Axe Handle Shock and Preventing Repetitive Stress Injury in Chopping

These are factors I know of that play a role in the amount of shock you absorb from your axe handle, such as chopping style, grip, handle rigidity, cutting ability and wood type.  These are the kinds of things that can allow a person cut more, longer and in harder wood without incurring numb sore hands, tendonitis, etc.   More text below.

 

Chopping with an axe is a high impact, high energy exercise.  As choppers, we necessarily absorb some of that energy since we are holding the tool.  There are a number of factors I know of which are important in the cause or prevention of repetitive stress injury or discomfort in chopping, most of them at least partially controllable. 

The axe should not be gripped very hard while chopping except as necessary in specific situations.  A hard grip unavoidably tires and stresses the hands, but it also creates a more efficient transfer of the energy from the vibrating axe handle back into the hands.  The Style of chopping is also important and interrelated to grip.  A heavy handed chopping style should be avoided.  Don't think of chopping as pushing or forcing the axe through the wood, but rather as whipping or throwing the axe head into the wood using the handle.  Pushing on the handle after the axe hits the wood adds little if any real power to the cut, but stresses the handle and the hands and probably sacrifices control to some extent.  You can cut plenty deep if you build velocity in the axe head before it hits the wood.  If the work is done before the axe hits the wood, then the grip is only to lightly control the axe after it strikes.

The handle of the axe, depending on it's thickness, density, inherent flexibility of the wood and probably other factors, will transmit more or less shock.  Thin handles transmit considerably less shock than thick ones do and tuning your handle or thinning it down is probably mentioned by authors writing about axes more often than not.  Older axes tend to have thinner handles than modern axes, and vintage axes, old photographs and older illustrations demonstrate this fact.  There is a reason that axe handles have become thicker, which is that they aren't actually used very much.  Most axes are now the equivalent of handbags for men, and are put to real use only infrequently for short periods of time.

If you cut into wood at an angle, usually around 45 degrees, it cuts more easily than if the cut is made at a right angle.  When cutting at 90 degrees the axe stops suddenly and more of the energy embodied in the head is transferred to your hands rather than cutting into the wood.  It's fine to cut at 90 degrees as needed, but generally a poor habit to get into on a regular basis.  Most axe work is done with cuts around 45 degrees for a reason.

Another way to transfer a lot of the energy embodied in an axe head back up the handle and into your hands is to use an axe that is not cutting well for any number of reasons.  The axe must cut well and easily or it will stop suddenly causing more vibration.  Most axes as they come from the factory, nearly all in fact, require at least some reshaping to get them cutting well.  In most cases, a significant amount of metal needs to be removed from the sides of the axe near the bit in order for it to be able to slide easily into the wood.  It is often recommended to file the cheek of an axe in a fan shape, but that depends on the shape of the axe head to start with.

Finally, the wood plays a role.  When chopping hard dry wood, less of the energy from each blow of the axe is dissipated in cutting, whereas when cutting soft and green woods, the energy is dissipated gradually as the axe sinks deeply into the cut.  You may or may not be able to control what wood you end up cutting, but you can control other factors that cause or prevent the kind of handle shock and fatigue that might keep you from working or cause a longer term injury that will put you off of work for a while.  The stuff mentioned here is important if a person want's to be able to use an axe under varied conditions, on varied woods, for longer periods of time, on consecutive days.  What separates the men from the boys isn't being tough enough, young enough or dumb enough to tolerate a club of a handle or an axe that otherwise doesn't cut well, but to be wise enough to work smart and not hard.  If you are going to sit at your computer trying to breath life into your flaccid member to some freaky internet porn, or work your thumbs out pushing buttons on your t.v., remote then I guess maybe none of it matters all that much.  If you're going to dig, carry, lift, hammer, weed, process and otherwise use your hands, wrists and arms, you'll be able to do all of it more, and longer, day after day if you pay attention to these types of details.

Revisiting Chuck's Apple Frankentree for Training and Maintenance

Over a year ago, we grafted an apple tree sucker at Chuck's house to 5 varieties of apples.  Yesterday I revisited that tree for maintenance and training.  I talk about grafting, borers, notching buds, training and other related stuff.

Apple Breeding: Grafting The Seedlings Onto Dwarf Rootstocks.

