Saturday, March 8, 2014

Woodpile Wisdom: 6 things I learned about woodpiles this winter

This was the first winter that I was in charge of my own woodpile. With my housemate turned into a mostly absentee landlord, ordering, stacking and burning the wood was down to me.

"Get six cords," my housemate told me.

"Six?" I thought. "Isn't that a lot?" And when it arrived, I thought it even louder: "SIX?!?! That's a lot of wood! I'll never burn all that! Surely we didn't burn six cords last winter!"

But I gamely stacked it all, with a little help from my friends.

The woodpile in all its glory last September/October.
Then I covered it with plastic sheeting and felt smugly ready for winter. 

What followed was the hardest, snowiest, coldest winter I had seen since I moved home in 2010 (which admittedly, is not a very long time – but it's also been the hardest, snowiest, coldest winter that people who have been here all along have seen since the early 90s).

Here is the woodpile now:

The ravaged March woodpile.
I learned many things about woodpiles this winter. Here is some of my accrued wisdom. I hope you will find it helpful.

  1. Always shovel the snow away from your woodpile. It may seem like a lot of work, but it's worth it. Also, if your plastic sheeting reaches the ground, keep it free of snow or it will freeze to the ground and trap your wood.
  2. You can't burn wood that is frozen into the ground. (See point #1)
  3. If you are covering the pile with plastic sheeting or a tarp, do not leave gaps between the stacks, at least not at the top of the stacks. Ventilation is all well and good, but at the top of the pile, gaps must be bridged by the plastic/tarp and those bridges trap will trap snow, which will melt into water, that will turn to ice. It weighs the plastic down into the gaps, pulling the plastic off of the top of the pile from the edges in. 
  4. Make your woodpile small enough that you can reach to clean snow off of the top. By the time I realized my well-ventilated pile was trapping snow and losing plastic coverage, there wasn't much I could do about it because my arms were too short to clear the centre of the pile.
  5. Build strategically to shed snow – like a pyramid, high in the centre and sloping down to the outsides. 
  6. Always get more than you think you need! With the bitterly cold temperatures this winter, I have been very glad to have all 6 of those cords! Thanks for the good advice, roomie!
Today, the temperature hit a high of +4 and I gladly went out and tried to sort out the woodpile. Some of it is still frozen to the ground, but I freed the trapped plastic sheeting and covered the side of the pile that was bare in the picture above. A couple of sunny days and it should all be dry and good to go. And that's good, because I'm expecting a few more chilly days before spring.


  1. Wood cutting (split & stack) was a way of life, part of the struggle. The farther back it slips in time, the more romantic the memories. My kids thought it was akin to religion. Thanks for the prompt to go there.

    1. Yes, it can be easy to romanticize the past, Frank! I have romantic memories of going to haul cut logs out of the woods with my stepdad and a neighbour when I was a kid. I can still taste the apples I used to take up with me. In the present though, firewood is a very pragmatic struggle!

  2. Good philosophy, Alex. I've been missing wood heat this winter, so thanks for reminding me about the reality.

    1. It is a lovely heat, Diane, and it's also a lot of work! I'm glad you enjoyed the work vicariously through my blog :-)!