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My Backward Woodpile
Learning from a master - How a Herb Johansson changed my life.

Built like a shingled teepee, the wood cures, dries and protects itself from rain.


As an industrial designer, I have spent most of my life keeping up with new technologies. It's been exciting and interesting, but not always a positive experience. As new tech tools replace or alter old ones, skills, knowledge and techniques vanish - every gain is accompanied by a loss. These losses are often difficult or impossible to retrieve. So, when I saw my neighbor stacking and splitting his wood supply in a unique way, I made it a point to find out what was going on.

Herb Johansson lived on a north slope home, covered with live oak trees that received almost no winter sun. His wood annual wood requirements were massive. Raised in Taxes, he had been hand splitting wood for most of his eighty years. And, over the years I had many conversations, and mst went something like this. Me - "So, what's the best way to hand split these big oak logs." Johansson - Do it when they're wet and cold." Me - "Anything else." Johansson - " Well don't forget to split from the bottom of the tree." Me - " Sooo... that's it?." Johansson - "Yup."

This advice from a guy that split about six cords of live oak by hand was a gem of old technology that I was very glad to retrieve. I also kept my eyes open and soon noticed that he handled his wood differently that everyone I knew. At first I assumed that he was just too lazy or old to stack his wood for the winter. Then I realized that he never had a real wood storage area - stacked wood protected from the rain and intended to dry and cure. What he did have was an incredibly tall teepee of wood. At the start of the season it was about 12' high and much shorter by spring. Next year the teepee was rebuilt and the process started again.

After some time observing and using Herb's technique, this is what I now use for my annual wood storage:

Last years wood remaining after a warm winter.

Dry and old wood is thrown into a tall pile. As this pile begins to take shape, the logs are thrown onto the pile so that they land vertically - some slide to the bottom. This starts to give the pile a 'shingled' look. Newly split wood is added to one side of the pile. Dry and old wood added to the other side. As the teepee starts to take shape, split logs are added around the perimeter as a base for new wood stacking or thrown on top. If possible the bark side faces the outside of the pile. Eventually you have a shingled teepee that sheds water, air dries the wood, and even keeps the ground dry underneath.

Back side showing the crescent of wind and rain protection.

Over the winter, as wood is needed, it is taken from a 'hole' on one side. As logs are taken or fall in from the sides, the teepee eventually becomes a crescent. Even after days of rain, there is always some dry seasoned wood in the center of this shingled shed. And, since it is open to winter sun, any moisture that is blown into this area soon dries.

Dry wood warming in the winter sun.

Next year, as you split wood, throw it on the pile to fill the hole in the crescent, and a new 'teepee' is started by adding green wood to fill the 'hole'. Next year, take wood from the other side of the pile and new wood will have additional time to season.

Herb's lazy system saves storage space as well as hours of moving, stacking, and covering. It also provides a continual seasonal rotation and a constant supply of newly seasoned dry wood in all weather conditions.

Thank you Herb Johansson!




© 2010 mark jurey