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Tips and tricks for splitting firewood

 
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Brody's thread here: https://permies.com/t/205616/Splitting-Elm made me think that it would be handy to have a thread chocked full of advice and tips for splitting firewood. Splitting firewood is often considered one of the most physically demanding aspects of life around a homestead, but it can be strangely satisfying and therapeutic. Seeing the direct results of a well-placed blow from a well-designed tool, seeing large pieces of wood sent flying, and looking at a finished pile of all-natural winter heat can make one feel a little bit like a superhero.

Like many things, the devil is in the details. Little tips and tricks here and there can make all the difference in a satisfying day of work, or an exercise in frustration, or even worse, an injury. What are some tips you are willing to share to help make fellow permies the best wood splitters on the block?
 
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A truck tire bolted to a chopping block.
Fiskars 36" X-27 splitting axe

EDIT)   Hire a teenager...
 
master pollinator
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I have a lot of standing deadwood spruce, and no time for splitting except for kindling.

My notion: when bucking, for every 24" of wood, put in a one or two 50% cuts -- halfway through the log. Then toss it in the stove and let the fire do the work. I think all it needs is extra surface area.

But maybe I'm just crazy. Or lazy? Either is possible ...
 
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Here is my tip.......

Buy from Saw mill operators! The stuff is so easy to process your self. None of it will be large. Most things can be chopped with a one handed axe. Some operators will be happy that you took the "work" off their hands.

I end up selling about 10 cords of mill ends each year. Its great stuff. It often comes with small pieces and the bottom slab which can be chopped up. Its often seasoned. Maybe some of it is green wood. We do not cut up green wood however...

 
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I found that using splitting wedges help a lot. Stand the log up on a flat rock (or stump for thinner diameter logs) & whack it with an axe. Remove the axe & insert a wedge into the crack. Then whack the wedge with a sledge hammer. Use a 2nd wedge from the side if the axe &/or the first wedge is stuck.

Even easier ... so much easier ... is a hydraulic log splitter. Not exactly permie but it can split a lot of large wood extremely fast.
 
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thomas rubino wrote:A truck tire bolted to a chopping block.
Fiskars 36" X-27 splitting axe


^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ THIS ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

One subtlety, if you raise the tire off the chopping block a few inches it's much better (see pic).  The firewood doesn't tip over as much and the chips/chunks can be swept out easier.  I really love my tire splitting block.  It cuts my time by more than half and I have to bend over multitudes fewer times.

Other tricks:
- Set up your stump to be slightly not level.  That way the non-square firewood will stand up decently if you orient it one way or another.  The tire really helps keep the pieces standing up.
- I've heard if you orient the chunk of wood upside down to how it grew on the tree, it will split easier.  Not positive but I think it works.
- Focus on where you want to hit it exactly.  Don't just hope to hit the middle.  After a cord or two you should be able to hit a pencil width target pretty reliably.
- Big Y's are easier to split than you think.  First put it Y upright (ignoring my second bullet above) and split off half of each of the branches.  Then flip it over and hit the trunk dead center and 90 degrees from your previous splits.  You'll end up with 4 pieces that aren't too wonky to stack
Stumpy.jpg
Stumpy
Stumpy
 
Mike Haasl
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If you're splitting birch, zipper it with your chainsaw while you're still in the woods.  That is, cut lengthwise down the log just cutting through the bark.  It will make it much easier to split later.
 
jordan barton
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My other suggestion is to not lift the round of wood onto the chopping block at all...
You can stack all of the rounds upright in a circle than put a rope/ratchet strap around the whole circumference and wack away without needing to lift the round up onto a chopping block.
The other tip is to put a inner tube around the round and smack the wood. The wood will stay upright instead of falling over. This means no lifting the round either.

Sometimes I carry a 1/4 piece of firewood around  to each round and place it at the bottom of the round facing me. SO when you smack thru the round the axe hits the piece of firewood instead of the ground/rocks.


