Outer Cape winds can be unruly, knocking trees down in a tantrum. On the days following a storm, the sound of chainsaws rings through the neighborhood. But when the trees come down, firewood gets replenished. The woodpile rises back to a comfortable level.
Honey locusts, Gleditsia triacanthos, stand here and there throughout my yard; skinny and tall, their roots are too shallow for their height. In storms, the grass ripples around these roots as the trees thrash about. This is the wood that makes up our pile. What we have now will warm us through the remaining weeks of winter. But it is time to think about wood for next year.
The first decision is where and how to store the split wood. Consider the sunlight, as well as the prevailing winds; a good dose of both is beneficial. The woodpile should be near the house, but not too close to invite moisture and pests. Review the landscape.
A standard woodpile fits between two trees. Or it can stand on its own between two towers, built to buttress the stack. If you have a fireplace or woodstove, you know these basics. Gravel provides a foundation to keep firewood off the damp ground. You place your wood bark side up, to shed water. You wait at least six months for the wood to season.
But there are other ways to make a woodpile. A Wellfleet friend told us about one: a German method called a holzhausen,which can be translated as “wood house” or “wood stacking.” In this case, the woodpile is stacked into a beehive shape. Dean Moran tells me the shape is “more efficient than stacking between trees. And, it looks cool.”
Indeed, it does. This method is both aesthetically pleasing and utilitarian. Its unique shape dries out the wood faster than a standard stack. The warmth created in the center draws air up through the form, like a chimney. Here, the wind is a welcome force.
The holzhausen shape is made by clearing a six-foot-diameter space for the woodpile. The space is lined with gravel, keeping the area level. A stake is hammered in the center to measure and mark out a three-foot radius, creating the circular shape. The marks indicate the edge of the pile. The cut end of a piece of wood is placed inside the mark, and additional pieces follow, to fill in the outer circle. Wood is stacked bark side up. When the circular stack is about three feet high, two sturdy branches that are about eight feet long are set on it to form cross braces. These will give the pile additional stability. Continue stacking wood until the pile is about six feet high. Extra wood can be stored inside the circle, where it will dry using the warmth created by the sheltered form. A roof or tarp covers the top of the pile.
Regardless of where and how the woodpile is built, blisters and backaches are in store. Yet there is love in the labor. There is peacefulness in the task of creating the woodpile. It is a meditation achieved from the repetition of the movement, the exposure to the elements. Calm sets in as the pile grows; the heart swells with gratitude for the honey locusts and the warmth they will bring.