This is a continuation of my apple breeding project and video series following the process from pollination to fruiting and hopefully beyond.  In this season, the seedlings are cut off and grafted onto dwarfing roostock.  The dwarfing stock should induce fruiting more quickly (or so the common assertion) and keep the trees to a small size in the crowded test rows.  At 12 inches apart, in rows 6 feet apart, I can't afford large trees.  I show the two grafts I commonly use and talk some other basics.  Soon we'll be planting these in new beds to grow until they fruit.

Official BITE ME! Apple Release, and Two Week Hiatus

BITE ME!, my new public domain (and open source for apple breeders ha ha) is officially out.  I have scions in the webstore and a page dedicated to the apple here: www.skillcult.com/biteme  Scions are available in the webstore till they run out.  I may re-sort the short and thin ones in my fridge and relist after that to get as many out there as possible.  I should also hopefully have them available for some years to come.

I'm also taking a two week break from making youtube content and probably any other content, in order to get life on the homestead back on track a little bit.  Some stuff needs doing around the place.  Here is a quick review of the Snow and Neally boy's axe.  The short version is that the head looks pretty nice, but the handle was so, so and the hafting was pretty bad.  The Council Tool Boy's axe seems like a much better at 31.00 shipped, currently less than half the price of the S&N.  The council has a less pollished head, but I think has a much better designed handle and the wood on my counicl is much superior v.s. this S&N.  Too bad I was hoping it would be better.

Introducing Axemanship Series, S.T.A.T.E. Five Factors in Effective Axe Work

Somehow in thinking often and long about what makes using an axe effective, I came up with these five things that I think are pretty fundamental.  Surprisingly, they not only formed a real English word to use as an acronym, but three of them!  Some of these are interrelated and it is not a completely tidy concept.  It's more like a framework to define and identify the things we need to work on or have in line to operate effectively.  But if you think about these five factors and removing any one of them, it becomes obvious that effectiveness will suffer.  I think pursuing these ideas will ultimately make us able to function at a high level.  This video series will be 5 videos long aside from this introduction.

Strategy:  Strategy is all important.  Starting to cut a log with no strategy is like starting on a trip with no map, no idea how to get there, just the general direction and that eventually with enough time and fuel you'll probably get there.  Strategy is the planning of the trip to get to center of that log in the most efficient way.  It may not be the shortest direct distance on a bumpy windy road, but it's something that we think will be the fastest or require the least fuel and time.  Strategy is neglected for two reasons.  One is not knowing that it's important.  A lot of beginners will think about getting to the center of the log, but not how to best get there.  Another is lack of faith in the strategy or abandonment of it due to frustration.  Have a strategy, even if you aren't sure it is the best strategy and stick with it.  Sure, vary it, experiment, adapt, but do those things with intent.

Tool:  An axe is not just an axe.  Most of them need work out of the box in order to cut effectively.  There are seemingly infinite axe head designs, handle designs, lengths, weights and grinds that could work effectively.  But, there are certain parameters outside of which chopping will become much less effective.

Accuracy: with an axe is a hard won skill.  It certainly requires time spent, but I believe it can improve more quickly with intent and a little instruction.  Without it, you can't execute your strategy effectively.  Lack of accuracy is not a reason to abandon strategy or give up on attempting to be accurate. Quite the opposite I think.

Technique:  as I mean it, technique is separate from Accuracy and efficiency, though related to both.  What I mean here is the mechanics of chopping and what you do with your body to actually make the axe cut the wood effectively.  If all the other 4 factors are in place, you will still cut the wood, but there are things you can do to make the axe cut better all else being equal.  Mostly we'll be talking about the generation of velocity, but there are other things and not unlikely some I don't know about or haven't noticed.

Efficiency:  Like the word Technique, efficiency could be interpreted in multiple ways.  What I mean here though is economy of energy and motion.  Basically how much result from a given expenditure of energy.  We already know that it can take one person way more energy to get the same log cut in two.  The ideal of efficiency would be to whittle the amount of energy down to a theoretical minimum by letting go of unnecessary, effort/tension/movement/error etc.

