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Saturday, October 26. 2013
The Mighty Maul
If all of your winter firewood has not been split yet, it is Splitting Maul Season.
Log splitting is a great joy, a great work-out, and useful. And it can be done as well by a 113-pound gal as by an 180-pound fellow because, when done properly, the maul does most of the work. Heck, it's a sort of lever. You lift it, then let gravity and leverage do the rest of the work, assuming you put the right English on the blow to your log. That is a matter of practice and experimentation, and a deep source of pleasure once this basic life skill is acquired.
Axes are terrible for wood-splitting. Wedges get stuck, cause huge frustration, and get lost in the field. There are all sorts of good mauls. This photo of mauls shows the spring-loaded maul, #5, which looks like a foolish gadget but which truly works well, and will really throw the wood around if you are wise and work on the edges and don't aim for the middle of a big one. Highly recommended by the Bird Dog Consumer Reports.
I approach a large log in the classic manner: I work around the edges, then I chop the corners off the remaining square, or pentagon, or whatever it might be. I like to end up with a square piece at the end. Knots? I never fight a knot just like I never argue with a Leftist/Statist. I burn them intact.
Very satisfying work and, as Thoreau said, it warms you twice: Once when you split it and again when you burn it. That is true Yankee economy.
Teach your children well...
Posted by Bird Dog in Our Essays, The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 12:40 | Comments (28) | Trackback (1)
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I use an 8 pounder. My wood warms me three times, splitting it, hauling it into the house and burning it.
Our Elm tree was destroyed in an ice storm one year. My Dad cut the wood and assigned me to split it. The only implement which worked at all was a "wood grenade" round wedge.
Burning the wood was not necessary to warm me by the time (weeks later) I actually finished.
I loved splitting real hardwood with our 10 pounder otherwise.
Elm is awful to split. Even a good sized log splitter will have trouble making clean splits in it. Not the hardest wood in the world, but the biggest PITA to split.
After splitting for a lifetime, I can't add much to BD's advice. The man who taught me about wood has lately taken to the Wood Grenade, which NJsoldier mentions, but I haven't spent much time with it, yet. It looks like a smaller version of #4 in the picture, except round. Don't plant it in the middle of a big piece, as BD advises, or you'll be chasding it with other wedges! #5 does work well, but I prefer #2, or similar, for most work. If there's elm to be split, it means there must be a youngster around to teach, I just have to find him or her!.
When I was young, our company had many customers on Fisher's Island, which we would visit with the bucket and chip trucks, chippers for a few days at a time. Ferry over, leave the equip someplace safe for the night, and either commute for a week, or sleep on the floor of one of the old military installations. It was the last place I re-set a lightning protection system, up to the top of a 95 foot black locust over a nice house.
Black locust is the bar-none best for fence posts and rails, and I've watched a man split those with a drilling hammer and a few small wedges.
If you're learning how to split, visualize where the tool will go if you miss, and plant your feet accordingly. It will usually glance and turn over if you miss, or hit a very hard piece, so stand well back, and let the weight do the work. Direct the blow straight down, and not so the maul will swing back through your legs.
Contrary to some opinion, most wood can be split anytime, but I admit it's easier when the wood is not green, and when it's cold.
My old boss never joined a gym, but split 8+ cords/year to feed his wood-burning boiler for the house. The man is still in amazing shape, and for a short guy has the strongest upper body I've ever seen - no one in the CT Tree Protective Assc. will arm-wrestle him anymore at the meetings!
Nice piece, Steve. My ex was splitting wood and did not "let the weight do the work" at some point. He crushed three vertebrae in his neck. He had surgery, and in a neck brace with his almost useless left arm in a sling went back to his veterinary practice within days. In order to do surgeries, the OR tables had to be elevated and tilted so he could see the patient.
I split 3-5 cords each and every year with #1. It’s bad ass. I call it “Darth Maul”!
Thank you very much.
Elm will kill you.
I used to be proud of myself as a young man because of the wood I split until my grandfather mentioned offhand that a cord of wood, from tree to pile, was considered a good day's work in his era. With only a swede saw, an axe, and two wedges.
Tough bastard. Hard to believe I come from the same stock.
Aaahh, woodsplitting hobbyists.
I haven't had to do it in several years, but will probably have to start splitting again several years from now when we pull the ripcord on suburban megalopolis existence.
