Use a wide, stable chopping block of about knee-height. It is important that the chopping block stands on stable ground with no spring in it. Springy ground will reduce the power of the axe stroke and the splitting effect. It is generally easiest to split a log from the top. Place the log to be chopped as far from you as possible, on the far part of the chopping block. If you miss the log, your axe will then generally hit the chopping block, lowering the risk of hitting the ground or your leg.
Hold the handle low down, with straight arms, for the downward stroke. This will give you more power and safer chopping. Adjust your distance from the log with your feet, not your arms. If possible, the axe handle should be horizontal at the point of contact with the log.
Fresh wood contains about 45 percent water. Before the wood is put on the fire, the water content must be down to about 25 percent or less, which it normally will be after a summer’s drying. Bark, particularly birch bark, slows the drying process, so split wood dries more easily than unsplit wood. It also means that split wood does not get mouldy or rotten as easily, and of course, is much better to make a fire with.
When it comes to Northern Europe’s most common trees, oak and birch wood have the greatest energy content, followed by pine, spruce and aspen, in that order. Winter is regarded as the best time of year for felling deciduous trees. Saw the trunk up into suitable sizes of log with a chainsaw or bow saw.
Split the wood as soon as possible. The more it dries the tougher and more difficult it is to split. It is quite easy to split even thick pine when newly felled, but it becomes very difficult to split after a year. Frozen wood is brittle and easy to split. If the wood is too narrow to split, peel off a string of bark along the log and it will dry more easily.
Try to strike through the centre of the log, as this makes it easier to split even the knottiest of wood. Also, try to chop straight through the knot, if there is one. Large logs can be split in several stages.
Never push the handle sideways if the axe head is stuck in the wood – at worst, pieces may chip off the edge or the handle may break. Remove it instead by pumping the handle up and down.
When the logs are really big, knotty or cross-grained, you might need to use wedges, in which case use two wedges at a time. Insert one wedge near one edge of the log. Drive a wedge in with a splitting maul or sledgehammer to make a crack. Insert the second wedge further in from the edge and hit it until the split widens. Move the first wedge along and so on until the whole log has split apart.
Do not use an ordinary axe as a wedge or sledgehammer. It is not made to withstand the force and may therefore become deformed. Only a maul, with its weight and sturdy poll with bevelled corners, is suitable for striking a wedge.
Remember that there is always a risk in striking steel against steel. A fragment of steel could fly off and damage your eye, for example. It is therefore advisable to wear safety goggles. Make sure that the wedge and the corners of the maul’s poll are kept bevelled.
Firewood must dry thoroughly before use. In the old days they said: “Wood should be split before Easter”; then it can dry during spring and summer, ready for burning in the winter. Particularly in Sweden, you can fell the tree and split the wood at the end of the year, so that the wood can also dry during the winter, when air humidity is at its lowest.
Bark, especially birch bark, slows the drying process, so split wood dries more easily than unsplit wood. Dry wood does not go mouldy or rotten, and is much better for making a fire with. If split wood is stacked bark-side up, the bark will act as a lid and slow down the drying process.
Stacked firewood must be chopped or at least debarked in a string to be able to dry. This is particularly important for hardwood species, which generally have denser bark than softwoods. Place the stack on dry, well-drained ground, preferably in a sunny position. Put some poles on the ground before stacking so that the wood does not touch the damp ground. Make sure that the lowest layer of wood is placed bark-side down to reduce the risk of it rotting. Stack the wood quite loosely, bark-side down, to speed up the drying process. In the old days they said the gaps should be big enough for a mouse to get through.
If the stack is built along a wall, leave an air gap between the two. Make the stack lean a little inwards to avoid the risk of it collapsing due to shifting during the drying process. Place the uppermost layer of wood leaning outwards like tiles to allow rainwater to run off. Another option is to place a sloping roof of planks or boarding just above the level of the stack. Do not cover the sides, however – air must be allowed to circulate through the stack and between the stack and the roof.
Another way of storing firewood is to build a round stack. Build a circular wall of large split logs. Put the smaller or uneven logs randomly in the middle. When the stack begins to get high enough, build it up in the middle and round it off to a smooth mound. Place the top layer of split logs like roof tiles so that rain and snow runs off instead of into the stack.
Wood stacked indoors must be completely dry, otherwise you might have problems with damp and mould.