As Onix Pyro said in the comments on this introduction video, "practice makes better, not best"  Any ideal of perfect axemanship is a fantasy when knowledge necessarily has limits, the machine is not perfect and the conditions are variable.  And there is no need for perfection or ultimate speed or any other ideal.  But realizing that there is something out there vaguely resembling a theoretical perfection gives us a measure to observe our effectiveness against.  While I lack the teaching experience to prove it, I believe that a little thought and action around these five points will quickly accelerate a beginners effectiveness with an axe and provide a framework for anyone to measure and improve.  I consider this a work in progress and am willing to revise this list if necessary, but it seems pretty solid as far as I can think and from the feedback I've gotten so far.

 

Using Household Items as Grafting Supplies

Most households have enough stuff already sitting around to do some basic or even advanced grafting.  I like my doc farwell's grafting seal, grafting knife and budding tape, but I graft a lot and it gives me a slight edge when I'm making dozens of grafts in a session.  To start learning to graft and get you feet wet, you may do just fine with any small sharp knife, some strips of plastic bag and some latex paint.

Rawhide, Leeks and Roads

Apparently I can't keep up with myself.  Here is a backlog of recent videos on everything from rawhide to roads.

CULLING LEEKS

The difference between the different sections of the leek bed are even more obvious now, confirming more what I observed this summer, which is that the soil with charcoal (biochar) has what is generally referred to as heart.  That is to say it has staying power and isn't easily used up without regular additions of fertilizer.  I've been very negligent with this leek bed and it really shows on the control end with no charcoal, but not much on the 10% char end.  The 5% section is better than half way between the two others, but there is an obvious difference except that within one foot of the 10% section, the plants are nearly indistinguishable from most of the rest of the 10% section.  The very end of the 10% section drops off in size, but that may be due to the shape, of the bed, which is pointed on the end.  Also, many gardeners will have observed that plants tend to do less well on the ends of beds.  If you took the difference between the control end and the 10% end as at least 600% difference, that could be interpreted as the 10% char end making 600% better use added amendments.  That is a sloppy interpretation and doesn't take into account all possible factors, but it's still impressive and probably on the low side if anything. The leek seed from this project will be ready in the fall for planting about this time next year.


ROAD SERIES PRIMER

This one is a quick primer for what will be a series on the design of graveled roads based on what I learned and have observed building mine, as well as paying attention to other unpaved roads and what happens to them in various circumstances.  It will have to potential to save a lot of people, time, money, unpleasant driving conditions, all while saving resources ultimately and keeping sediment out of stream beds.  In the meantime, you can download the handbook for forest and ranch roads for free here.  It is a dry read, but very worth putting to use if unpaved roads are a regular part of your life.  http://www.pacificwatershed.com/sites/default/files/roadsenglishbookapril2015b_0.pdf


RAWHIDE HANDLE BRACE FINAL

This is the final part of the rawhide axe handle brace.  As usual for me, this series wasn't just about making this one tweak, but about rawhide and sinew and hide glue and context and related stuff.

Maple, Candy Cap Chanterelle Mushroom Recipe

This is my original recipe and probably my favorite way to eat these orange chanterelles.  It uses maple syrup and candy cap mushrooms to overdrive the already present, subtle maple flavor of saut'eed chanterelles.

Clean the mushrooms, but try not to saturate them with water.  Slice to consistent thickness, under 1/4 inch.  Saute in butter slowly enough not to burn the butter badly until the water cooks out and evaporates, and they brown lightly on both sides.  They should be cooked enough to be lightly browned on both sides and have lost enough moisture to be somewhat firmed up.  If you have candy cap mushrooms, add a small amount of crushed dried candy cap during the saute to infuse the mushrooms with maple flavor.

Remove the mushrooms from the pan, add maple syrup to the hot pan and cook until the sugar in the syrup caramelizes very lightly.  Add more butter and syrup to make enough glaze or syrup.  You can add water back after caramelizing to make it more syrupy if desired. Add the mushrooms back and toss to coat them with the glaze.

Toasted walnuts are a nice addition. I'm sure pecans would be even better.  Good with traditional American breakfast stuff, bacon, ham, breakfast sausage, pancakes and waffles.  I just eat it the way it is most of the time.

Original Illustrations From My Book, Buckskin, The Ancient Art of Braintanning

In the 90's I wrote a book with the my partner at Paleotechnics and Wife at the time, Tamara Wilder.  We need to reprint and were sorting through the original copies so I made a quick video showing some of them.  We have a few copies of the book available on http://www.paleotechnics.com but I took it off of Amazon until we reprint, though some sellers may still have a few strays for a while and there will be the inevitable copies selling for hundreds of dollars claiming that it's out of print.  Which, I guess it almost is now.  Hopefully we'll have it back in print soon.