Some things I know from putting up ~ 40 full cords per year to heat the folks' house and to sell some off:
1) Beech beats oak. Oak beats maple. Maple beats hickory. And if you see elm or ironwood, run like hell. Sell the cherry to a woodworker, save the basswood and poplar for hot days, you can split it without breaking a sweat. It's good for kindling, that's about it. And don't you dare take an axe to a walnut tree. Some trees are not meant to be cut down - any tree that has to be at least a hundred years old to be considered large and tending toward maturity, is too venerable for you to just cut and toss in the fireplace. Only take walnut if it is getting diseased, then make sure it lands in the hands of a woodworking specialty shop so that it is ultimately used by those who will treat it with the proper respect due an ancient. Seriously - if you'd burn walnut other than in extremis, you're probably the kind of person who would kick a dog for no good reason.
b) Doesn't matter much what wedge you use. You'll want cheap wedges if you're splitting a lot by hand and you actually need (rather than just enjoy) to split lots. Start with a good maul. Your weight / strength does matter if you have to work fast. The fastest way is to swing a big maul and take chips off around the edges of a big piece. Start the swing from near your heels, bring it up and over smooth, accellerating it like a whip. If the wood is seasoned and dry, and you're strong, you can break down most wood pretty quick. Knotty maple, stringy elm or similar wood... different story. Keep an extra handle and some bits for it in the garage, for when (not if) you miss a wedge and krunk the handle.
iii) If you have a really big piece, split it right down the middle. Hope you're good with the wedges, you'll need three or four, but if you're fast it will only be 4-5 hard strokes per wedge. Busting it up that way seems to weaken the whole piece of wood and make it more susceptible to being split by maul stroke. If that big hunk is real knotty... save it for those days when maintaining marital bliss requires a 20 minute cooling off period mid-day.
1.4) If you're doing it for real - 20 face cords or more per year for legit heat or sale, just drop the money and get a good splitter on a hydraulic ram. You can bemoan the loss of exercise from splitting wood by hand, but you're going to be cutting, hauling, splitting, hauling, and stacking so much anyhow, you're not going to miss the hammer swinging. Besides, if you're a jackass and forget to keep your 11 Hp Briggs & Stratton engine well maintained, you'll get just as good of a workout trying to pull start that thing as you would from splitting the wood by hand. Don't bother with the screw-type splitters. They're weak.
All great advice, Al.
We had a friend and neighbor with a 30 inch diameter (at breast height) black walnut, whose wife complained about the tree, and wanted it "taken away". Even though it was a "residential" tree, it probably had enough wood in the first 20 feet to feed the stock-makers at the Winchester Custom Shop (Or Remington, Fox, etc.) for a short eon. I asked what the complaint was, and my friend told me the nuts kept falling on her head. "Here," I said, reaching into my pocket, "Take this five dollars over to the hardware store and buy her a hard hat." He laughed, and then over the next eight, or so, years, I pruned this beauty twice, and thought I had impressed upon him the value it lent to his property. A few years ago, when I was busy traveling for work, he had one of the new, local "tree removers" come and take it away. I guess he wanted to keep peace with the wife. When he finally told me about it, he about messed himself, when I estimated what I could have brokered that butt for to a former boss, now a timber cruiser for some Canadian veneer mills. Kinda like landing a big tuna at the dock in Montauk, but way more valuable.
I still use the 8 lb. maul and an occasional wedge for my oak and maple. For softer pine and cedar I use a Fiskars splitting axe. It works well on the hard stuff too (most of the time). Nice thing about it is that is very light weight so the speed of the blow makes up for the heft of a maul.
Exotic woods to me: ash, beech, oak. Way out west, it's all fir, maple, alder, spruce, cedar and pine.
I’d love to have a “Darth 20-ton Hydraulic”, but the dang things are so cumbersome on hills and in tight spaces. Plus I’m wary of road towing that can loosen hydraulic connections. But it is quite possible to split 10 cords yourself in a day with one, provided you’re well organized, have stamina, and don’t mind that carpal tunnel numbness in your fingers you’ll get for the next few days.
Wish we could get more than pine and fir - is like burning paper - too fast and hard to get it to stay overnight. Forestry likes us to cut the beetle kill, and it's easy, but nothing like hardwoods. Once in a while there is a pinon to harvest, but mostly Ponderosa and Doug Firs. Envy.
I used to use a spring maul without the spring part (because someone gave it to me and I didn't have any axe). When the handle on that finally gave out I decided to get a proper maul, like the one at #1 on the chart. Remarkable how much better the smaller cross-section blade works.
And like Al, above, I've discovered it's best to go right through the middle, because the halves split into chunks more easily. I'm mostly doing maple and am constantly bedeviled by knots and forks, because I'm too cheap to discard those segments.
FWIW-I was introduced to a Monster Maul years ago & haven't needed to use any other tool.
Agreed, if you cam still find one. Have been using mine for 18 years and split 4-8 cords of oak annually. Haven't owned a regular maul or wedges in decades.
