The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.


Low impact wood chopping

Wood chopping areaThis entry is intended for women.  Men, feel free to read along --- I'm not going to be talking about reusable sanitary pads (not in this entry, at least).  I'm only warning you because it might not be as relevant to you.

Why is this aimed at women?  Because I read somewhere that women tend to have stronger legs while men tend to have stronger arms --- and this has been very true when comparing me and Mark.  I watch us work and notice that I dig with my feet while he digs with his arms, I happily trot up hills while he happily lifts heavy weights, and so forth.  This post is also for women because up to 9% of women have carpal tunnel (like me) while only 2% of men have carpal tunnel. 

Both of these sets of statistics are very relevant when it comes to one of the major chores of winter --- chopping wood!  Wood chopping takes major upper body strength and can also really exacerbate your carpal tunnel.  Luckily, I've found that by chopping smarter, I can chop quite a bit of wood (though I don't compare to Mark's levels.)  So, how to chop smart?

Wood chopping areaFirst of all, take a hard look at the wood you have available.  (I'm assuming it's already cut into segments short enough to fit into your stove.)  There are some logs which probably aren't even worth hacking away at.  Any piece of wood with one or more little branches poking out the side will be very, very hard.  The shorter the log and the smaller in diameter, the easier it will be.  Some types of trees are also much harder to split --- check out our table of firewood which lists the ease of splitting and facility for burning of most of our area's common trees.

Start out with some easy logs --- less than a foot in diameter, not too long, an easy species, and no knots.  You'll want to set your log on a stump which is one to three feet tall.  Raise your maul over your shoulder and give a holler as you whack it down as hard as you can through the center of the log.  I know you probably can't do this in the city without getting odd looks, but I've found that a yell with every stroke really improves my chopping abilities.

Here's the trick to not messing up your carpal tunnel wrists --- you've got to give everything you've got so that the maul goes clean through the wood.  If your whack is too puny, the maul will sink into the wood and get stuck --- not only will you have to wiggle it loose without hurting yourself, you'll also wake up in the middle of the night with tingling fingers if you do that too often.  I give myself only about a dozen high-impact thuds before I call it a day, which can mean I chop for half an hour if I'm smart or 5 minutes if I've forgotten everything I learned last winter and am working dumb.

Wood chopping areaOnce you're confident about your splitting ability with easy logs, it's time to tackle something harder.  Logs that have a large diameter and knots are splittable, but you need to take chunks off the edges rather than splitting them in half.  A big log two feet in diameter may require me to split off 10 edge pieces before I'm able to cut it in half.  That's fine --- you'll use those smaller edge pieces to get your fire started.

There are a couple more hints from the
Wood Heating Handbook by Charles Self which I can't resist sharing.  It's easier to chop wood before you season it rather than vice versa.  And, if you have some especially hard wood, it's worth waiting until the log is frozen solid since that'll make it easier to split.  (I can't personally attest to the second hint, but the first is definitely true.)

And that's all you need to know to get started with smart wood chopping.  I hope I haven't scared you off and sent you scurrying to your man to chop the wood --- wood splitting is great exercise, makes you feel self-sufficient, and sends so much adrenaline flowing you'll drive away the winter blues!  I highly recommend that you give it a shot.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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