Sure, you can buy pre-cut firewood. But where's the fun in that? Learn to chop your own, then enjoy a well-earned sense of pride (and a fuller wallet) the next time you stoke the fireplace.
Larger felling axes and heavy wood splitters make for the quickest work, but aren't very multi-purpose. We like to use a small, sturdy hatchet, which gets the job done just fine. The only other thing you need is wood to cut and some brute strength.
Before you get started, make sure you're ready to chop in a safe way -- you are swinging around a sharp, heavy blade after all. Take these precautions to keep yourself and your hatchet safe.
- Chop in a kneeling position. Since a hatchet has a relatively short handle, a full swing from standing could all too easily end with the blade heading towards your shins.
- Use a large, sturdy, and flat piece of wood as your surface for chopping while you kneel. It'll ease the stress on your back from bending over towards the ground, and prevent your hatchet blade from crashing into the earth after a swing, which can wear on the edge.
- Invest in a good pair of gloves to avoid any nasty splinters and cuts.
Ready to swing away? First step is to determine what size log you're working with, since the techniques will differ depending on how easily a log will split. Smaller logs will be easier to work with, and larger ones need to be tackled in a few different steps.
Don't try to start hacking away at the center, expecting the thing to split — it won't. Instead, aim towards the edge of the log and cut away a piece of the side, then rotate and work your way around, like you’re turning a circle into an octagon. Once it's small enough, you can aim dead center and split the log down the middle.
Set these standing up on top of a stump. Measure exactly where you want to strike — either dead center, or along any natural cracks in the wood — and give it a strong, controlled swing. If the hatchet doesn’t slice clean through, you can leave the head firmly wedged into the log, lift both, and then hammer the log down, driving the head further through. Repeat until the log splits.
If a log is small enough to grip, then hold it in your non-dominant hand, with your hatchet in the other. Hold the hatchet edge against the surface of the log, and bring them down together against a larger stump. The log should split easily.
As soon as you're done splitting, stack your freshly split wood in a neat pile in your garage or somewhere outside -- then wait about a year. That's how long it'll take for the logs to properly dry out, so you'll want to split next winter's wood as far in advance as possible. If it's not properly dried, the logs will produce more smoke and won't burn as hot, but if you don't have much patience and are willing to tolerate that, dry 'em out for as long as you can and then burn away.
Then all that’s left is to enjoy your next night in front of the fire.