AXE CORDWOOD CHALLENGE 2017
Participants videos, pictures and a few thoughts and notes
The axe cordwood challenge for 2017 concluded in the second week of June 2017. The challenge was to cut a quantity of wood with axes only, no saws allowed except for back cuts in felling where necessary for safety’s sake. Minimum quantity was 1/4 cord, which gets you mention on this page and in whatever videos I do. 1/2 cord gets a leather badge which I haven’t made yet, because of course I have to do everything the hard way by making the tools I need and such. 1 full cord or more gets the badge, plus a pocket strop made with all hand processed and gathered materials from here on the homestead. I have a video series following that process. Down below are the people who finished the challenge. If I missed you, please let me know.
As far as I could tell, everyone had fun (or something like it lol) and learned a lot. Among the participants that posted video footage (most of them), progress in general competency, aim and efficiency was usually fairly obvious. That was the point after all, to improve our axe skills by immersion. But, there are broader motivations to the cordwood challenge as well.
Axes are extremely popular right now, but examples of competent use or really good instructional materials are not always easy to find for beginners and advanced users alike. That is understandable, because few people have need for an axe beyond a bit of recreational chopping or some splitting. Part of my underlying motive in setting this up has been to force the quality of internet axe content to expand in scope, and generally improve, by providing an excuse for people to chop more. The more those people release content showing their improvement and examples of competent work, the higher the bar is set for all of us.
I would like to see growth in interest around working axes. The way forward is to simply change the climate and reset the benchmarks and bar heights by example in order to push us all. The rest will take care of itself. That is already happening even with the small scale of the cordwood challenge this year. If someone doing the challenge can, in just one season, go from pretty bad to chopping better than people that are reviewing, selling and showing us how to use axes, then that provides a badly needed contrast. It’s my hope that if someone is going to sell, seriously review, design and teach axes in the near future, they will pretty much be expected to demonstrate a significant degree of competency. Not to name names, but that has just not been the average case. Honestly, right now, many people don't know what that competency doesn't look like when they don't see it. Since I have only so much time and energy to dedicate to axes, and I have a lot of other competing interests, that may eventually force me out of the game as far as creating axe related content, That is fine with me. The goal is to move forward in recovering the use of the axe as a practical tool, and no individual person's success or ego matters in that light. The beginning of the end for weak internet axe content as a majority started this year with the cordwood challenge. Expect to see a lot more dirty axes in YouTube videos muhahaha!!!
When I posted this challenge reception was lukewarm in general. It was conspicuously ignored on Axe Junkies the largest axe community on the web (over 15,000 members strong at the time), in spite of being supported by the list's owner and all around great guy Craig Roost. It got a whopping 6 likes (2 of which were from my facebook friends and 2 other from people that were already following me on YouTube lol) and I think only one comment, by a CWC participant, who said something to the effect of, try the cordwood challenge and don't be the kind of cowboy who's never roped a steer. There is admittedly a strong challenge in the subtext of the cordwood challenge, and if a person wasn't into taking it on, I can see why it would be much easier to ignore than acknowledge. If I didn’t want to do it, I’d probably ignore it too ha ha. "What? Who? Me? Maybe I heard something about that. It's proly stupid anyway." Over the season, interest improved a little and this next season I think it will be much better received. I will also put it out there more that I did last year, and earlier. I actually didn't want it to be too large this year. Most people are followers and that is how it has always been I'm sure. Big respect to those few brave and willing pioneers that jumped in feet first and did it this year to get the ball rolling. You’re special people (real special haha ;).
Speaking of feet, there was only one injury that I know of by someone that didn’t finish. He said he’s not going to stop using his axe though lol. So, just to show that the danger of injury is no joke, here is a photo he sent me. Please send me any injury photos. They are very helpful to sober people up to the seriousness of this undertaking, and hopefully they will help prevent any undertaking by any undertakers. BTW, cuts are a big danger, but falling trees and branches are a much more serious risk to life and limb. Felling can be unpredictable. General information on felling with a saw and what it most dangerous can be very helpful.
Before we get to the participants, I’d like to request input about this year’s challenge and things that could be better. This year was something of a poorly planned trial run to get our feet wet and illuminate possible issues and potential changes. I’d like to keep the process as simple as possible for myself and may not even offer any prizes next year. If other people are willing to be involved, we could also farm out some of the work involved with the prizes, like woodwork or whatever. Just a thought. There is also the issue of season. My original thought was to end by June 1st because almost anywhere, that three months of summer is essential to drying green wood to burn in the following heating season. But, some may not be able to work in the winter if the snow is very deep, and may be storing wood for an extra season in order to cut when it’s convenient. There is also the issue of the Southern Hemisphere, which I have no idea what to do about. Maybe someone should just run a sister challenge for the southern hemisphere. I don’t know. Some folks are already chopping down (up) there.