The Homestead Year, 2016 in Retrospect, Part One

Here is my homestead year in retrospect, or half of it.  Part two should follow any day.  A lot happened in 2016 I guess.  It was a pretty good year, much better than other recent years in many ways.

The Cordwood Challenge, What to Expect and Related Thoughts

A video I shot this morning talking about what to expect when doing the cordwood challenge.  Further thoughts below.

When I did my axe cordwood challenge last year, it wasn’t quite what I expected in every way.  Here are some thoughts on that.  Doing the axe cordwood challenge will affect how the process itself is experienced.  First off, a lot of the experience of anything we do is made up of things like expectation, attitude, pre-conception, social prejudice and just in general what we bring with us that colors our experience.  As a person progresses and improves their skills with an axe, some of those things will change quite a bit.  I tend to think that in most cases, views of the work itself, it’s worth and enjoyability and how much it is percieved as "work" in the negative modern sense, will improve.  On the other hand, maybe that will not be the case if someone has a very romantic and inaccurate view of what it entails to start with.  Who knows.  That is part of this experiment.

Much has to do with efficiency and ability. It is usually a lot more fun and motivating to do something that you are good at and using an axe can be very frustrating if things are not going too well.  Picking up an axe with little or no experience can feel awkward and ineffectual.  In order to be efficient at the work, we have to be able to hit where we are aiming, understand how the axe cuts or doesn’t, have at least a rudimentary understanding of effective strategy, and be able to deliver energy where we want it with a relatively low amount of energy expended; or put otherwise, as little as possible of energy expended is wasted unnecessarily along the way.  It may look easy, but it’s easier said than done and simply takes time with axe in hand to start building physical memory.  Thus, of course, the cordwood challenge in the first place.

The amount of energy expended will go down as coordination is built and excess movement and tension start to fall away.  At least that is how it should happen eventually.  It is possible to waste a lot of energy with excess movement and tension, but the ability to relax into the work will only come with familiarity and comfort with the tool.  I’ll try to offer some tips, but the best recommendation I can probably make is to watch people who are good at chopping and learn that visually.  Watch them a lot and you’ll start to imitate them without even thinking about it.  Look at my recommended axe video play list.  Especially watch competition choppers and the video The Axeman.  Jon Ugalde’s video of 79 year old Basque Axeman Enrique Bildarraz is a great example of high efficiency.  Skills or not, a nearly 80 year old man doesn’t have energy to waste.  Energy efficiency is not synonymous with time or force.

In any case, it takes a lot of time to chop wood with an axe relative to using a chain saw.  That is a given.  Although both speed and force could help you finish work more quickly, It is very important not to force either one too fast.  The forcing of either or both is a great danger, making accidents both more likely and worse when they do happen.  Not only that, but forcing either too much is likely to decrease your efficiency, because errors will be magnified and increased.  Be patient and concentrate on technique, aim and strategy.  The power and speed will happen naturally to a point if they are in your nature.  If they are not, that’s okay too.  You will just proceed somewhat slower.  You don’t actually need a lot of either.  We’ll talk more about the generation of power later.  Beginning choppers should err toward gentle chopping and concentrate on accuracy and system.  Make no mistake.  Power and speed are a waste of energy without accuracy and system.

https://youtu.be/rb9fWu7JES8

Expect to have near accidents as you learn your way around the process and build your catalogue of what can happen.  We go through a higher risk phase when first learning to do something dangerous.  With time (except for the common “cocky phase” somewhere in the middle), dangerous pursuits should become safer as we learn what can go wrong and to foresee potential accidents happening.  We all have a little safety officer in our heads watching out for us throughout every day doing even commonplace things.  Some accidents will be foreseen as a matter of common sense and everyday physics that we are already dealing with regularly our whole lives.  Some accidents are not as easy to see coming.  Hopefully we can shorten that high risk period with some demonstration and discussion, but much has to be learned by experience and real life experience.

