Nobody wants to be a one-hit wonder, you say? Think again. If you’re splitting your firewood, that’s exactly what you want to be. One hit, and two bits of wood, just the right size for your heater, will be lying next to your chopping block. Bingo! However, woodchopping’s not for the fainthearted and you won’t be an instant expert, not even if you spend a whole hour studying this excellent guide. Heck, I’m not an expert, and I’ve been splitting firewood for nearly twenty years! You’ll need plenty of practice and lots of determination. Let’s start!
Firstly, you must have the right equipment. Forget about axes, unless you want to turn tree-stumps into garden ornaments, chop down small trees or turn sticks into kindling. What you need is a block-splitter – it’s the perfect tool to turn big lumps of trees, already the right length, into something that’ll keep your fire going. A block-splitter (log-splitter, maul) is wider and much heavier than an axe. It’s designed to do exactly what it says (no surprises here). Whack it into a chunk of wood the right way and it will tear it apart into two handy-sized pieces.
Now, when you go shopping for your block-splitter, you may be tempted to get the lighter, smaller version. Don’t. Not even if you’re a smallish size yourself. It won’t be easier to use, as you might think. It just won’t work as well. You see, it’s not a matter of brute strength. I’ve seen proverbial little old ladies split great hunks of firewood easier than a lump of butter, because they have the technique and the splitter has the necessary weight to give the momentum needed. Get the bigger one and the very best you can afford. Who wants the head falling off mid-swing? Nobody. Look after it well and it should last for many years. You won’t regret the investment.
“What else do I need?” I hear you ask. Well, gloves are very handy. They need to have good grip (you don’t want to be impersonating Thor, the neighbours won’t appreciate it). Gloves will protect your hands from splinters, spiders, centipedes, scorpions and blisters. Footwear – if you fancy yourself as a tough guy/girl, wear sandals by all means, just don’t come running to me when your toes get squashed flat by stray bits of wood. Solid boots are best. If you have steel-capped ones, you may as well wear them, especially if you’re a beginner. Ditto shorts/skirts versus long pants. Safety glasses, or at least sunglasses, are also a good idea. Yes, pirates are cool, but it’s nice to be able to take that eye patch off again, instead of having to wear it permanently.
You also need a base for your bits of wood. A good chopping block, about knee-high, is ideal. If you’re like me, you will end up with some old, junky piece of timber instead. Whatever it is, make sure it has a flat base and top and that it is sitting nice and level on the ground, without any wobbling. You don’t want bits of wood flying off in random directions. Don’t put your block on concrete or paving, if you can help it. You’ll be sorry if you miss – the jar up your arms will likely turn your brains into dust (and your joints, if you’re my kind of age or older). Grass or dirt is best.
Well, now you’re ready to start! Finally! Grip your splitter firmly. I’m right-handed and I find that having my left hand at the end of the handle and my right hand at about the midpoint works best. Before you go any further, I have to warn you that kids and pets (and even partners) have a habit of creeping up on you when you’re doing something new and exciting. Not what you want when you’re swinging a massive lump of steel around and there’s a good chance of pieces of wood flying off everywhere. Make sure anything or anyone you don’t want damaged is well clear.
Stand about a step away from the block, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Get the feel of your splitter and get used to the weight of it. Select a piece of wood to split (here’s one I prepared earlier…). Note the crack. As in life, it’s easiest to not insist on going against the grain. Find a weakness and make that your target, it will make your job so much easier! Now comes the moment of truth. Lift the splitter up, so your right hand is just above your shoulder and your left a little lower in front of you (you will find the right balance with experience). DO NOT swing the splitter behind you with great gusto. You’ll quite likely end up flat on your back, with your legs in the air, and this isn’t that kind of occasion. When you have the splitter up, eye that crack in the wood and swing your splitter down towards it in one easy motion, using mostly gravity and momentum to do the work for you. Aim right into the log, in fact, your aim should be the chopping block your log is sitting on. Don’t hold back or hesitate, just go for it. Bring that splitter down hard and watch the log split into two even halves with a satisfying THWACK. It’s wonderfully therapeutic! All your worries and stresses disappear like magic!
Unless, of course, you spend half an hour thwacking the block, the grass, the edge of the log and generally anything but the right spot. It’s going to happen when you’re a beginner. Heck, it sometimes takes me a few goes and a number of German expletives to get the job done, so don’t despair. Check your log first. If it’s some horrible gnarly thing, you may well whack in vain. Use it as a garden ornament if it really won’t fit into the fire. Some things just weren’t meant to be split. In fact, all unduly gnarly problems are best kept at a safe distance or used as garden seats or kitty scratching posts and out of everyday life. No use wasting your time. Eventually, you will succeed and end up with this:
There’s nothing like enjoying a relaxing evening in front of the fire, with the satisfaction of a job well done. Now some might say ‘what’s that lazy cat done to deserve that nice warm spot?’ Well, I don’t quite see it that way. We can’t all be champion log-splitters. It doesn’t matter. What could be better than sharing the fruits of my labour with two or four-legged friends? No point sitting there all by myself! Everyone has their own contribution to the evening’s cheer, whether it’s a bit of purring, some scintillating conversation, chocolate or just quiet company. Come and join us, you’re always welcome!