2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting

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by Todd Walker

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The permanent scars on my parent’s car port floor are a reminder of that grand idea Craig and I came up with while splitting firewood in 1977. The winter wind felt like we were tied to a whipping post.

“Let’s get out of the wind.”

“How ’bout the car port? The wood’s gotta be stacked in there anyway.”

Not our best idea ever, but we set up shop on the two-year old concrete floor. Driving the metal wedge with 8-pound sledge hammers, a few, quite a few actually, shot like bullets through the wooden rounds followed by a distinctive twang of metal meeting concrete.

“Ya think he’ll notice?”

“Nah. It’s just a few dimples. And we’ll stack wood on top anyway.” Upon further inspection, they were chunks, not dimples.

Had we known of these two splitting techniques, we could have saved Daddy’s new floor… and a lot trouble when he got home from work.

The Twist Technique

The normal way to turn big rounds of wood into little stuff is to use a splitting maul or hammer and steel wedge. These tools are heavier than an ax and doesn’t mind eating grit, even an occasional rock under ground. But they’re heavy fellows and not convenient to tote to base camp. A proper ax is easier to carry and does a noble job of separating wood rounds.

There are many frustrating ways to split wood. Typically, one balances a round atop a chopping block, takes aim, swings, and one becomes two pieces. And neither piece stays on the platform for further splitting. The cycle of bending over, balancing a half-round atop the chopping block, and splitting again is about as fun as a pulling teeth. Even using an old tire to hold the stick together while splitting requires lifting and placing the wood inside the tire.

If you want to speed up the splitting process, put a twist on your swing.

Stance, Swing, and Safety

Trees, like people, are different yet have similarities. No matter the wood species, when possible to determine, split rounds from top to bottom. That is, position the wood vertically as it grew in the forest, top end up, bottom (butt) down.

Longer axes are safer than short-handled ones. When splitting, even on a chopping block (backed-up vertical stroke), with a boys ax (24 to 28 inch length), if you miss the target and chopping block all together, your follow through will likely turn your foot into a clove hoof. A 36 inch or longer handled ax extends the swing arc and would stop in the ground on miss hits.

With that in mind, and the fact that we’re not using a chopping block, we’re actually splitting what would traditionally be used as a chopping block – a big, round chunk resting on the ground. A slight twist or flick of the handle at the moment the ax meets the wood will prevent the ax from traveling through the length of wood.

To start, target the outside edge of the round. For my swing, I aim about 3 inches in on the outside edge of the chunk. My right hand grips the bottom of the handle and flicks or twists to the right on impact. You’ll be moving around the chuck steadily removing wood so make sure your area is clear of all tripping hazards and swing obstructions.

Clear, straight-grained wood like the Red Oak in the video makes for fine splitting… until you hit a knot. At that point, the twist technique is not effective. Other tree species can be difficult to split even with a splitting maul. Sweet Gum, for instance, reveals a mangled, interlocking grain which frustrates the most seasoned wood splitter. The best strategy to get through knots with an ax is to strike dead center on the knot. Or, just designate the piece a long-burner.

The Tiger Technique

Steven Edholm, who issued his crazy Axe Cordwood Challenge, along with my fellow participants have tried to come up with a name for this splitting method. Nothing official has stuck. What I’m calling this golf-like-swing is the Tiger. You may have figured out by now I’m referring to Tiger Woods, professional golfer.

Whatever you choose to call it, the Tiger is my favorite and fastest method for turning a pile of large rounds into small, burnable chunks. Before the Safety Sally brigade shuts me down for even suggesting you use what appears to be a dangerous ax swing, allow me to explain the method behind what seems to be pure madness.

Safety Concerns 

I covered the basics of swinging an ax inside and outside your frontal zone in a previous article. There are inherit dangers anytime you swing 3 and a half pounds of scary-sharp steel. I get it. No matter how many times I grip my ax, my mind pictures a few online ax injuries, which can’t be unseen, as I soberly begin swinging. Even then I must follow, without exception, the protocol of safe ax use.

A few concerns always pop up from Safety Sally folks who have never attempted the Tiger. It just looks awfully dangerous. Here’s the gist of their advice/concern…

  • A glancing blow and the ax hits your leg. Don’t split that way.
  • The log should be propped up against another back rest.
  • Looks like an accident waiting to happen – especially with a double bit ax.
  • That’s a hazardous way of splitting wood. I’ve chopped and split wood growing up. Never chopped that way.

What’s interesting is that other seasoned axmen comment on the effectiveness of this method. This is a lateral swing and is preformed outside the frontal zone. The important part is to keep your feet ahead of the point of ax impact. Clear-grained wood separates with alarming speed… and will fly many feet in the wood lot.

When clearing and area for ax work, I use this same swing to remove small saplings close to the ground. As the ax arc begins its upward motion, the bit separates the sapling cleanly. Again, follow the Frontal Zone rules for safe swinging.

