There are plenty of skills out there that as a gentleman you owe to yourself to master. Using an axe is one of them.
“People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results.” – Albert Einstein
A man standing in a forest, chopping wood with an axe, is an ideal of ‘a man’ that’s been around for a long time. Checked shirt, beard, axe. Done. But the truth of the matter is, although many of us own the shirt, very few of us ever have pause to actually chop our own wood, let alone a need to.
Which itself is reason enough for knowing the theory behind how to do it, and probably enough to get you to learn the techniques involved too.
After all, come the post-apocalypse, you’d be better off knowing how to keep your family warm and fed than not.
Back in the real world, chopping wood is fodder for the soul as well as the body and mind, and will stand you in good stead for every wood-burning situation from a family campfire to fuelling your house.
And if nothing else, it’s a damn good reason to go and buy a new cool tool – I’ve always believed that with everything in a man’s world, buying the right tool for a job is as important as knowing how to do it in the first place.
You don’t have to look like a lumberjack, or even dress like one*, to use an axe properly, you just need the right tools and the knowledge to handle them.
Lets get chopping…
Choosing your Axe
Unless you’re planning on becoming an actual lumberjack, you don’t need to invest in anything more than a nice mid-sized, single bit axe.
The ‘single bit’ means that the axe only has a blade on one side – double bit axes are really just for the professionals to use for logging, but even that is rare these days and so you’re most likely to see them used in throwing competitions. Or by Vikings in the midst of battle.
For an average male, the ideal axe handle is about seventy six centimeters long and weighs just under 1.5kgs in total, which is heavy enough to really get into some chopping, but light enough not to be cumbersome, or dangerous.
By choosing a single bit axe of the right size, you’ll also be able to use it as a multipurpose tool – even the dull side of the head will be useful for stuff, from driving in tent stakes to cracking ice for a fishing hole (assuming, of course, that you live near a frozen lake through which you can fish. It’s a bit excessive for the village pond).
Before you start to chop you need to select the right kind of wood to burn. When it comes to building a proper fire, in Northern Europe, oak and birch wood have the greatest energy content, followed by pine, spruce and aspen. Winter is regarded as the best time for felling trees, and honestly using a bow saw or chainsaw gets that job done in the best way.
If, however, you’re making a camp fire then there’s two qualities that you want your wood to have so that it’ll burn straight away: dry and dead.
When you’ve found the right branch or log, place it on the ground as if it were across your path. Grip the axe with both hands, almost touching at the base of the handle. As you bring the axe up over your shoulder to make the chop, slide the top hand closer to the head of the axe – a method which not only improves accuracy, but also maintains momentum at the axe’s heavy end.
Don’t be concerned with swinging as hard as you can, because fast and accurate chopping works much better than hard chopping.
The goal at this point is to cut halfway through the wood’s thickness, so as you increase the number of strokes, you should alternate the angle to allow you to cut a V shape in the wood. When you go past the halfway point, you should be able to turn the wood over and break it in two with a foot stomp.
You need to split the wood as quickly as possible once it’s chopped – the more it dries, the harder it is to chop. Frozen wood is easy to split too (if it is frozen though, you should maybe question why you’re camping in the winter, you nutter).
You can bodge this next bit for a haphazard camp fire, but for everything else then it’s best to use a wide, stable chopping block at about knee height, and it’s important that the chopping block stands on stable ground with no spring to it – springy ground reduces the power of the axe stroke.
Place the log as far from you as possible, on the far side of the chopping block, so that if you miss the log your axe will hit the block, rather than the ground, or your leg.
Hold the handle low down, with straight arms for the downward stroke. This will give you more power and make your chopping safer. Adjust your distance from the log with your feet, not your arms. If you can, get the axe handle horizontal at the point of contact with the log.
As with knives, the best way to keep your axe as safe as possible is to keep the blade sharp, and the key to that is to have it stone-sharpened professionally be a local hardware shop. It’s also worth investing in a high-quality sheath to keep the blade in when the axe isn’t in use.
Plus, keep it out of reach of your Minecraft playing son – a short moment of axe madness can quickly turn into a long spell of heartache.
With regular maintenance and a bit of common sense, having an axe handy is both safe and useful, so check them out next time you’re shopping for garden furniture or the like.
*Obviously, dressing like one is a good thing, and helps with the chopping mindset when you do actually pick up an axe.
The Best Axes
Today they have 30 people working for them, and they make beautiful axes. When it comes to quality and feel, much depends on the experience and skill on the individual craftsman, so each axe is signed with the smith’s initials as a quality guarantee.
Go check them out and prepare to want.
Dependable, versatile and with a rich and powerful history, the American Felling Axe is the quintessential woodland tool and an icon of American design and ingenuity.
Every feature of this axe was meticulously designed by Best Made in New York. The Dayton pattern head is made from high carbon American steel and is drop forged in North Carolina by fourth-generation axe makers.
The Best Made helve is lathed from Appalachian hickory and its elegant curvature and slender form factor ensure superior efficiency and safety. Every Best Made axe comes numbered with our documentation and guarantee, and a fitted, top-grain leather blade guard.
This Special Edition axe will arrive in a hand-built crate with wood wool.