Here’s the deal. Splitting wood, for the most part, is pretty straight forward. Get an axe. Hit wood. Make fire. And while it is almost that simple, there are a few things you can do to make it easier by saving yourself some time – and your back.
Luckily for us, we had a cedar tree fall over in a storm. And since we’re not talented carpenters and don’t know how to make awesome things out of cedar, we figured we would splurge and make some fancy firewood. The key is to use what is already on the ground. And if you don’t have any tree fall on the ground, then only take down a tree that is dead. The wise sage Bob Villa gives you some ideas on the best types of trees to use in your fireplace and Instructables shows you how to take down a dead tree if you need to.
Once you have found your wood, use your chainsaw to cut it into sections. Remember, it has to fit into your fireplace lengthwise, so don’t leave them too big. We prefer it in the 18″-24″ length.
Firewood needs to be seasoned. All that means is that it needs to be really, really dry (which is why you don’t want to cut down a live tree). To dry it you don’t have to do anything special besides leave it covered somewhere outside. You can use a shed or porch to cover it or you can try to get it off the ground a little and simply throw a tarp over it.
It can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to fully season wood. The longer the better as your goal is to let it stand long enough to let the moisture evaporate. That takes time. You can leave your sections to season or you can split it into pieces and let that season. Drier wood is easier to split though.
Make sure you have your tools on-hand. We recommend some gloves, a chainsaw, a hatchet, and an axe. There is no need to go overboard with your tools. You can obviously buy top of the line that will definitely give you improved performance, but to get started, don’t be shy about using something budget friendly. If you just opt for the entry level models, you’ll break even after the first couple of cords and can save for an upgrade in the future. For our chainsaw we use a small 14″ Poulan and for our axe we use a 28″ Fiskars Splitting Axe – both of which can be purchased at your local hardware store. Our hatchet is an old antique Estwing that we’ve used around our campsites for years.
Grab yourself the biggest cross section you have and use that for your stand and base. You can get a little more power by going without it, but your axe blade will end up chipped from the dirt and the rocks more often than not.
At this point we tend to view ourselves as lumberjacks and start to make mistakes by going all brawn while ignoring our brains. The wood, especially if it has been laying on the ground for a while, will have already started to dry out and season by this point. That moisture evaporation is going to cause the wood to crack a bit as it starts to tighten up. And if you look at the ends of your sections, you will notice that there are some natural cracks already occurring in your wood. You can use a pen to mark these cracks or just keep your eye on them but if you try to split the wood along these cracks, you will need less energy to get the job done.
The goal is to be precise and not to overswing. If you’re not careful you will try to overpower the wood and will end up being wildly erratic and wasting precious energy. Take your time. Swing strong, but swing steadily and in control, guiding your axe to where you want it to land.
Once you do this you’re done. You just need to stack it, pour a drink, and build yourself a fire. Relax and enjoy it. You earned it.