Any thoughts are welcome, whether I use them or not. Also, I realize that there are a lot of people out there who would like to do the challenge, but don’t have access to enough wood. That is unfortunate, but I think the challenge needs to be kept as it is in terms of the goal of processing wood from start to finish doing all the various steps. I’m also considering making 1/2 cord the minimum instead of 1/4. Some people, myself included are already wanting more of a challenge. Once you get through a cord, you can look back and think it was easy (it wasn’t really, but the illusion is easy to fall into lol). There are plenty of personal challenges you can present to yourself, like cutting more, or especially cutting it in a shorter amount of time. I’m increasingly interested in how much I can cut at a given length in one day. I could also see making provisions for people that want to cut longer wood for things like charcoal making. In fact, I might want to do that myself. It’s something of a waste of time to cut 24 inch lengths for that sort of industrial use. The challenge as it stands now was to cut wood at anything from 24 inches and down to accumulate a cord, but that is fairly random since it is a lot more work to cut wood at 16 inches for instance than it is at 24 inches. A cord at 48 or 36 inches wouldn't be that much work. I cut quite a bit this year at 12 inches, which is just silly from a certain perspective, but it made for a lot of chopping practice!
I think an argument could be made for organizing the challenge by bucking cuts rather than total cordage, allowing for the cutting of any length of wood by a formula with a chart that has the measurements for quick calculations. I'm thinking we could establish one baseline cord, like 24, 34 or 48 inches, then calculate the same amount of bucking cuts for each length of wood. Basically, a standardized Axe Cord Equivalent (ACE?) So, if we had a 24 inch standard, which is right in the middle, then an equivalent on the conversion chart would be around 1/2 cord of actual wood cut at 12 inches and 2 cords of actual wood cut at 48 inch lengths. That way everyone gets to cut whatever they want and the chart can cover from 12 to 48 inches in 2 inch increments. I'm liking that iea more and more. Also, people with limited wood supply can just cut it smaller. The work is more than anything in the bucking, which is why this idea makes any sense. Felling and limbing are the minor part of the work.
There were participants and potential participants, that don’t even burn wood. Some of them are blacksmiths or gardeners though and could use charcoal for forging or biochar. Given access to a lot of wood, it might make more sense for those people to process more trees into larger wood like 48 inches or even longer, but again, making the same amount of bucking cuts roughly as cutting a full cord at 24 inches if that were the standard. I think when you hear about people putting up cords in the old days, they were probably cutting 30 inches and over for wide fireplaces or for industrial use like furnaces, boilers and charcoal making. So, anyway, your thoughts on all of that are welcome here in the comments, or in youtube comments, or you can message me. Without further delay, below are this year’s participants.
Tim Springston of Oxbow Farms. Tim was the first to finish. He has a YouTube channel and he put out some nice videos on his process. He aimed from two cords, but didn’t finish in time due to farm work. He is a real farmer, and plants wait for no man. His channel has interesting unique content on farming, plant breeding, and other homestead and farm related stuff. https://youtu.be/YbeCFT_SIh4
Timothy Sutton, Flatland Woodsman on YouTube. Timothy busted out over 2 cords pretty darn fast. It was something of a family project. Tim has an awesome family. Big respect to Tim and his Family for cutting the largest quantity of wood in the challenge!
Todd Walker- Todd has a blog and YouTube channel called Survival Sherpa. Hes a great writer and provides good insight on self reliance skills and maybe more importantly philosophy. In short, he’s a gentleman and a scholar and of course an increasingly good hand with an axe! He put out some good videos through the process and built Dudley Cook’s chopping platform. https://youtu.be/IZvv1JtxuLE
Todd's very well written blog: https://survivalsherpa.wordpress.com/
Aaron Foster- Aaron cut one cord. Keep an eye on him if you are interested in tanning leather. He is an experienced buckskin and hopefully we'll see some more videos from him on that topic in the future. Just another homesteading, hide tanning metal head. https://youtu.be/vRj8xRv0jjc
Brian Larsen of Pennsylvania cut 1 cord. He put out a number of videos on the process, where he demonstrates good accuracy and overall efficiency, especially by the end where it's obvious that he's in a zone! https://youtu.be/DxzE1RVdy7w
Micah Larsen- sent the following email and photo: My name is Micah Larsen, I am 20 years old and live in Prince Edward Island, Canada. I used a Garant 2.25 lbs fiberglass axe to cut one cord of wood 20" long. I have used an axe for a couple of years but only to get the wood into lift-able pieces. What i learned from the Cordwood Challenge is how much wood it takes to get a cord of wood as it was the first time I had to measure out a cord of wood. I also learned how some types of wood that I did not work with until now react to the axe from limbing to splitting. I enjoyed the Cordwood Challenge thank you for putting it on.
