If you are a bushcrafter, a homeowner, or simply love to spend your time in the great outdoors, you’ll likely need to use an axe at least once in your life. In fact, you may find yourself needing a splitting axe more specifically.
Whether you are a professional in need of a wood splitting axe or just want one to do some yearly maintenance in your own garden, a wood splitting axe is a tool that could come in handy on more than one occasion.
But, wood splitting axes have a set of unique features that make them different to other types of axes and wood chopping tools. For this reason, we have created this comprehensive guide in which we will tell you what a wood splitting axe is.
We’ll also tell you the difference between a splitting axe, a felling axe, a hatcher, and a maul. Next, we will highlight the best way to use a wood splitting axe and share the various techniques used for splitting wood.
Last but not least, we’ll tell you why people usually split their wood before the winter months and share some tips on maintaining your axe and sharpening your blade.
So, without further ado, let’s get started.
What Is A Wood Splitting Axe?
You may be wondering “What makes a splitting axe so special?”. Well, these types of axes are different to regular axes. As the name suggests, they are designed to split wood in half.
The reason a specific type of axe is used to split wood is that it offers a cleaner cut than other types. While cutting axes have a shallower edge angle, splitting axes come with blades of a deeper angle.
Splitting axes are more often than not used with timber and are used to split wood with the grain of the wood. The wedge-shaped angle of the axe cuts through the fibers of the wood in one clean swoop, thus making the wood splitting process that little bit less tiresome.
While wood splitting axes have a clearly defined purpose, they are often confused with other types of axes and wood cutting tools.
The Difference Between Wood Splitting Axes, Felling Axes, Hatchets, And Mauls
To help you choose the right tool for your gardening or wood cutting activity, it is important that you are able to differentiate between a wood splitting axe, a felling axe, a hatcher, and a maul.
Now that you know what a wood splitting axe is, here is a brief description of the aforementioned tools and their key characteristics:
Unlike a splitting axe, a felling axe is used to cut across the grain of the wood. The bit, which is the cutting edge of the head or blade, comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes, all of which are designed to chop through a variety of materials.
Unlike a splitting axe, a felling axe has to be incredibly sharp to get the job done as it is designed to cut against the grain of the wood. The felling axe is most commonly used to take on bigger jobs such as cutting down whole trees.
A hatchet is much smaller than a splitting axe as it is also a one-handed tool that many take with them on camping trips to chop wood. Designed with a sharp blade on one side, the hatchet comes with a hammerhead on the other side of the blade.
Hatchets are handy tools that have a variety of purposes. Many use them when they do not have a pocket knife and they’re also great for starting fires through the production of sparks and friction.
A maul is also known as a block splitter or a block hammer. People also refer to this tool as a sledge axe or go-devil. Similarly to a splitting axe, mauls are long-handled tools used to split wood along its grain. The key difference is sledge hammer-like head.
Mauls are known for getting stuck in wood because they are normally not as sharp. They, therefore, require more strength and energy to use.
The maul evolved from the wedge and has now evolved into a wedge-shaped head with a sledge hammer on the opposite side of the blade. Mauls are significantly heavier than splitting axes.
Using A Wood Splitting Axe
Using a splitting axe is not so different to using a regular one. The key difference is that it is used for cutting hardwood with the grain. These types of axes are particularly good for cutting wood that has a crooked grain or has knots.
Here are some tips for cutting hardwood with a wood splitting axe:
Wear The Right Protective Gear
Before you even start gathering wood to split, you should protect yourself with the right gear. We suggest you always use a pair of high-quality gloves to avoid splinters. Glasses are also a must to avoid shards of wood from jumping up and hitting you in the eyes.
Last but not least, always wear steel-toe cap shoes as if you have the misfortune of dropping a log on your foot, you could break your feet or toes. It is recommended to split wood with another person in case of an emergency, especially if you are new to wood splitting.
Cut The Wood Short
To split wood, you must first chop the wood to its shortest usable length. This is because longer pieces of wood are more likely to have crooked grain and you may encounter knots that make the job that little bit more difficult.
You may find that chopping wood against the grain is particularly difficult with a splitting axe as these are designed to chop wood with the grain. Use a regular axe or a felling axe to chop your logs to a smaller size before splitting the wood in half with your splitting axe.
Cut A Splitting Block
Once you have cut all your logs to more manageable sizes, cut a large, flat log to use as a splitting block. This piece of log will be used to split your sections on.
