If you use firewood for your main source of heat, before long you will learn that it is very important to use seasoned wood.
Seasoned wood is wood that has dried to a low moisture content, making it easy to burn, and reducing the buildup of creosote inside the chimney. Burning wet wood actually wastes a lot of the potential heat in the wood you are burning. wet wood needs to have the water boiled out of it before it can burn, boiling water takes a lot of energy, and after the water has boiled out of the wood, the steam and water vapor just go up the chimney as wasted heat. Because the water vapor tends to cool the pipe and chimney, carbon and ash particles, found in the smoke will tend to collect on the cooler pipe and chimney, leading to creosote buildup that can choke off the smoke, or catch fire. Chimney fires are dangerous and lead to many lost or damaged homes each season.
To propperly season wood you need to split it. some people use axes or mauls to split their wood, while most use a machine to save time and wear and tear on their joints. Only after the wood is split does it begin to dry out. The actual time it takes to reach a good moisture content in your wood will depend on the type of wood and the local climate.
Oak takes longer to season than Maple, which takes longer than birch or pine. Even then it will take longer for oak to season in Maine than it does in Pennsilvania, because the warm season is shorter, and not nearly as hot.
there are plenty of good charts with a good estimate on how long seasoning should take you, I've found lots of good info on firewoodhoardersclub.com they have lots of charts on which types of wood give the best heat, drying times, and a great forum with lots of helpfull people.
The best way to season your wood, is to stack it in a place that gets wind and sun. Keeping it dry is good, but if it is stacked in a shed, it won't get much airflow around the stack, and airflow is what carries the water vapor away.
Make sure that the stack is up off of the ground, otherwise the wood on the bottom will absorb water from the gound, and ants and other bugs will make their homes in your wood pile.
There are many types of racks sold in stores, but I scrounge for all of my firewood (meaning I go fell it, cut it, drag it home in my trailer, and process it myself) and I just can't see buying an expensive rack to hold wood that cost me nothing more than my time and a bit of gas and oil.
I've tried stacking on on 4x4's and landscaping timbers, but have had the frost heaves tip the stacks over, as one side was lifted a little more than the other.
Along with water coming up from the soil, you can also slightly speed up the drying time by keeping the wood stacks protected from rain, snow and ice from the sky. while this precipitation doesn't tend to be absorbed by the wood to the same amount, the build up of snow and ice in a wood stack stops the seasoning process, and can actually push your stacks over.
Leaves are also an issue, collecting anywhere they can, and often holding water. If you allow leaves to build up in the stack, they will keep any wood they collect against, wet, and encourage mold and rot.
I've been covering my stacks with plywood, old scraps of steel roofing, and whatever else will work, which is good for keeping leaves and snow out of the stacks, but as soon as my son starts taking wood out of the stack, he shoves the top cover back so it won't fall on him, and that leaves the wood exposed to snow and rain, meaning it comes into the house wet and icy.
I was looking for a free or very cheap roofing replacement, and happened to remember that my employer uses IBC totes to buy an antifreeze product. Since antifreeze is toxic, the totes cannot be returned when empty, and they cannot be sold to the public, for safety reasons.
I figured out how to cut the tank to make a waterproof roof, easily covering about a cord of wood with one tank. My employer is happy to have the empty tanks gone, and I am happy to put something free to a good use.
To avoid spending anything on my racks I started with pallets, which are free and easy to find almost everywhere, then figured out the easiest way to make them into a more or less permanent rack with a roof, for as little money as possible.
Step 1: Foundation
Wet wood is heavy, since I stack my wood into roughly one cord racks, I would have over a ton of firewood in one spot.
I start by laying blocks or bricks on the ground, working to use thicker and thinner blocks so that the base pallets are close to level.
Since pallets are strong, I only support the corners and middle of the front stringer of the pallet, the center stringer is left unsupported so it will sag on purpose.
Since the outer ends of the stack get more wind and sun, they tend to seasn first. As they season they shrink, causing the stack to lean outwards at the top.
By allowing the center stringer of the pallet to sag, the stack is forced to lean in towards the middle of the pallet, counteracting the outer end shrinkage.
A cord of wood is a closely stacked pile of wood 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet, since I cut my wood to roughly 17 inches long instead of 24, my stacks have to be longer than 8 feet.
three standard pallets in a row works out to 12 feet, and this makes a perfect cord of wood per rack.
Step 2: Bookends
some people use a method I've heard of as cross blocking to keep the ends of their rows of stacked wood from falling over, it works great if you have just the right shape and size of wood, and the time to match up two or three splits to the same thickness. this takes practice and a bunch of failures.
It is much easier to just build a rack that will hold the ends with no extra thought, then I can have my kids or anybody stack wood for me and not have to worry that they will leave the ends falling down or I'll have to go back and fix the ends.
Each rack end is another pallet, this makes sure that the end is strong, and that I don't have to put a bunch of time into building anything fancy.
the only extra lumber this design needs is two plates that anchor the bottom edges of the end pallets. You could cut them from a broken pallet, I happen to have some old wood from a demolition in the house that works perfectly
Line up the end pallet with the end of the base pallet, attach the corner plates to the bottom pallet with two screws, and put one screw through the corner plate into the bottom of the end pallet.
Once you do this on both sides, the screw near the bottom will act like a hinge, allowing you to set it vertically.
Step 3: Dividers
I've been using pallets to stack wood on for a while, but what I found keeps the stacks from falling over better than anything else, is a pallet in the middle.
