Splitting Axes: The Complete Guide to Mastering the Art of Hand Splitting Firewood (2024)

Introduction

Splitting axes have been an essential woodworking tool for centuries, with evidence dating back to the Stone Age when early hand axes for chopping and splitting wood. Over time, axe designs evolved with specialized wedge-shaped heads optimized for splitting logs along the wood grain. By the 18th and 19th centuries, axes like modern splitting mauls emerged and to as “Holtzaxes”.

With the right axe, splitting firewood can be an satisfying and rewarding task. A quality splitting axe feels powerful in your hands and makes quick work of logs. The crack of wood giving way to a sharp blade is a gratifying sound. Being able to split your own firewood provides a sense of self-sufficiency and connection to traditional skills. Approaching the chore with the proper axe and technique can turn splitting from chore to enjoyable activity.

What is a Splitting Axe?

A splitting axes, also known as a splitting maul, is an axe designed for splitting wood along the grain. Unlike felling axes used for chopping across wood fibers, the head of a splitting axe is shaped like a wedge to separate and split wood down the length of the grain.

The wedge-shaped head drives into the wood and forces the fibers apart when swung downward with most force. According to Wikipedia, “A splitting maul also known as a block buster, block splitter, chop and maul, sledge axe, go-devil or hamaxe is a heavy, long-handled axe used for splitting medium to large logs by hand.

Whereas other axes like felling axes have a curved cutting edge to slice wood, splitting axes maximize the concentrated force delivered to a small point. This wedge action is optimized for splitting logs along the grain apart with minimal cutting across fibers. The heavier head weight and handle length further aid in generating greater striking force.

Key Features to Look For

When choosing a splitting axe, there are a few key features to consider that will impact its performance and suitability for your needs:

Head Shape and Angle

The head shape and angle (measured across the bit from edge to poll) determine how the axe penetrates and splits the wood. Most splitting axes have a broader, wedge-shaped head compared to other axes. The wedge angle is around 35 degrees for splitting axes. A wider angle wedge helps split wood along the grain, while a narrower angle is better for chopping across grain. The bit (blade) should be thin for most penetration, but thick enough at the poll end for durability.

Weight and Balance

Heavier heads (3.5-6 lbs) generate more splitting force when swung, but can be more difficult to control. Lighter heads around 3 lbs are easier to swing. The balance point where the axe head sits on the handle also affects swing control.

Handle Length and Material

Longer handles (28-36 inches) give you more leverage for driving the axe head into wood, but shorter handles provide more precision. Ash wood handles absorb impact shock, while fiberglass and composite handles are durable and weather-resistant. Some axes have steel handles for most strength.

Top Axe Brands

When it comes to splitting axes, there are a few leading brands that produce high-quality tools. Here are some of the top names to look for:

Fiskars

Fiskars is likely the most well-known axe brand today. Located in Finland and founded in 1649, Fiskars has a long legacy of axe manufacturing. Their X series of axes, including the X27 splitting axe, features patented technologies like a lightweight fibercomp handle and a wedge-shaped blade design ideal for splitting. Fiskars axes are very popular among both casual and experienced woodcutters.

Husqvarna

Husqvarna is a Swedish company dating back to 1689 that’s known for outdoor power equipment like chainsaws and lawn mowers. They also produce a variety of high-performing axes through their Hultafors brand. Husqvarna splitting axes like the S2800 feature hand-forged carbon steel heads attached to hickory handles. They’re built to last a lifetime with proper care.

Gränsfors Bruk

Also from Sweden, Gränsfors Bruk manufactures premium axes by hand. Their axes are crafted using traditional techniques with Swedish steel and wood from their own forests. Gränsfors Bruk splitting axes, like their large and small splitting mauls, represent the pinnacle of traditional axe quality. They have a price tag to match but are heirloom-quality tools.

Top Models on the Market

There are a few standout splitting axe models on the market that receive top reviews and recommendations from users.

Fiskars X27 Splitting Axe

The Fiskars X27 is one of the most popular and highly-rated splitting axes available. It features Fiskars’ patented IsoCore shock control system, with a composite handle that absorbs vibrations and impact. The head is forged from a single piece of steel for added strength. Weighing 6.5 pounds, the X27 provides power while still being lightweight enough for easy swinging and control.

Husqvarna S2800 Splitting Axe

Husqvarna’s S2800 splitting axe has a hand-forged carbon steel head attached to a hickory shaft. The wedge-shaped head provides maximized splitting power. With a 4.4 pound head, it’s heavier than the Fiskars option, making it a good choice for very experienced splitters who can control the extra weight. The S2800 is praised for its premium quality and durability.

