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Sitting around a campfire is one of the most relaxing experiences you can ever have. Nothing compares to the smell of wood in the jungle and the cracking sounds, as you share stories and memories with your friends and family. It’s also where you prepare your meals and brew your coffee. Campfire will also provide lighting while keeping you warm and comfortable, as you gaze the stars. It’s where the day starts and ends before you crawl into your camping cot or camping tent. In short, it’s the heart of every campsite. But to light a campfire, you will need dry pieces of wood. And not just any wood, good pieces of wood. While you can purchase pre-split wood from the different wood sellers, your campfire will feel more enjoyable, if you’ve split the wood with your own hands. You will also save a few bucks. Therefore, splitting wood is an important skill to master, for all passionate campers. Whether you want to refresh your skills or this is your first time, here are some helpful tips on how to split the wood when camping outdoors.
If you are splitting wood by hand, then you will need to use the right tool. The tool you will use will depend on the size of the pieces of wood. If you are splitting small pieces, then a small axe will get the job done. On the other hand, if you are splitting large logs, then you should opt for a heavier axe. Hatchets, mauls, saws, and axes are the most popular wood-splitting tools when camping outdoors. A hatchet is ideal for chopping limbs from fallen trees. You can also use it to chop through small pieces of wood to make a campfire. Also, a hatchet is a good tool for slicing small pieces of wood from larger logs, to make kindling. And if it’s sharp enough, then you can use it to make shavings or even use it to break down or slaughter big game for ease of transportation.
Axes are bigger than hatchets. While they may look cool in photos, they are also quite cumbersome and heavy. Also, they are dangerous, especially if you are using them around a group. An axe is a good choice for splitting large logs or cutting smaller branches. For your general outdoor use and camping, you should opt for a single-bit axe. If you have never used an axe before, then you should choose one with a longer handle. While it might take more effort to swing, it’s much safer compared to one with a shorter handle. In case you miss the target, it will just strike the ground instead of swinging through.
Sometimes, you might find yourself in a situation where you need to split wood for lighting a campfire, but you forgot to carry an axe or a hatchet. In such a case, you can still use your survival knife if you have one. A sturdy, fixed-blade knife can also be an effective tool for splitting and cutting small firewood for camping. While it might not split large logs, you can use it to chop smaller branches. It’s also a perfect choice for minimalist campers, who want to travel as light as possible. If you intend to use a knife for splitting wood, then you should choose a knife whose blade is less than 3.5 inches long, for versatility and weight. On the other hand, if you will be using the knife mainly for wood preparation, then a machete or one with a longer blade should be ideal for your tasks.
Selecting and Sourcing Wood
If you are going for a camping trip, you have the option of bringing your own firewood or purchasing wood from the campgrounds. However, most campgrounds don’t allow wood from outside, since it poses the risk of spreading pests and diseases in the area. In fact, some states have outlawed the transportation of wood. So, if you encounter such a situation, then you only have the option of purchasing wood from the campgrounds or collecting it from the forest. You should only collect wood from fallen or dead trees if it’s legal to do so.
It’s important to note that some types of wood have a better flame and heat output than others. Such trees include tamarack, ash, oak, apple, birch, walnut, pine, cherry, cedar, and cedar. Softwoods like redwood, fir, spruce, and fir will burn fast, meaning you will have to use more of them. On the other hand, hardwood varieties like beech, eucalyptus, birch, and oak will burn longer and leave lesser residue behind. If you will be camping for a day or two, then you can opt for the softwood varieties. If you are planning to spend a longer time camping in the woods, then you should choose hardwoods.
Avoid freshly cut wood or wood that has not dried completely. Greenwood or freshly cut wood has a high moisture content, making it hard to light a fire with it. And if it lights, then it will produce too much smoke, making your camping experience a miserable one. Also, avoid driftwood, since it tends to have a high salt content. When you burn it, the salt will release a carcinogenic compound, which is harmful to breathe in. Also, you should avoid trees with knotted, gnarled grains, since they are more difficult to split.
Splitting the Wood
Whether you have purchased the wood or sourced them from a fallen tree in the forest, you will have to chop or split them into smaller pieces. Your pieces should be small enough to fit into your wood stove or fire pit. But before you embark on splitting the wood, you first need to prepare your chopping area, especially if you will be using heavy tools like mauls or axes. Even if you will be using a smaller axe, you must ensure there is nothing to deflect the axe or interfere with your swing.
Make sure you remove branches, stones, or any other obstacle that might interfere with your swing. Also, if you are camping as a group, the other campers should be a safe distance from your chopping area, as they might be injured by flying pieces of wood. It’s also advisable to sharpen the axe or hatchet that you will be using to split the wood. Mauls don’t require sharpening since they mainly use the larger mass of the axe head to split wood.
Once you’ve selected the tool you will use, prepared the area and placed your wood on top of something stable, you can now start splitting it. Any irregularities or knots on the log should be facing the bottom. When you are splitting the wood, you should raise the axe or the hatchet above your head, and then let it drop on the log. Some people assume that splitting wood is all about muscle and strength. However, it all comes down to the proper handling of the axe. Your dominant hand should be close to the head of the axe while the other hand should be close to the end of the handle. Your feet should be well spaced to ensure you can generate enough power. Avoid exaggerated or unnatural stances, since they increase the risk of injuries.
If you are splitting large logs of wood, then you should not aim for the center, since it’s more laborious and time-consuming. Instead, you should aim for any area on the log where there is a wider gap between the rings. Once you’ve reduced the log into a smaller piece, you can then separate it further. Splitting wedges will also come in handy when you are splitting larger, gnarled or dense wood. It’s highly advisable to wear protective gear when splitting wood.
Wood Splitting Safety Tips
Wood splitting accidents are quite common, regardless of the level of experience. Therefore, it’s important to observe basic safety tips to help you avoid injuries. First, make sure you keep your splitting tool sheathed when it’s not in use. If the axe or hatchet is resting on the ground, it can nick and injure someone who kicks it over or steps on it accidentally. And if it’s sharpened, then it can even slice through shoes, skin, and clothes, leading to serious injuries. Therefore, ensure your splitting tool, whether it’s an axe, a hatchet or a knife, is properly sheathed when you are not using it.
You should also be cautious when swinging the axe. As noted earlier, wood splitting doesn’t rely on sheer strength and power, but proper handling and precision. Therefore, don’t swing the hatchet with all your strength, hoping that you will split the wood faster. Proper technique and form will be more effective when splitting wood, as opposed to raw strength and force. You will get the job done with minimal effort and there will be fewer mishaps or injuries. Also, don’t allow anything to distract you when you are splitting wood. If it’s time for splitting wood, then it’s just that and not a time to showcase your wood-splitting skills on Instagram.
Splitting wood when you are camping outdoors can sometimes appear like a laborious and time-consuming task. After all, you can just buy pre-chopped pieces and use them to build your campfire. However, learning how to split wood is an important skill that every camper should master. Apart from saving you money, splitting wood when you are camping outdoors also provides you with a means of exercising and keeping your body warm, when you are out there in the woods. But just like other skills, mastering how to split wood properly not happen overnight. Therefore, you need to be patient and practice regularly. With time, you will eventually learn how to split wood like a pro.