Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Some Notes on Splitting Wood

I've posted notes here before about firewood. Buying, stacking, burning. About wood pellets. Buying, stacking, burning. But I think I haven't given much time to splitting of wood. The old saw about firewood is that it burns twice: once, when you cut, split, and stack it - and again, when you burn it.

Back around Halloween 2011, we received a surprise snow storm. Now we realize that it was to be just about the only snow we'd see even during the winter. This storm would have had a much different effect if it came a few weeks later when the leaves would have fallen off the deciduous trees. In my neighborhood the significant trees are tall straight oaks which unfortunately still had leaves. The snow caused loud pops and cracks while limbs fell under the weight of the snow clinging to the leaves and the branches. You can see in the photo below what things looked like the next day. For us, there was little damage. Many branches were down - oh and we had no electrical power for a week. But fortunately for us, we did have town water, town sewer, and a wood stove - and two chainsaws in questionable condition.

Which brings me back to wood. In the weeks after the storm, my neighbors had some damaged trees taken down. Fortunately for me, they offered me the firewood. Fortunately for them, they didn't have to pay to have the wood carted off. I've split wood before, but not that much. And this was a lot of wood. I've split probably two cords of it and there is more to go. Good thing I built that wood shelter just before the storm.

In order to split wood, you need a tool called a maul. Not this kind of maul. A maul looks like a big axe. Like something the tin woodman would carry, but a little too heavy to be a good movie prop. It is basically a heavy metal wedge on the end of a handle. The blade is blunt, because it doesn't cut wood. When you lift it over your head and swing it down, it bends and stresses the wood, so whack the end of a log the wood splits. 

I use the maul below, which I inherited from my brother. It's a 5 lb. maul with a fiberglass handle. After my first week of serious splitting, the maul literally flew off the handle because it loosened up and because the epoxy holding it cracked after I used the back of the maul as a sledge hammer. The latter was a bad idea. A maul is not a sledge hammer. After a little web research, I learned that you could reattach a fiberglass handle with over-the-counter hardware-store epoxy. It took about two of those epoxy syringes worth to fill the gap. After a few days of curing, it was ready. This saved me from buying a new maul, a new handle, or a repair kit.

Besides a maul, you need goggles for eye protection, gloves for hand and mostly skin protection, a thick belt for lower-back protection, and good sturdy shoes. When I shot the photos below, I got lazy for a moment switching from holding the maul to removing my gloves to hold the camera. After two whacks with the maul, I instantly had a blister. I wear glasses and goggles, but I still get an occasional small chip of wood hit me near my eyes.

Splitting wood is quite rewarding. And if you are lucky, you will have wood that is straight without knots or branches. If you are really lucky, it will have a nice hairline crack (see photo below) started on it's own. It develops that kind of crack from the stress of being cut and from some drying that occurs by the time you get to split it. This wood was cut about 3 months ago. It split nicely when it was brand new and still splits well. It split well while frozen and while warmer.

Splitting wood requires some patience and mindfulness. I was near the end of a run when I took this series of photos, so I was paying less attention. You can see the the first hit with the Maul completely missed the natural crack.

The next whack, hit the crack and split the log. This log is about 17 inches tall and about the same in diameter. Fortunately for me most of the logs were cut to about 18 inches which is just right for fitting into our wood stove.

It is important to pay attention, to be mindful, and to never split wood if you are tired.
If I was paying attention, I would have cleaved the log on the first whack, but I did so on the third attempt. This is one of the most rewarding things about splitting wood. You hit this massive log that weighs perhaps 60 pounds and of course took years to grow and with a swing of a 5 lb. maul and a loud crack it splits.

Once you split it in half, splitting the rest is easy as pie, but don't forget to pay attention.

Fresh split oak has that cheesy smell just like sour milk on a baby's breath. You probably think I'm kidding, but it does.

1 comment:

  1. I love this. And I love that we have all that great wood to burn next winter!