While you do not have to cut a separate piece of wood to split your logs on, you will find that bending over to cut them may be quite hard on your back. You may also encounter back or shoulder injuries.
Also, having a hard surface to split your wood on will make the task much easier as you’ll be able to split your logs in one clean swoop.
Look For Splits
Splits, also known as checks, occur when the wood you are cutting gets dry. These demonstrate themselves as larger cracks in the grain of the wood and make the wood significantly easier to split.
Logs with larger splits are much easier to cut. These will highlight the exact location where you’ll want to aim your splitting axe.
Measure Your Point Of Impact
The best way to measure your point of impact is to get yourself into your swinging stance and do some trial runs without making contact between your splitting axe and the location on which you would like to hit your wood, i.e. your split.
Your swing stance should involve your feet being spread just over hips width apart and your knees slightly bent. You should also try and keep your spine straight as you bend from your hips as this will help you avoid any injuries.
Also, when swinging, you should bring your splitting axe over your shoulder on your dominant side. Your chopping motion should swing down in a hard, solid swipe.
Start Splitting Your Logs
Now that you have practiced your swing, you can take your splitting axe on a trial run. Repeat the same motion as mentioned above but this time, make contact with the log you want to split.
Always aim for a split to make your task that little bit easier. If the wood does not completely split straight away, just repeat the process until it does. You may find that you can’t hit the same point the second time, don’t worry as the impact of the axe will weaken the spot you have already hit.
The Different Techniques For Splitting Wood
There are numerous methods for splitting wood. Here are some of the most common ones:
Wood Splitting Log
Splitting wood with a wood splitting log is the process mentioned above. It is when you first cut a block of wood in order to split your logs on. This lifts the process thus reducing any chances of injury to your back and shoulders.
We recommend you choose a block that is at least at knee height. That being said, the size of the logs you are cutting will normally dictate the size of your block. When standing on the block that you have chosen, your logs should stand at the height of your knees.
Wood Splitting Wedge
When it comes to splitting wood that has numerous knots, is especially hard, or is just larger than other pieces, we recommend you use a wedge. In fact, you may want to have numerous wedges on hand.
To get started, use a sharper starter wedge and tap it into the grain with a hammer. You want to tap it in until it can stay standing in the wood on its own. While you can place it virtually anywhere on the log, choosing a spot that already has a crack will make the task easier.
Once your wedge is in place, hit it further into the wood with one solid blow using a hammer. This should split your log, however, if you find that the wedge gets stuck and the log doesn’t split, simply place another wedge in the same spot and repeat the process until the wood splits.
Be careful to stand clear of the wedges as they fall from the middle of your wood as these are heavy and could injure you if they were to land on your feet. Once you have split your log, you can split these halves into more manageable pieces with a splitting axe.
If you don’t have a wedge at hand and want to split wood quickly, then you could always use a chain and a splitting axe. The process is extremely simple and allows you to dismantle a log in a matter of seconds.
To use this technique you will need a strong chain attached to a thick and strong rubber elastic. Once you have these materials, wrap the chain and elastic mechanism flush around the center of your standing log and clip it closed.
Then, use your splitting axe and hit down on the top of your log in one clean blow. You can continue this process in a circular motion around your log, cutting small wedges one next to the other. This is one of the quickest ways to cut firewood.
Why Is Wood Split Before Winter?
When it comes to splitting wood, you’re much better off doing it before winter. This is because before you can burn your logs they need to be dry in order to avoid plumes of smoke in your home every time you light a fire.
If you chop your wood before winter and split the logs straight after cutting them, you’ll be giving them enough time to dry. In addition to tackling the moisture, splitting logs is much easier when the wood has just been chopped.
When the wood is still green and slightly moist, the fibers in the wood are more pliable, thus making them much easier to split apart from one another with an axe. Dry wood is much more challenging to split.
While you should split wood before winter comes and snow falls, you must also make the most of any freezing temperatures. Frozen wood is much easier to split than warmer wood. The right weather conditions will make your job much easier and quicker.
Tips On Woodcutting
When it comes to woodcutting, you first need to select the right type of wood. While some prefer to buy firewood because it is more convenient, this does require some additional research. Either way, you need to make sure that you buy the right type of wood for your fire.
Once you have chosen the right type of wood, you should follow these tips to ensure that you are left with the best firewood to heat your home in winter:
Prep Your Space
Before you can chop or split your wood, you need to make sure that your space is ready and safe. First and foremost, ensure that you have enough space around you and that no one, including yourself, can get injured.
