Hand tools for woodcutting

Thoreau once said that firewood warms you twice: once when you cut it, and again when you burn it. If you chop your own wood by hand with an axe, you’ll know exactly what he means. A good, sharp axe is indispensable for chopping up fallen trees and splitting large logs. 

Craig McKinley is a retired Extension Forestry Specialist at Oklahoma State University and says choosing an axe is a rather personal selection.

"There’s a choice of either what they call a single bit or a double bit and the single bit has a sharp edge on one side and the double bit has the sharp edge on both sides," he says. "I prefer a double bit because I think the balance is a little better, it doesn’t want to turn in my hand."

In addition to the weight of the head, the shape of the handle is important for comfort. Choose one that fits you. Since the axe head will probably outlast a couple of handles, make sure the handle and head are secured with visible wedges. They shouldn’t be molded together with plastic because replacing the handle will be very difficult. Keep the axe blade sharp with a sharpening steel and pocket-sized whetstone.

A companion with an axe to finish the job is a “maul.” It looks like a heavy hammer with a dull blade. It’s used to split the wood chunks into quarter-rounds of firewood.  Like the axe, it should be well-balanced and head attached firmly to the handle. However this tool doesn’t need to be sharpened.

"Because it’s not a cutting instrument it’s a brute force splitting instrument. So if someone has one of those don’t sharpen it down like an axe," explains McKinley. "Basically an axe would get stuck in the wood where this maul has enough force to split it."

A splitting maul should never be used as a sledgehammer, or slivers of metal can shear off and put out an eye. If you have to drive steel wedges into large or knotty sections of wood to split them, use an actual sledgehammer.

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