Splitting Firewood - manually
Splitting firewood is in your future if you're processing logs, power poles, or large limbs that are just a little big for your wood burning appliance.
There are several reasons to split wood.
First, it allows green wood to season (dry) sufficiently so it will burn well. Second, it creates more surface area for the volume of wood. More surface are promotes burning. Third, full logs seldom fit well in a wood stove so they need to be whacked down to size.
Splitting firewood is a companion to cutting firewood. The length of firewood is just as important as girth (the measurement around) when it comes to fitting it through the door of the wood stove and getting it to fit well in the firebox.
Variables in Splitting Firewood
There are several variables to consider when splitting firewood. Here is a brief discussion of the variables and how they affect your ability to split wood.
Length of wood - the longer (taller), the harder it will be to split.
Type of wood - harder wood is harder to split.
Age of wood - seasoned wood is harder to split.
Location of your strike - make use of natural cracks near the edge of the wood for easier splitting. See photo lower right.
If you're new to splitting firewood, then you'll want to know that splitting it with the grain is key. Wood splits along the length of the grain, not across the grain, so align your splitting tool so enters at the top of the "round" to allow the grain to be split down the length of the wood.
Another way of saying it is to split in a direction that is perpendicular to the way you'd cut the wood with a chain saw.
Basic precautions to heed:
- Splitting firewood involves heavy and sharp objects that are moving with speed and great force. Chips of metal and wood can go flying. Sometimes a tool can come apart or get loose.
- Others should be off behind and to your side. No one should ever be directly in the line of your swing, either in front of or in back of you.
- Make certain that feet, hands and legs are well out of the way of the natural arc of your swing. The axe, hatchet and splitting maul don't care what or who they hit, but you will, especially if it's you that ends up getting hit when you miss or a piece of wood gives much easier than you expected.
- Don't create unnecessary trip hazards for yourself. After you've split wood for a while, stack it or otherwise get it out of your way so you can walk freely in your work area without tripping.
- Wear eye protection when splitting and require it of others around you. The force imparted to the piece of wood has to go somewhere, and that means dirt, rock and pieces of wood can be propelled quite a distance.
I split wood in a batch process. First, I stand up all the "rounds" that I'd like to split. This allows me to make hits on all of them before I have to stand more back up.
If I don't do it this way, then I'm bending over and standing up a piece of wood in between every swing of the splitting maul, and that is more effort than it should be.
Next, I take a whack at each round to cut them in half and more whacks if one or more pieces are still standing after the first blow.
Each strike is planned to take advantage of natural weaknesses in the wood, whether it's damage or a deep crack. In any event, each strike is positioned to be on the top face of the "round" lined up with where the hands of a clock might be. This aligns the blows to crack the wood open to the core.
Striking on the outside portion of the wood instead of near the center will produce more force to split open the wood. Subsequent strikes can be closer to the center, in the same location, or in a new spot depending on how successful you were with the first strike.
Hints and Tips
Just a few pointers for splitting firewood.
- If you use a splitting maul and it get stuck part way into the wood, you can use it as a wedge and drive the blunt end of it with a sledge hammer until it splits the wood completely through.
- Practice hitting the same spot if your first strike didn't penetrate well. It will be weaker, and your better aim will allow you to strike weaknesses that you see in the wood on the first blow.
- When splitting the splintered end of a power pole or tree limb, it's best to turn it over with the splintered side down and whack the smooth cut end. The splinters will give way under the pressure of the splitting maul and therefore you won't get the splitting effect that can be achieved with densely packed wood grain on the smooth cut side.
- Lighter woods like cedar can be split with an axe or even a hatchet.
- If you're having trouble splitting, try splitting shorter length "rounds" that will allow you to put more energy into less wood.
- Getting your splitting tool unstuck is largely a matter of banging on the end of the handle with the palm of your hand, both up and down to help wiggle it free.
- If you're using a wedge, it's handy to have more than one so you can free up a wedge that might otherwise be stuck inside the wood seemingly forever.
Whatever you do, start out slowly and develop your own safe pattern of splitting firewood, and then stay with that pattern. You can get into trouble if you vary the pattern.
Done with Splitting Firewood, back to Heating with Wood