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How to Split Firewood: 8 Essential Tips and Tricks

Knowing how to split a log is an important skill. Whether you want to start a campfire, heat your home, or cook over the flames, you’ll need to have a steady supply of firewood.

So, how do you split firewood? Well, for starters, here are a few tips that might help:

  • Pick a good cutting area on flat, even ground for safety reasons
  • Choose the right log. Dry ones tend to be easier to cut then green logs
  • Get a strong axe and, if needed, a log splitter or a wedge and maul. 
  • Focus on your posture, so you can put maximum power behind each swing
  • Look at the log, to find cracks, which can be the perfect place to start splitting
  • Take care of your equipment by keeping your axe sharp. 

Splitting firewood doesn’t have to be dangerous or difficult. Let’s take a closer look at each of these tips, so you’ll be able to split wood with confidence. 

1. Stay Safe

It’s essential to make sure that you’re staying safe when you’re splitting firewood. To prevent anyone from getting hurt, you should check no one’s standing close to you as you’re swinging. Also, confirm that you have the right safety equipment before splitting.

Chopping firewood can be a dangerous activity. If you don’t take precautions, there’s a chance that someone might end up getting seriously injured.  Putting a few simple measures in place can prevent any accidents.

First, you’ll need to make sure that no-one is around while you’re splitting wood. Keeping people out of the area will also prevent them from getting hurt by a flying piece of timber. 

It’s also important to check you don’t have any obstacles that can trip you up. It’s always best to split wood on flat ground. This will allow you to get the right stance, without any risk of becoming unbalanced. Check that there isn’t anything that can impede the swing of your axe.

It’s a good idea to make sure that there aren’t any buildings nearby. When splitting wood, it’s common for splinters and debris to fly off. While it’s unlikely that these will do any serious damage, a large piece might cause a small dent or break a window.

Next, you’ll need to check that you have the right safety equipment. It’s often best to wear some kind of eye protection. This will ensure you don’t get hit by a flying piece of wood. It’s also a good idea to wear steel cap boots. If you miss the log, you run the risk hitting your foot. While it will still be a scary experience, steel cap boots will help prevent getting your toe cut off. Finally, consider wearing gloves. While optional, these will help you maintain a strong grip on the axe and prevent splinters from the firewood.

Finally, check the condition of your axe. Over time, you might notice the axe head is starting to come loose. While it can seem tempting to patch it up with duct tape, this is a dangerous solution. If the tape breaks and the head comes flying off, you risk some major damage. Instead, it’s best to spend a few dollars to get a new axe

2. Pick The Right Log

One of the most common misconceptions is that the difficulty of splitting wood will depend on the type of axe you’re using. Picking the right log will make it a lot easier to split it. How hard it will be to cut will often depend on the species and how green the log is.

Should Firewood Be Split Green Or Dry?

Generally, you’ll be able to split the logs easiest when they are dried. This is because there’s less moisture, so there will be less resistance when cutting through the log. Whether it will be easier to split green wood or dried logs will often depend on the species that you want to cut.

When it comes to green or dry logs, the most important factor to consider is the species. In some cases, it will be easiest to split the logs when they are wet. This is mostly true for oak trees. However, at other times, you might need to wait until they are dry. An example for dry logs would be some pine species.

It’s best to rely on your personal experience. If you try splitting the log, and you find it’s rubbery and the axe bounces off, it’s a good idea to leave the log to dry. As it dries, the log starts to crack. You’ll be able to use these cracks to easily split the log. Depending on conditions, it could take around six months before the log is dry enough to cut.

How Can You Dry Out Wood Faster?

If the wood is wet, it can often be harder to burn and will produce a lot of smoke.

To dry out the wood, you’ll need to cut them early, during the spring. This will give them plenty of time to dry out. It’s also good to keep them indoors, turning them frequently. 

While it might be easiest to split logs when they are dry, it’s often best to cut them when they are green. Cutting while the logs are green will help the firewood dry out faster, which makes it easier to burn. As a result, you might want to plan ahead and split the wood before spring. This will help make sure the wood doesn’t begin to sprout, which will increase the moisture in the wood.

