Chopping firewood is one of those things you assume you know how to do, until you’re out in the cold with an axe and realize you’re in all likelihood about to chop off your leg.
Being rather attached to my leg, I turned to the two greatest sources of truth in my life – my dad, and YouTube. First up, it’s not called chopping wood. It’s splitting wood. (Good to know.) After that the instructions get a little more practical.
- Gear up. Safety goggles are recommended (I passed), gloves are key. I would also not want to be splitting wood in flip flops.
- Find a spot. Some people say you can split wood on the ground, others say this can dull or damage the axe. We found a flat surface by the wood pile and set up a big, flat log to be the base (this also lifts up the wood so it’s easier on your back.)
- Choose your wood. Green (wet) wood won’t burn as well, so the seasoned stuff is usually what people choose to split. It doesn’t really matter though if it’s getting stacked up to burn later. Pick a piece with a flat end so it will stay upright on the log, big enough to create some sizeable chunks, but not so big you don’t stand a chance of splitting it (if you’re of the particularly weak type.) Logs are hard to split. Pieces of wood with knots in them in are hard to split. When given the choice, pick the wood that’s going to work with you. (This post is assuming your job is to split firewood from reasonably sized logs or bolts – felling a tree and chainsawing it into manageable chunks is bad girl DIY 3.0.)
- Choose your axe. Weighty, well-balanced and within your abilities are all choice attributes. Give it a few test swings in safe directions to get used to the feel of it in your hands.
- Line up your wood. It’s easiest to split along the grain.
- Take your stance. A particularly hard-lined book I read said the safest way to split wood is on your knees (so you don’t over-swing and take off your shins.) A more appealing option is keep your legs apart so that if you do over-swing, the axe will land in the dirt in front of you.
- Make your swing. Raise the axe above your head and test your downward arc to the log. I did several test swings to figure out my placement before letting the weight of the axe take over. You have more control when you have your hand further up the handle, but then less force in the swing. I worked my way up to my hands being closer together, but was still able to split the wood – even with them a foot apart.
- When your axe head gets buried in the wood, you have a few options. A) Wiggle it out (step on the log and – carefully – work it out.) B) Use it as leverage to lift the wood and bring it back down on the base, theoretically splitting it and wonderfully loud. C) Use it to pick up the wood, then turn the axe around for your next strike so that the weight of the wood splits it further down the axe blade.
- When your wood is 90% split, you can often pull the pieces of wood apart. This makes you feel like The Hulk, and is highly recommended.
- For kindling, you can use a hatchet, or the same axe – but held near the head. Place a small piece of wood on the log base, and hold it by the side. Accidents happen when you hold the wood from the top in an attempt to make kindling. Protect your digits. Bring the hatchet down with a firm tap, and the kindling should split.
- Appreciate your handiwork. Be man. Make fire.