splitting wood body mechanics

Wood splitting is really about safe, efficient movement. Once you gain that rhythm process will seem quick and enjoyable. The truth of it is that wood splitting is not an activity of brute force and grunts but an easily mastered skill. And it's a satisfying feeling to have a stack of your own firewood for the wood stove or fireplace!

One of the secrets is to chip away at it a bit at a time. Even if it's for 15 minutes or so, get outside, enjoy the experience, and gradually build your pile of split firewood.

And this article will help you get in touch with your inner lumberjack!

How long do you wait before splitting wood?

I don't.

For a couple of reasons. First, the whole point of splitting is to help it become "seasoned wood" (dry) as quickly as possible. So getting the inside of the logs open to the air accelerates a process that usually takes at least six months. Split wood burns much more efficiently, so I like to get started right away!

Second, wood splits significantly easier when it's green. When wood pieces are dry, the fibers seem to gnarl up and create more resistance.

So I try to pile the green trees right in my log splitting area, buck then up with a chain saw, and move right to the chopping block.

From there, the pieces go from the wood pile to the shed where I stack them to dry.

What is the best tool for splitting wood?

If someone were to give me a hydraulic wood-splitter, I probably wouldn't refuse. (Especially now that I'm in my 50's and have had rotator cuff surgery!)

However, I've always preferred splitting by hand. I don't like the sound of the engine or the smell of the exhaust. Instead, I like the smell of the wood itself and the satisfying "thwack!" of the maul cleaving the wood.

And while many newcomers to wood burning think splitting "axe"...

I prefer a splitting maul.

Splitting axes don't have the weight that I like. (Plus, I find that since an axe handle is so thin, they break often.)

You might remember from high school physics class the formula for force: F=M(X). Force equals mass times acceleration.

A maul has significantly more mass than an axe, so getting one whistling through the air generates a lot more force.

Now if you were just out camping and needed to split a little wood for a riverside campfire, and axe or even a hatched would be fine.

But if you’re in it for the long haul, go heavier!

What to Look for in a Maul

I used to be firmly in the camp of wooden handles. They felt good in my hands. But they break.

So I've moved on to fiberglass handles. My last one lasted over 20 years before breaking!

I also like a wider head that creates more space in the split. I find it easier to work my way out of logs that way!

Protective Gear

And since you'll be swinging heavy metal objects through the air, it's a good idea to consider safety, so add these tools to your log splitting toolbox!

Gloves will protect your hands from splinters and blisters, heavy duty Carhartts will protect your legs, steel toed boots for your feet, and safety glasses for your eyes.

Recommended Products

Key Features


Intertool Splitting Maul

Click the image above to view product

  • 5 Pounds for more force
  • Shock-absorbing handle (Also curved at the end for enhanced leverage!)
  • Anti-corrosive head

This is the closest to what I use (bought mine over 15 years ago!)

Sure Split Wedge

  • American Steel
  • Side fins for better splitting power

Great for those stubborn pieces!

Craftsman Sledge Hammer

  • Nose design provides 2x more concentrated  force
  • Fiberglass core and shock absorbing collar reduced vibrations on impact
  • Textured grip for comfort and control
  • Shatterproof fiberglass handle for durability

To drive those wedges!

Work Gloves

  • HAND SAFETY -   provides impact and abrasion protection across the knuckles
  • MACHINE WASHABLE - Machine wash cool. (Air drying  recommended)

Protect yourself from splinters and blisters!

What surface should you split wood on?

Splitting wood works best on a hard surface as you can. Damp, muddy ground doesn't work as well because the chopping block digs into the ground and often rocks out of level. Plus, you want as little "give" as possible to provide as much force as possible.

What can I use as a chopping block?

A level, solid chopping block is essential for quick work. A chopping block accomplishes two tasks: First it provides firm resistance so that when you strike the piece of wood it doesn’t sink into the ground and soften the blow. Second, it keep the firewood at an optimal height so that the head of the maul strikes it square.

I like to use a cutoff from a log about 16” high and 16” around. You could use one narrower but it’s less stable and also pushes into the ground more!

