by Angela Williams
Wood is the oldest source of fuel. People from all civilizations used firewood centuries ago to cook and to warm themselves in extreme conditions. Today, splitting firewood is still very important. The process is commercialized making split firewood readily available for sale in timber yards and shops. Buying firewood from a shop or a timber yard can be an expensive affair. This leaves many with a better option of splitting firewood on their own. However, many people still don’t know how to split firewood correctly.
Why Split Firewood?
Before proceeding to discuss the correct methods for splitting wood, let’s first understand the necessity of the process. In many cases when wood firewood is first cut, such wood is too large to season well or even fit the intended wood stove or firebox. Splitting wood correctly render even large diameter logs useful and allow them to season quickly.
Seasoning entails leaving the wood to dry for a specified period in the right condition to make the wood fit for burning. The moisture content of freshly cut wood averages 45 percent while that of a well-seasoned firewood has a moisture content of just 20 to 25 percent. Such moisture content will allow the wood to be easier to light, burn cleaner and generates more heat.
Poorly seasoned or unseasoned firewood can clog your chimney creosote and predispose the entire house to fire. Firewood splitting is the most important part of wood seasoning. Learning to split the wood correctly is, therefore, a vital part of getting high-quality firewood.
5 Steps to Follow To Split Firewood Correctly
Contrary to what many people believe, splitting firewood is not merely getting a splitting maul and/or a wedge, placing the log to split on a flat surface, and using power to hit hard. So many things could go wrong. You need to use the right materials and technique to ensure your job is easier, safer and more efficient. You will need a few things to complete this job successfully.
• Splitting maul/ splitting wedges
• Wood to be split
• Power saw/chainsaw (if necessary)
• Chopping block
• Protective gear (gloves, safety glasses, steel-toe work boots)
Step 1: Cut Wood into Length
Most models of the wood stove and smaller fireboxes found in homes are only roomy enough to take a 40 cm to 60 cm (16-inch to 20-inch) logs. Furthermore, shorter logs are much easier to split. The first step in splitting firewood correctly with a maul is to cut large logs into the most efficient length for your purpose in terms of both storing and handling it. You should also make it to a length suitable for your application.
You can use a chainsaw or any other suitable wood cutting tool. Regardless of the tool you use, ensure you cut the ends of each wood flat and square because you will need to stand them on end to perform the splitting. The task of making logs stand on crooked ends is daunting. Crooked ends will also make the art of splitting extremely hard.
Step 2: Install a Chopping Block
Whether you will be using a maul or splitting wedges, you will need a chopping block where you will place the log to split during the process. The best choice of a splitting block is a large trunk of a tree. Such trunk will provide a good surface for placing individual logs on to split them. A chopping block will make it easier to swing your axe and cause less strain on your back as you work.
A chopping block that stands 6-inches off the ground is good enough for any firewood splitting job. Ensure the block is neither too short nor too high. This will keep you safe from dangerous ricochets should you strike a glancing blow. To split firewood correctly, you must never do it on concrete or the ground.
Step 3: Set Up in a Safe Location
Splitting firewood requires enough space to allow for good footing and to ensure the area has no debris or dangerously hanging limbs that might limit your range of movement as you swing the maul. The area should also be far from ground or surface installations. You should also avoid a busy path used by people or pets as wood splinters may become dangerous projectiles that can harm passers-by.
Choose the right time to split. A good advice would be to pick a cold day for the job. Experience tells me that splitting on a cold day is more efficient than doing it on a warm day as long as your logs are well seasoned. In cold weather, pieces of wood (hard or soft) easily pop apart if you use the right technique. This way, your job will be much easier and quicker.
Step 4: Take Precautionary Measures
Besides setting up in a safe location, you must also protect your body from any harm that might come from projecting wood splints. For the D-day, outfit yourself properly for the job. Wear good quality, well fitting gloves to save your hands from splinters and make your work more comfortable. You should also wear safety glasses and solid work boots, preferentially the one with a steel toe.
The worst mistake you can ever do is to split firewood by yourself. You cannot be sure of when an accident may happen. Never ever split firewood without having anybody by your side. Ensure someone is with you to help with First Aid in case of an accident. It would also be good to bring with you a home First Aid Kit.
Step 5: Splitting Firewood
You can split firewood by either of one of two methods: splitting with a maul or splitting with wedges. Each of those two methods is great for splitting well-seasoned wood as long as you use the right technique. We will discuss each of these methods.
