When it comes to staying warm during the winter, it’s a simple fact of life that guys are usually the ones who need to bear the brunt of the burden.
Still, it’s definitely not a nuisance, especially if you love spending time in the great outdoors as I do.
Every year when fall rolls around, I can’t wait to go out to the splitting station and spend a full day working.
Whether you share my enthusiasm for all things nature-related or you just need to figure out how to split firewood — this article is meant for you. However, before we get down to the nitty-gritty, we need to talk about the things you’ll need.
Preparing the Materials
When we’re talking about handling sharp cutting tools, you really don’t want to rush it. So before you set up your splitting station, you’ll need to grab a few things, starting with the protective equipment.
As many of you are aware, I’m nothing if not careful in my outdoor pursuits. In my experience, wearing gloves is of the utmost importance, especially when handling wood in its natural texture. Trust me when I say that you do not want splinters in your hands. Additionally, you’ll want to have some kind of padding when you’re handling axes.
So make sure that you have good sturdy leather gloves like these or whichever ones you wear for work. Clothing, in general, is a big part of this equation, so make sure that you’re wearing long sleeves and pants to avoid debris. Besides, if you’re going to be splitting firewood outside, you also want to make sure you’re protected from ticks and the like.
One more piece of fashion advice for guys who experience back pain: you may want to invest in back support. Remember, if you’re only using firewood to stay warm during the winter, you’re going to be working for a while. So it’s best to come prepared and have some type of back brace. Even wearing a vest might protect you from experiencing the consequences of spending a day sweating in the cool autumn breeze.
Pro tip: Work less by pick the best burning firewood!
Another precaution you should take before starting is to have a friend, brother, or son with you. Essentially, you’re going to want someone to assist you. Everything will go more smoothly if you have someone who can bring more wood and pass it to you. It’s also good to have someone to alternate the splitting and just talk with.
Finally, you should have some type of protective eye wear handy in case your logs splinter a lot as you hit them. Sometimes there are even nails that can come flying out as you split the wood, so it’s best to take all the necessary precautions.
Well, obviously you won’t get far without lumber. There are essentially two ways in which you could procure wood. The easier route is to buy it and transport it to your home. In that case, chopping it up into smaller sections that can fit into your wood burning stove is the only thing you’ll need to do.
However, I firmly believe that every man should know how to fell a tree and convert it into firewood. In fact, I’ve already written about felling, limbing, and bucking a tree. Don’t worry, it’s easier than it seems. Nevertheless, it also takes practice and patience in order for everyone involved to be truly safe. Luckily, the sooner you start doing it, the sooner you can gain the experience it takes.
Here are also some felling axes to get the job done, if you do not own one.
Once you’ve bought or gathered your wood, you ought to consider seasoning it. As you’re probably aware, wood burns more easily when it’s dry — which is why I intend to close this article with a section about the proper storage of firewood. Essentially, seasoning is often all it takes to make ordinary lumber into firewood, simply by dehydrating it.
Ideally, you’ll want to order and at least partially split the logs sometime during the spring. That ensures that the wood will have plenty of time to dry by winter. If you have a fireplace, bigger logs may fit with no further adjustments. However, many wood burning stoves don’t have that much room. Therefore, you may have to finish the job in the fall by splitting the wood into even smaller pieces.
Just to be safe, you should always inspect the wood, even if you felled the tree yourself. Nails are your biggest enemy here, as they can damage your splitting tool and seriously injure you.
Manual Splitting Tools
There are many ways to go about splitting firewood. If you want to go with the easy mode, you can use a chainsaw or even a mechanical wood splitter, if you have access to one. However, I firmly believe that everyone should also familiarize themselves with three types of manual splitting tools: mauls, hatchets, and axes.
These three are all variations on the same theme. They’re all tools that have a handle and a head, with the difference being in the length of the handle and the materials used. They can be steel and wood, or completely steel with a rubber grip on the handle.
The smallest of the three instruments is typically the hatchet. It’s good for smaller pieces of wood, and you’ll also be able to use it with one hand. Axes and mauls are another story altogether. Both of those splitting tools have longer handles and heavier bits on top.
On the one hand, having to use both hands might be somewhat inconvenient, especially if you’re working alone. However, that doesn’t need to be the case if you work with a partner who can help you by setting up the logs. One of the best things about using an axe or a maul is that they do a lot of your work for you. That is, the front bits are typically so heavy that all you need to do is lift, aim, and let gravity take over.
So while axes and mauls are technically more powerful tools for the job, hatchets still have their advantages. After all, they’re pretty light and portable, making them especially suitable for camping trips. If you need help with picking out the best axe for the job, you can check out my reviews of a few favorites.
Keeping Your Tools Sharp
Making sure that your splitting tool is sharp is very important if you want to avoid accidents. If a blade is dull enough, it could even bounce off against the wood you’re trying to split. No amount of technique or finesse will save you from injury if your tool rebounds in exactly the wrong way.
Fortunately, sharpening blades is fairly easy with the right tools. In any case, there are many sharpening methods to choose from. Certainly, before you go any further, you should make sure that the tools you’re working with are up to snuff.
