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How We Built a Holz Hausen (Beehive Wood Pile)

by Victoria Gazeley

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I love all things ‘design’.  It’s how I make my living .  But sometimes, living in the country in the way we call ‘modern homesteading’ requires a more practical bent.

When it comes to heating a rural home, you can’t really take any chances – at least not if you live anywhere where it actually gets cold in winter.  The way the heating source looks really isn’t a huge priority for most people.  For wood heat, for example, what you need is well-seasoned (read: dry) wood that burns hot without a lot of smoke and soot going into the air… or your chimney.  You don’t need some fancy schmancy method of wood stacking that looks nice but doesn’t get the job done. 

Here-in lies my conflict – I just can’t stand junk lying around my home or property.  I have to have things looking nice and get a bit wigged out if everything is all cluttered.  It’s a curse I’ve had since I was a wee one.  Not sure why, but I work with it and it has served me well (most of the time – there is a time to just let go and not worry about it!).

So the thought of having long rows of firewood seasoning in my driveway (the only sun-hit, open part of our property that’s close to the woodshed), covered with bits and bobs of leftover plywood and scraps of metal sheeting wasn’t really sitting well with me.  Then I came across a method of drying/stacking firewood called a Holz Hausen (Holz Haufen) or beehive wood pile, and I was in love .

Beautiful, efficient, compact – all things I needed and wanted for seasoning this coming winter’s firewood – holz hausen literally means ‘wood house’ in German. It’s primary benefits, according to my research so far and my own observations, are:

  • holz hausens store large amounts of split fire wood in a compact space
  • some say the wood seasons/dries faster in a holz hausen than a traditional woodpile, though others say this is debatable
  • they are extremely sturdy and not apt to fall over in extreme wind or impact like rows of firewood, which makes them theoretically safer when children and livestock are around (of course, this may be more of an indication of the builder than the method… ;)
  • the ‘beehive’ shape is infinitely more attractive than a straight wood pile (at least in my opinion)
  • they’re fun to build – a feat of engineering and an artistic expression

Sounds perfect !

How We Did It

So for this year’s firewood, I decided to give the holz hausen method a go.  We built ours significantly smaller than the traditional 10′ across and 8′ high, and without the central measuring pole that many use, as I was still learning the ropes and didn’t want to make a giant mistake should I have to disassemble it.  I found a few different methods in my research (most of which got more complex as the size of the pile expanded out to 10′ in diameter), and decided on this one because it seemed logical, easy to follow and not too complicated.  Here’s a slideshow (with instructions) of our first attempts.

  • The Base

    We started with about a 5' circle - traditionally, holz hausens were built 10' across, but I thought that was too big for a first try. We started with a circular ring of firewood pieces (see the base of this pic), nothing in the middle, then started laying other pieces with the ends pointing into the middle. The base layer creates a lean of the upper levels into the center of the pile, for stability.
  • The Base (Part 2)

    Since I neglected to take a photo of the first layer of the holz hausen in the rest of the slideshow, I thought I'd throw in one from another stack we built. This one is significantly bigger, but you can see how the first layer starts out, in order to create the lean that will keep the stack from exploding outwards as you build up.
  • Filling the Middle

    As the pile gets higher, we added odd-shaped pieces to the center, stacked vertically to allow air flow (theoretically) up the center 'chimney'. Some people say this works great if the wood is loosely stacked - others say not so much. It really depends on whether the top is left open or covered with something breathable, or if it's covered with a tarp, which to me would just create damp, moldy conditions inside the stack.
  • Building the Stack

    Our firewood is split into very uneven sizes and various shapes. In this case, one of the tricks I found during my research is to use cross-pieces up through the stack to re-create the 'inside-lean' we had at the base of the stack in order to keep the stack stable. Otherwise, what happens is the wood starts to lean outwards, creating a pile that's probably going to just fall apart. Flat-shaped pieces work best for this job - not too thick but not too thin in height.
  • Not Just Nice to Look At

    The chickens were quite intrigued as these went up - I had quite the time getting them out of the inside of the stack!
  • Finishing the Stack

    As you can see in my first attempt here, things got a bit hairy towards the top and I had to use more cross pieces to keep everything leaning into the center of the pile. All it needs now is some sort of breathable cap to shed rain should we get a shower during the summer.
  • Holz Hausens Galore!

