How to Split Firewood

by CountrySunshine

Simple steps to splitting firewood safely with wedges, sledge hammers and mauls.

I have a small wood stove that heats my house during the winter. It is the only source of heat for my house, so I have a lot of experience splitting fire wood! Splitting wood is actually easy, once you get the hang of it. It is also very satisfying, and a great stress reliever.

There are safe ways and not-so-safe ways to split fire wood correctly. If you wear the correct clothing and have the right tools, then the wood splitting experience can actually be enjoyable.

Protective Clothing

It is important to wear proper clothing before starting to split your wood. The last thing you want is to end up with a splinter in your eye, blisters on your hands, or cuts on your body! Careful preparation begins before you begin to split your wood, which in turn, creates a more enjoyable experience!

  1. The proper clothing is extremely important when you are splitting fire wood. Make certain that you wear a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, and closed-toed shoes or boots. These will protect you from any splinters that fly your way.

  2. Leather gloves are needed to protect your hands from blisters. In addition, they will protect you from any venomous insects or spiders that may be lurking in the firewood!

  3. Safety glasses will protect your eyes from flying debris. Make certain your glasses are tight enough to stay on your face, and that you can clearly see through them. If your vision is obstructed, the glasses are useless!

Choose Your Wood Splitting Tools

Splitting Mauls and Axes

A splitting maul is the best tool for splitting wood, as it has a wider head than an axe. A maul does not have a sharp edge, because you are not actually cutting the wood, or even chopping it. A maul uses gravity to split the wood.

Axes are sharper than a splitting maul, and have a narrower head. Axes are normally used for chopping down trees, rather than splitting wood. If an axe is all you have, just make certain that it has a heavy head and a wooden handle. Fiberglass handles are too light, and can also develop cracks. The last thing you want is a handle that sheds splinters!

 

Splitting maul
Splitting maul
Luigi Chiesa | Creative Commons

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When purchasing an axe or maul, buy an extra handle at the same time.

It will save a trip to the hardware store if and when you break a handle.

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The best handle for a maul or axe is hickory wood. It is a light-weight wood, which dampens the shock of impact. Hickory wood is very strong if you use it properly. If you don't have access to hickory wood handles, then any strong wood can be substituted.

Sledge Hammers and Wedges

If you don't have a splitting maul or axe, then the next best tools for splitting firewood are sledge hammers and wedges. Like the maul or axe, make certain the sledgehammer has a wooden handle. A sledge hammer is all about weight, but make certain you'll be able to lift it repeatedly. If it's too heavy for you, you'll get tired long before all of your wood is split! A good weight for a sledgehammer is between 8 and 12 pounds.

There are several styles of wedges. Make certain that yours is made of a heavy metal, so it won't bend or splinter. The best ones are made of steel or iron, and are specifically for splitting wood. It's best to have at least one with a flat edge, and another with four edges, or a "star" pattern.

The Best Wood To Split

The best wood to burn is hard, seasoned wood. Oak is the best, but any hard wood will do. If you don't have seasoned wood, then cut and split it while it is green, and stack it to burn later. The best pieces to split are those that are straight; have an even, flat bottom; and do not have nails or knots in them.

Check your wood for beetles and ants. There is nothing worse than hitting a piece of wood with your maul or hammer, and having bugs swarm out! Plus, if you don't burn all the infested wood before the bugs emerge, they may end up in your yard or house. It's best not to bring infested wood onto your property!

Before splitting your wood, make certain it is cut to the length that fits your stove. Most wood stoves can handle a 16-20 inch log. I have one of the smaller stoves, so my logs can be no longer than 14 inches. The shorter the log, the more easily it will split.

Your goal in splitting firewood is to end up with a wedge-shaped piece of wood that has at least two sides of bare wood. The less bark remaining on your log the better, as bark is fire resistant. This usually means that you will split each log into four pieces.

Location

Choose a safe location in which to split your fire wood. You need a place that is free from overhanging limbs and debris, and where you will have secure footing. Hold your maul or axe at arm's length, then turn 360 degrees to measure a circle around you. Make certain that nothing comes within this imaginary circle while you are swinging your tool.