Just like any other ax technique, Doing the Stuff is the key to improvement. You can’t watch the video or read about it to become proficient. Study proper technique and go split some wood.

Here’s a few photos of my firewood stack at base camp. The Axe Cordwood Challenge is coming along nicely and teaching me some valuable lessons on the journey.

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The front stack is all ax cut: felling, bucking, splitting, and cutting to length. The Red Oak in the rear was sawn and doesn’t count in my Cordwood Challenge.

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Red Oak and Tulip Poplar stacked. You can see the difference between the sawn firewood and ax-cut wood.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


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Camp Craft Challenge: The One Billet Boil Up

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by Todd Walker

Camping is a time to renew friendships and experience the fellowship of kindred spirits. There is no other place quite like the glowing sticks of a campfire to rejuvenate my soul.

Camp Craft Challenge- The One Billet Boil Up - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Fun times at Georgia Bushcraft campouts are often around a fire. Fire challenges, to be more specific. Most competitions consist of bringing a container of water to a rolling boil. There are other ways to gauge the woodsman’s or woods-woman’s firecraft skills, but none are more important (or fun), in my mind, than boiling water in the woods. With hot water, a camper can disinfect creek water and cook squirrel stew while sipping hot coffee, tea, and cocoa.

To prepare for these fire challenges, I’m known for collecting a trash bag full of “smalls” (pencil lead and pencil size twigs). Gathering enough twigs to boil water in under three minutes can take 30 minutes to an hour depending on how sidetracked I become in the woods. Squirrel! 

Collecting resources on woods treks is wise. However, you won’t find me walking through the woodland with a 55 gallon bag of sticks unless I know there’s an upcoming water-boil competition. With that being said, I’d like to introduce, and challenge, our readers to a time-honored way to boil water which incorporates ax, knife, and fire skills…

One Billet Boil Up

One-stick-fires are not new to me. However, I discovered the interesting history behind this challenge on Chris Noble’s site, Master Woodsman. Chris is always willing to share his wealth of woodsy knowledge at our campouts and his website. Find more on the history of this challenge here and here.

Challenge Guidelines

Here’s what you’ll need. Keep in mind that these are challenge guidelines not competition rules. You’re only competition is you for the sake of testing your skills.

  • One dry wood billet (species of your choice) around 6 inches in diameter and about one foot long – I used a standing dead red cedar billet for my challenge
  • Sharp ax or hatchet
  • Sharp knife
  • Bush pot or tin can large enough to hold one quart of water (32 ounces)
  • Kitchen matches (strike anywhere type)
  • Timer and camera (optional) if you’d like to share with us

I filmed the challenge on our channel if you’d like watch. The previously mentioned Master Woodsman links have useful video examples. Those guys and gals are fast!

Disclaimer: I’m well aware of the competitive spirit among my camping buddies. Should you take the challenge, know that you are using sharp cutting tools which do not discriminate about what they cut… fingers, shins, and hands included. If you are new to ax and knife work, spend time learning to properly handle these cutting tools. You are responsible for keeping appendages if you take this challenge, not us. No prizes are involved, so keep it safe.

Challenge Strategies

With my normal twig fire for water-boiling, surface area is guaranteed. Not so with a solid log. You must create surface area from the log as quickly and safely as possible. Split off a few one inch shingles from the round with your ax. Cut one of the shingles into smaller pieces. Immediately create shavings or fuzz sticks with your knife or ax from one of the smaller pieces. Light these shavings/fuzz sticks with a match as soon as possible. If you’re match goes out without achieving ignition, you’re allowed another match.

Split down more wood to begin building a log cabin fire lay around the fire. Use the smallest split wood to lay over the fire inside the base of the fire lay. The object is to build a couple of layers of burning kindling inside the log cabin.

Place the water container on top of flames supported by two of the cross pieces of the log cabin. Blow the base of the fire as needed to fan the flames.

Build the log cabin up to the top of the container with more split wood. Use what’s left of the original billet to split off four shingles. Lay the shingles against the fire lay in teepee fashion to trap and funnel the heat around the water container.

Just as a blacksmith billows air into his forge to increase the temperature, lay on the ground near the base of your fire and blow. This should only be done if your container is positioned on a steady log cabin structure. You wouldn’t want hot water falling and hitting any part of your body… another inherent risk.

Camp Craft Challenge- The One Billet Boil Up - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

My tin can is somewhere in there.

Once you’re satisfied the fire lay is sustainable, stand back and get your timer ready. Stop your timer once you have a rolling boil in your pot. Side bubbles around the edges of the container does not count as boiling. The entire surface of the water should be dancing and rolling with bubbles.

If you take the challenge, be sure to let us know your results. On social media, use the hashtag #OneBillitBoilUp so we can find you. Remember, the only prize you’ll receive is enhanced camp craft skills. Have fun and be safe!

Additional Resources

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.