With Autumn here and Winter upon us in the southern hemisphere, I thought what better topic to add to PMM’s Essential Skills Series, than how to split, stack and store firewood. I feel this is a skill that every man should learn. Most modern homes now have central heating to keep us warm in the cooler months, but having grown up in Tasmania, in the South East of Australia, nothing beats the warm glow of a fire place on a cold winter’s night after a hard days work. Ultimately, you want to be getting those nice big logs onto the fire to burn long into the night, but first, you have to create a handful of smaller pieces of wood (kindling) and medium sized logs to build sufficient heat to make this happen.
Splitting and stacking wood for me became a yearly and family tradition. My dad taught both my brother and I how to use an axe and blockbuster aka a splitting maul from a young age. Prior to this we were purchased hatchetts (hand axes, great for little fellas) to safely practice on smaller pieces of wood before progressing to using the larger tools. I’m sure dad secretly blunted the edges for safety purposes.
To be honest, splitting and stacking firewood is hard going, but it’s much like the activity of running or mowing one’s lawns, after a while it doesn’t become as monotonous as you originally think. Sure you can lower your heating bill in the winter months, but there is a secret sense of satisfaction you get when you cleanly split a piece of wood, strategically stack it and have it ready for that long, cold, wet winter ahead. Bonus is, it makes for great exercise.
A quick history lesson:
Humans have long had an obsession with fire. Evidence of fire came from the discovery of Stone Age flint tools, which were used for scraping and cutting meat. The Stone Age spanned from about 3.4 million years ago to about 6000 B.C. and was marked by widespread use of stone tools, the earliest form of man-made technology. According to scientific research, the first evidence of early humans using fire dates back to more than a million years, but the practice did not become routine until about 650,000 years later.
How to split wood:
It’s relatively straight forward to be honest. Without making it sound too easy, here are a few pointers that will see you splitting wood safely in no time:
Before beginning make sure your axe and blockbuster are in good knick. Grab a pair of riggers gloves. You can pick these up from Bunnings or Mitre 10 on the cheap. Steel cap boots are ideal for footwear, yet, if you don’t have a pair of those then a sturdy pair of outdoor boots will do. Never, I repeat never chop wood in thongs, bare feet or Dunlop Volleys. You’re not David Foster.
1. Firstly, grab a very wide evenly cut piece of wood with flat edges/cuts. This will be your splitting/chopping block which you will use as a platform to split your wood. This will help maximise the effort of the swing, as well as provide a platform for your piece of wood. The added bonus of the block as opposed to splitting wood on the ground is to help save those most needed toes of yours.
2. Position your log correctly on the splitting block as best possible to make sure it stays stable. Get a shoulder width stance happening, and for the first few logs, always get in a few practice swings in with your axe with a comfortable and controlled grip. This is to judge the distance from you to the log on the splitting block as well as the length and ark of your axe swing. Remember the toes. 😉
3. Prepare your swing by checking you surroundings first. After years of doing this, there were almost always faithful dogs hanging around, always willing to help their human companions at the most inopportune of times. Also, humans. Small or large.
4. Swing the axe in a controlled downward motion to your log on the splitting block after you’ve gone through steps 2 and 3.
5. Depending on the grain/type and state of the logs being chopped, you may need to strike them twice, sometimes three times. Some knotted logs need some more loving than 2-3 times. I.e. – Simply run through steps 2, 3, & 4 again until success strikes. Literally.
NOTE: For those larger logs, this is where a blockbuster aka splitting maul (pictured above and blue in colour) comes in handy. It’s used in the exact way that an axe is used. They’re not necessarily as sharp as an axe, but they’re much heavier and more robust, which creates greater force, easily splitting those larger, more dense pieces of wood.
How to stack and store your wood once split:
1. Choosing a level site that has sun exposure for drying purposes is ideal. If you wish to get serious, some people suggest laying your stack north to south to catch the east-west wind, but this isn’t make or break. A little wind and sun should see you fit.
2. You can lay some pieces of wood, such as 2×4’s at the base of your stack to slightly elevate it to avoid moisture building up and wet logs on the bottom of the stack. Once again, this isn’t completely necessary but can be of bonus.
3. If you’re stacking the wood outside like we did, then finding some trees can be of benefit to square of and support your wood stack. If you’re stacking wood in a shed, even better. This will have it protected from the elements and if it’s strong enough will provide a good structure for the beginnings of your stack.
4. You’ll want to strategically pick out some larger and more level logs to place at the base of your stack to help stabilise it. This is super important as you don’t want it falling over halfway through winter. Your stack doesn’t need to reach the sky, but ideally you should aim for between hip to chest height depending on room and you stacking ability. Once you’ve set up a decent base with the larger logs, grab a the more medium sized logs and go to town. Treat it like a jigsaw puzzle and it’ll make the task a little easier and more rewarding. Once you’ve knocked the hard yards out and the stack is near finished, I have found over the years that having drier, smaller pieces of wood near the top of the stack aids in achieving a quick go to for kindling (smaller pieces used to get the fire going) in dire situations. With this said though you should always have a dry, go-to stack of kindling. It’ll reduce the daily exercise of always having to split wood prior to lighting your fire.
If you want to go next level:
If you want to get next level romantic with wood, you can always take it to the Scandinavian level. A chap by the name of Lars Mytting wrote and published a book that’s become a cult classic in Scandinavia and it’s all about wood and fire. Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way. The book discusses the pleasures of preparing wood for a fire and why firewood is part of a man’s cultural identity in those parts of the world.
So there it is folks. I sure fire way to get yourself set up for winter if you own a wood fire, or at the very least rent, stay or air bnb a joint that has a wood fire. You don’t want to be that person that has a wood fire at the ready only to fall short of amazing by not knowing how to prep and start one.
Enlighten. Empower. Evolve.
PMM Lifestyle & Performance
AA, BA (Behavioural Sciences) University of Tasmania
MSW & Clinical Counselling Griffith University
Certified Level III/IV Trainer
ASCA Qualified Strength & Conditioning Coach
ASCA Sports Nutrition
ASCA Mentor Coach
What I’m currently listening to:
Tash Sultana’s new EP – Notion.