodchuck isn’t screaming at me and I can ponder the finer points of life – like how the leaves are pret-near finished turning and soon I’ll be settling in for my long winter nap.
‘Til next time,
Elwood A. Woodchuck
Eds. Note: Every month, our resident outdoorsman Elwood P. Woodchuck answers questions as submitted by our readers. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org