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Wood splitting tips

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On our last campout one of the ASMs was teaching the Scouts how to split wood w an axe. I am ignorant of such so when I got home I went to learn more. This video is really good, learned a thing or two, thought I'd share. Also would like your tips on teaching Scouts.

 

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A couple of comments. The video shows the use of a splitting maul. Few scouts learning to use an axe can even control a full sized axe, much less a maul. There are different sizes of axes. The sizes are 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and full. A 1/4 axe is a hatchet. A 3/4 axe is often sold as a "boy's axe" and is really good for younger scouts. I have a half axe (be careful how you say it) that I really like because I can hold it with one hand and, with a sharp blade, can split most of the wood I deal with.

I didn't watch the whole video but something I noticed is that the guy is standing with his feet together. If he misses the wood with the axe then the blade will come down to where his feet are. That's a big no no. Keep your feet apart. The big stump really helps.

When the axe hits the wood it should be traveling straight down. A tall stump helps or else the person has to bring their hands down to be even with the top of the wood.

I didn't see any discussion on starting the swing. Especially for scouts, start with the main hand at the end of the handle and the other near the head. As the swing moves toward the wood the hand near the head slides down toward the end of the handle.

Most people new to this stand too close to the wood, resulting in overshooting the wood and smacking the handle against the wood. This guy is splitting logs so that won't happen much, but when cutting the wood further down to make a fire, one needs a good aim.

There there's all the safety issues. Axe yard. No branches to get caught on. The head is on tight. Assume the head will fly off (been there, done that).

Also, learning how to really sharpen an axe. I use a fine, single cut file. I never see them at the big box hardware stores but I can get them online. Files are like sand paper, they come in different grits. Fine, single cut leaves the smoothest finish. Bastard double cut is the coarsest and likely not needed unless the axe is really chewed up.

Once you get used to it, cutting wood is better than mediation. It takes a lot of power and also good control. The focus required will wash away any other issues you have.

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I agree, this video is not the best for a Scout activity, but a start of discussion.   

Here is my favorite video, courtesy the USDA Forestry Service:  "An Axe To Grind"   in two parts, note.   

 

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In my experience with young lumberjacks, ie Totin' Chippers,   the idea of a sharp axe is hard for them to conceive. They want it sharp NOW, not after an hour of handfiling.  And the skill involved in aiming and chipping a V in a log takes some time to gain.  Rarely do Scouts get that opportunity any more. 

The Scout Fieldbook of my day, William Hilcourt be thanked,  gave fairly detailed instructions on how to fell a tree (bare chested Scout was the illustration).  And as to actual splitting bolts?  Wedge and sledge?   The average 12, 13 year old Scout needs that experience but , again, rare it is in the urban world.  Over swing your sledge and presto ! We have an opportunity to learn  handle replacement. 

The "safe" way to split bolts is with the "shilleliegh " method, in which one Scout holds a long handled axe straight on the bolt, and the second Scout stands perpendicular to the axe handle and swings the old bowling pin or carved Persuader to hit the axe poll and drive it thru (!) the bolt.  This does work, but it ultimately mushrooms the poll and  loosens a wood handled axe by widening the eye. Thus, use only a cheap, disposable axe, if you identify one.  I gave my Troop a cheap fiberglass/plastic handled axe for this. 

 

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4 minutes ago, Jameson76 said:

There are many options

 

Image result for bag split firewood

"Keep children away from open fires."  Clearly a violation of the rules on a scout outing.  Turn in your Totin' Chip for a corner cutting.  Oh wait.  Crap.  

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Taught Paul Bunyan.  Heated our home with firewood for 35 years.

Splitting:  Aim for the checks in the log, where the grain has already started to naturally separate.  Don't use an axe on anything bigger than 8 inches, use a maul or a wedge. If your axe becomes stuck in a log, turn it over and swing the combined axe/log down onto your stump, axehead first to get more penetration.  (Does not work with double bladed axes...) Plan the arc of your swing to end at the top of your stump, not the top of your target log. (You were planning to split the log completely on half, right?)   On really large diameter rounds (24 inches and up) don't start in the middle; split small pies out of the edges and work your way in.

Avoid sweet gum, the grain is too twisted to split.  Poplar is a very straight grained wood and flies apart when threatened with an axe.  Oak makes the best firewood.  Frozen wood is brittle and splits more easily.

