I’ve seen a few posts recently on social media that show people wrapping paracord around the handle of their axe just below the head or else wrapping a piece of leather around the same place. The reason being in case you miss with your axe when chopping and then damaging the handle.
I see where this is coming from, but none the less I’m not convinced it’s a good idea as, for one thing, it makes strangling or choking your axe much less comfortable. This is where you hold the axe just under the head; it gives you a great deal of control and allows you to carry out some fine carving work, as shown in the photo below on our Nordic Crafts course.
I find myself using my axe in this way at least as much as I do for chopping, and probably more so. It’s also why having a ‘balanced’ axe is important so that you can let the tool do the work.
But mostly I’m not keen on it because if you aren’t confident of hitting the target, you shouldn’t be taking the swing! So here are a few pointers on splitting with an axe. Also, take a look at this post on general axe safety.
If you need to split wood but aren’t confident of hitting the target, baton instead. Always use a wooden baton, never hit the back of your axe with anything metal.
- Place the piece of wood onto a stump.
- Hold the axe in your non-dominant hand and the baton in your dominant hand. Note where I’m holding the axe in the photo below, my hand is much closer to the head of the axe than it is to the end on the handle. My hand position gives me the control I want.
- Make sure that you’re holding the axe across your body. This way when the axe comes out of the wood it’ll swing off to the side and not towards your leg.
- Strike the back of the axe as if you mean it.
If you’re feeling tired, or it’s getting close to dark, kneel down and baton.
Once you start to get down to processing smaller pieces, for example to use as kindling, then use a ‘sissy stick’ (I prefer to call it a ‘got all my fingers stick’) to hold the piece of wood in place.
This time you’ll need to have the axe directly in front of you but it’s still safe as you only need to lift the axe up a couple of inches to make the strike. Again, my hand is closer to the head of the axe tahn it is to the end of the handle.
Splitting on the ground
More often than not you won’t have the luxury of a stump and need to use a different technique. Here I’m talking about laying the piece of wood on the ground as opposed to batoning on the ground, where the soft ground will absorb the impact and prevent the wood from splitting.
- Place the piece of wood on the floor laying on top of another piece.
- Stand either side with your legs well apart so that the piece of wood is in the middle of your feet.
- You’ll need to hold the handle in both hands and at the end .
- Strike the end of the piece of wood but don’t follow through with the swing; as you make contact, snatch the axe backwards.
I use a Gransfors Bruks small hunters axe as my personal axe, and at 6’2″ tall I find I have to bend over a bit for this technique, so if I’m around the camp and the large forest axe is at hand I’ll use that instead.
Splitting smaller rounds
- If you’re faced with smaller rounds of wood then another technique is to hold the piece of wood and the axe together, with the axe on top.
- Make sure that the edge of the axe is at the end of the stick.
- You can then simply bring the 2 down onto a stump together to split the stick..
- To quarter the stick, do the same thing again.
- If you don’t have a stump to work on, you can use a small log on the ground as an anvil.
Using both hands
Sometimes you need to use a bit more force and so you need to swing the axe. Remember what I said at the beginning, if you’re not confident of hitting the target, don’t do it.
- Use a stump that’s about knee height.
- Place the log on the stump so that it’s standing the way it grew, that is with the top upper most (no this isn’t a wind up, it really makes a difference!).
- Have the log on the ‘side’ of the stump furthest away from you as shown in the drawing below.
- Stand directly in front of the stump with the log in the centre of your line of sight.
- Plant your feet firmly on the ground so that they’re parallel, behind and either side of the stump.
Hold your axe in both hands so that you maintain control.
- Your dominant hand should be just below the head of the axe.
- Your non-dominant hand should be holding the bottom of the axe handle.
- Raise your hands to chest height. Don’t bring the axe over your head as you will have little control over where it goes.
- Have a test run in slow motion to make sure that the axe will strike the target where you intend it to.
- Aim at the middle of the log (you don’t want to hit the wood on the side or to the front as this will result in a glancing blow potentially resulting in injury).
- Using sufficient strength, deliver the blow by sliding the dominant hand down the handle towards the non-dominant hand.
- As the axe hits the log, drop your weight into your knees to provide extra force.
- If the axe doesn’t split the wood in half with the first hit, tap the back of the axe until it makes its way down the grain and splits the log into two pieces. Use a piece of wood to do the tapping.
- If this fails, turn the axe over with the log attached and bring it down onto the stump butt first.
- Again, if you’re tired or it’s near to dark, kneel down with your legs apart to split wood.