Tricks of the Trade: The Perfect Splitting Block

Tricks of the Trade: The Perfect Splitting Block

Two good splitting blocks: a Scotch pine block on the left with a whorl of knots and an aptly named knotty hard maple block on the right. Note how the pine block is mated with the firewood angle to prevent the log from sliding off. Photos by Brett R. McLeod.

Wood-splitting is a rural pastime rooted in tradition and experience – experience that’s often measured in broken axe handles and creative curses directed at knotty chunks of cordwood. And, while the debates over preferred firewood species, splitting technique (in-line or over-the-shoulder), and tools (maul or splitting axe) are likely to continue, there seems to be agreement that seeking a worthy splitting block is time well spent.

Why a splitting block? While some folks opt to split firewood directly on the ground, placing a splitting block under your bolt of firewood provides several benefits – first and foremost, safety. Splitting on an elevated block means that the final resting place of the axe is further from your feet. Splitting with a block also decreases the chances of hitting rocks, preserving the bit of your axe by ensuring that it only ever comes into contact with wood. There’s more splitting power; if you try to split firewood on soft ground, you’ll find that much of the force from your swing is absorbed by the earth below. Finally, a good splitting block, when used in conjunction with the tire method (see below), can equal more firewood and fewer backaches.

Block Selection: The most impossible bolts of firewood (read: knotty, ugly rounds) make the best, and longest-lasting, splitting blocks. The curly grain of elm creates a split-resistant block that’s tough to beat. If a block of elm isn’t readily available, look for a knotty block or a flared stump of some other species. The height of the block should be between 12 and 16 inches; if you go much shorter than that, the block is likely to split prematurely. In terms of diameter, your block should be several inches wider than the wood you’re splitting for both stability and safety.

Tricks of the Trade: The Perfect Splitting Block Image

Stumps make handy surfaces and resist splitting.

Surface Angle: Do yourself a favor and set up two splitting blocks, one with a perfectly flat top and the second with the top cut at a 10- to 15-degree angle. Sooner or later, you’ll have a piece of firewood with an angled base that refuses to stand on the flat block. By matching the angle of your firewood with the angle of the block, you’ll be able to make even the most crooked pieces stand upright.

Tricks of the Trade: The Perfect Splitting Block Image

The tire is attached to the block with lag screws to hold things in place.

Semi-Permanent Blocks: If your woodshed is near an old stump, consider yourself lucky. The twisting grain of the root flares makes for a durable, split-resistant surface that can last a surprisingly long time and will never fall over.

Tricks of the Trade: The Perfect Splitting Block Image

Once the firewood is split, you’re left with an armload of wood that’s well off the ground.

New Life for Old Tires: If you’re tired of chasing split firewood around the yard, consider screwing the sidewall of an old tire to the top of your block. Not only will it keep the wood from falling off, you’ll also find that an armload of wood is easier to pick up.

Brett R. McLeod is an associate professor of Forestry & Natural Resources at Paul Smith’s College.

 
Discussion
  1. Parris → in Alberton, Montana
    Aug 19, 2015

    I have found that if I tightly wrap a good Ponderosa block with seven or eight wraps of heavy wire, soon the working top of the block is weathered and pounded and expands into a rather tight mass that no longer acts like splitting wood.  This will work for years of splitting.

    I learned to split with a double-bit Kelly.  The two bits are different; one narrow for cutting a tree down, one a bit thicker with more shoulder behind the bit—for splitting.  I learned to swing that axe with speed and to SNAP it as it impacted the wood.  In some cases I would let the axe-head snap to one side to help split more brittle wood.  I did this into my 60s.  Not long ago someone got me started with a splitting maul and now I’m rather spoiled.

  2. Caroline → in Spokane, WA
    Dec 04, 2016

    The tire and wire are excellent ideas!!!  I have a BAD back, and splitting the kindling is typically much harder on it due to the additional amount of leaning forward and bending down to pick up. So having it trapped all up top would be great!  Otherwise simply splitting nice dry wood is actually healthy for your back. Can’t do it as continuously as pre injury, but can still do it.  I’m one who swings the axe when splitting rounds in almost a 360 with speed/momentum and let the axe do the work. Really helps to loosen even a bad back up if I can get away with an axe vs a maul. The Fiskars seem the best to me. Great article.

  3. Jonathan Frishtick → in Norwich, Vermont
    Mar 18, 2017

    The tire trick is wonderful, especially if you do some final splitting indoors. My woodstove is in the basement. I keep a low stump and tire in my basement next to my stack of split wood for last minute kindling production. Be forewarned, a misguided swing that strikes the tire may propel the butt or poll of your maul or kindling axe back up toward your head. This can be an immediately sobering experience first thing on a cold winter’s morning.

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