I'm a #2 fan. Wedges are just a pain to me. Never tried the spring maul - might have to buy one just because I like gadgets.
I find that alot of splitting is reading the log before you start. If you look closely, the grain and cracks will tell you where to spilt it. This makes the work alot easier.
"Keep an extra handle and some bits for it in the garage, for when (not if) you miss a wedge and krunk the handle."
Excellent advice. Just last weekend I found my ol' #2 maul. Apparently I'd "krunked" the handle many years ago and never bothered putting a new one onto it. Needed to plug a hole, stuffed the maul into it until I got a round tuit to "find something better" and never got around to finding something better.
All I split for anymore is a chimenea and for that I cut the blocks so short that they split just fine with just an axe. But mauls are better. I'm gonna fix it.
BTW, while we're talking about splitting, I'll split hairs and pick nits and point out that #s 3, 6, 7, & 8 are not mauls. Handy tools useful for processing trees into firewood but not mauls.
I find I can get many years out of a maul handle by wrapping a strip of inner tube around the handle and securing it with a wrap of duct tape. Put on two layers, and replace the outer one when you see the inner one.
I also have a steel handle guard that fits on my old splitting axe. Looks wimpy, but I haven't had to replace the handle in 30 years.
After dealing with a gnarly yard maple last year, I tried a hydraulic splitter that operates in a vertical mode. Great for not having to lift the three ft diameter by 16 inch sections up, but you spend the day hunched over feeding it. That might be harder on my back than the maul. Powers through those gnarly forks, though!
For home heating, install a kachelofen - the most efficient wood heating method known for long cold winters - and put whole logs in once or twice a day.
Or just go here and click all over:
You can also feed a mass heater with a rocket stove - which uses branches, twigs, corncobs and canes - no woodsplitting:
Can anyone out there please help me find the spring loaded maul that is shown in the picture above as #5. My Brother in-law says u can't get them anywhere...I want to show him I can find anything
In my family we say it warms you four times - splitting, hauling/ burning, drinking a scotch in front of the fire!
I tried the # 5 maul and quickly went back to the standard #2 style.
I have found the colder the weather the less effort is required to split the logs, especially if they're green. I do most of my splitting when it's -20 or colder and little more than a one handed tap will split the biggest log in 4 pieces. OK I'm exaggerating just a wee bit, but it really does take a lot less effort at -20 or colder.
1) Always use safety glasses. A friend who was an anesthesia nurse lost one eye splitting wood with a wedge.
2) For 11 years in my youth I heated with wood: Tamarack and Red Cedar. Used all kinds of techniques but the one I came to rely upon was taught to me by my father who grew up splitting wood for heat and the kitchen stove. He taught me to use a Maddock. It is shown here on the right:
Using a Maddock always work from the outer edge to the center. One expends less energy than using a wedge.
Many years ago, still in possession of hair, I was attempting to split some elm my father had taken down. I was using axes, sledges, wedges and a lot - a lot - of sweat. That stuff was TOUGH.
One of the locals, probably older than the tree I was working on, came along and asked me what I was doing. He then proceeded to show the city slicker how...
I'd been trying to split the stuff down the middle. He smirked, took just an axe and started peeling chucks off the sides, one, two, three, faster than I can type this. Try to split elm across the rings and it'll fight you like a bear. Put the axe blade along the rings and it's a pussycat. 14" elm into stove-size chunks in no time.
He was an axeman - and I say that with reverence.
This works great and is very light. I tried one and had to order 3 more for friends.
I spent my teenage years splitting various types of hardwood as that was our only source of heat. Dad and I tried various tools, mauls (including #5), and tried a variety of splitters.
Hydraulic splitters are OK on softwoods, but that was it. And we never bothered with Elm - didn't put out enough heat.
To my mind, the BEST tool, which no one here has mentioned, is an auger running on a tractors PTO. A similar one is pictured here: http://augerdrilling.eu5.org/?p=70
We ran ours off a FarmAll model H, and the only limit to the size of log it would split, was whether I could muscle it into position. It was much faster then anything else I've ever seen. We routinely split oak, occasionally hickory and maple. The only wood that gave us trouble was "black jack" oak, which was too stringy to separate.
I've never seen another one exactly like the one we had, but this one is similar:
Amazon has the Fiskers 17 in on sale this afternoon.
One more load yesterday. This is well-seasoned White Ash, the tree from which baseball bats are made. I see some log-splitting in my future. Yes, that is a Fisher's Island sticker for those with sharp eyes. Very nice place, Fisher's - but no place for tou
Tracked: Oct 06, 17:20