Gränsfors Bruk Large Splitting Axe

For those looking for a premium hand-forged splitting axe, the Gränsfors Bruk from Sweden is a top choice. It has an axe head made of high quality Swedish steel attached to a hickory handle using traditional methods. Weighing 6.6 pounds, it provides power while still allowing solid control. The Large Splitting Axe is built to last generations and is ideal for experienced woodsmen.

What Types of Wood to Use With Splitting Axes

Splitting axes work best on dense hardwoods like oak, maple, ash, and hickory. The straight grain and dense structure of these woods make them easy to split along the fibers when struck with the sharp wedge of a splitting axe. Softwoods like pine, fir, and cedar have a more twisted, knotty grain that makes them more difficult to split. Adjustments in technique like starting smaller splits first may help when using a splitting axe on softwoods.

Green or cut wood also poses challenges for splitting axes. felled trees have a higher moisture content and fibers that are still tight and flexible. As wood seasons and dries over months to years, the fibers loosen and separate more when struck. For green wood, it’s better to use a heavier splitting maul to drive the split. You may also need to start with smaller diameter logs or split across the short end first when working with green wood using an axe(https://bladescave.wordpress.com/2024/05/08/how-to-choose-the-best-fire-axe-for-firefighting-and-outdoor-survival/).

According to sources, “A maul or splitting axe is ideal for larger logs and hardwoods, while a splitting maul is better for knotty or thick wood.” It’s best to use a sharp splitting axe on straight-grained hardwoods. Allowing green or softwoods time to dry before splitting, and using proper technique, will help overcome some of the challenges of splitting them by hand.

Proper Splitting Techniques

Using the proper technique when swinging a splitting axe is crucial for efficiency, safety, and preventing strain or injury. Here are some key techniques to keep in mind:

Target the wood’s grain – Aim the axe at the end of the log, hitting it along the grain line. This makes the split easier compared to striking across the grain. Look for knots, twists, or branch junctions in the grain and avoid them if possible.

Control your swing – Start with the axe raised overhead, feet shoulder-width apart for balance. Swing the axe straight overhead in a vertical arc, letting gravity speed up it downward. Don’t muscle the axe or force it. Use a smooth, controlled motion and let the weight of the head do the work.

Follow through – Don’t stop the swing when the axe hits the wood. Continue following through to maximize force. Allow the axe head to sink well into the wood before prying the split open with the handle.

Position logs – Place logs on a waist-high platform or tree stump to avoid bending over. Make sure they are stable and won’t shift during splitting. Stand to the side when swinging, never behind the axe’s path.

For more tips, see this comprehensive guide on how to split firewood .

Maintaining Your Axe

Maintaining your splitting axe is crucial for keeping it performing at its best. This involves sharpening the blade when it becomes dull, cleaning the handle and head, and storing it.

Sharpening is the most important maintenance task. A sharp axe requires less force to be effective, is safer to use, and will last longer between replacements. Use a file or whetstone to restore a sharp edge along the bit when it becomes dull or nicked. Take care to maintain the original bevel angle.

Cleaning your axe after each use prevents sap or debris buildup. Wipe down the handle with a damp cloth and inspect it for cracks or splinters. Use steel wool and acetone to remove residue on the head, taking care around the sharp edge. Apply a thin coat of linseed oil to the handle to prevent drying.

Store your axe by hanging it on a secure wall hook or stand when not in use. This keeps the edge sharp and prevents damage to the handle. Avoid letting it rest on the ground or leaning it against a wall.

Conclusion

Splitting axes have served a vital role for centuries in processing firewood. With the right axe and proper technique, splitting your own wood can be an gratifying and rewarding experience. When researching options, the key features to focus on are the axe head shape, weight, handle length/material, and brand reputation. Top models from brands like Fiskars, Husqvarna, and Gränsfors Bruk represent quality choices to consider. While best suited for dense hardwoods, splitting axes can tackle most types of wood with adjustments to technique. Proper form when swinging, targeting the grain, and leveraging the split is crucial. And maintaining your axe through sharpening, cleaning, and proper storage will keep it performing at its peak.

Splitting your own firewood allows you to heat your home with renewable energy while getting exercise and connecting with nature. Taking the time to find the right splitting axe for your needs will make the process all the more efficient and enjoyable.

Splitting Axes: The Complete Guide to Mastering the Art of Hand Splitting Firewood (2024)

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