Design & DIY

How to split wood like a pro

A far better wood-splitting tool than the axe is the maul. Not because it’s more refined, but because it’s less so, designed to wedge apart the grain of the wood rather than chop or cut across it. With an axe, the sharpness and quality of the metal is important. But with a maul, it’s the wide angle of the bit, where metal hits wood, that matters. A maul is blunter and heavier than an axe, and has a concave wedge-shaped head; all of which gives it more power to cleave that log. And unless the wood is so gnarly that it’s hard to split, a maul is actually faster than a powered wood splitter.

A maul’s simplicity makes it one of the easier cottage gizmos to buy, according to Joe Outram, an expert in maul shopping. He’s the coordinator of the Arboriculture and Urban Forestry programs at Fleming College in Lindsay, Ont. The closer the striking edge is to the handle, the better; too far and the maul will be “wobbly” when it strikes the wood. Buy one lighter than eight pounds: It’s the technique of the swing more than the weight that does the job. Outram prefers a wooden handle over fibreglass (fewer blisters on the hands—as long as you remove the varnish and leave the gloves off).

And where should you buy one? Not at the maul mall, but at a good hardware store, tool supply store, or outdoor equipment retailer, where a durable maul will cost around $40 and a top-of-the-line model will run up to $165.

Sharpen your maul swing and you’ll save your back, toes, and time—and relieve stress at the woodpile.

1. As you start lifting, slide one hand up to the head (it’s easier to lift it this way), with the other hand near the knob end. Bring the maul high overhead, sliding your top hand down. Look through your arms and bend your knees slightly.

2. At the start of the downswing, straighten your knees and stick out your butt a bit. As you bring down the maul, this whip-like action delivers power from your hips, not your shoulders, and helps protect your back.

3. Avoid striking the log in line with knots, and don’t aim for dead centre: The maul bit should land forward or back of the wood’s core. Save your energy by whacking in a controlled manner, so pieces don’t go flying off in all directions.