How to Split Wood Like a Lumberjack

how to split wood

Splitting wood is among the manliest activities one can engage in. There’s nothing quite like hacking away at fallen trees to exude some muscle and testosterone. And you even get an added bonus because you can then burn those trees instead of buying firewood to warm the house during the brisk winter weather.

Splitting wood is not as easy as it may seem. Like all things, splitting wood requires the right technique, plenty of practice, and an efficient work space. Learning how to split wood quickly and safely will help you build roaring fires for years to come. Follow these tips to harness your own inner lumberjack.

Pick Your Tools

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As a warrior of the woods, your first task is to select the appropriate tool. Axes have thin, sharp heads, making them ideal for chopping across the grain of living trees; however, axes are not as good for splitting logs along the grain. A splitting axe like the STIHL Woodcutter Splitting Maul can handle many of your standard splitting tasks. For larger logs, the STIHL Pro Splitting Axe and STIHL Pro Splitting Maul can provide the extra oomph needed to cut through funky pieces of wood. Plus, the Pro Axe and Maul feature protective steel sleeves on the handles to help prevent breakage.

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Safety and Prep Work

Before splitting logs into firewood, make sure you’re in a large, open area outdoors. This should be far away from people, cars, or anything else that may be damaged in the event of an accident.

You need to have plenty of room when wielding an axe–and you can never be too safe. Safety may not seem very manly, but real men make sure they know what they’re doing and protect themselves in the process. Make sure you have safety glasses and a pair of heavy boots at your disposal, as well as a pair of work gloves to protect against flying debris and blisters.

Next, set up your chopping block (or use the stump of the tree you’re cutting) on flat ground to allow for good footing and a level cutting surface. The block should be fairly low to the ground and shouldn’t come up any higher than your knee. Once your station is complete, it’s go-time.

Splitting the Wood

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A dry, freezing morning or afternoon is best for splitting most wood types, though splitting green wood is more difficult than splitting seasoned wood. This is something to keep in mind if you want your wood to season more quickly.

Then, place your non-dominant hand near the bottom of the handle and your dominant hand near the head of your maul. Your legs and shoulders should be parallel while in an athletic stance (knees bent for strong control). As you bring the maul down, slide your upper hand down to add more velocity. To increase control of your axe, make sure you leave a little space in between your hands when you make contact with the log.

Aim the axe for the center of the log and split the wood along the grain. When going against larger chunks of wood, you may find that the wood does not split completely on the initial blow and the axe stops midway through the wood. If this happens, turn the log over and slam the reverse side of your tool (the bit, sledgehammer looking side) onto the unsliced side of the log and the weight of the bit will often finish the split.

Also, remember the words of your little league coach? Keep your eye on the ball! Or, in this case, wood. The last thing you want is to have that axe swing past the log and towards your extremities.

Maximize Efficiency

There are a few other tricks you might try to make your log-splitting go a lot quicker. For example, you could place an old tire on your splitting block, set the wood round inside the tire or wrap a bungee cord around the base of the log; then get to swinging as you normally would. This will keep your wood in one place while you’re splitting it so you don’t have to worry about setting pieces upright before every hack.

 Additional Splitting Tips 

1. If your wood pile came from a freshly fallen tree, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind before the splitting ensues. First, firewood should generally be cut at least six months ahead of use. Ideal firewood cutting season is in the late winter and early spring months to give sufficient drying time.

2. You don’t need to bring the fury of Thor down on your wood. You’ll get fatigued or injured that way. Instead, save your back and let gravity do most of the work.

3. If you’re having trouble, consider using the sledgehammer side of your mauler to drive a wedge into the log first. This will soften up the point of impact and allow for an easier split.

4. DO NOT swing the splitter with one hand while holding the log with the other hand. This is a recipe for hand and/or finger stew and nobody wants to have that.

5. Save the scattered wood debris for kindling.

Well, there you have it folks. With a little practice, persistence, and the fortitude of a lumberjack, you can tear wood asunder like your ancestors. Time to get to chopping.

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Article originally published December 17, 2015. Updated November 10, 2016 by Bryan Holt.