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Posts Tagged ‘Splitting Wood’

Two trees down, and what do you do with the wood? Neighbors came for some of it. The woodworker snatched away the trunks. The city took the branches. The compost is chewing on the leaves. The friend of a friend ground the stumps. But those pieces in the range of ten inches to two and a half feet in diameter and many with multiple forks were still around. I had suggested to my friend that he borrow a hydraulic log splitter, but he could not find one. Then I remembered that a recent acquaintance, a brother in Christ with whom I hit it off well at first meeting, had recently offered me the use of his wood splitter in an unrelated circumstance. The problem had been that his splitter was at the back of a large workshop that had been converted to temporary storage. It had wood and tools and equipment stacked in front of the wood splitter. So, my homeowner friend with the two big trees on the ground and I offered to help him dig it out. That was an adventure in old wood, old tools, old memories, and dreams for future projects. With a will to get it out, we dug it out in under an hour, inflated the tires and off we went. It appeared that the woodsplitter had been used very few times and it had been stored for several years. Thankfully the gasoline had been drained out of the tank, as that can gum up the carburetor over time. It wouldn’t start anyway. There was definitely fuel in the cylinder. There was no spark on the plug. There was spark from the coil. We took a trip to the Tractor Supply for a new spark plug. It still wouldn’t start. We took the air filter off, found a neighbor with starter fluid, but it still only barked once or twice. I prayed more directly about it starting. The neighbor put his hand over the choked intake. It sputtered. It sputtered a few more times and then started up with very little smoke, running well the rest of the day, and restarting easily after refueling. Those pesky double problems can take time and troubleshooting skills.

We split wood for more than six hours. The claim and assumption is that a hydraulic wood splitter takes all of the work out of splitting wood. It most definitely makes it easier and splits twisted and forked pieces that are hard to do manually, but it does not remove all work. And, there are pieces that can only be done with sledgehammer and multiple wedges. Following I have two sequences of the splitting process. The observant viewer would figure out that these are not actually sequential pictures, but ordered from various images to show the process. Most of the work of hydraulic wood splitting is getting the log under the wedge.

The fun and easy part is pushing the lever and watching the wedge split, mangle, or destroy almost any piece of wood put beneath it. I found that on the tougher pieces, when the splitter was straining to go through the wood, that I would press harder on the lever as if that would make a difference. Part of the trick on the larger and more twisted grains is “reading the grain” as I call it, or “grainology”, as my friend termed it.

Sometimes the wedge goes through but the wood is not fully separated. Here we are determining what to do next.

Since the piece is heavy you want to avoid having to flip it around or over. Frequently the answer is a well placed blow with an axe or sledgehammer.

We were very tired after so many hours heaving the pieces into place that we totally overlooked one last big chunk. When I returned several days later to load another truckload of wood, I assured my friend that we could split it with sledgehammer and axe. The next sequence of pictures arose from my friend trying to time the shutter of the camera with the blow upon the block of wood. I’m glad he missed numerous times so that you could see what goes into a swing. Splitting a piece of wood is not a strength move but a power mover. Therefore, the power is produced by the whip you give to the axe handle from about its highest point to just before the impact. There was not need for great power in these straight grained pieces I was splitting for this sequence, so my swing is not quite what makes for the most powerful swing. If I was producing more power, I would slide my top hand (right hand in the pictures) down the handle to increase the whip and thus the power. The reason the whip is so effective is that power is how fast work is done. I have a limited ability to increase strength, but the whip can greatly increase speed, reducing time and increasing power.

The other factor in a good blow is hitting the right spot at the right angle. The next picture captures that moment when I focus on the spot to be hit before commencing to swing. I find that I must focus there all the way through the swing and that distraction or fatigue decrease my likelihood of hitting my intended target. Basically, you are trying to strike parallel to the radial grain toward or away from the growth center.** On smaller or thinner pieces you can strike along a ring to split a piece. It is more tricky with forks, but there are places and directions to hit that make those more likely to split as well. It is all in reading the grain.

Splitting wood is both an athletic move and an endurance move in order to keep repeating it.