If a piece is difficult I will place it long ways in front of me and wack thru it long wise instead of thru the round portion. works well


Also with big knotty pieces. You can take your chain saw and cut just through the knot. It splits easily afterwards.
 
Jordan Holland
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One day I was splitting quite a bit and several of them were rather large and tough. I was needing a water break, so I sank the maul into a round one last time quite solidly. Several minutes later I got back to it and grabbed the maul handle to give it a good yank to free it. To my surprise, it fell gently from the wood. While I was taking a break, that maul wedged into the wood was exerting who knows how much force on it. Time was all it needed for the fibers to separate better. I have tried this technique many times, and while it does not always work, it is a handy thing to try on some of the tougher stuff. I have also noticed on a smaller scale that even just pausing a few seconds after each hit can sometimes make a difference.

Another one from personal experience: oiling or greasing the head makes it go through the wood easier. Sometimes it can give you that extra edge you need on some of the tougher stuff.
 
Jordan Holland
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After the first time throwing about a thousand pieces of wood into a trailer one at a time, I learned that for making rocket mass heater fuel it is far better to cut a tree into manageable sized pieces before loading, and then splitting/cutting it to size after getting it home.
 
pollinator
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I've done it by hand. For the past 12 months I have also done it with a hydraulic splitter.

There is no way I would go back to doing it by hand. The amount we can process in the same time is massive, and there is much less wear and tear on the body. SO my tip is, where ever possible, ditch the axe and use power.
 
steward
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Split wood on the coldest days.  In MN I found at 40 below the wood would virtually explode when struck.

I always swore I would never buy a wood splitter.  Well sometime after I hit 70 I found one significantly marked down and I had money in my pocket.  I hauled it home where it sat in the box for many months.  I finally put it together.  My views are similar to Michael Cox’s.   In less than a hour I split up more wood in an hour that I could have in a day by hand….maybe 2 days.
 
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All praise to the mighty hydraulic splitter! My wife bought one for me as a present on that special birthday known as "drop the hair shirt and admit that you're getting too old for this." You still get a good workout from endlessly lifting rounds onto the cradle, without having to wonder if your shoulder joints will be functional tomorrow. The scary gnarly rounds where big branches enter the trunk no longer go onto a "we'll deal with you someday" pile.

A freebie bonus is that the broad wedge tends to produce lots of loose chips and shreds, perfect for kindling. My kindling cracker now sits unused in a corner of the woodshed.
 
Dc Stewart
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Dress appropriately!

lumberjack.jpg
[Thumbnail for lumberjack.jpg]
 
pollinator
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John F Dean wrote:Split wood on the coldest days.  In MN I found at 40 below the wood would virtually explode when struck.

I always swore I would never buy a wood splitter.  Well sometime after I hit 70 I found one significantly marked down and I had money in my pocket.  I hauled it home where it sat in the box for many months.  I finally put it together.  My views are similar to Michael Cox’s.   In less than a hour I split up more wood in an hour that I could have in a day by hand….maybe 2 days.



Even green cottonwood splits like pine at 40 below.  None of this sinking all 5 wedges in the log and then having to burn the log to get the wedges back like can happen with green cottonwood that isn't cold enough.  The winter of 78-79 when we had run out of cured wood and were burning freshly cut green cottonwood was when I learned this lesson.

I will also second having the splitter.  Very much worth while.  Especially with tough to split woods like cottonwood.


Then I will add one other thing.  Look at the existing cracks in the log.  Depending on the wood and the cracks either wedge into the crack or work roughly 90 degrees to the crack as now you only half to split half the log in the first go.
 
Michael Cox
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Dc Stewart wrote:You still get a good workout from endlessly lifting rounds onto the cradle, without having to wonder if your shoulder joints will be functional tomorrow. The scary gnarly rounds where big branches enter the trunk no longer go onto a "we'll deal with you someday" pile.