Wood Positioning

I set the log on its edge on the copping block looking for natural cracks at one end of the firewood. I aim the maul where they are splitting anyway. Might as well make the process easier! In addition, as much as possible, split parallel to the grain of the wood for best efficiency.

firewood showing natural cracks

What's the easiest way to split wood by hand?

Like anything, good technique can go a long way! While it’s nice to be big and strong, someone with less brawn can produce great force.

The best way to produce force (remember F=M(X)?) is to chain natural levers of the body together in the proper succession. Which probably makes no sense to you right now…

So let me explain.

The flexion of the ankles, knees and hips, generate momentum that transfers to the back, shoulders arms and wrists. By literally starting at the ankles and driving through to the wrists, the cumulative energy generated…well…that piece of oak doesn’t stand a chance!

Let’s start with the grip.

Hold the maul as far at the end of the handle as possible. While it may seem you have less control at first (you probably will!) but you will quickly improve and you’ll be able to create significantly more leverage.

I also prefer to start swinging directly over my head as opposed to over a shoulder. That way I’m much more likely (and I find it easier) to keep the maul head on a straight direct path to the face fo the firewood.

And, though I’m not a kinesthesiologist or medical professional, it just seems to make sense that a violent motion better aligned with the back is all in all better for the spine!

So, in this short video clip, you can see that I start with my hands shoulder width apart on the handle to start the backswing, but as the maul head goes back over MY head, I slide my top hand back down to the end of the maul handle.

At this point, the maul head is down at the level of my lower back.

And here's where I have "cocked" the power chain of levers.

My ankles, knees, shoulders, elbows and wrists are all flexed (which will straighten to generate power) and my hips are straight (which will bend to generate power!)

splitting wood body mechanics

To begin the downstroke, I begin to straighten my legs and ankles, then slightly bend at the waist (tightening my abdominal muscles). Using the created momentum, I begin pulling my arms down at the shoulders, then straighten the elbows until finally snapping my wrists driving the maul head into the log.

I would add, too, that I think about snapping the maul head through the log all the way to the chopping block. This helps maintain power through the entire split.

How to split stubborn or knotty wood

Despite using impeccable technique, you will run across logs that are difficult to split. Here are a few things to help dealing with the stubborn ones!

Large rounds

For the larger logs, I chip away at the edges rather than burying the maul head in the center. I will ofen aim for a point 2-3 inches from the edge where there aren't as many fibers to bind the wood together. As the edges "flake" off, you are left with a more manageable piece.

Use a splitting wedge

Splitting wedges are simply splitting mauls without handles. They allow you you keep thwacking away at large logs without having to stop and wrestle the maul out of the log.

You start the wedge by tapping it into the the log, then swing a sledgehammer to drive the wedge in. It's easier and faster to split smaller pieces with a straight grain with a maul because you don't have to take the time to start the wedge. With large pieces of firewood (or pieces with knots) using wedges can be the difference between victory and defeat!

Start the wedge into the firewood, then, using the same chopping technique described above, keep driving it in until it splits in half.

Just give up!

Sounds terrible, doesn't it? But honestly, slaving over a piece of wood that feels more like concrete takes more time that it's worth. Most of the time, splitting firewood is relatively easy, so on those rare overly challenging occasions, just toss them onto a separate wood stack and rent a hydraulic splitter on a later date.

It takes me 2-3 years to accumulate a pile of stubborn logs worth renting a log splitter for. So when I do, rather than risk further damaging my shoulders with stubborn firewood, I rent the log splitter!

Additional wood chopping tips and tricks

Use a "logholder"

Splitting logs with help from and old tire can save you time and back pain. Most of the time when you have split a log, the split pieces fall off the chopping block. Placing the logs inside a small tire can keep them from falling. (And save you the time and pain of bending over after each swing to replace the log.

The challenge for me has always been finding a tire that's just the right size...so I use a cam-strap instead. Simply secure the strap "around the round" just tight enough to keep it in place, then chop your way around the log!

"Key" the round log

Often the logs will split most of the way through, but not all the way. That's okay.

Turn the log by keeping the maul in the log and turning the handle. Once the wood is facing the way you want, pull the maul out and split the next spot.

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