The Time-Honored Art of Splitting Wood

Learn how you can make splitting wood a more pleasurable hobby by mastering the following tools and techniques.

  • 066 art of splitting wood - wedge and sledge
     A sledge and wedges are good for to handle big rounds.
  • 066 art of splitting wood - splitting maul
    A splitting maul, the standard tool for splitting wood.
  • 066 art of splitting wood - stuck wedge
    If a wedge is stuck in the top of a log, try driving one in from the side.
  • 066 art of splitting wood - split on the cheeks
    Splitting on the checks (cracks) is the best way to start opening up a log.

  • 066 art of splitting wood - wedge and sledge
  • 066 art of splitting wood - splitting maul
  • 066 art of splitting wood - stuck wedge
  • 066 art of splitting wood - split on the cheeks

Chopping stovewood to size by hand may, at first glance, appear to be a ponderous, imprecise activity that requires little more than pure brute force. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. There is, instead, a distinct art to splitting wood. The skilled woodsman or -woman who works with — rather than against — the rounds he or she is handling can split up a lot more fuel in a given time than can some muscle-bound ox who tries to club the wood pile to smithereens. In fact, a great many experienced splitters (both chore-laden homesteaders and briefcase-laden urbanites) have honed their skills to such a point that they look upon billet-busting as one of life's more enjoyable tasks.

And even if you've never split a stick, you can become an accomplished woodcracker yourself. To do so, you'll need a few commonly available tools, the how-to basics I'll share in this article, some rounds of ripe-for-the-opening wood — and practice.

The Tools

The instruments most often used for working up wood by hand are the single-blade splitting axe, a pair of three- to five-pound steel wedges, a middle-sized sledgehammer, and an eight-pound splitting maul. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Several manufacturers have devised variations on the standard hand tools — we've sized up a number of woodcracking aids in The Great Wood-Splitting Contest II  

However, it isn't necessary to have all of these tools to begin work. I recommend starting out with a pair of wedges and that workhorse of the log-busting trade, the splitting maul (or "go-devil"). The blade of the latter implement can crack open many a billet, while the tool's back end can be used for driving wedges. (By the way, never use the butt of an axe for pounding — its thin head may crack!)

The Technique

Probably the single most important wood-splitting rule is this: Always place your to-be-broken rounds on a short chopping block. Such a base will provide solid resistance to the blows, increasing your stroke's penetration and guaranteeing that when your maul breaks through the billet, the tool's blade will land in wood instead of slamming into dulling earth or stones.

Once you've set your piece of tree up on its chopping block, stand back with your arms extended and feet planted squarely apart. (And, for safety's sake, be sure to wear boots and sturdy long pants!) Then line up the go-devil over its intended target, wind 'er up and swing!

steve jeske
10/17/2012 7:18:24 PM

Yes, follow these ideas. Also , never burn fresh, 'green' wood. Split wood in the coldest weather you possibly can . You will actually hear the crack for a good distance on a quiet day . Let your fresh wood age for at least a year . Enjoy .

Leo Mara
7/1/2012 8:07:36 PM

Is fresh cut wood easier to split or are you better off waiting for the wood to dry and if so for how long?

12/12/2007 11:18:00 PM

look for checks in the round good place for that first axes strike, easy way to split a knot, turn log so knot is farthest away from strike.if your axe gets stuck good into the round ,if the round is not to heavy for you,don't waste your time trying to pull the axe loose,swing the peace full circle over your head coming down on the axe head wood on top .the weight of the wood being greater will most always split free.CAUTION do not try this if your not firmly stuck in the wood or your not strong enough to swing the wood around.this doesen't work with a double bladed axe.have more tricks of the trade ,ask me



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