It’s also a good idea to keep the logs indoors. This will help limit their exposure to the wind and rain, which can add more moisture. When deciding how to store logs, avoid stacking them evenly. This can lock in the moisture, taking longer for the logs to dry out. Instead, lay out logs of different sizes and alternate the side that you put the bark on. This will create a more uneven stack, so you get more airflow. 

These tips could work well for you, but they might not always be possible. If it’s the start of winter, and you need to dry out the logs quickly, you might want to put them next to the fire. The heat will increase the evaporation, leaving little to no moisture in the wood.

Is Hardwood Harder To Split? 

OakDouglas fir

As the name implies, hardwood tends to be denser and harder to split. To get through this type of wood, you might need to use specialized equipment, like a log splitter or a maul and wedge. 

If you’re looking for something that will be easy to cut, it’s often best to stick to softwood. These don’t tend to be as dense as hardwood and can easily be split using an axe. However, softwood can be smokier, so you may want to pass if you’re planning on using these logs indoors. Softwood generally works better for fire-pits outside, where more smoke doesn’t make a big difference. On the other hand, while hardwood trees are less smokey, they tend to grow slower and have thicker cell walls. 

While it can take more effort to split, there are a few more advantages to using hardwood. First, they tend to burn longer, making them ideal for providing warmth. Also, because they are so strong, they make popular building materials. Anything from boats to houses can be made with hardwood. So, depending on your intended use, splitting hardwood can be well worth the effort.

Curious if you can collect firewood from the side of the road? Check out my other post for more information.

3. Don’t Cut Every Log 

There are a few reasons why you might not want to split every log. One of the biggest issues is metal pieces, like nails, can be stuck in them. This can raise significant safety concerns. Also consider avoiding curved logs, as these can be highly unstable when splitting.

Before you split logs, make sure to inspect them thoroughly. In some cases, you might notice that they have metal embedded in them. For example, you could see nails or screws poking out. If this is the case, try to remove the metal. If you can’t, it’s best to avoid chopping the log. 

These metal pieces have the potential to do a lot of damage. They can be incredibly sharp and potentially pierce through clothing. You also shouldn’t burn these logs, as the metal pieces might explode under high temperatures. 

You might also want to avoid curved logs. There a few safety considerations when dealing with these types of logs. First, splitting these tends to be more unpredictable. Their curves can make you more likely to miss your shot, which can result in serious injury. Also, it can be more difficult to cut through these logs, requiring you to work harder. 

It’s also a good idea to check for spiders and snakes before lifting a log off the pile. The small spaces can make ideal areas for these creatures to nest and mate. If you get bitten or stung, take action quickly. If you can, try to get a picture of the animal, so the doctors can identify if they are dangerous.

4. Get The Right Equipment

If you want to split logs, you need to first get the right tools.

Generally, the most important item when splitting wood will be a good axe. Next, you might need a maul, wedge, and sledgehammer. This will help you deal with the bigger logs, which tend to be more difficult to split. 

The type of logs that you’ll be working with will often determine the type of gear that you’ll need.

As mentioned, you’ll first need a good axe. In most cases, this is all you will need to be able to split logs. You can choose between an axe with a fiberglass handle or a wooden handle. The fiberglass handles can give you more grip and can also be more comfortable to use. However, it comes down to personal preference. You might want to try out both kinds of axes and see which you prefer.

If you’re planning on sticking to softwood, you should be fine with just an axe. However, if you want to take on some tougher wood, or split some big logs, you’ll often need to get some heavier equipment. There are a few options to explore. 

log splitter
A log splitter can make splitting wood much easier. If you’re splitting wood frequently, it might make a good investment.

You can choose to get a log splitter. This is a mechanical piece of equipment. You simply load the log in the device, then let it cut it for you. This is perfect for tough logs. However, it does tend to be quite expensive to purchase and run. Most models will cost between $500 to $1,000 to buy, but if you’re interested in something a bit more affordable, check out the WEN splitter on Amazon.