I think for men especially, it’s important that we have some kind of at least symbolic destructive activity.  Fighting, hunting and violence in general are in our DNA.  That may be inconvenient at times, but it’s there whether anyone likes it or not.  I find dismembering trees with an axe rather therapeutic and relaxing while being a good outlet for my destructive nature.  The work requires an odd combination of aggression against a living or once living organism, relaxation/effort, and focus while letting go of the chattery overthinking mind.  If you do it a lot, and begin to relax into the work, it will eventually pull you into a good place to be, quite, focused, present, engaged, relaxed and active all at the same time.  I don’t know anything quite like it.

Official Launch of the Cordwood Challenge 2017!, Cut Your Firewood with Axes Only

Warning, some graphic images of axe injuries in this post may be hard to unsee.

Welcome to the cordwood challenge!  The concept of this project is to offer a format in which participants can explore using axes in a way that puts us in a great position to improve our practical axe skills.  If we love the axe, we must love what it has the potential to do, and if we strive to realize some of that potential between ourselves, an axe and pile of wood, is that not the ultimate homage to the axe?

There are more details below, but briefly the challenge is as follows.  Cut 1/4, 1/2, or a full cord, or more using axes only, without cutting yourself or being smashed or crushed by trees and limbs.  Then send a picture or video of you with your firewood and any experiences or insight you’d like to share.  I’m making a leather merit badge and axe strops as incentives, but clearly the real reward is less tangible.

If you plan to take on the cordwood challenge, please read this entire post and watch the video, just to make sure all bases are covered.

First the disclaimer.  I’m providing this challenge as a framework in which axe users can explore improving their axe skills and learn practical application by doing, while having an opportunity to be recognized for your achievement.  What you do with any information I offer, or any information that you gather anywhere else, is your responsibility.  I claim no special knowledge of axes and their use, and don’t claim the information that I offer is accurate or guaranteed to keep you safe in your endeavors.  I accept no responsibility for what you do with any information offered related to this challenge, or on using axes safely and effectively.  If you wind up with an injury doing whatever it is that you choose to do, there will be no one to blame but yourself.  Projecting that responsibility on someone else not only shows a weakness and immaturity of character, but betrays an inherently unsafe attitude toward work and safety.  Using an axe, and felling and working with trees, is inherently unsafe work.  Do not doubt that truth for a minute, and consider this challenge very carefully, and whether it is worth the risk involved to gain these skills.

As I'm preparing this, youtuber Weiderfan, just posted a video about cutting his leg badly with a hatchet.

For your consideration.

Axe wound photos courtesy of http://www.boernebushmasters.org/wilderness-wounds-axe-wounds/

This challenge should not be taken lightly.  Regardless of anything else, it is a considerable time investment in an activity that is somewhat physically demanding (though not as much as you might think) and intrinsically dangerous.  I’ll tell you why I do it, but your motives are your own.  Some people will think you’re cool, but If you think the people around you will be amazed, most of them won't if they even understand what you are doing at all.  So, get ready for quizzical expressions, deer-in-the-headlights looks, head shaking and the need to communicate exactly what it is you are actually doing in graphic detail.  It might be just as well to finish the job after which you can brandish your axe, point at your ricks of drying firewood, and grunt "me make wood!"  That should pretty well do it :)

While there are many possible ways to approach learning to be better axeists, chopping firewood is an activity that keeps it real.  Firewood is a necessity for many of us and puts us in direct relation to our own needs.  What is the difference between making a pile of chips just for practice and making chips that result in a stack of firewood that keeps us warm through the winter?  I don’t know exactly, but there sure is a difference.

Real work = Real Results:  Aside from having practical value firewood processing has some advantages when it comes to learning your way around an axe.  It is real world work.  You will find yourself in all sorts of positions and situations that occur in the field only.  Chopping overhead or chopping the underside of a raised log are challenging and force us out of our comfort zone if we are not used to using an axe in the forest a lot.

More is Better:  There is also the sheer quantity of the work.   You can cut down a tree, limb it and maybe buck it into something you can handle for sawing, but how many trees will you cut down and limb in one year, and how much cutting time is that really going to give you?  The answer is not much.  It was without any doubt, the bucking which most accelerated my skills with an axe last season and forced my attention to accuracy.  Not only does bucking require a lot of chopping, but it is a specific skill all it’s own which requires practice and familiarity to become comfortable with.  Without bucking, you can only get so much practice and only of a certain kind.

