It’s said that firewood warms you twice: once when you split it and once when you burn it. While many homes no longer rely on firewood to heat them, they also still have a fireplace that can be a source of warmth and relaxation. When you go camping, having a campfire is practically a requirement.
Whether you are gathering around a campfire or reading a good book in front of your fireplace, there’s a good chance that the wood fueling your fire was purchased. Buying firewood is easy and relatively inexpensive. You don’t have to buy an axe or maul. You don’t have to deal with moving sections of tree trunk around. You don’t have to spend hours splitting and stacking wood.
You also don’t get the satisfaction of meeting your own need. You don’t get the benefit of exercise from swinging a maul. You don’t get to feel the satisfying thunk when you split the tree trunk.
Splitting firewood is an uncomplicated task, but there are some simple points to consider before you begin.
Axe vs. Maul
The main difference between an axe and a maul is the thickness of the head. A maul has a much thicker head that is designed to aid in splitting firewood while an axe typically has a much more narrow head for chopping down a tree. Each can do the other’s job, just not as well.
Set up your work site as close to the place where you’re going to stack the firewood as possible. After splitting it, you’ll have to stack it and the closer you are the easier that task becomes.
Selecting a Base Section
Select the trunk section with the largest diameter to be your base. This is the section on to which you’ll place the other sections. Doing this elevates the section of wood that you’re splitting and provides a stopper for when the maul head breaks through the firewood so that it doesn’t end up in the dirt and rocks or in your leg.
One of the most common and serious dangers when splitting firewood is to have the maul head split through the wood and continue its arc downward and into your lower legs. Having a base section that is as wide as possible and placing the section that you are splitting as far away from you while still on the base section will mitigate this risk. You can further mitigate the risk by chopping the side of the section that is farthest away from where you’re standing. Think of it like reaching over the pie to cut out a piece.
If you can’t find a suitable base section, you can still safely split firewood by placing the section on the ground and kneeling on both knees to swing the maul. You’ll lose power in the swing by kneeling, but you’ll also prevent the maul head from arcing back into your legs.
Swing the Maul
We use the word ‘swing’ to describe moving the maul to split the firewood, but it’s best to avoid actually swinging the maul. Instead, ‘upstroke’ and ‘downstroke’ are better terms. With each stroke, look at the grain of the wood to pick a target. You want the maul head to contact the section similarly to how you would slice a pie.
Start holding the maul sideways in front of you with the maul head pointed away from you. Hold the maul shaft with your off hand on the end of the maul shaft so that your palm faces inward and your strong hand holding the maul shaft somewhere close to the maul head where it feels comfortable so that your palm faces outward.
Bring both arms around to your strong side and lift the maul over your head. At the same time, slide your strong hand down towards your off hand at the base of the maul shaft. When your hands meet, the maul should be at its peak held high above your head.
With the maul held high above your head and both hands at the base of the maul shaft, bring it down toward your target so that the maul head travels in as straight a line as possible. Doing this will ensure that the maul applies as much force as possible into the wood and will reduce the risk of the maul splitting through the wood and into your legs. Your arms should be almost straight when the maul hits the section that you’re splitting.
Stack the Firewood
Once the area around your base is littered with split firewood, it’s time to stack up the firewood. The exact technique you use to stack the firewood isn’t critical as long as you do it and make sure that the stack will stay dry. Typically, you should arrange the stack along the side of a building under the eaves. Draping a tarp over the open face of the stack will help keep it dry in rainy conditions.