I am getting pretty good at splitting wood. At least the softer pines and tulip poplars. The well-worn axe I am using, courtesy of a friend, has a sharp, cutting edge on one side and a blunt, flat, broad hammerhead (otherwise known as a maul) on the other. It is also adorned by an extra helping of weight slipped on the handle and slid down to the end. I soon discovered why.
I am sure there are almost as many ways to split wood as there are people wielding axes. While I am very much still learning and experimenting, and would definitely welcome advice and anecdotes about how to make things go better, I am enjoying finding my way. Here is what I have learned so far:
1) Always split wood from the end, never from the side. This is obvious to anyone who has tried it but a revelation to those of us who had to discover it on our own. The impulse to split the wood from its side is clear: it offers a larger and more secure target. Logs are not known for their pristine cuts. That is, their ends are often uneven or slanted so that they don’t stand up very securely. Laying them down gives you - the aggressor - greater ability to prevent them from moving around when you work on them. But as physics would have it, wood approached side-on is immensely resistant to your muscular efforts.
2) Despite what some folk suggest, I do not make a notch with the axe first and then slip the splitter (a heavy, metal, sharp-edged wedge) into the groove. I find that I am not adept enough at aiming the axe and end up with splintered and gashed wood. Instead, I position the splitter over a chosen section of the end of the log. If I am lucky, the wood is well-enough seasoned that it has developed cracks. Using them to my advantage, I place the splitter on them, and use the maul side of the axe, aided by the weight, to hammer the end of the splitter securely into the wood.
3) Securing the log on its end while using both hands (arms and back) to smash an axe-head, maul side first, into the splitter is a bit challenging. This is the system I have devised to date: I set the log against a brick wall by my garage which is met by a slight ramp at 90 degrees. Then, I use my foot to wedge the log into the corner where wall and ramp meet. So far, so good, meaning success in splitting the wood without doing injury to me, the wall, the ramp or the cars nearby. But I am very much open to other suggestions!
4) I have devised various methods of dislodging the splitter when it gets wedged deeply, unbudgeable, into the log. But I would welcome any tried-and-true methods to (a) either avoid that uncomfortable dilemma altogether or (b) easily or at least reliably free the wedge.
One distinct measure of progress though is that while on the first day that I took up splitting wood about a week ago, I split only two logs before so bruising my hands that I could not hold a pen or type without discomfort, today I split six logs, nice big logs, several into quarters, without an ounce of pain. There is something immensely comforting in sitting before a fire whose wood comes from the trees on your land and was split by your own hand.
Next, I just may install an outdoor hand-pump, stick one of those low-rise rotary wind-turbines on my roof and see how far off the grid I can go! (Check back with me on that after I broach this with my husband.)