Repetition:  And then there is the repetition and timing.  It is very different to go out into the woods at spaced intervals through the year and do just a little chopping, v.s. doing a lot of chopping in a shorter space of time.  If we cut a full cord in a few months, we will reap a reward in skill level from executing that work in closely spaced sessions.

Exercise: I can hardly imagine that the exercise afforded by such clean and engaging physical labor is not a positive thing in the vast majority of cases.  Viewing the effort required as a valuable product of the process rather than a negative factor is not only reasonable in most cases, but I think more accurate.

Who should accept or consider the cordwood challenge?  First some generalities:

Physical Effort:  If you can work efficiently at a moderate pace, chopping firewood may be less work than you might think.  It is just mildly aerobic and doesn’t really requiring a lot strength.  It’s much more about technique and accuracy than force.  I thought I’d be ripped after cutting a cord last spring, but I didn’t notice any particular gains in muscle mass, though I think you could certainly see some if you did enough work in a short enough period of time.  What I did gain though is the ability to process wood with much less effort because I’m more likely to hit where I’m aiming and my strategy has improved considerably.

Access:  Then there is access to wood.  I’m in a good position to process firewood, having acres of overgrown woods in need of management.  For others, the trees may not be there, or there may not be many trees you want to cut down.  Or, maybe you have access to wood, but in an inconvenient location.  Or maybe you have only dead dried up tangly wood that is a nightmare to process.

Conservation: One important thing that might get in the way of taking the challenge is knowledge about trees and forestry.  A certain level of understanding of forest ecology and succession is required to enable us to make intelligent forestry decisions in order to fulfill conservation goals.  If you walk into the woods and can’t tell the difference between one species and another, or generally don’t understand what is going on out there, you probably have no business taking an axe to live trees.  You could stick to dead and dying or diseased trees, or seek guidance, but I hope that no one will just randomly go out and start chopping on whatever tree is handy.  I don’t choose trees just because they will make good firewood.  In some contexts I think that is okay, but most forests have trees that are sick, crowded or can be cut to achieve certain management and conservation goals.  The forest is generally somewhat resilient, but the trees we cut do have a significant effect, sometimes good, sometimes not so much and sometimes simply depending on what our goals are.

Danger Danger:  There is much to consider when taking on this challenge.  It is not to be taken lightly.  The danger alone should be carefully considered.  Perfectly capable axemen can end up with serious injuries.  The perspective that the whole idea is just dumb for that reason alone has some merit.  But, there are always different ways to look at anything.  If you want to be good at using an axe, then this is a great way to get there.  It may be the best way, aside from operating in a similar context with a skilled teacher.  And doing dangerous things is not without it’s rewards.  Danger should sharpen our focus and foster a clarity and contrast that cruising through safe tasks all day dulls.  There is, or should be, an immediacy and presence of mind that comes with activities, requiring focused engagement to safeguard our well being.  I think for men especially swinging a dangerous tool/weapon around to dismantle trees satisfies something that we are supposed to experience.  Someone did a study on the effects of various activities on testosterone levels, and cutting wood with an axe raised testosterone levels the most out of all activities!  Hitting trees with sticks would surely not yield the same result.

for simplicity’s sake, I’m dividing us into categories in reference to who should take the challenge

Beginners:  I’m inclined to discourage beginners from taking on this project, even at the lowest level of 1/4 cord.  I don’t think it’s impossible depending on the person, but learning to use an axe takes time.  It is always dangerous, but in the beginning it is extra dangerous.  Having a goal or deadline isn’t probably the best attitude to take when learning a new dangerous skill.  If you start testing the waters this year and end up with a stack of wood, you’re in, but don’t commit to something that you don’t understand enough to know what you are getting into.

Mid level, some experience:  I think this is the group that can benefit the most immediately and jump right into the project.  I consider myself in this category, though higher up in it than I was last spring after cutting only a cord of wood.  Anyone that writes or makes video content about axes and using axes I would especially like to encourage, to do the cordwood challenge.  It will build your credibility and legitimacy in both your eyes and others and can only benefit your audience and content quality.

Veteran choppers:  I’d also like to see some veteran choppers get involved.  If you cut your firewood with an axe already, that’s fine, do the challenge anyway and show the rest of us how it’s done.

