With the proliferation of wood-burning stoves as a viable alternative source of heating for many homes, many people are rediscovering the adventure of chopping their own wood. Even if it’s only when you’re out on a camping trip and wanting to create a safe campfire to cook and relax by, the simple task of cutting up logs can be potentially deadly if you don’t follow a few simple rules. It may seem instinctive, but even if you’re an experienced woodsman (or woodswoman!) the possibility of injury or possibly death should be taken into consideration for this seemingly simple task.
First, check your tools at hand. Your axe should ideally be a hand axe. A hand axe is used to cut wood less than three inches thick, and should never be used to cut live trees down. While you can use one hand to chop with a hand axe, you should be prepared to use both hands to maintain control. If you are chopping trees down, you will need a felling axe, which is larger both in the blade and handles. Do not use a hand axe to chop anything wider than three inches!
A hand axe may have a wooden or metal shaft or handle. If you have a metal hand axe you will most probably have a rubber handle around the haft, giving you more of a grip on the metal. A wooden haft will be varnished and will run through the end of the blade. You should also have a mask, or sheath, to put over the blade of the axe when not in use. You should always cover the blade if you are not actively working with it.
If you have a wooden haft check to see that it is smooth and unblemished, without any nicks or cracks. If the handle isn’t firmly fastened to the head, it’s possible that the blade may fly off while you are working with it. Check to make sure that the head of the axe is secure and attached securely to the haft by attempting to wriggle the blade with your hand. Do not slap it against something to test it, but make sure the metal head doesn’t slip back and forth or shift around the haft.
Never use the back of a hand axe as a hammer or a chisel against stone or concrete or large pieces of steel. Hammering small tent pegs is fine, but if you need to break large pieces of stone or do other work then move on up to another tool. Continued misuse of the axe will lead to the head becoming loose and shortening the usefulness of the axe overall.
You should also have a set of safety glasses and safety boots for maximum protection while chopping wood. Splinters can fly for feet in every direction when that axe hits the wood, and your eyes are always vulnerable. Even the smallest piece of wood can cause major injury to the eyes and medical attention would be needed almost immediately.
Safety shoes with steel toes are also recommended for the novice chopper because of the possibility of either the axe missing the target and hitting your foot or large pieces of wood falling away and smashing your feet. Running shoes may be fine and comfortable, but safety shoes can potentially save your toes and foot from injury.
Where you chop your wood is as important as your tools. Never lean a log against an uneven surface and attempt to hit it with the axe. The odds are that it will spring off to one side and the axe will continue to fall possibly into your leg or foot or against the rock or tree; blunting the blade. Your surface should be flat and clear, giving you a clean shot at the wood.
Most farmers and outdoorsmen have an old tree stump that they use for this task and this task only. You can use a clear patch of land for this task, just make sure that you have removed all brush and vegetation from the area, so as to not entangle the axe and impair your stroke.
Now that you’ve got your axe, safety glasses and shoes and a firm platform to chop on let’s turn our attention to the wood. Believe it or not, your piece of wood can be more deadly than anything else mentioned to date, including your hand axe.
Check your log carefully for any foreign material, such as old nails, screws and spikes. Sometimes a nail head can be hammered so deep into the wood that it will not be visible with a fast glance, but if your blade cuts into that nail you’ll be in trouble. If you find any metal in your log, throw the entire log away and find a replacement. It may not seem like much, but even a small nail can cause a lot more trouble than its worth for a few sticks of wood.
Now that you have your log on a stable platform and are equipped, let’s get down to business. Plant your feet firmly on the ground, a few inches apart to balance your weight. You should be standing right in front of the platform, the log squarely in the center of your vision. You need to be balanced in order to deliver the most power with each stroke and be prepared to deal with any situation that may arise.
Lift the hand axe and with both hands firmly gripping the haft, aim at the center of the log. Your goal is to hit the wood directly in the center, not to the sides or to the front or back. A glancing blow may result in injury to yourself or damage to your platform, so aim carefully. Put all of your strength behind the axe and deliver the blow.
If your axe doesn’t break the wood in half with the first hit, tap the axe (now imbedded in the log) on the platform until it makes its way down the grain and splits the log into two pieces. Do not withdraw the axe and attempt to hit the log again in the same place; the odds are against you and you are more likely to send splinters flying and cause more of a safety situation. After you have two pieces, put one half to one side and reposition the other in the center of your stable platform again and prepare to repeat. Eventually you should have smaller pieces of wood for use in your campfire or your wood-burning stove.
Keep your chopping area clean and free of debris. When you are finished with one log, stack the pieces to the side before beginning again with a new log. Having stacks of wood cluttering your platform can lead to accidents if your target slips to one side or your axe becomes imbedded in one of these extra pieces. A few seconds of stacking and wiping can produce a clean work area.
Be aware that distractions can be possibly deadly while you are chopping wood. Having small children running around or a family pet bounding nearby can result in injury not only to you, but also to family members if splinters go flying or worse yet the axe is diverted to one side due to your inattention. Make sure that the area is clean and clear of anyone who is not actively assisting you in chopping the wood and who is not also wearing safety equipment. It only takes a glancing blow with the axe to result in a major wound to your leg or your foot or worse, to your child or family pet.
When you are finished with the axe, do not anchor it into the ground. Clean it off and put the sheath back over it before putting it away in your workshop or your toolbox. If you are only going to be away for a few minutes you can anchor it into the wooden platform with the blade, but be sure to have the blade follow the grain of the wood. This will secure it better than having it slapped in counter to the wood grain. Still, it would be better to have the hand axe blade covered and safe from curious hands and eyes.
Chopping wood for your campfire or for your stove may seem like a simple task, but it can be a potential disaster for the unprepared man or woman. But with a little preparation and awareness, you can produce a cheap and efficient stack of kindling and wood for your use with confidence and safety.Chopping wood