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.

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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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