Swinging an axe is difficult work—the type of work that requires muscle, skill, and more than a little sweat... And it feels damn good, too.
If you’re going to do it right, you need to know how to talk like a woodsman. So to help you harness your inner-lumberjack, we've put together a quick primer that will have you talking like Paul Bunyan in no time.
What the Buck?
The process of cutting a tree into usable lengths is called bucking. The short usable lengths, called rounds, are then chopped into firewood. If you’re bucking rounds, make sure that you cut your rounds the right length. Sixteen inches is the ideal length for most wood burning stoves.
Chopping vs. Splitting
Chopping is cutting. When chopping, you cut or whack away against the grain. Chips fly. Splitting, on the other hand, is what you do when you make firewood—you split the wood along the grain. We might be chopping hairs here, but if you really want to sound like a woodsman, you should know the difference.
A cord is a stack of wood that measures 4ft. x 8ft. x 4ft. The average pickup truck can haul about half a cord of firewood.
Stack Wood into a Pile or Pile Wood into a Stack?
Generally speaking, wood is stacked into a pile--not the other way around. The end result after of a day of stacking, is called a "woodpile." In Scandinavia, where more wood is stacked than just about anywhere, they say that you can tell a lot about a man by the quality of his woodpile. We tend to agree. The largest woodpiles ever recorded were probably stacked in Helsinki during WWII. It’s said that a war-time woodpile in Hakaniemi Square was a mile long and fifteen feet high.
What is a Felling Axe?
If you want to yell “timber” and make stumps, you’re going to need a felling axe. Felling axes have sharp and elongated blade heads that are designed to cut across the wood grain. A true felling axe tends to have a mid-weight head (about 3 pounds) and a long handle (about 28-36 inches). This is the type of axe lumberjacks are holding in those old-timey pictures taken before the chainsaw was invented. Basically, if you want to chop down a tree, reach for a felling axe.
What is a Maul?
If you’re splitting wood, you’ll need a splitting maul, which is sometimes called a sledge axe. A maul has a blunt and fat head that is designed to divide wood along the grain—the more knotty and stubborn the wood, the heavier the maul. Many woodsmen give their mauls affections nicknames like Monster, Fat Bastard, and Chunky.
Which Wood Burns Best?
All wood is chemically similar, regardless of species. What matters with wood is density and moisture content. Hardwoods like oak and maple are denser so they will burn slower. Softer woods like birch, pine, and spruce are less dense, so they will burn faster.
How Do I Season Wood?
The Norwegians follow these two rules of thumb when seasoning wood: Split and stack wood by Easter and stack it loosely enough so that a mouse can run around between the wood Seasoning the wood, that is, drying it properly, is the real secret to turning wood into fire. In most cases, this means cutting, splitting, and stacking your wood in the spring so it dries through the summer and is properly seasoned by winter.
Is it Axe or Ax?Ax and axe are different spellings of the same word. Axe has been standard for a long time but the newer spelling—ax—is now more popular in America. In the end, who really cares? After all, it’s not about spelling it. It’s about using it. So get out there, and start swinging.