Yep, I can run the splitter all day, and still be functional afterwards. And like you, our "unsplitable" pile no longer exists, which makes me very happy.
 
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Mike Haasl wrote:

thomas rubino wrote:A truck tire bolted to a chopping block.
Fiskars 36" X-27 splitting axe


^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ THIS ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

One subtlety, if you raise the tire off the chopping block a few inches it's much better (see pic).  The firewood doesn't tip over as much and the chips/chunks can be swept out easier.  I really love my tire splitting block.  It cuts my time by more than half and I have to bend over multitudes fewer times.

Other tricks:
- Set up your stump to be slightly not level.  That way the non-square firewood will stand up decently if you orient it one way or another.  The tire really helps keep the pieces standing up.
- I've heard if you orient the chunk of wood upside down to how it grew on the tree, it will split easier.  Not positive but I think it works.
- Focus on where you want to hit it exactly.  Don't just hope to hit the middle.  After a cord or two you should be able to hit a pencil width target pretty reliably.
- Big Y's are easier to split than you think.  First put it Y upright (ignoring my second bullet above) and split off half of each of the branches.  Then flip it over and hit the trunk dead center and 90 degrees from your previous splits.  You'll end up with 4 pieces that aren't too wonky to stack



I'm going to have to make one or two of the tire chopping blocks... (rather than pay a fee to get rid of a few old tires!)

YES! stump not level is the BEST! Even if you are a good sawyer, there's gonna be logs that just want to tip over.
Corollary to "Big Y's": Small y's (where a limb has been cut flush to the trunk) split just the same as the big guys, by splitting the "limb" in half.  On larger ones you might make quarters, on small ones just halves.
I like to split on a stump, not the ground, because a sharp maul works better than one dulled by stones. I also polished the cheeks of my maul (okay...periodically buff away the rust...) but I feel the difference over rust or paint.
 
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I have been renting a hydraulic splitter for about $100. for 24 hours. I get some help and 2-3 people can split enough wood for all winter in 24 hours. So much nicer then hand splitting ! Well worth $100.
 
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The best setup I've seen was a slick, hard-surface table for handling the rounds on.  They were positioned under a heavy maul held up by a hinge on the handle end and a spring.  It could be lifted any distance for extra force.  Pulling it down, you knew right where it would strike, and the split bits stayed in easy reach.  I'd try to improve it by standing on a treadle that rocks from side to side.  One foot would lift the maul, and the other one drive it down
 
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Although I rather enjoy hand splitting with a maul, since my wife came down with asthma and no longer can tolerate wood smoke, that has gone by the wayside.  Of course I had about 60 years experience prior to that.  My father used to swear by an axe rather than a maul.  He was better at reading the grain than I, but I think the velocity was the key aspect.  Energy is the square of the velocity while mass is linear in that equation.  A fast axe, properly placed is very efficient.  I, unfortunately, broke handles too often to not use a splitting maul.  It is important to read the grain.  Most large wood will have primary cracks and I have found the cracks allow ready splitting, often of pieces one would swear would not budge - they can.  I agree with the freezing temperatures assisting.  A nice add to that is to ensure your most brutal pieces have been sitting upright in the cold.  Turn them over and pop the bottom.  They split really easily.  

Dad built a homemade hydraulic splitter from spare parts.  We ran the hydraulic pump from the tractor PTO with the splitter on a three point hitch.  It was built to run horizontal, which is nice when pieces exceed 150 lbs.  You just drop the bar and roll the beast into position.  He also ran the spitting wedge on the far end of his beam (two heavy angles welded together) so that the hydraulic push plate never tried to spin.  I have seen iron wood that would spin the grain over 180 degrees from top to bottom of the piece.  That can mess with your seals and hydraulic ram.  It mattered not to our wedge orientation, that was locked down to the beam (placing the wedge on a bolt base that holds the beam allows use of a splitter for both firewood and fence posts). The flat push plate allowed the wood to turn as it wished although once the wedge ate deep enough, it would slice through the wood, knots and all.

