How It Stacks Up
“Every man,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection.” Some more than others, it seems.
It’s said that artist and author Eric Sloane, whose landscapes of the area’s covered bridges and weathered barns are synonymous with Litchfield County, was particularly persnickety about how his wood was stacked at his home in the Merryall section of New Milford.
Truth is, he wasn’t alone.
Any real Yankee knows that firewood dumped like pick-up sticks won’t dry and season properly. There’s a science to stacking wood correctly—and an art, too. Nordics take it to an extreme, creating towering, precision-assembled piles that rival Louise Nevelson’s stacked-box sculptures in their simple unity of form. Closer to home, David Whitman, who co-owns Pergola, which specializes in naturalist theme decor, works with customers who incorporate woodpiles as design elements both outside and inside their homes.
An antique Swedish daybed that Ken Stiles and Rick Angiello purchased was repurposed into a firewood holder. They also built a custom woodshed featuring a gable made of reclaimed timber, a fieldstone foundation, and a cedar-shake roof with a vintage birdhouse at the peak. The shed protects the four cords of wood they burn each winter, but it’s also a design element suited to the rocky, woodland landscape surrounding their New Preston house. “We were inspired by friends of ours in Washington who have a beautiful woodshed, and since we have three fireplaces we wanted the woodshed to be close to the house. So, we thought why not make it look attractive?” Stiles says.
They took their cue from the post-and-beam woodshed Dan Whelan built using hand-split cedar shakes, stones, and vintage beams to match his fieldstone house in Washington. Oak-plank flooring, spaced to allow ventilation and drainage, keeps the wood elevated and dry. New wood is stacked around the exterior, which is rotated every other year after the wood is seasoned. The shed resembles a log cabin because Whelan uses the “tower method” of stacking wood, which consists of several rows of stacked wood secured in place by an interlocked support tower at each end.
Not everybody’s woodpile is that structured. Rodney Fyfield’s woodpile stops people in their tracks, though he doesn’t have a special technique. “I get a lot of comments on it,” says Fyfield, who lives on a dirt road that runs along East Aspetuck River in New Milford. Dog walkers routinely pause to take in an Alpine-like view of wood stacked neatly in an old, barnboard shed flanked by red geraniums. Just looking at it gives Fyfield a sense of satisfaction. “It gives me a warm feeling knowing it’s there, stacked, dry, and ready to go,” he says.
There are those who argue over whether the bark should be face down or face up. “I read a book a long time back about Swedish woodcutters who stacked their wood bark down to protect against moisture, so that’s what I do,” says Ken Carlson, who converted his pool house in Washington into a woodshed.
Then, there are some who stack firewood just because it looks good. Fiona Donovan created a wall of stacked wood around her property in Washington forming a serpentine design that seems to have grown out of the landscape itself. “It was my mother’s idea to make a wall, using the wood we had left after clearing the property for the house,” Donovan says. Using the split wood to create a wall seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do since they didn’t have a fireplace, or wood stove back then. Now four years later with a wall of well-seasoned wood, Donovan says maybe it’s about time they get one.