One of the key elements of a successful fire is good quality firewood, but you can’t simply light a whole log on fire, and you can’t even really throw a whole log on an existing fire either.
To make a fire efficient, manageable, and safe you need to split firewood up into smaller, easier to handle, and easier to burn fragments.
To do this you’ll need to split your firewood, and although this sounds simple, it’s actually fairly difficult and physically taxing, and doing it wrong can be both dangerous and wasteful.
In this guide, we’re going to look at the proper technique for splitting firewood to give you plenty of options that are safe and efficient so that you can spend more time cozying up and less time chopping wood.
Before you start splitting wood, you need to make sure you have the right tools for the job, as trying to split wood without these is incredibly difficult, tiresome, and awkward.
The best and simplest tool for splitting wood is a splitting maul, which is a sort of thicker, specially shaped ax designed to split wood of varying hardness and being very durable.
That being said, other axes will do the job just fine most of the time. Additionally, you could use splitting wedges and a sledgehammer, but this is a more awkward option that isn’t as easy or common as using an ax.
Splitting wedges are typically only used for splitting large logs into smaller pieces for further splitting to make firewood.
While axes are primarily used and designed for chopping wood as opposed to splitting it, they can be used for this if you have no alternative, and hand axes are usually best for this due to their easier handling and more precise use.
Prepare Your Wood
Another important part of preparation is making sure that your wood is cut to a suitable length for splitting.
Most stoves and fireplaces can only take relatively small pieces of firewood, so cutting your wood into suitable lengths makes splitting the wood into usable firewood easier as it’s already the correct length for your stove or fireplace as soon as it’s split!
Ideally, you should use the size of your stove or fireplace opening to gauge the kind of length you want your wood to be, but generally, 16 to 20-inch lengths are quite common.
This also has the bonus of making your wood much easier to move around and stack once it’s split, as it will be of roughly uniform length, even if the thickness varies.
Ideally, you need to use a chopping block or some similar surface to split wood on for safety.
A stout and flat section of tree trunk is best for this, but you can improvise to some extent as long as the surface is flat, stable, and isn’t going to get damaged by a maul or ax potentially hitting it.
It’s also important to make sure you have plenty of space around you and aren’t near anything you could break or damage either with your ax, your logs, or any splinters that may fly off while you’re splitting.
Always wear eye protection as a minimum when working with wood. It’s also smart to use steel toe boots, and sturdy gloves to protect your hands from blistering and splinters.
How To Split Wood With A Maul
1. Set Up Your Log
Place your prepared length of log on your chopping block and orient it so that it’s standing upright.
Ensure that it’s stable, as a glancing blow could send the maul or ax into an unpredictable direction, and splitting your own leg instead of the log can be a potentially lethal accident that’s definitely best avoided.
2. Check The Wood
With your wood in place, look for cracks or splits that may already be visible in the log, as these can make splitting the wood much easier and give you something to aim for.
Different types of wood split differently and won’t always have cracks that appear the same.
For example, Oak will split quite nicely down the middle, but maple is more likely to split on the edge, so do your homework on the wood you have available.
Also, make sure to avoid knots that could make the splitting more difficult.
3. Take Aim
Once you’ve chosen the spot you want to hit, rest your ax or maul on the wood blade down and set your feet shoulder-width apart, square to the chopping block.
4. Raise And Strike With The Maul
Splitting wood doesn’t require a chop in the same way as cutting down trees.
You don’t need to make a huge swing from behind your head, and doing this is dangerous and more likely to damage you or the ax than the wood you’re trying to split.
Hold the maul firmly and raise it up to a decent height, bend your knees and extend your arms, then pull the maul down, allowing gravity to do most of the work and focusing on hitting the log in the right place.
If the log fails to split, remove the blade and try again. If the blade is stuck you can lift the maul with the wood still attached and hammer it into the shopping block to force the maul through the wood like a wedge which should split the wood nicely.
If you take another swing, try to hit the same place again to avoid ruining the firewood.
5. Split and Store
You can split each piece of wood a few times and it gets easier as the wood becomes less dense, so use less power and focus more on care and accuracy.
Once you’ve split the wood, you can stack it somewhere dry or bag it up for long-term storage.