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One weird trick for chopping wood: it's all in the angle.

Spend anytime on the internet and you will see weird tricks for losing belly fat or saving on car insurance or some such thing. What I want to tell you is the weird trick for making wood chopping just a bit easier. We aren't going to cheat using a hydraulic wood splitter (of course if I owned one I wouldn't consider it cheating), but using wedges and a maul. Before I tell you this trick let's review chopping wood manually, in general.

First, it is best to set the chunk you wish to split on something hard like a larger piece of wood. You can chop directly on the ground, I often do, but you get the best transfer of energy by having the wood on a solid surface and not having the soft ground absorb some of the impact.

The next step is what I call "read the wood." You examine the chunk: first look at the bark, most bark splits easily, but some is like having a rope tied around the chunk and cutting the bark first on these types of tree stumps helps split them easier. Next look for limbs on the sides and knots on the top. The chunk usually splits harder where there are limbs emerging from the side or where knots show on the top of the chunk. Next look for natural cracks starting in the center of the chunk, splitting along these is usually easier. The straighter the grain of the wood the easier it is to split. Notice picture one, the wedge is in a natural crack, and is avoiding the limb extending out of the left of the chunk.



I have found the first split on large chunks is easier if done with a wedge. Once you have decided the path of least resistance by reading the wood, place your wedge preferably on a crack and tap the wedge into the chunk.

You can use a sledgehammer, or a maul. In case you're not familiar, a maul is an axe/sledgehammer combination. They come in various weights. I have both a six-pound and an eight-pound head and have recently seen one I'd like to get with a 10-pound head. Using the blunt side pound the wedge into the chunk. This will split the chunk. (See picture 2) Sometimes a chunk has such a twisted grain due to limbs you may need a second wedge to finish. (See picture 3.)

There are different wedge designs; the two I use are the simple narrow smooth "V" shaped kind with a wide blade, or a "V" shaped wider design that comes to a point. The blade type, I have found, works well for the initial split and the pointed works well if you need an extra wedge to finish the split. (Picture 4)

Smaller chunks and those that have already been divided in half with a wedge can be split with just a maul. Again, read the wood and plan to chop along natural cracks in the wood. Practice will make your aim with the maul better.

Now we get to the weird trick. An old man taught this to my father when he was young, he taught it to me, and now that I'm older it's time to pass it along.

When you chop by bringing the maul straight downward, tilt the blade about 30 to 40 degrees off of center so that when it impacts the wood, the blade is not vertical but at an angle. (This works for an axe as well.) This does two things: first it lessens the chance of the blade sticking into the chunk; and secondly when the edge of the maul contacts the wood, the angled side of the blade forces the wood apart like a wedge, applying more force to one side of the chunk than the other. (See drawing 5.)


Experience is always best, so me describing it to you is not half as much fun as doing it yourself. Once you get the hang of splitting wood by hand, you'll probably find it fun.


Using the maul will build upper body strength and is a good workout for the heart. What if you get a real twisted piece of wood that defies splitting? That is what chainsaws are for. So you can spend nearly a thousand dollars on a good wood splitter or save the money and split your wood the old-fashioned way with wedges and mauls. Nothing beats the satisfaction of looking at a pile of wood you have chopped yourself.
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Title Annotation:The woodshed
Author:Strauss, Daniel
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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