Chopping Block

You will need a block on which to place the log to be split. It should be about knee high, with a flat surface. I use a large piece of tree trunk for my chopping block. If you can't find anything to use, then find a part of your yard where the ground is hard. Do not split on concrete, as flying chips of concrete can be harmful!

Put your first log on top of the chopping block, and check once again for obstructions or people. It is time to split your first piece of wood.

Steps To Splitting Fire Wood - Using A Maul Or Axe

Now that you have donned your protective clothing, gathered your tools & wood, and made certain you have a safe location, it's time to split the firewood.

  1. Look for cracks in the wood. When you swing your maul or axe, aim for the cracks.

  2. Start with your maul resting on the crack, and your feet about a foot or two apart. Grip your maul or axe with both hands. Your strongest hand should be on top, and closer to the head of the tool.

  3. Bring your maul or axe over your head, then swing it straight forward. Keep your arms straight when you swing. As your tool comes down into the wood, let your strongest hand slide down to the end of the handle.

  4. If you are using an axe, it may get stuck in the log. Simply pull and twist your axe to remove it. If this does not work, turn the axe over, and hit the head of it on the chopping block.

  5. Repeat your swing into the wood, aiming for the same place you previously connected. If the crack widened on your last swing, you can hit anywhere along the length of the crack.

  6. Continue to strike the wood until it splits. Depending on how well the log split, you can continue to split these into smaller pieces, or move on to another log.

See How Easy Wood Is To Split?

A great video showing just how easy it is to split wood when you have the correct tools!

Splitting Fire Wood With A Sledge Hammer & Wedge

Using a sledge hammer and splitting wedge requires a bit more strength than using a splitting maul. Use the heaviest sledge hammer you can handle comfortably, and the job will go much quicker.

  1. Set your first piece of wood on the chopping block. Look for cracks in your piece of wood

  2. Insert your three or four-sided wedge into a crack. Tap it lightly with your sledge hammer so it is secure.

  3. Grasp your hammer in both hands, raise it to about shoulder height, then bring it down onto the wedge.

  4. The crack should widen with your first blow. Repeat the previous step, knocking the wedge into the wood. Continue until the wood splits all of the way.

  5. If your wedge becomes stuck inside the wood, use a flat wedge to open the crack wider.

Stacking Your Split Wood

Your fire wood needs to be seasoned before you burn it. Green wood contains sap and water, which can cause creosote to build up in your fireplace. Stack your wood and let it dry out for a minimum of 6 months. The longer you can let it season, the better it will burn.

Stacked wood
Stacked wood
Public Domain

First, find a location away from your house where you can stack the wood. It is best to keep it off of the ground, as it will rot quicker if it touches the earth. In addition, bugs and snakes will find it easier to infest the wood if it is on the ground. Pallets, old lumber, cement blocks, or metal fence posts can be put under your wood to raise it off the ground.

Stack your split firewood where air can circulate through it. The best way is to make a long row. Keep the ends straight so your stacks will be stable. You may also want to criss-cross some of your pieces. Not only does this allow more air to circulate, but it also adds strength. At each end, put a stake or fence posts to keep the firewood from rolling off. Keep your stacks at 4 feet tall or less. Stacks higher than this are more likely to become unstable and fall.

After you get all your firewood neatly stacked, cover the top with a tarp or plastic sheeting. Do not cover the sides, as you want the air to circulate through the stacks.

Fire Wood Stacking 101

This short video shows a number of ways to stack wood. While it provides great information, this wood is stacked directly on the ground. I urge you to put something underneath your stacks, in order to cut down on mold & pest infestation.

I hope this article shows you how easy it is to split your own firewood. You'll find that splitting wood is great exercise, and a quite satisfying experience.

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Copyright 2012-2017 L.C. Clifton / Country Sunshine.
Originally published February 28, 2012 on Squidoo.com

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Updated: 07/16/2017, CountrySunshine
 
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Do You Have Any Wood Splitting Tips?


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dustytoes on 07/17/2017

I'm an expert at stacking it, but never had the strength to split it my self.

blackspanielgallery on 07/16/2017

Very detailed.

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