AXE CORDWOOD CHALLENGE 2018
Welcome to the axe cordwood challenge 2018. View the participants of the ACWC 2017 here. The axe cordwood challenge is intended to provide a framework for exploring axes and their use, and improving practical axe skills by challenging people to cut a quantity of wood with axes only. In 2017 eight people including myself cut one cord or more, without the use of any saws. The largest quantity cut by one person was over two cords and the total combined was around 12 cords, which is a solid stack of wood 8 feet wide, 4 feet tall and 48 feet long, or 1,536 cubic feet! The rules are simple, use axes only to cut a minimum measured quantity of wood, or more. Splitting mauls are axes and allowable, but I generally discourage their use (see my video on splitting axe cut wood with an axe). Saws are allowed for making back cuts when felling if wedging is necessary to safely fell a tree, but not allowed anywhere else. There are alternative ways to make trees fall in a certain direction, see Dudley Cooks's- The Axe Book or Mor's Kochanski's, Bushcraft, but don't hesitate to saw the back cut and wedge it if you feel that it's safer than making the back cut with your axe. Otherwise, the challenge it to fell, limb, buck and split with axes.
Finally, don't hurt yourself.
An axe or tree will not hurt you. They are indifferent. You will maybe hurt yourself with an axe or tree. At worst, you will be a victim of circumstance, but even then, if you don't want a tree to fall on you, or to fall on an axe, or suffer a bizarre axe-ident with a failing handle or airborn axe head, then the surest solution is to stay away from trees and axes! I absolve myself of all responsibility for what you do and how you do it to yourself. The challenge is simply a matrix for you to operate within and to form a community around. The dangers involved are much higher than what most modern people experience day to day, or can understand until they have some near misses (hopefully misses). Axe cuts and falling trees are potentially life threatening. Safety begins with personal responsibility. No information is guaranteed to keep you safe or be good information. You live in a dangerous world every day that you get up and put on your shoes, and more so when you pick up a chunk of heavy, sharp metal on the end of a rather flimsy stick and head off into the woods to hit stuff with it. The first step toward your own safety is to reclaim the responsibility for your actions and how you use information. This is one of the pillars of effective and dignified personhood. Responsibility of this kind is not about compromise. Begrudgingly accepting responsibility is not accepting responsibility. I'm talking about reclaiming something important that our society no longer fosters in people, and even discourages.
Do not underestimate the seriousness of this undertaking, and do your homework where needed. Many people will not understand what they are getting themselves into, which is a problem, but some of it just has to be learned in the field, because virtually no one has competent teachers available for this kind of stuff anymore. I am not competent to provide you with the ideal full education on axe use and safety. I will do what I can to make chopping more effective and safe for people that view my axe related content, but all information of that nature, "expert" or otherwise, should be held in some degree of suspicion.
Any participants under 18 need approval of a parent or guardian. Have them contact me through this site before you start or participate in any way.
The minimum quantity of wood this year will be one rick 4 ft high and 8 foot long of any length of wood. The measuring approach has changed this year to a system that emphasizes the quantity of work, rather than the actual amount of wood, and simultaneously allows anyone to cut any length of wood. A cord is a neatly stacked pile 4x4x8 feet, or 128 cubic feet. If a participant chooses to cut 24 inch lengths, they will cut half a cord of wood by volume, 2x4x8 feet equaling 64 cubic feet. If they cut 16 inch stove lengths, a pile 16"x4'x8', is 1/3rd of a cord. 6 foot lengths will require, again, a pile 8 feet long and 4 feet high, but will end up being 1.5 cords by volume. This way, people are doing roughly the same amount of bucking cuts, regardless of the length of the wood pieces. The pieces do not have to be the same length, but they should be split to their final size for whatever the use is. One rick is the minimum, but lets face it, your coolness factor will be largely proportional to number of ricks cut. Use stakes on the ends of the pile to get an accurate measure. Two fairly flimsy poles pounded into the ground with a wire connecting them at 4 feet from the ground is usually adequate.