METHOD 1: Splitting With a Maul
• Place the First Log Properly On To the Chopping Block
Using a splitting maul to process logs for firewood is easy if you employ the right technique. The first thing to do is to place the first log on to the chopping block. If the log has flat and square ends, you will not have to worry about the stability of the log on the chopping block. You have to ensure that the log is stable and as near to the center of the chopping block as possible.
Swinging a heavy splitting maul at unstable or unsteady log can be extremely dangerous. Consider what a glancing blow could do. It can send the wood flying off like much like a missile or worse still hit your leg with catastrophic outcomes. The key to your success in splitting firewood is to secure the log on to the chopping block.
• Perform Quick Examination of the Log
With the log securely on the block, carry out a quick examination of the log. Take a keen interest in hairline cracks in the wood. It’s because you will have to aim so that the blade of your maul runs in the same direction as the hairline crack. Furthermore, study the right way to split the given log because different woods split somewhat differently. On the same note, look for large knots or places where limbs were removed and avoid them. Knots are extremely difficult to split through. You could spend an entire day trying to hack away at knots.
• Aim to Provide a Visual Cue
The next thing to do is the aim. Pick your desired location for splitting the wood, stand with your splitting maul resting right on that location and take a good stance. A good practice would be to tap a tiny dent on to the surface of the log to act as a visual cue to guide the maul especially if the grain is not clear from your standpoint.
• Swing the Maul
To split firewood, bring the maul up and down. Actually, you do not need to swing the maul to split firewood. Just hold the maul firmly with your non-dominant hand at the end of the handle and then cradle the maul with your dominant hand right below the head. After this, flex your knees a little bit and then lift your maul straight up just above your head while extending your arm straight.
Slide your dominant hand down to bring both of your hands as close as possible while gripping the end of the maul’s handle. Follow this by bringing your hands down and then flick your wrist and allow gravity to do the job for you. Thus splitting wood with a maul is more of technique than strength. If you use the right technique, you will be able to split even the thickest log with surprising ease.
• Deal with Stuck Maul
Sometimes, the log may fail to split with the first hit. Do not panic even if the maul gets stuck in the wood. All you need to do is to pull and twist the maul to remove if the maul won’t come out. An alternative would be to treat your planted maul as a splitting wedge by hitting the metal end of the maul with a sledge. Minimize the effort you use by not wasting precious time removing a planted maul.
• Repeat Swings Until All the Wood Is Split
Once the splitting maul is free, repeat the swing. Aiming and taking a strike at exactly the same point as the first strike or along the length or any hairline crack which appeared when you hit it. Repeat this for all the successive logs and you will finish your work faster than you know it.
• Split Progressively and Stack
It is not easy to split wood completely with a single strike. Therefore, you will need to split the log progressively into smaller bits that are suitable for your application. A good practice is to first split the log into half and then split each half into other halves until you achieve the desired size. Your target size should be 15cm to 20cm (6 inches to 8 inches) in the largest cross-section of the log.
You will need to stack the split wood to allow air to circulate around it to season properly before you can burn it on a wood stove or firebox. You will also need to cover it to prevent rain from wetting it causing the wood to rot rendering it useless for any purpose. Despite the cover, ensure adequate air circulation to promote proper seasoning.
METHOD 2: Splitting With Wedges
• Arm yourself with several wedges
Splitting with wedges is best for very knotty logs, very large diameter logs or hardwoods. It is possible to drive a wedge deep into the wood without necessarily splitting it. Therefore, you will do well by having backup wedges to help you save your first wedge and enable you to complete the job with ease. Within your collection of wedges, choose a good one and sharpen it. It will be your starter wedge. You also need blunter but wider wedge that will allow you to continue splitting once you get started.
• Drive the Starter Wedge into the Grain
Using a short handled sledge, tap the starter wedge into the wood grain much like you would a nail. The choice of sledge depends much on the size of the log you intend to split and your own preferences. Tap the wedge gently until it gets deep enough to stand on its own.
• Hammer Using a Suitable Sledge
Hit the steady wedge with a sledge using straight and solid blows. Hammer the wedge in until the wood split or as far as it can go. If the log has not split yet, drive another wedge right along the same crack but nearer to the edge of the log so that it makes the longer split. The technique will also free the other wedges and split the log faster. If some wood splints still remain connected, you can use an axe to free them before stacking the splints for seasoning and storage before they can be used.
Now you can split wood like a pro. There is no need to pay a lot of money to buy firewood from the stores or pay a professional to do the job. This information on how to split firewood correctly will go a long way in enabling you to complete the task faster, safer and more efficiently using minimal effort. A splitting maul is better for the job. However, you will do well with wedges if you have large-diameter, knotty or hardwoods to deal with.