The ultimate guide to chopping wood

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

One of winter’s great simple pleasures is a real, crackling log fire. To help you swing your axe with greater confidence here are a few tips that are sure to make you top of the chops.

What axe do I use?

chopping wood

The range of axes on the market can be baffling, with names such as felling axes, carpenter’s axes and broadaxes among the many available. But unless you’re chopping down a tree or carving an eagle to sell on a roadside stall, there are only really two types you need to consider:

Short handled chopping axe or hatchet

These stumpy axes are suitable for preparing kindling.

They’ll provide enough force and accuracy to break fire-starting slithers from small logs, but you’ll struggle to use it to generate the speed and power to split larger lumps of wood.

Splitting axe

With a long handle and mighty head, this is the trustiest axe for log splitting duties. Choose one that provides the most comfortable grip at a weight you can manage—a heavy head helps power through troublesome timbers, but there’s a good choice of lightweight handles available that makes the whole piece less unwieldy.

The axe’s head should be chunky—thinner heads are liable to get stuck in the wood—and while one end should be forged with a sharp edge, opt for a flat, mallet-like shape on the other end to enable you to mete out mighty blows to a splitting grenade.

 

What’s a grenade?

A grenade, or splitting wedge, is a lump of metal brought to a sharp point and is a useful tool for anyone wishing to split larger slices of tree, or attempt to break the resistance of more stubborn logs.

It’s positioned on the log’s point of least resistance and hammered with a heavy mallet or flat edge of axe blade until the wood can bear no more punishment and breaks apart.

 

I’m ready to chop. Where do I place my log?

where do I place my axe

When using a deadly tool like an axe, it’s rather obvious that you need to be working on a sturdy and secure level surface.

However, avoid chopping directly onto anything too firm, like your patio: strong resistance from concrete or brick will send a shock back through the axe, which could cause you significant personal damage (besides breaking your shiny new tool).

 

 

"Keep your head still, focussed on the axe’s wooden prey"

 

 

Your best bet is to install some sort of chopping block, with a large slice of tree trunk being the most naturally perfect option.

Ideally, the log you’re about to chop should sit at around waist height—the lower you go the more you have to bend your back, losing you power, balance and jeopardising safety.

 

Let’s swing into action. What’s the best way to wield the axe?

chopping wood

Grip the axe with one hand towards the axe head and the other at the end of the handle. For most people, it’ll be their strongest hand at the head end, but if this feels unnatural it’s worth trying it the other way round. Lift the axe above your head with straightish arms and keep your head still, focussed on the axe’s wooden prey.

When swinging it’s important not to tense up, so flex your knees a little before encouraging the axe to work with gravity and make a smooth arc towards the log.

As you do this, the hand further down the shaft will slide to join its partner at the head end. And have trust in the power of your blade—there really is no need to swing with wild haste.

Throughout all of this chopping activity, make sure you place safety first. Sturdy footwear with a strong grip is essential; good grippy gloves are useful and safety goggles should be worn to protect your eyes against angry splinters.

Finally, make sure stray bits of clothing, pets, or nosey neighbours are not allowed to traverse the axe’s path while chopping.

 

Nick and Rich run the website twothirstygardeners.co.uk and their home-grown booze recipe book, Brew it Yourself, is out now

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