The final piece of our setup process is getting a good and sturdy chopping block. But be careful: selecting a bad log to serve as a chopping block can also be a safety hazard. Under no circumstances can you use a chopping block that’s wobbly, and you don’t really want to do this on the bare ground either.
I’ve personally witnessed someone trying to chop wood on concrete and dirt, and it’s not a practical solution. Setting the log you’re splitting on a chopping block will elevate the wood, making the process easier on your back. Moreover, it’ll provide a relatively soft surface for your tool to sink into, if you’re overly forceful. Also, you can use the chopping block to dislodge your splitting tool if it gets stuck in a log.
Typically, the best type of chopping block would be a large flat log or even a tree stump. You’ll want to have enough space to stand up straight and swing an axe — knowing that the head may fly off the handle. So if you’re working with a friend, make sure that they’re nowhere near the potential fly zone.
Once you’ve set everything up, you’re pretty much ready to start chopping. So now that we have everything ready for us, we can finally hit some logs.
How to Split Firewood
Splitting wood is not something you want to do with half a brain. You need to be completely focused on the task and hand in order to make sure that each log checks out.
Cutting the Length of the Wood
At this point in the process, your wood should already be cut to the length of about 15-20 inches. Splitting wood requires tools to go along with the grain of the logs, not across the grain. So if you’ve got logs that are too long for your fireplace or stove, you’ll need to adjust the length first. The easiest way to do this is with a chainsaw, although you could also use a forest axe, like the one you might have used to fell the tree in the first place.
Either way, shorter logs are easier to split, and they’ll fit into a wood burning stove more easily. The length is also important for the storing of the wood. I’ve once been halfway through the initial cutting when I realized that the wood will be too long for my storage space. So it would have been exposed to the elements, making seasoning harder. As with everything else, you should think ahead and choose the length according to your needs. In any case, you’ll shorten the logs down to about 7 inches
Place the Log onto the Chopping Block
If your pieces are all short enough, you can start by positioning one on your chopping block. This is where you’ll really notice if you’ve chosen the wrong block. If the log is wobbly, it’s going to bother you all day, so it’s best to find a new one right away.
Here is a helpful alternative to a chopping block:
The splitting itself is fairly easy, no matter which tools you’re using. You’ll want to carefully examine the log on the chopping block before getting into position. Find the little cracks in the wood, if there are any. Hitting a weakened spot isn’t necessary if your tools are sharp, but it also can’t hurt. In any case, there’s no better feeling than hitting the log and having it split effortlessly under your axe.
Some logs split down the middle, while others are more asymmetrical. Either way, you should be especially careful with pieces that have knots in them. These pieces are notoriously hard to navigate and can have minds of their own, so it’s best to try to avoid them.
Get into Position
Face the chopping block and stand with your feet slightly spread and firmly on the ground. If you’re using an axe or a maul, you’ll want to place your dominant hand near the top of the handle, closer to the head, and your other hand near the bottom. Lift the axe or maul above the shoulder on your dominant side, letting your knees do most of the work.
As your splitting tool is falling, your hands will meet at the bottom of the handle. All you need to do is hope your aim is true when you let your hands loose. Still, you should never completely give up control over your splitting tool. If your aim is slightly off, the tool could strike the chopping block and bounce off. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you the sorts of injuries that can cause. All this to say: it’s best to keep a firm grasp on your axe in case you need to prevent it from falling in the wrong place.
On the other hand, hatchets are a bit less powerful. However, you’ll be able to use only one hand, and that counts for a lot in my book.
There’s a chance that your first blow will drive the blade into the wood. If the wood is clinging onto the blade, you can simply lift the handle and tap it against the chopping block a few times. It should easily tear down the grain.
Some logs may be a bit more stubborn and require a few more tries. Obviously, hitting the same spot repeatedly is unlikely when you’re handling a 15-pound tool. And although hitting the same place would be great, it’s not really necessary. You’ll get the job done eventually.
Finally, we’re at the end of the journey. After a long day of splitting wood, you might just want to sit back and relax. Well, slow down — your work’s not done yet. Now that you’ve got all of your firewood ready to keep you warm during the long winter months, it would be a shame if all of your work went to waste because you left the wood out in the open.
As you know, dry wood burns the best, and wet wood rots. To prevent that from happening, you’re going to need some place to put them. Whether that’s a porch with a shade overhead, or a dry basement, garage, or barn, it’s incredibly important to keep the wood out of the rain and away from the soil. If you have to leave the wood outside, elevate it from the ground and stack it so that it’s nice and sturdy. We want to avoid a log avalanche if we can.
Just keep in mind that you’re going to need to fetch the wood periodically, so make sure to choose a location that’s nearby. Here are some great firewood carts if you want to save yourself some trouble.
Once you’ve stacked the bigger logs on top of each other, you may be left with a whole lot of smaller wood chips on the ground. I hope you haven’t taken your gloves off yet, because you’ll need to collect them. Just put them into a bucket and keep them close to the fireplace or wood burning stove — you’ll use them to start fires all through the winter.