Splitting a log with a Maul

If you prefer to split logs yourself, you might want to use a wedge and a maul. In this case, you’ll need to stick a metal wedge into a crack in the log. Then, using a sledgehammer, hit the wedge to drive the log apart. This technique can be used to break through even the thickest log. 

If you’d like some recommendations on solid tools and equipment to split firewood, check out these products on Amazon.

Fiskars – Super 36″Intertool 6 lbFiskars ProEstwing Sure-SplitIronclad Ranchworx

5. Get The Right Technique

Once you’ve got the right equipment, it’s time to focus on your technique.

The first thing that you’ll need to do is focus on your stance. You should be standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. This will allow you to strike the log with maximum force. Next, check how you’re holding the axe. Placing your dominant hand behind the axe-head will give you more control.

The technique that you use when splitting wood can have a profound impact on how easy it will be to slice through the log. The first thing that you need to do is position yourself correctly. Place your legs shoulder-width apart. It’s important to confirm that you’re working on flat ground. This will help prevent you from accidentally tripping mid-swing. 

Then, lift the axe. You should position it over your head. Now line up your shot. You should be aiming for the same place on the log each time. This will allow you to develop a deep crack, which you can use to split the log. When you’re ready, let the axe drop, using your dominant hand to guide it.

It’s important to use the weight of the axe, rather than your own force, to cut through the log. This will help you not tire yourself out. To add extra force to the swing, swing your hips back as the axe is falling. It will often take two or three attempts to cut through the log. Once you have developed a strong crack in the wood, keep hitting in that area. Eventually, you’ll split the log.  

In some cases, you might notice that your axe gets stuck in the wood. This is a sign that your swing wasn’t powerful enough. Thankfully, this doesn’t need to be a big issue. Simply tap the firewood on the block, while still holding the axe, until you split it. 

How Do You Cut Through Thicker Pieces Of Wood?

To cut through a thicker piece of wood, you’ll need to use a wedge, maul, and sledgehammer. First, find a crack on the wood. This is where you’ll put the wedge. Secure the wedge in the wood, then use the sledgehammer to drive the wedge through the wood. Once the crack is larger, you can use the maul to break it apart.

For bigger pieces of wood, you’ll need to use a bit more effort to split them apart. In most cases, you’ll need to use a wedge, sledgehammer, and maul. To start, find a crack in the wood. If you can’t find one, you might need to make one with the maul. If you need to do this, pick a spot near the middle of the log. This will allow it to split into two chunks, making it easier to break down further. 

Then, insert the wedge, using the sledgehammer to hit into position. For the few hits, you’ll often need to hold the wedge in place. Once you’ve locked it in, move back and hit the wedge through the log. You’ll need to use the same technique as you do when swinging an axe. 

After you chop a big log, you’ll often be able to use the maul to make future cuts. This is preferable to an axe. The maul is heavier, allowing you to put more force behind each shot. However, when you swing, the maul places more emphasis on your core than an axe. Also, you’ll need to use the long handle to guide the maul. It’s recommended that you take a few practice swings, so you get used to the way that it feels.

6. Know Which Part Of The Log To Hit

It’s often best to look for any natural cracks in the log. When splitting, start at the edges and work your way back towards the center. Try to avoid the knotted parts of the logs. These will be the densest parts, making them the hardest to split. 

If you know which parts of the log to target, you’ll be able to significantly reduce the effort it takes to split.

For most logs, you’ll be able to find a crack. This is more true for wood that’s been left to dry over the summer. If you can focus your energy on hitting the crack, you’ll be able to reduce the effort it takes to split the log. Again, if you can’t see a crack, you might want to use a maul to make one. 

It’s also important to make sure that you’re starting on the edge. The wood in the middle of the log is thicker and harder to slice through. If you start on the edges, you’ll be able to start weakening the fibers, so once you get to the denser parts, they’ll be easy to split. 

