DIY: Chopping Wood Now that we are in the thick of winter...

DIY: Chopping Wood

Now that we are in the thick of winter doesn’t every weekend warrior dream of heading out of the city and into the wilderness? Well we sure do, and what better way to keep your cabin toasty and warm, then burning a fire of salvaged wood. Thanks to the folks over at Kaufmann-Mercantile for sharing their wood chopping tutorial.

Where to Hit

Before you hit the wood, it’s a good idea to check the round for splits and cracks. If the wood already has weak spots, it’s smart to make one of them your target. Avoid hitting knots, which are gnarled spots in the wood where the grain runs irregularly. Knots will be very hard to break apart, and will take all your energy when they could just be avoided.

The best blow will always be delivered near the edge of the round, not the center. Closer to the bark of the tree, the growth rings are wider and more vulnerable, and will be easier to work apart.  You should always turn the piece of wood upside down from the way it grew. I was always told, for example, if you have a Y-shaped log, where a branch started to fork out, it should be chopped with the Y side down.

Chopping Block Or Not

Some splitting savants, like Ron Hall, lifelong wood chopper, insist on chopping wood without a block. “By eliminating the block, you gain a foot or two in swinging distance. The speed of your swing increases gradually at first; rapidly near the end. The speed gained in the last 18 inches will more than compensate for the absence of a block.”

Splitters who rely on the wood block say it offers just the right ratio of give and resistance. If you take your logs down in the yard instead, for instance, and try to split them without a block, you’ll just sink your log down into the yard, basically pounding the round into the earth with every blow. Split it on cement, without a stump, and you’ll jar your spine every time the maul lands. With a stump, the maul has some give that won’t kill your spine or bust up the surface you’re splitting on. Plus, it seems to provide a safety net that allows a splitter to never fear for their feet. But Hall rebuts this claim:

“I don’t know how you could hit your feet splitting wood. I never have had any such problem swinging at wood sitting on the ground in front of me. On the other hand, I would be nervous about swinging at something that’s up in the air in front of me, but to create such a hazard, I’d need to use a chopping block.”

The Woodpile

Whatever kind of wood you split and burn, hard or soft, it doesn’t matter a whit unless it’s seasoned. Most all firewood splitters know this. For non-splitters: Splitting wood isn’t as simple as bringing it in and making a fire. Oh no. It’s got to sit. Like a fine wine, down in the veritable cellar, a piece of wood that will burn hot and clean has got to sit six months, depending on what kind of wood it is. Oak? A year at least!

As for the woodpile itself, pick a dry location to stack. It’s swell if you have a cement-floored patio with a roof. The cement will keep the bottom layer of wood from growing mold, and the roof will keep the snow and rain off.

If you must stack your wood in the yard, build a foundation layer with already-rotting wood that you can stand to sacrifice. Then make sure the wood is kept somewhere where air and sun can dry it thoroughly, with appropriate covering (a good tarp will do).

There are myriad ways to stack wood. If you build two cords together, always remember to pull wood evenly from both sides so neither end will topple. Here is an experiment withdifferent styles of stacking wood that may be useful.

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