Heating With Wood XIII: On Building an Indoor Woodbox, You’ll Thank Yourself

Wanda sacked out next to the wood box where she can help herself to a stick when she needs something to chew on. The kindling (top left) dries out very quickly for easy starting fires.

‘And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights. In the self-same day Noah said, “Well dang, it’s fall in Southeast Alaska.”’   Genesis 7 (mostly), King James Version.

Lots of firewood seasoning articles tell you never to burn anything that’s more than 20% moisture and to stay away from using conifers like spruce and hemlock. Good advice if you can follow it but trees in this temperate rainforest of ours are mostly spruce and hemlock and it can rain non-stop for so long we’d tell Noah, “Buck-up, Cowboy. Forty days is nothing.” Seasoned wood, especially softwood, inhales some of that from the air.
The first winter I burned wood was a steep learning curve, “In the beginning the shed was without form and void, wood was unseasoned, and moisture moved upon the face of woodpile…” I’d go out to the stack and bring in armload after armload of unseasoned wood. In the stove it hissed and sputtered as water inside the wood boiled and dripped out the ends. When you opened the door the fire said, Hsssssss!
During the second winter seasoned wood made a huge improvement but still, I’d bring in all those armloads and stack them on the floor near the stove. That was messy, too close to the stove, and wood didn’t burn as well as I thought it should.

What was going on? We covered this in Part X ‘Seasoning Wood: It’s all cut and dried.’ but briefly, moisture content in wood is a ratio of water weight in the wood compared with weight of the wood when it is completely dry. In green wood moisture content is usually above 60% and can be over 100% (that is the water/sap in a log weighs more than the wood weighs when it’s been completely dried out). The sweet spot for moisture content in firewood is between 15 and 20 percent. With rain and snow for weeks on end an outside wood supply, even in a shed or under tarps, in 100 % humidity, is going to soak up some of that moisture. It won’t go above the fiber saturation point (around 30%) but it can be above the 15% -20% that is optimal.*

A friend’s woodbox: One raw day, that couldn’t make up its mind whether to rain or snow so it was doing both, I went to visit my friend John at his comfortable old place on the water. You know the kind of place, wide-ranging books on the shelves, acoustic instruments, hand-made fibers from around the world, knick knacks, artifacts, antiques, brass and glass from sunken shipwrecks, and esoteric animal skulls that make even people who know bones ask, “What is that?”

From time to time John would walk over to the woodbox he’d built, a big one standing about four feet by five, where he’d take a piece, and put it in the stove without ever interrupting the flow of conversation. The stack was so much neater, his wood drier, warmer, more burnable than mine, and he wouldn’t need to go out for a week to resupply. I thought, “Why don’t I have one of those?”

So I made one. For me it’s been a game changer. Along with everything else, you can wait for a break in the weather to grab the wheel barrow and go out to fill it up. I’ll put the dimensions for mine at the end of the article though they hardly matter because your dimensions will be different to fit your space. Here are some things to think about before you start.

Your Woodbox is your very own and ultimately satisfying because you built it to whatever dimensions suit you. Considerations in no particular order except the first one: 1) If you’ve been stacking wood all willy nilly around the stove your significant other will probably be all for containing it in a box but run it by them anyway. 2) Box should be open along firewood end grains on at least one end for air circulation. 3) Not too close to the woodstove. Check local fire codes. 4) If there’s another heat source, like baseboard heaters, don’t build the box right up against them. Leave at least a few inches of room to let the heat out. 5) Have a shelf on the bottom. Keeping the wood off the floor is a primary advantage. When you bring in wood that’s very cold or damp, the cool air flows downhill and condenses. On the bottom shelf it’s a good idea to leave a gap in the back under the shelf to get some air circulation under there. 6) Put another shelf about half way up, or a divider down the middle, or both. That way, as you’re bringing in wood you can use the driest wood first and leave the fresh recruits to sit in the other section for a few days. 7) Because you’re going to be putting all sorts of things on the top of the box you may want to have a top that fits snugly against the wall so stuff can’t fall down behind the box. It would be a nuisance to have to unload the whole stack to retrieve your passport, thumb drive, or whatever. 8) Not too tall and narrow unless you’re going to bolt it to the wall. There’s a lot of weight. If the kids climb on it when you’re not looking you don’t want something they can pull over. 9) Deep enough that your stacked wood will be about even with the edge of the box. You don’t need a two-foot deep box if your stove uses 16 inch long firewood. Likewise, you don’t want a 12 inch deep box if most of your wood is two feet long. 10) Build it with lateral support that will keep it from racking (moving side to side). 11) So, how much wood do you want it to hold? Enough for about five days when it’s very cold is good. You can add to it during breaks in the weather and in summer it will probably be enough for a couple months since you don’t use the woodstove much.

My Woodbox Not fine woodworking here, it’s made of leftovers from other projects except I bought some ¾ inch plywood that was finished on one side since it was going in the living room.

Box itself: 18 ½ inches deep x 42 inches wide x 41 inches tall.
Top: is left over tongue and groove oak flooring 18 ½ inches x 48 inches. Glued together. Clamped. Held together by two strips of ½ inch x 1 ¼ inch x 16 inch scrap oak flooring.

Cut list:
¾ inch plywood sides (2): 17 3/8 inches deep x 40 ½ inches tall.
¾ inch plywood shelves (2): 16 5/8 inches deep x 40 ½ inches long
¼ inch plywood back: 41 inches wide x 40 inches tall.
Brackets: (6) ½ inch x 1 ¼ inch x 14 ¾ inch.
Rails: are 2 x 2 with a ¾ inch rabbet joint cut out for the shelf to sit in.
Trim: (2) ¼ x ¾ x 40 ½ inches tall. To cover the front edge of the sides.

Painted the ¼ inch plywood backing the same color as the wall behind it so it would look more like an airy, open space when the box isn’t full. Rabbet joint up the back of sides that the plywood backing fits into. Screw brackets on sides. Could go from inside or outside. I went from the outside and counter sunk the screw holes. Screw back to shelves and brackets from the back side. Screw on rails. Those have to get screwed from the outside. Add trim. Sand. Stain. Set top on. Done. (I didn’t screw the top on in case I ever did drop something in back of the box I can take the top off and fish it out.)

Another woodbox benefit: In December it’s fun to hang Christmas stockings there.

*Some people stack cords of wood in their basement or garage. They find it convenient. None of my business but I wouldn’t do it because:
1) Cords of wood weigh a ton and a half to two tons green. They’re going to exhale massive amounts of water into your house, creating a moist environment which isn’t conducive to drying and which promotes mold, allergies, insects, rodents, etc.
2) Warm, dry, windy days are best for seasoning wood. Even when the air’s below freezing water comes out of the wood on windy days. Your wood never gets those days if it’s closed up in the basement.
3) It takes up a lot of room in the house.