Chopping and splitting wood for your fire is very rewarding, but the right tool for the job is essential.
A log splitting axe does exactly what it says on the tin, helping you split logs that can be used as fuel.
There are a lot of different models on the market, so I’ve put together the following guide to help you make an informed purchase:
The Benefits of a Log Splitting Axe
A log splitting axe is a great tool for chopping firewood, designed to split logs along the wood grain.
Splitting axes typically have tapered heads – the force of the axe’s head coming down into the wood causes it to split, and the tapered cutting edge slices further into the log. The thicker part of the blade follows, and succeeds in splitting the log apart.
An axe for splitting wood generally weighs between 2 – 3 kg, so they are a lot lighter and easier to use than splitting mauls. As a result, you’ll find they make it easier and safer to chop your own wood. A splitting maul is longer and heavier.
Another benefit to owning a log splitting axe is that it will save you money – instead of having to buy logs from a company (who are charging for the privilege of them splitting the logs for you!), you can skip the middle man and make it more economical.
What’s more, log splitting is an extremely good workout, so you’ll even be getting fitter as you slice up wood for the fire. It’s an activity than can burn between 400 and 500 calories in an hour and can activate the same muscles as doing an abdominal crunch!
Knowing Which Type of Axe to Buy
Not all axes can do the same job, and the axe required for splitting wood is not the same as the axe needed to fell trees.
Two of the most common types of axe are log splitting axes and felling axes. Here’s more information on each axe so you can make sure you’re getting the right one for the job:
Log Splitting Axe
Log splitting axes have thicker ‘cheeks’ on the blade head compared to felling axes. They also have a shorter blade.
A log splitting axe is wider because the head of the axe acts as a splitting maul, pushing the log apart and causing it to split. A splitting axe isn’t intended to chop through the whole piece of wood, but rather force the wood apart. It cuts with the grain of the wood, not against it.
Even the best log splitting axe shouldn’t be used to fell a tree because the blade isn’t sharp enough or the right shape. It will take a really long time compared to other axes, and way too much energy.
A felling axe has a long, narrow head. They are sharper and better designed for cutting deeper into larger pieces of wood – like tree trunks.
Using a felling axe for splitting firewood will result in the axe getting stuck a lot. The blade is sharp, but it is relatively thin all over, so it won’t create the same ‘splitting’ action.
Instead, it’s good for working away at larger objects.
Choosing the Right Handle Length
The length of the handle can vary between axes. Your choice will depend significantly on your height, as well as how much swing you need.
A longer handle will provide you with more swing. This means more momentum, which increases the force that the axe can deliver. On paper, this results in it being easier to split larger logs. However, of course, other factors do come into play.
The downside of an axe with a longer handle – especially one that is too big of heavy for you – is that it may be harder to control.
A short handle has its advantages, being easier to manage and likely lighter than a longer axe. But a smaller swing arc can also prove dangerous – if the swing is too short, the axe will not be stopped by the ground in front out you. As a result, it could come into contact with your legs which is incredibly dangerous.
Which leads us on to…
How to Make Sure the Axe Handle is the Right Length
There is a good ‘general’ guideline to follow, to make sure that your axe handle is neither too short or too long depending on your height.
Your inseam measurement is generally the same length as the axe handle you should get. Measure your inseam using a tape measure, measuring your inside leg from the crotch to the ankle bone. Alternatively, you can measure a pair of your trousers, from the crotch to the hem of the trousers, to get this measurement.
The axe handle can be a few centimetres longer than this measurement, but in general try to get it as close as possible.
Selecting the Handle Material
Traditionally, splitting axes have a wooden handle and this still remains a popular choice.
Wooden handles will absorb shock well meaning they’re more comfortable to use for a longer period of time.
However, they are often varnished for durability, which can make them harder to grip. Those that are unvarnished can swell and shrink depending on the humidity and temperature.
Fiberglass axe handles are lighter, easier to use and more durable than wood. Whereas a metal handle can rust, a fibreglass handle won’t be nearly as sensitive to the environment.
However, they are hard to replace, meaning you may have to purchase a brand new axe if your fibreglass handle breaks.
Steel axe handles are the most durable of the three handle types, but they tend to be the hardest to find.
The downside to steel handles is they don’t offer much shock absorption. The more expensive models may have shock-reduction grips to make the axe more comfortable to use.
Single vs Double Bit Axes
The ‘bit’ is the sharp part of the axe that cuts through the wood – often also referred to as the blade.
Splitting axes usually have either a single or a double bit. An axe with a ‘double bit’ will have two ‘blades’, one on either side of the axe head.
Single bit axes tend to be more popular and, due to their weight distribution and heavier one-sided head, they lend themselves to having more splitting power.
Double bit axes tend to be better balanced, offering more control while you chop. Of course, whilst it’s always important to be extremely careful when using an axe, double-bit axes need to be used with a lot of caution due to their two blades.
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