You must have enough space to see around you and be able to swing your splitting axe without risking anyone’s safety. Then, find a chopping block that is stable and tall enough so that you don’t have to bend over too much.
Your chopping block should not be any higher than the height of your knees, giving you enough space to swing down on your wood with your axe. Aside from leaving you with unsatisfactory splits, choosing a block that is too high could hurt your back and shoulders.
Be sure to wear steel toe capped boots, gloves, and protective eyewear when chopping and splitting wood
Measure Your Logs
Once you have your workspace ready and all your safety gear on, you must chop your logs to the right size before splitting them. The longer the log, the more likely you’ll be to need a wedge or two.
By cutting shorter pieces of wood, you’ll be able to split your logs in one clean swoop. Many call these lengths of wood rounds.
Practice Your Swing
Before you start using your splitting axe, practice your swing. Start by measuring a suitable striking distance. Typically, the average man would stand in a stance approximately 2 feet away from the chopping block, women would allow a bit less space.
Once you have your stance set, put on your non-stick gloves and take a wide grip on the axe. One hand should be at the end of the handle and the other closer to the axe head, towards the middle of the handle.
As you lift the axe, the hand closest to the axe head should move down to meet your other hand, allowing you to swing your axe with more force.
Make sure you keep your arms straight when swinging the axe and be aware of the position of the handle as the axe enters the wood round as this should be horizontal. If it is not, you likely do not have a tight enough grip on the handle of the axe.
Aim For The Grain
When chopping and splitting your wood, aim the splitting axe for the center of the wood. You should always look for checks in the wood where the grain has weakened as these will make it easier to split.
When splitting large chunks of wood, you may find that it does not split completely. If your axe gets stucks, lift the axe with the log attached to it and flip it over. Then, swing the back of the axe into the block. This should finish the split for you.
Woodcutting Maintenance Tips
When it comes to cutting wood, you need to be sure that you have the right tools to get the job done. More importantly, you need to be sure that these tools are well maintained so that they continue to perform as they should.
Here are some easy steps you can take to ensure that your splitting axe is always in good working order when you need it most:
Look After The Head
While the axe head may seem like the most important and complex part of an axe to maintain, it is actually the easiest. As with all metal objects, the most likely enemy is moisture which can cause your head to rust.
That being said, the only thing you need to do to maintain your axe head is oil it with vaseline. Vaseline gets in all the pores and will stay on the head of your axe for weeks if not months without you having to do anything.
Keep Your Handle Safe
While many see the handle as a basic piece of wood or metal, this is actually one of the most important parts of the axe.
Unfortunately, if the handle gets wet it will most likely rot. On the other hand, if it dries out, it may shrink, allowing the head to come loose, thus putting you and your loved ones in danger.
The best way to protect a wooden handle is to rub olive oil into it until your handle stops absorbing it. Because water and oil are immiscible, your handle will deter the water.
To be extra safe, you can also rub a wax candle against your handle to create a protective coat for your axe.
How To Sharpen A Splitting Axe
Before you start sharpening your axe make sure to wear a thick pair of leather gloves as well as safety glasses and a dust mask. Once you have all the right protective gear, clean and remove any rust from your axe with steel wool or a sharp knife.
Filing Your Axe
To file your axe, start by clamp your axe in a vice to ensure it does not move while you file it. Use a 10 to 12-inch bastard mill file with dense teeth to file both sides of your axe head.
The angle at which you file your splitting axe will depend on the type you have and your personal preference.
We suggest that you match the existing bevel of your splitting axe in order to remove an even layer of metal on both sides. Use your file in a downward motion and do not move your file up and down your axe as you will ruin your file.
Once you feel a burr on the side you are not sharpening flip it over and repeat the same motion on the other side. You can switch sides as frequently as you like as doing so will leave you with more even edges.
Honing Your Axe
Once you have filed your axe, use a whetstone with honing oil to remove as much of the burr as possible. To completely remove the burr, you can either finish off your honing process with a finer whetstone or use a leather strap. Use oil or vaseline to protect your blade.
Splitting axes are complex tools that can be dangerous if not used correctly, with caution, and with the right protective gear. By following the tips mentioned above you’ll not only keep yourself safe but also have a healthy axe for years to come.
If you believe a splitting axe is what you need to prepare your firewood for the winter months, we recommend you check out our buying guide where you’ll learn about some of the best models in the industry today.