Since participants can cut any length of wood at all, those with less wood can still participate by cutting it into smaller pieces, and people with tons of wood to process can still participate without making a lot of small wood that they may not need. Many who do not burn wood for heat daily have shown interest in the challenge. You could cut wood for someone else, but there are other potential uses for the wood, like making charcoal for blacksmithing, or biochar for soil improvement. I don't care if you cut them 20 feet long and then build a cabin as long as you follow the formula of a 4 foot high 8 foot long rick of wood cut with an axe. For someone that burns a whole lot of wood, but wants to participate, you could cut long pieces, maybe 4 to 8 feet long, split and stack them all, then slice through the stack with a chainsaw to make your full year's firewood. Dudley Cook suggests that as a possibility in The Axe Book. Never tried it myself. Proceed with caution.
I do not actually recommend that very new axe users undertake the cordwood challenge. While I respect the moxie to do so, I don't think it's a good idea. You can easily approach your axe work in the same framework or context, just minus the quantity and time goals. If you happen to excel and progress quickly, and have a lot of time left, you can still submit your rick in the end.
No one has to tell me they are doing it ahead of time, though it is somewhat beneficial to me to know if people are doing it for sure. Either way, I don't want people to feel too much pressure, so do what you're comfortable with.
I will add to this page as necessary and when the challenge is over, participants, links to their videos, their comments etc. will be posted below. If you do the challenge, you don't have to write much or make videos or blog posts or anything, but I do want a picture and basic information when you are done at least. I would also like to know the cubic foot volume of wood that you cut, so we can do a rough tally of the total wood cut by all participants.
When finished, please send me pictures or video links, name and other information if you want it presented, anything you want to say about axes used, what you learned and experiences, injuries or serious near accidents, and put it all in one email so it's easy for me to organize.
This year, because I need to get feedback on what does and doesn't work for people, we are going to run all the way from Jan 1st 2018 through September 1st 2018. I think that is too long, but I don't understand what everyone's needs are in terms of timing. The future may see the challenge go from March 1st to Sept. 1st. Please send feedback on what timing does and doesn't work for you regarding your climate, seasoning time, or anything else. Please be specific, especially about what doesn't work for you and why. If I don't get enough useful feedback on that problem, I'll do what makes sense to me. March 1st to September 1st leaves three months for those who need to finish by June first for summer seasoning and it leaves at least a couple of months of summer cutting for those in the most extreme climates.
I'm not planning on offering any incentives this year, because I don't know how many will participate and it is added time and effort that I definitely don't need in my life. If other participants want to help make items, I might consider it though. I'd rather do nothing than do something that is not hand made though. I am not a well organized people type of person. I forget who people are and who I have obligations to. In other words, I'm not the kind of person that is really cut out to organize and run something like this and keep material coming out in a timely manner. Because of that, we'll have to run a little loose. Most participant activity in the past has centered around the videos that I and other participants put out related the ACWC. If the challenge continues in future years, I could see having a forum, as long as someone else moderates it! I would not really want it to be just about the ACWC necessarily. A niche I think needs filling, is a forum strictly dedicated to discussion of working axes and axe use related projects. Most of the places I've been on the internet that are centered around axes seem to favor collecting, history and restoration over practical use. discussions on practical matters often fail to flourish. From what I've seen I doubt that such a forum would have many members, at least at first, but if it were limited to practical matters of axes and their use, it could serve an important function and likely bring some people out of the woodwork. That's just an idea I wanted to throw out. I again would not be willing to moderate or in any way run such a group, but I do think it might serve an important niche.
I'm looking forward to meeting new participants and expect to see some of the previous participants. People that take this on are not your run of the mill people, but I think they're more than likely my kind of people! Stay safe out there. Take a buddy if you can, a cell phone on your person while working and some basic first aid stuff. If you have an accident and other people may benefit from your mistake or mishap, please do share. Stay safe and have fun. I'm getting excited to get my butt back out in the woods and make some chips fly!