I attribute my next stance to both the partial stiffness of age and the positioning of the axe for a powerful blow. My young friend takes a similar stance just before striking but with a little less evidence of stiffness.

Proof of the ease of the pieces being split is the axe going all the way through and into the ground. This does not often happen. After the photo op we split the fork with wedges. It took quite a few blows to go through that.

I love this next picture. It shows my friend’s determination, focus and strength. He was amazed at the first decently large piece that I split cleanly with an axe. I felt like I had done a Hollywood stunt*** and quickly explained that I was able to do that because it was so straight grained. These pieces are the joy and fun of splitting wood before the real work commences.

There’s that stance again.

It is amazing how fast the wood can pop sometimes. The piece has flown off to his right before his axe hit the ground. He learned something else this day. Though plastic handled axes and sledgehammers have the advantage of being hard to break, the handle pounds the daylights out of your arms all the way up. I swung his axe a few times and then went over to get my wooden handled axe for the remainder, as you see above.

White Oak wood has such a pleasant smell. I actually took a cup full of ground stump mulch home as a potpourri for my livingroom. The wood has the property of cooperage, swelling to seal fluids in barrels and buckets. It makes lovely, sturdy furniture and provides much food for woodland animals. Its foliage is beautiful and especially in the Autumn when it turns yellow. It can live to a ripe old age five or six times what any of us will. It makes for good shade and grows in rich or poor soil with less water than most hardwoods. It is, in short, another of God’s good creations with much beauty and utility. I enjoyed observing and extracting some of that goodness for multiple people’s use.

*I hope you don’t think my pun inappropriate, based on 2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV). He does own both after all.

**The growth center is where the rings come together, that is, where it began to grow, and is not the same as the geometric center because trunks and branches frequently grow faster on one side than the other based on tension or compression caused by holding weight.

***Have you ever watched an old Western movie with someone splitting wood? They go through every time. Why? They use straight-grained, dried Western varies of wood like cottonwood or fir that you could split with a hatchet.

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I am one tired 60 year old this evening*. It rained relentlessly yesterday and last night. The weather forecast suggested cloudy in the morning and sunshine in the afternoon. It was drizzling heavily when I left home this morning. The job I had intended to do was postponed until drier, so I shifted gears to get firewood. I cannot remember a year in the past 37 winters of heating with wood that I began the year with so little firewood. A job estimate I did turned into an opportunity to get wood. The oak tree in question had been down about a year, having died and been cut. It was elevated off of the ground by branches, which allowed it to dry without rotting, and it was about 18 to 20″ in diameter at the base. The wood was sound, sap dried**, and fairly straight grained***. The drizzle quit, the saw was cutting well, and the distance from truck to tree was short. The landowner had even said that I could borrow his hydraulic splitter. After reminding him of this kindness several times, it never materialized. So, after rolling the larger pieces up beside the truck and throwing all of the smaller pieces into the truck, I began to split with my trusty 10-pound sledge hammer and wedges and double bladed axe. I might need to buy some new wedges some time since I have pounded the old ones to about 2/3 their original length over the past 37 years. I split 15 of the 18+/- diameter logs and all of the pile of medium sized logs in the picture. Then I loaded it, hauled it home, and after a large, late lunch, stacked it in the firewood shed. It is time for a sit.

Time for business
Only nine logs at this time; 15 when I rolled them all up.
About halfway there
Not totally volumetrically full, but weight full with trailer attached
Ready to haul
Recycling a stump

Rats, I didn’t have time to workout today. Do you reckon I’m OK skipping a day?

*I asked myself a question you may have asked about my blog writing. Why does he write about everyday events? Who cares and who wants to know? My answer is that my twofold reason for writing this blog is to glorify God and record what I am thinking and doing. I think it does the former by showing His work and provision in the mundane as well as exceptional, and it does in the latter by showing I’m just a common joe going about life.

**Wood may be soaked by rain and still be “dry”. Green wood does not burn well, needing a year for the sap to dry out.

***Straight grained wood is easy to split. Oak is generally so except where there are knots. Some tree species, for example sycamore, twist as they grow and can be difficult to split.

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