As a mechanical designer, I am always on the lookout for innovative ideas to make something better. But, even I was astounded when I came across a few innovative ideas for something as tried and true as splitting firewood.

You’re doing it wrong

I recently installed a wood-burning stove in my house, so I was chopping lots of wood for this winter and in preparation for next winter. In my search to learn about burning wood for heat, I came across a video of a guy that had tied a bunch of wood together prior to splitting it. Weird, but interesting.

I’ve been splitting wood for years, and I was taught to put a round on the ground and the piece to split on top of it. The maul goes through the wood and hits the round, keeping the sharp edge in tact, and the height is easy on your back. Repeat with each smaller section of the round until you have nice firewood-sized pieces. The problem with this technique is that as the wood splits apart it generally flies to the ground so you have to walk to pick each half up before you can split them again.

As you can see in my video, I tied a bunch of rounds together. When they’re split, they stay put, so you can keep splitting until all of the rounds split to a size for the stove. Nice! Actually, when I first saw the original video, I thought it was contrived and wouldn’t be useful.

I was wrong!

It’s a huge time saver, and although I have to swing lower, it’s still easier on my back since I don’t have to pick up any logs. In the past, it’s taken me days of splitting to put together a cord of wood (especially Tulip Poplar, which is tough to split). Using this technique, I split roughly 1/2 cord of Tulip Poplar in about an hour (from the time I walked from the house to the time I returned), including all of the setup.

My Fiskars Maul

I’ve also been impressed with my Fiskars X25 28″ Splitting Axe. Innovations include a fiberglass handle that is overmolded completely around and through the head for a robust connection and virtually no chance of coming loose. It also has a wide wedge for splitting logs easily and non-stick coating on the head so it goes through wood easier and becomes unstuck easier. The proprietary shock-absorbing fiberglass composite handle is strong and sturdy yet flexible enough to be comfortable, and it stands up well to the occasional poorly-placed hit on the wedge.The head also holds a sharp edge well.

The head on a Fiskars X-series Axe has less mass than you might be used to. Fiskars makes the point that the advantage of increased head speed more than offsets the decrease in head mass, providing more momentum and greater impact. It’s a valid argument if you swing your axe like a vertical baseball bat, as I do. However, I’ve seen a lot of people that basically just drop their 8lb maul from over their head and let gravity do the work. Such a splitting style won’t benefit from the lighter head.

I’ve had only one complaint. The handle on my axe is a tad short; I’m used to a 32″ – 36″ handle. Apparently, I’m not alone because sometime in the last two years they released a 36″ version. The 36″ version would probably decrease the number of hits I have to put on tougher woods like the Tulip Poplar that’s so popular in my area.

Innovations from traditional places

Here are two places where I’ve found innovation that really improves what I thought to be a tried and true process or product. I’m going to guess that people have been splitting wood and building axes the same way for hundreds of years. Even so, there’s room for improvement.

Anybody else like working with firewood and tried these innovations? What do you think?