Combined with allowing the pallet to sag slightly toward the middle, a pallet in the middle tends to lock into the wood as it is stacked, then no matter how the stack changes shape as it seasons, I've never had one fall over.
the vertical pallet in the middle also keeps air flowing through the middle of the stack, which is important since most water evaporates from the ends of a firewood split.
set a vertical pallet exactly on the middle of the base pallet, and but it up against the middle of the end pallet.
Once you have everything tight against each other, run screws through the end member of the divider pallet into the center member of the end pallet, these screws will hold the end pallet in place.
Now run screws at an angle through the bottom ends of the center and outer member of the divider pallet, down into the center member of the base pallet.
these screws will keep the wood stack from pushing the end pallet over.
Repeat this for the other end of the base pallets as well.
Step 4: Tieing It All Together
the divider pallets at each end will do a great job of locking the ends of the stack into the rack, and also keep the ends of the rack from falling over.
the middle pallet (s) also should have a divider pallet to keep them locked into the stack.
I have plenty of old 4x4 timbers I've picked up for free by the road or gotten off of craigslist.
I screw them too the top of the divider pallets at each end, and then use the 4x4 to tie divider pallets to on the middle base pallet(s). this also fights any twisting in the racks from frost heaves, and keeps the end pallets from sliding or being pushed apart by the wood stack.
I also tie the bottom of the middle divider pallet(s) to the center base pallets.
this central 4x4 makes it easy to attach roofing to the middle pallets, and also keeps the roofing up above the pallets, ensuring that you can stack wood a bit higher than 4 feet, which is good, as the stack tends to shrink a few inches as the wood cures. Since firewood is irregular shapes once it is split, this extra height, makes sure that there is a full cord plus in every three pallets of firewood, cut 16-18" long.
you could use wood from busted up pallets to tie the center divider pallets in place, I am just using what I have handy.
Once you have one of these pallet sheds built, it should last you for many years. If it ever falls apart, go collect more pallets, remove the screws holding the parts you need to replace, and install new pallets. Use the old broken pallet as kindling in the stove, and you have gotten the good out of something, and saved it from going to waste in a landfill. your stove will burn better and give more heat, your neighbors will like the neater look to your stacks, and the cleaner smoke burning seasoned wood gives off, and your budget will not have a dent in it from buying expensive firewood racks.
Step 5: Protection From the Elements
Since I want a roof over the stacks to keep leaves, ice and snow from building up in the stacks, I added a 4x4 to the top of each end pallet, and then attached old steel roofing to the 4x4's.
I have steel roofing handy from old projects. Whenever I stop by a big box hardware store, I check their piles of steel roofing, if I notice any split, buckled, dented, and cracked sheets, I grab them and take them to the register. I've been able to get good discounts on them.
If you want to do it cheaper, you can look on craigslist for old building materials. Lumber can be made into a roof, vinyle siding, corugated roofing, etc. can be found for cheap or free. In some areas of the country people have gotten all they could use from old barns that were falling down or being demolished. If you look up my Poor Man's Fiberglass Instructable, you could use old bed sheets, and old exteroir paint to cover any old plywood or OSB, and make it waterproof enough to last for many years.
I mentioned before about using IBC totes for roofing, this is the cheapest way to make a firewood rack roof, if you get the totes for free like I do.
start by removing the bars that secure the tote into the cage. save the hardware.
slide the tank out.Notice that the tank is more or less rectangular, with square ends, and rectangular top and bottom, front and back.
use a hole saw or step drill to bore holes in the square ends, I added more holes to make it easier to cut around the tank drain valve.
use a sawzall or saber saw to cut between the holes.
I show the final cut that makes the long sides into a flat sheet happening at one corner, on my next one, this cut will happen at the center of the top panel, going right through the screw on top cap hole. the top panel has extra ribs and shapes to it, and doesn't want to sit flat once you force the rest of the tank plastic flat.
Once you have the plastic tank cut, lay it out flat on the ground, you will find that the radius on the corners will need a short cut into them to allow the plastic to be flattened out.
I find it almost impossible to get the plastic up on top of the rack by myself. However, by screwing one corner on the end in place, it was easy to pivot the rest of it in place.
secure the plastic roof in place with screws along the center line.
Since the rack I was covering is 4 pallets long, and and IBC tank roof is perfect for three pallets, I used the metal base from the tank cage, to cover the last pallet, along with the two plastic panels cut out of the tank earlier.
I used the metal bows from the tank cage retainer to help support the plastic where it was needed.
as you can see in the picture, the plastic tote tank roof is very strong, even with heavy wet snow on it, I expect to get many years of use from these racks, for minimal time and money invested.
Not every tote tank is made of UV stable plastic, all you need to protect the plastic is cheap spray paint, or latex paint in an airless paint sprayer, cover the roof and it will last even longer
Step 6: Stack Away
as I mentioned before these racks are simple and cheap, using materials that I can get for free locally, or at a very low cost. Craigslist will be your friend when looking for cheap materials to use, along with your own ingenuity.
I can build these with a minimum of tools, and could probably just get by with a hammer and nails in a pinch.
an impact driver
torx head screws, 2.5" long
a sawzall and torx socket set make it easier to remove and reuse the IBC tank from the cage and the sawsall, step drill and cordless drill make it easier to cut the IBC tank into a roof.
Stacking wood in these is easy, I pay my kids $5 for each cord of wood they stack, they stacked all of the wood you see in these two racks in a few hours. Before I came up with these racks, they would stack the wood, but leave the ends for me to crib, I had many stacks fall apart or fall over because stacking without a rack takes more care. the pallet racks will hold almost anything, and don't require any fancy stacking on the ends
As you can see, they use the IBC tote cage as a jungle gym, they can't wait for me to get more cages, a project I'll share in another I'ble.