Daniel Lenox: Hey Steven, here is my finished cord. I go by CrescentSon over on Skillcult.com. I finished the challenge on May 31 using a refurbished generic roughneck ax. I also used two other axes, a 1.5 pound single bit salvaged from a rusty flea market double bit, and an antique 2.5 - 3 pound single bit. The single bit head was passed down to my best friend by his grandfather. He, in turn, gave it to me when I told him I was doing the Cordwood Challenge. About halfway through the challenge, the wooden wedge slipped out and I had to finish with the roughneck. Almost all of the cord is sweetgum, aka sugar maple. I learned pretty quick that sweetgum doesnt like to split. A buddy and local logger said I was insane for cutting and splitting it, but there is an overabundance on my property. I live in Texas, so most of the wood will be for backyard camping. I have been collecting the chips to add more hugelkulture mounds to my garden, and the branches will be composted and turned to biochar. I really appreciate you putting forth the time and effort to organize this. I have been on my property for just over a year, and this challenge (along with your gardening content) has really motivated me to get more in touch with the land while increasing sustainability and self reliance. Thank you.
Deva Jones: Finished up a 1/4 cord chopping down trees in her fairly domestic backyard. She was the only woman to take on the challenge. I had full grown, and ostensibly axe wielding, men on axe forums whining about how their wood was too hard, or it's too much work, or they would use a saw etc. But, this unlikely black woman from the south shows up and starts chopping with a dull axe and zero experience. She doesn't really even need the wood, she just wants the skill. Deva probably expended as much energy falling her first tree with a dull axe as I would expend processing the entire thing into firewood start to finish. But, she kept at it and without any hand holding or personal instruction, plowed forward, figured out how to get her axe cutting better and went on to show great improvement. As far as I'm concerned, she punked some whiney man bitches. Awww, your wood's too hawd buddy? :( Bend over that stump, I think Deva's got some hard wood for ya. Grow a pair!... or maybe it's not a pair of balls that you need to grow, ha ha. High five Deva baby!
Em Lil Things, Youtube user and mask-wearing mystery man, cut 1/4 cord of wood and then torched it to make a pile of chacoal. Ha ha ha. It's just work folks. Work is good for you. Burn baby burn! He's also turning the slash into biochar for some mysterious reforestation project or something. https://youtu.be/Ywn_P0rwvdI
Patrick Hale: Was the youngest participant at 17. He showed a lot of improvement cutting his 1/4 cord. It is important to note that he was cutting a lot of seasoned wood, which is MUCH more work than green wood. I've got mad respect for anyone that does a lot of chopping in dead hardwoods. The axe he started with was a short light multi-use bushcraft "forest" type of axe, capable of the job, but I wouldn't recommend using one for the cordwood challenge for any reason other than to become really good with one. I took up a collection to buy him a council boy's axe, but then the handle broke. He made a new handle (or was it two) and eventually ended up with 1/4 cord right at the end. https://youtu.be/5jFD85cx1AE
Allstair Flemming wrote: "the stack( if you can call it that ) is no more than 1/4 of a cord but theres still a bit to buck up- Came from 2 40 yr old silver birch trees. - the splitting method was very hard work, but probably easier than axe cuts through the whole log. I think it would work great with straighter grained wood."
Kyle Halom emailed saying he thought he was just a little shy of 1/4 cord, but here he is with his wood.
"I have attached the very few pictures I took while doing the challenge. Commenting on the challenge I would say that it was a lot more work than I anticipated. I started with an older ax head that had chips out of the wedge so I hand filed it down before putting an edge on it. At first I struggled to get the right angle because I eyeballed it but towards the end of the challenge I got down an angle and sharpness that I preferred. Bucking was the worst part of the challenge. I started to get into a rhythm towards the end where I didn't over exert myself and could just add a few logs into my list of chores. The next step after doing this challenge is to re-handle the ax I used and customize the shape.
Thanks again for putting the challenge out there. I had a great time working on my ax skills."
Dave Henderson came in under 1/4 cord, but he made this video of using Dudley Cook's chopping platform.
"I'm might be a little shy of the 1/4 cord I signed up for when you first threw down the challenge back in September, but I've still got a couple of logs to go and will finish them regardless. Being a sailor by profession we don't use axes, and this is the first time I've used an ax for felling and processing, so I really saw an improvement just over the little bit I've done. Thanks for the motivation. I also threw together a chopping platform based on the one by Cook - not a big fan so far, but will try to make improvements - heavier weights on the chains to cut down on the bouncing, etc. It does seem to cut down on wastage. https://youtu.be/NUCBRSxvP1c I appreciate the challenge and lots of good information. I'll toss my hat in again next year."
Again, thanks to all the participants as well as the cheering squad in the comments sections. Whenever I get the strops and patches done they will go out. If you haven't sent me your address, please do that so I don't have to get after you later :).