Splitting firewood is tough work, providing a huge upper-body workout. But chopping wood isn’t all about strength – good technique is critical. We’ve compiled our favorite tips for splitting firewood that will make the job easier and safer. While every suggestion on this page is helpful, number 18 is a game-changer.
Top firewood splitting tips
1. Use a chopping block
A stable wooden block will provide a flat surface to work on, which means a safer swing. If you happen to miss the intended target, there’s a good chance you’ll hit the chopping block underneath. That’s a better option than your foot! A buffer between the ground and log also means less blade damage.
2. Get prepped
Create an area for splitting wood that is away from other people. There should be plenty of space for swinging without branches or other distractions affecting your range of movement.
3. Aim close to the edge
It’s tempting to bring the axe blade down on the center of the log, but that area is often the strongest. Try to strike the wood at right angles to the wider growth rings, close to the bark.
Some experienced axe users will apply a glancing technique that chips off edge pieces. Take extreme care using this method as it can cause injuries and damage the cutting edge.
4. Take off segments
Making the first complete cut through a large round is the hardest part. It is tempting to also cut the remaining pieces through the middle. Instead, work on chopping off wedges from the edge of the round.
5. Use a quality splitting tool
Choosing the right tool for splitting is essential. For softwood like pine and spruce, most axes will work fine. But larger logs of hardwood call for a splitting axe or maul. They have a heavy poll, wedge-shaped blade profile, and wide cheeks that force wood apart explosively. Other axes with thinner heads and sharper blades tend to stick in the wood.
6. Aim before swinging
Poorly directed swings can damage the handle and blade or cause an injury. Work out where the edge needs to strike before swinging, then measure where to stand. Place the blade on the strike point, stretch out the arms and get ready to swing.
For added power, take a small step back. This extra distance from the log means you must lean forward into the swing.
Don’t stand too close, as this increases the chance of overstrike. Swinging too far past the round is a good way to break a wooden handle.
7. Have a wedge on hand
Splitting large hardwood logs is sometimes back-breaking work, so make life easier with a wedge. You can drive them into weak spots using a maul or sledgehammer.
8. Take breaks
Churning through a big pile of wood takes time. Take rests often, and don’t allow fatigue to set in. Overworking is an excellent way to strain a muscle, put your back out, or introduce inaccurate swings.
9. Use a chainsaw
Wielding a heavy tool isn’t for everyone, especially if the rounds are big and tough. One alternative is to use a chainsaw with a sharp chain. Using ripping or noodling techniques will allow you to make the first cut. Then you can decide whether to finish the job with an axe or do it all by saw.
10. Avoid foreign objects
Nails and other hard materials will quickly damage an axe. Wood with these extras is best left to the side.
11. Use the weight of the round for added power
Getting the blade stuck in wood is inevitable. Instead of trying to dislodge it, try lifting the whole log and pounding it down into the chopping block. The log adds weight to your swing and helps break the wood apart.
12. Look for fissures
Small hairline cracks or fissures are weak spots that make splitting easier. Once the split shows promise of breaking, strike the far side of the division for the best results.
13. Split with the grain
Wood fibers often break apart easily if you chop with the grain. Going against the grain will take a lot of extra effort.
14. Use a sharp blade, but not razor sharp
Having a sharp-ish blade helps make an initial deep cut into the wood. But mauls and splitting axes rely on a heavy head to power through logs. A cutting edge that’s too sharp will end up binding, making the job more difficult.
15. Split when cold
Tough rounds are easier to split on a freezing cold day. If the forecast predicts chilly weather on the horizon, wait until then.
16. Swing hard
Make each swing count. Lighter swings don’t usually have the power to break through rounds of wood. If you’re tired, take a break and try to work in short bursts.
17. Identify knots
Knots make splitting virtually impossible and are more likely to dull the blade. Also stay away from the tree’s crotch, a challenging section where branches and trunk fuse together into super-hard wood.
18. Use tires
As logs get split, the pieces end up everywhere. You can solve this problem by bolting together two tires and making a low-cost holder that keeps everything in place.
This handy hack means less bending over to stand a log up. The tire sidewalls also provide a soft landing for your axe’s handle, so there’s less chance of injury. A chopping block isn’t needed with this homemade gadget.
19. Split while green
There are mixed opinions on whether to split firewood when it’s green or seasoned. While some tree species are easier to chop seasoned, many will turn rock-hard once they lose their moisture.
We recommend splitting wood green as the seasoning process is much too long for unsplit logs.
20. Consider the length
Always check the length of wood you’re splitting for size. Will it fit in a wood stove or fireplace? Reworking a wood stack of oversized firewood is a tough pill to swallow. Check out our guide on what firewood length is best for all the details.
21. Choose suitable wood
Whether you’re buying unsplit rounds or they’re free, check how easy they are to split before taking a whole trailer. Some test pieces will give you an idea of how long a cord of wood will take to process.
22. Use a hydraulic splitter
If the wood is too hard to split, consider buying, renting, or borrowing a splitting machine. They’re loud, but you’ll get that wood split and stacked much faster.
23. Find a gentle slope
Splitting wood on steep slopes isn’t advised, but a gentle one can help. Standing slightly uphill will provide added leverage and weight for a more powerful swing.
24. Work on hard ground
Soft ground will absorb the impact from the axe as it hits its target. Work on hard terrain that increases energy delivery.
25. Use the proper grip
Working with a heavy axe or maul will quickly drain your energy without the correct hand placement. Hold the dominant hand close to the axe head when lifting it overhead. Position the other hand near the end of the handle to make lifting easier.
During the downward swing, slide the dominant hand down to meet the other hand at the handle’s end. This technique extends the length of the axe from the body, providing greater leverage.