    We calculated that each of our 4' or 5' across by 6' high beehive stacks holds approximately 1 cord of wood (a cord of firewood the volume of wood that fits in a 'cube' about 4' high x 4' wide x 8' long). So based on the amount of wood we still have to stack, we'll have far more than we'll need for the coming year (in the winter of 2011/2012, we burned from the beginning of October to the end of May and went through 3.5 cords or so).
  • Tracking Moisture Levels

    Finally, we'll be doing a bit of an experiment to see how well these stacks work at doing their job - seasoning firewood. We marked numerous pieces and took their moisture readings (see article notes). We'll follow up in a month or so and again when we disassemble the piles for winter storage. Hopefully the results are good!
  • Permanent Storage

    This is where we move our firewood after seasoning. We can't season the wood here because of a lack of air flow and sun exposure. But it's conveniently close to the house and works great...

The Verdict?

The actual process of building the holz hausen is a lot of fun, and quite creative.  There definitely is a method to it, and if you’re not diligent, you’ll end up with an unstable pile and will need to start over – it pays to pay attention to details!  Ours are far from perfect – lots of room for improvement and development of technique, but they worked and I think look not too shabby.

As for the technical stuff, we’ll see how it goes.  I’ve marked a few pieces of wood and measured the moisture content, though with a limited moisture meter.  Here’s the rough data on the test pieces (wood is a mixture of Douglas fir, red alder and broad leaf maple – the maple and alder fell this spring/summer and the fir was a rejected log from my father’s sawmill, and had been cut for some time):

  • Piece 1 – Douglas fir, holz hausen #1, exterior, north side (shade) – 16% moisture
  • Piece 2 – Douglas fir, holz hausen #1, exterior, south side (sun) – 15% moisture
  • Piece 3 – Broad leaf maple, holz hausen #2, exterior, north side (shade)
  • Piece 4 – Broad leaf maple, holz hausen #2, exterior, south side (sun)
  • Piece 5 – Red alder, holz hausen #2, exterior, north side (shade) – >35% moisture (our moisture meter only ranges from 7-35%)
  • Piece 6 – Red alder, holz hausen #2, exterior, south side (sun) – >35% moisture
  • Piece 7 – Red alder, holz hausen #3, interior (shade, inside the holz hausen walls) – 20% moisture
  • Piece 8 – Douglas fir, straight pile, east side (sun) (for comparison) – 15% moisture

At the end of September, we’ll test the moisture content of our sample pieces again to see how much seasoning actually occurred before we move it to its final storage location – our wood shed.  I’m looking forward to seeing how (or if) it works as well as people say it does.  Traditional holz hausens have a pole in the middle with measurement marks on them so you can tell when the pile is at the right moisture level.  Apparently once the pile settles to 80% of its original height, it’s ready to burn.  For us, we’re looking for a 12% or less  moisture content for optimum heat.

How do you stack your firewood for seasoning?  Have you ever tried the holz hausen/beehive method?  Share it in the comments below so we can all learn from your experience!

 

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Revised on July 31, 2012

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tomcat9490 July 30, 2012 at 4:47 pm

nice design, i will try this and see. to help dry the wood i like to use an old solar cover from a pool. it magnifys the sun and seams to cook the moisture right out of the wood.

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Victoria Gazeley August 2, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Interesting – and it doesn’t trap in the moisture? Great idea!

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Bernice from Ontario July 31, 2012 at 5:29 pm

!4 chickens and a rooster, I’m so jealous. I am so happy to hear of someone who is living their dream. Go girl.

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Victoria Gazeley August 2, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Thanks, Bernice! Some days, I wonder what the heck I’m doing here, but it’s not often… usually I have to pinch myself! :)

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