The wood burning stove is up and running again, which means the Sunday morning peace is often shattered by the sounds of chopping wood. Although my fire wood is delivered as seasoned logs, the stove is small so most of them need to have their size reduced before being incinerated. Chopping wood is one of the more pleasurable outdoor winter chores – a bit of effort is required but it gets the blood circulating and produces a warm glow of satisfaction before any matches have been lit.
Providing you adopt a safety first policy it’s a fairly straightforward task, although there are a few simple rules worth following to make it as trouble free as possible. Here they are…
Choose your axe
There are many types of axe available for a variety of chopping tasks – from initial tree felling to precision carving. For domestic log splitting duties your best bet is a long-handled, log splitting axe.
We’ve got a competition to win such an item from Wilkinson Sword so, for this feature, I’ve been putting their splitting axe through its paces. The 90cm long handle is built of fiberglass and has a soft grip, which makes it easy to hold and prevents it slipping from your grasp, while also being suitably durable. The head is made of drop forged carbon steel, giving it a bit of muscle behind the sharp blade, designed to power through whatever type of wood that is destined for your log store.
Short handled chopping axes are also worth considering if your main chopping duties involve breaking off narrow pieces for kindling, but you’ll have to put much more effort in than you would with a longer handle if you need a full swing at a larger piece of wood.
If you’ve got especially wide pieces of wood, such as a slice of mature tree trunk, you might also want to invest in a grenade splitter or wedge. This is a pointed device that is placed in the centre of the log before being whacked with a mallet or the reverse of an axe (providing its suitable for the task) causing the wood to split along its weakest grain lines.
Position your log
The surface you place your log on is of vital importance: it needs to be sturdy and level, while also being able to take the follow through of an axe without breaking. But unflexible surfaces, like concrete, are a no-go – they’re likely to send a bone-dislodging jolt through your arm and knacker your blade. By far the best solution is a large piece of tree.
Ideally your tree piece, or equivalent chopping block, should rise so your logs reach around waist height, enabling you to swing comfortably while standing. I manage to chop onto a flatter disc of tree with more of a crouch, but my back doesn’t appreciate the technique.
Swing your blade
Give your knees a little flex then grip the handle with one hand towards the axe head and the other hand at the end of the handle. Some guides, and Rich, suggest the strongest hand should be near the head; other guides, and Nick, think it should be the weaker hand. However, as Nick is right handed but bats at cricket left handed, Rich is probably right. Adopt whatever arrangement feels most comfortable – which is probably the way you would bat at cricket.
Lift the axe above your head with straightish arms and ready yourself… then slide the hand near the axe head towards the other hand at the base of the handle while allowing gravity to send the axe towards the log. At the point of impact both hands should be together at the end of the handle. If your aim is true and the log is ready to succumb it’ll satisfyingly split in half. If not, give the axe a wiggle to remove it from the log and try again.
For those tougher and wider pieces, welcome the grenade, or wedge, to the swing session. Position it in the centre of the wood, tap to secure, then bash it with the back of the axe or mallet as if hammering a large nail into a massive fence. Eventually the wood will spring apart along the grain.
It goes without saying that axes are deadly beasts. Never swing wildly like a crazed axe murderer as you’re likely to miss the target or wobble mid air and give your leg a nasty shock. And you’ll also be out of breath before you’ve got an evening’s worth of wood to burn. Make sure you’re swinging in a clear area with pets and other family members well out of the way. Safety goggles are also advised and, if you must wear gloves, make sure they have a decent grip – those knitted mittens your gran sent for Christmas will cause the axe to make an airborn visit to the neighbours garden.
Visit the Wilkinson Sword website for more information on their range of axes