When chopping logs, it’s important to check that you’re not cutting through any knots. In these areas, it’s common for the direction of the grain to change. These knots can make it more challenging to cut through. When collecting firewood, try to avoid excessively knotted logs if you can help it.

Finally, when dealing with larger logs, you might want to start removing the outer layers first. This will weaken the overall tension in the log, making it easier for you to cut. In some cases, you might need to use mauls and wedges to help you do this, as mentioned above. 

What Size Log Should You Split?

what size to split a log

It’s often best to aim for firewood that’s around 16 inches long and three to six inches wide. These dimensions will fit most fireplaces and ovens. If you’re planning on using it outside, feel free to use whatever size is the easiest for you. 

Deciding what size to split the firewood can be vital. If it’s too big, it’s not going to fit into the fireplace. If it’s too small, it will burn too quickly and won’t provide enough warmth. Generally, you’ll want something that’s around 16 inches long. However, it’s best to measure the size of your fireplace or wood-burning stove

If you chop the wood too small, don’t worry. Smaller firewood can be great for kindling. If it’s too big, you might want to consider splitting it again. 

7. Prop Up The Log On A Wooden Block

When cutting logs, put them on a stable surface. This will stop them from wobbling, which can be potentially dangerous. It will also ensure that you won’t damage the axe if you miss the log. 

If they are wobbling around it will make them harder to hit. This can make cutting through them a lot harder, and increase the risks that you’ll hurt yourself. 

Generally, you’ll want to find soft sand or a wooden block to rest the logs on. These two surfaces will help minimize the damage to the axe if you miss. It’s best to avoid hard surfaces, like concrete. If you hit the axe on these surfaces, it will bounce off. This can be dangerous and will also blunt the steel axe-head. 

It’s also a good idea to think about how tall the block will be. Depending on your height, it might not be a good idea to use a shorter or taller chopping block. You often won’t be able to get a good swing, so it will take longer to chop the wood. Try to find the right height of the chopping block for you. It can sometimes take a bit of experimentation to find, so take your time with this. 

If you’re looking to get a good visual on how to swing when using an axe or maul to split firewood, check out this video by Michael Kearney.

8. Keep Your Equipment In Good Condition

Regularly maintaining your equipment is one of the best ways to make sure that it will last for a long time. Primarily, you’ll only need to sharpen your axe and maul at the start of each season and inspect it for damage.

Before you start splitting firewood, check that the equipment you’re using is in good condition. Inspect the axe and maul thoroughly. The head should be firmly attached to the shaft. If you can move it, you might want to think about getting a new one. The last thing you want is for the head to come loose while you’re swinging it. 

Next, check that your axe is sharp. This will make it much easier to cut through logs. In most cases, it will only take a few minutes to sharpen your axe. In most cases, you’ll just need to do this at the start of each winter. You might also want to sharpen your maul. This will stop it from bouncing off the log. However, you don’t need to get it as sharp as your axe. 

At the end of the season, you’ll need to store everything properly. Try to keep them inside, away from the elements. If the axe or maul came with a sheath, use it when putting the tool away. This will help keep it stored safely and help prevent accidents. It’ll also help keep mold from forming on it.  

Related Questions

  • Can you split firewood with a chainsaw? It’s possible to use a chainsaw to split logs for you. In this case, it’s best to stick to a smaller model, with a 16-inch chain. This will give you more control, so you can get a precise cut. 
  • How long can split firewood last? When you store firewood, you risk exposing it to insects and mold, which can rot through the wood. If you burn rotten wood, you might be exposed to harsh chemicals. In most cases, you will need to use the firewood within three to four years. 
  • How long does wet firewood take to dry? This can depend on the size of the log and how it’s been cut. In most cases, though, it will take around three to six months before it will have dried out. 

Final Thoughts

Knowing how to split firewood is a vital skill, especially during the colder winter months. Many people rely on wood for their heating or cooking. Thankfully, splitting logs doesn’t need to be difficult. With a few pieces of equipment and a little hard work, you’ll be able to have a steady supply of firewood. So, keep these tips in mind to make sure that you’re prepared this winter.