I mention how important it is not to bend the cylinder ram because when I was about 4, I watched my father take a ram in the face with over 80 pounds of air pressure behind it.  Took him across a room with his feet straight out.  He hit a pile of garage heaters and bounced up off the floor like he had just tripped.  Of course, he had to get his jaw sewed both inside and out and it messed up his teeth a few years later, but he never lost a lick.  The depression had made him a tough man, but no one needs to attempt to duplicate that feat.  Permies need to know what the dangers are and avoid them.  
 
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Richard Henry wrote:Although I rather enjoy hand splitting with a maul...

Dad built a homemade hydraulic splitter from spare parts.  We ran the hydraulic pump from the tractor PTO with the splitter on a three point hitch.  It was built to run horizontal, which is nice when pieces exceed 150 lbs.  You just drop the bar and roll the beast into position.  He also ran the spitting wedge on the far end of his beam (two heavy angles welded together) so that the hydraulic push plate never tried to spin.  I have seen iron wood that would spin the grain over 180 degrees from top to bottom of the piece.  That can mess with your seals and hydraulic ram.  It mattered not to our wedge orientation, that was locked down to the beam (placing the wedge on a bolt base that holds the beam allows use of a splitter for both firewood and fence posts). The flat push plate allowed the wood to turn as it wished although once the wedge ate deep enough, it would slice through the wood, knots and all."

I am happy to see at least one person who enjoys hand splitting with a maul.  Splitting wood has always been one of my favorite activities.  For me it was a meditiation, focusing on the wood, no other thoughts, and the dance of swing, rise, and fall.  Since arthritis and joint degeneration though, I cannot do it any more and really miss it.

I do have a good tractor and would like to make something like you describe your dad doing but I can't picture it from just text.  Would you consider maybe drawing a schematic of it? I can't picture how it works horizontally. It would be particularly useful for the splitting fenceposts and rails.

thanks for your post!

 
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I have cut and split thousands of cords of wood over the years.
Several chain saws and splitting mauls and wedges.
I am a couple months shy of 70 now and have really slowed down on this.
One of my sons lives on my property now and heats with wood so I really rely on him for help.
We had a small fire this past spring that burned about 3 acres of ponderosa pine.  That will be firewood next winter, but even my son is now looking at a hydraulic log splitter.  It will be a game changer for me.  ;-)
 
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Mike Barkley wrote:I found that using splitting wedges help a lot. Stand the log up on a flat rock (or stump for thinner diameter logs) & whack it with an axe. Remove the axe & insert a wedge into the crack. Then whack the wedge with a sledge hammer. Use a 2nd wedge from the side if the axe &/or the first wedge is stuck.


This year I discovered a superior wedge that works better than my old square ones: a spiral
design made in France (https://www.leevalley.com/en-ca/shop/tools/hand-tools/log-building-tools/wedges/41142-spiral-splitting-wedge?item=33U2301).
 
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I am looking at some manual log splitting tools.  I am older women and need something simple.  I have seen ads for the one in this link.  Any recommendations on any of these.  I am especially looking at the black ones that are tall and have circle at top to hold the wood.
https://heavy.com/tools/manual-log-splitters/
 
thomas rubino
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Hi Jan;
I  checked out the splitters you are looking at.
I noticed that 9" or less is the max diameter, length is limited as well. One had 15" max and the common firewood length is 16".

Are you looking at manual splitters because you have no electricity?
I always split my own wood until this past spring, when I broke my dominant right wrist.
Spitting wood by hand was not possible after that.
I purchased a Wen 6.5 ton electric spitter.
I modified it so it had a foot pedal switch instead of a push button.
I also modified it so I only needed to push a lever to retract the ram.
Those modifications are the cats meow!  It is fun and easy to use now unlike the way it was when it arrived.
The cost was apx. $300 after buying the foot switch.
20230607_153319.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20230607_153319.jpg]
 
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