Ax Skills: How to Split Firewood

Illustration by Pete Sucheski

To split firewood, any ax head will do, but one with a steep bit taper will help cleave your target. The chopping block--broad, knee-high, and firmly set--should support the piece of wood to be chopped where the ax handle will be horizontal at contact. The block also will protect the blade if it drives through.

Take a broad stance at a distance where the ax will connect with the wood when your arms are extended. If right-handed, grip the haft near the head with your right hand and near the knob with your left. Using your shoulders, and swiveling at your hips, swing the ax in a smooth motion up and behind your right shoulder. Rotate your shoulders to bring the ax forward. The right hand should meet the left as your left wrist "breaks" to permit a strike of maximum force. At the strike, give the handle a little twist. This will prevent the ax from sticking in wet, tough wood, and it will "pop" ripe wood neatly in two.

If you get a piece of wood that won't yield, use a splitting maul. Never strike an ax head with steel to drive it deeper, lest you chip the poll. If the head comes loose, secure it by driving tightening wedges into the end of the handle at the eye.