Firewood Splitting Tips

| 1/28/2011 3:17:00 PM

Tags: firewood, wood, wood heating, heating, steve maxwell, woodstove, fireplace, Steve Maxwell,

If you live in the country, you may already know about keeping a woodpile stocked. But even many city neighbourhoods are more like forest villages than concrete jungles. These places, too, are great sources of black-out-proof, carbon-neutral home heating fuel.

tires for splitting wood

Wherever trees die, break off in the wind, or outgrow their allotted space, you'll find the potential for firewood. I say potential, because having trees (or friendly neighbours that do) is just the first and easiest part of the operation. Making that wood conveniently and effectively burnable in a woodstove or fireplace comes next. Sounds like work, and that’s because it is. But as usual, there are two ways to look at the job: It's either drudgery you should avoid by stocking up on artificial wax fire logs, or a fitness regime that also warms your house. When it comes to making firewood, I see the glass as half full.

That’s why I’m happy to share what I've learned over 20+ years of heating my house with wood and elbow grease. There's nothing like the security of a well-stacked wood pile.

The challenging part of making firewood is the splitting -- cleaving sawn logs along the grain lengthwise. Why bother? Because most logs are too big to fit comfortably in a woodstove or fireplace, and splitting is the best way to make them thinner. And even if they aren't too big, split wood burns better because it dries more thoroughly without a continuous wrapper of bark.

split axeThe problem with the whole business of splitting firewood is that it's proven annoyingly resistant to domination by modern technology. Yes, there are hydraulic log splitters out there to ease the burden, but they're costly and loud. Unless you've got a mountain of knotty wood to split, a good axe is quicker, quieter and better for your health. The correct splitting axe is key though, and the tool's attributes may surprise you.

The splitting axe is the quintessential blunt instrument, one for which there's no substitute. Don't even try to split firewood using a regular axe with its too-thin profile. Splitting axes don't have to be sharp, but they do need to be heavy (6 lbs. to 8 lbs.) and bluntly angled in cross-section. This angle is what drives the log apart and stops the axe from sticking in the wood uselessly. The axe you see here on the left is wonderful. It’s been with me for 25 years and we’ve split hundreds of cords of wood together.

But there's another problem with splitting firewood, a hitch that the best splitting axe won't cure. How do you hold up the wood on it's end before hitting it? All the firewood I make goes through the car tire arrangement you see here. They're bolted together through the sidewalls in three places, forming the ideal holder for all but the largest logs. Just drop the wood in on-end, and bang-away with your axe as many times as needed. You never have to bend down and stand another log up before hitting it again because nothing falls over. Another bonus is the way the sidewalls act as a cushion for the ax handle, keeping the blade from hitting the ground, without need for a chopping block. Got a loose axe handle? Try Chair Doctor (Lee Valley Tools 800-267-8767). It's a thin viscosity adhesive that wicks into the end of the handle, swelling the wood and locking it within the axe head.


Steve Maxwell, Canada's Handiest Man, has shared his DIY tips, how-to videos and product reviews since 1988. Visit him at, @Canada's Handiest Man on Facebook or @Maxwells_Tips on Twitter. 

Photos: Steve Maxwell

Contributing Editor Steve Maxwell has been helping people renovate, build and maintain their homes for more than two decades. “Canada’s Handiest Man” is an award-winning home improvement authority and woodworking expert. Contact him by visiting his website and the blog, Maxwell’s House. You also can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and find him on . 

7/23/2014 6:06:59 AM

I like that tire idea --- it will also save my shins a serious beating when the pieces of wood stay inside the tire. Very creative. Everett De Morier

10/23/2013 10:05:30 PM

Splitting wood varies depending on the type of wood you are splitting. I currently am splitting a lot of oak and hickory. I find that it splits much easier green, when it dries I feel the fibers tends to bind and the hickory gets very stringy. I often split logs greater then 20" in dia, and for those logs you want to start with a maul. When you learn to read the log splitting is much easier. look for the spider cracks that leak out from the center of your log and strike it on one most prominent crack closer to the outside of the log better. Just be careful bit more risky this way so make sure you keep your legs spread so if you miss you don't drive the maul into your leg. After you half it in most cases I use my axe because it is lighter and I can be more precise with my strikes. Lastly I like splitting off of a chopping block that is larger then the logs I am splitting and setting the log to the back of the chopping block for safety.

10/23/2013 9:37:19 AM

great tip with the tires for a few reasons, 1, not having to reposition the wood that splits, 2, great idea to keep your maul out of the ground, and if is a little safer by keeping your maul from possibly defecting back and hitting you, that's said, I disagree about wood heating you twice, the way I see it, it's more like 5 times, cutting, hauling, splitting, stacking, and finally, the reward of burning it! Sweat equity that's is worth ever hour of work, plus if you do your wood by yourself as I do, you can multitask, as I get a lot of thinking done about other projects to come, but that's just me

joe rowe
10/20/2012 3:33:22 PM

great tip on the tires,thanks

mara lambert
8/28/2012 4:41:10 PM

Loose handle? A bucket of water......

scott allen
8/26/2012 9:34:15 PM

The longer the better really, personal experience is that more than a year is overkill. If the weather is dry, maybe a month? The purpose is purely to let the cells in the wood shrink decreasing their bonds and allowing the split to occur more freely. Major factor to consider is the humidity in the area you store the wood, less humidity, easier splitting in less time.

leo mara
7/1/2012 8:20:32 PM

Thanks for the tip. Do you have any idea on how long to let the wood season? I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and it's summer now.

ryan ward
4/17/2012 9:33:58 PM

I used to split my wood by hand, but it's gotten to be a bit of a burden as I got older. I switched over to a hydraulic splitter from and it has made the process much smoother and better on my back! I still get to spend time outside, but I don't have to worry about pulling any muscles in the process.

david imnottellin
11/3/2011 6:37:20 PM

One thing not mentioned that can make a world of difference is to wait until the wood is seasoned before splitting. When dry the wood splits MUCH easier than when it is green.

jeff siemion
11/2/2011 3:14:30 PM

Great Tip on the Tires!,.. also on large diameter wood,..I split around the edges about 3 inches in ,..then split off the corners next,..and end up with a chunk or all nighter in the middle, great on the big stuff.

bruce mcelmurray
11/2/2011 2:37:19 PM

What a great idea using old tires. That is brilliant as bending over to pick up pieces to split into smaller pieces takes a lot of time and stresses my back. Next year when the snow melts I'm going to give that a try.

9/7/2011 12:36:41 PM

great tip on the ill try it. i love my diamond shaped wedge over the traditional slice of cheese type wedge. also, when cutting the trees into logs, i will make a 1/5 to 2" X in the tops of each log, makes splitting alot easier to do when the time comes.. but my best thing is the home made wedge i found buried in the yard that some previous owner lost or forgot or just its a piece of square stock steel about 8 or 10 inches long, cut on an angle on one side only so it is more "door stop" shaped than a wedge and it comes to a nice sharp point. I drive it in a couple inches with my hammer then after a few wacks with a 10lb slesge and it splits the wood with ease. im thinking of trying to make a bigger version.

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