Today, I am accessing my inner lumberjack.

There are two large stacks of cut logs down by the old, abandoned foundation that have been seasoning for almost two years. The wood comes from trees that we had removed for one reason or another (they were sick or too close to the house) or that had fallen during a storm. The stacks have been protected by a tarp (held on by bungee cords) but the logs are at the point where they need to be split and stacked in a more protected location to prevent them from decaying.

I used to split firewood right after it was cut from the tree and still green. It is doable but takes a tremendous amount of effort. Every cut must be started with a blow from an axe, which must then be pounded in with a sledge hammer. As a split forms and widens (due to penetration of the axe), a steel wedge can be inserted which is in turn wailed upon with a sledge hammer (the axe can be removed after the first blow or two); it sounds like a blacksmith’s shop. Finally—and reluctantly, it seems—the log yields with a crack and cleaves in two. Depending on the diameter of the log, the process begins again with each half. It is difficult enough with a straight-grained section of wood and if the piece contains a knot or wye, it is nearly impossible.

Then one year, I decided to let the logs sit awhile before I attempted to split them. I stacked them and covered them with a tarp and essentially forgot about them for about six months. When the time seemed right (one has to be in the right frame of mind for this sort of work), I collected the axe, wedge and sledge hammer and moved down to the woodpile. I selected a medium-sized log—perhaps nine inches in diameter—and set it atop a much larger log that I was using as a chopping block. I reared back with the axe and swung it down hard on the log, expecting the blade to lodge itself into the top inch or so and come to a stop, as it usually does.

Instead, the axe head tore down through the log and lodged itself into the top of the chopping block. The two halves of the log, having been split cleanly and decisively, shot out to each side and fell to the ground. It was just like a scene from a movie, where the strapping (and often shirtless) hero chops through log after log, seemingly without effort, while carrying on a conversation with his love interest or potential adversary (who is sometimes the same person). What a joy and what fun!

Not every piece splits quite so cleanly and the knots and wyes remain problematic; for these, I still have the wedge and sledge hammer (some people would use a maul but I find it too blunt and unwieldy). The work goes much more quickly and with significantly less effort. This afternoon, I was able to get through about a sixth of the logs that need to be split (I will have about a cord when I am done) in just an hour. Now, if I can only figure out how to make stacking the wood as easy…

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