When chipping out notches or felling, start your notch at least as wide as the log diameter; angle your slices in at 45 degrees; and twist the embedded axe to flip out the plate sized chips.  Don't waste your energy swinging directly into a log at 90 degrees. The wood fibers compress onto the blade and hinder penetration.  Angling in at 45 degrees allows the wood fiber to expand out of the cut away from the blade, and results in a deeper cut. (A straight line is not the easiest distance through a log) 

A sharp axe cuts twice as deep as a dull hammer, and makes your work easier.  Cutting on the ground results in rock gouges on your blade and turns a sharp axe into hammer.

Section logs 24 inches on straight grain pieces; cut as close to major branches as possible to make splitting easier on gnarly grains.  When using a crosscut saw, always PULL; never push.  Work on your rhythm with you partner.

Edited by JoeBob
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53 minutes ago, JoeBob said:

If your axe becomes stuck in a log, turn it over and swing the combined axe/log down onto your stump, axehead first to get more penetration. 

Not sure if this is related, but I have a really nice axe and they explicitly said don't use a sledge hammer to push the head in further as the sidewalls of the head could split. That's also my half axe, so not sure if their full axe is not built with thicker walls.

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"If your axe becomes stuck in a log, turn it over and swing the combined axe/log down onto your stump, axehead first to get more penetration.  (Does not work with double bladed axes...) Plan the arc of your swing to end at the top of your stump, not the top of your target log. (You were planning to split the log completely on half, right?)   On really large diameter rounds (24 inches and up) don't start in the middle; split small pies out of the edges and work your way in."

I've done this.  BSA is not in favor these days, although once it taught the wood-first technique.

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19 hours ago, JoeBob said:

Plan the arc of your swing to end at the top of your stump, not the top of your target log. (You were planning to split the log completely on half, right?) 

Wow! that really helped a lot! And it occurs to me a metaphor. And a Scoutmaster Minute in there. Something like, don't aim at the beginning, aim at the ending. I gotta work on it but yeah its in there somewhere.

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Yep. One can use the "Impact" method. Or the "Contact Method".  

The Shilleliegh Method, whereby one Scout holds an axe, blade into the bolt to be split, and a second Scout hits the poll with an old bowling pin or carved "persuader" (the Shileliegh), is a safe way, but will ruin a good axe, as it tends to spread open the eye and mushrooms the head. 

Something to read on a cold night:  http://www.bchmt.org/documents/education/AnAxetoGrind.pdf

Here is my favorite video. A classic, to be sure:   

 

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As someone else who has chopped, split and stacked many a cord of firewood,   here are my 2 cents.   Firstly  everything Matt and JoeBob said was right on the money.    Secondly, if you are chopping, there is  just as much difference between a razor sharp blade and a pretty sharp blade, as there is between a pretty sharp and a dull one.   A properly honed Estwing half ax will cut thru a two inch thick poplar branch with a single stroke making a clear Ping  sound.  An ax ground for splitting will not chop well. Likewise an ax honed for chopping is not ideal for splitting. Thus  the need for at least 2 axes or a double bit.   Bend your knees, snap your wrists.

SSScout,   I  love ya like a brother but a shilleliegh ?  Really?   I had heard that such a method had been taught in some nearby districts but had assumed it was a product of people who had no real experience or skill with a blade. And I know that's not you.. But  it's a lot slower. Like about eight times as slow.   If we don't teach the scouts the correct way and time  and place  to use woods tools who will?   Use a wedge n sledge, or a froe if you must but let us not  teach the abuse of a tool. Be it a Walmart piece of junk or an old Kelly Flintedge.   

 

Edited by Oldscout448

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Thankee, matey...

I hope ye got the gist of my total comment about ruining an axe with the "safe" method of splitting bolts.  Yep, they call it the Shilleliegh Method.   I do not recommend it , but have to mention it in the IOLS  training.  I gave the Troop a fiberglass hafted axe I bought as an experiment, I encourage them to use that.  It would need to be ground down for about an hour to get it sharp enough to actually cut wood, it is so dull in profile, but it makes a good "hand wedge". And the handle will never be broken by over swinging or being run over by a truck.... 

 

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