A note to women.  Women can definitely use axes effectively.  You don’t have to be a lumberjack dude to use an axe.  A large stronger man of the same skill level is going to outchop you, but your typically lighter structure and stature does not preclude your participation or ability to chop effectively.  Not only are accuracy, efficiency and technique much more important than strength and aggression, I can attest personally that the instinct to try to force an axe through a log by strength is very ineffective and often the very thing that will wreck my accuracy and good form.  I still battle with that problem frequently.  This is a total boys club for sure, but we’d love to have you on board, possibly more than you’d like actually ;)  I’ll try to make you feel as comfortable as possible here and delete or check any disrespectful comments.

Kids and Young Adults: If you are under 18 I need to talk to your parents if you’re going to submit to the challenge.  18 is the legal age of adulthood in my country and I don’t want anyone’s parents thinking I’m responsible for encouraging their offspring to undertake a dangerous activity.  Before you leave comments, submit pictures, etc., have them contact me through the contact tab on this website.

No Pressure:  In conclusion, consider taking on such a challenge thoughtfully.  I don’t want to discourage people in general, obviously I think it’s overall a good idea for a certain type of person at a certain level of skill, and believe there are many potential rewards.  For people at any level that are on the fence, planning to spend a year warming up and getting gear together in a feeling out process is probably a great way to go.  After all, you may not know if you like the work or not.  Fixing up an old axe or tuning up a new one, learning to sharpen, and w chopping are a lot to take on for a first season.  If you end up with a quarter cord or more this year, you are welcome to submit your entry.  I just don’t want anyone making commitments they can’t keep.  You can simply let me know that you are thinking about doing the challenge, or just tell me when you are part way through, or even when you’re finished.  I’m good with whatever as long as you aren’t getting yourself into something that you will regret, or that will put you under an unsafe degree pressure.  Whatever the case, you can leave comments to that effect on this page.

 

Rules

Saws:  I’m making one single exception for saws, which is making the back cut when needed for safety reasons.  You can’t really wedge a back cut made with an axe, so making a back cut with a saw opens new possibilities for wedging trees in the direction you want them to go, which may be needed for safety or to prevent hang ups or damage to other trees.  Most of the time you won’t need to and you’ll get little enough experience making felling cuts as it is, so don’t use this out if you don’t need it.  I have never used it.  On the other hand, certainly DO use it if it seems necessary for your safety or might prevent the damage or death of important adjoining trees!  Otherwise, NO SAWS, that’s the whole point. 

Mauls and Splitting:  You may use splitting mauls for splitting the wood, but I would very strongly encourage you to use whatever axe you fell and buck with as much as possible.  You might be surprised what you can pull off with good aim, technique and strategy.  I do all of my splitting with whatever axe I’m using for the other processes involved.  If I can’t split it but it fits in the stove, I leave it as an “overnighter” log, which I actually have a shortage of this year.  If it needs to be split and the axe is not enough, I chop out a couple of rough wooden wedges on the spot and use those.  Tim of Oxbow Farms was skeptical that he could split the wood with an axe, but encouraged him to keep at it and after trying the golf swing method for a while, he’s a convert.  You can do whatever you want, but you will learn a lot if you really stick with your axe and concentrate on your aim and technique.

Achievement levels:  The levels are 1/4 cord, 1/2 cord, or 1 full cord, or more.  1/4 cord gets recognition and your picture or video featured in a video and web page.  1/2 cord and up gets a merit badge that I make from leather which I tan here on the homestead.  It’s sort of like the boyscout merit badge for accomplishing something, but way cooler!  I’m still working out the details on that, but the prototype looks pretty cool.  1 cord gets the badge plus a pocket axe strop.  You can watch the making of the strops in my video series following that entire process.  They are made entirely from scratch from materials gathered here.  Clearly for anyone surpassing a cord that is a reward in itself,

Deadline is June 1st 2017:  If you live in the southern hemisphere, contact me and will figure something out.  I honestly haven't given much thought to how to deal with that problem.  Suggestions welcomed. 

Send me pictures of you with your finished stacks of wood or post a video and write as much as you want about the experience or not.  I’d love to hear about your experience and I’m sure others considering the challenge in the future would as well.  Be sure to include the axe or axes you used.  If you make a video and don’t have a way to post it, we can work out a way to get the footage to me so I can edit it into another video or post it on my channel.

Tim @ oxbow farms youtube channel has already finished a full cord and is thinking about doing a second cord because he’s having so much fun and learning so much.  Watch his cordwood challenge playlist.

 hub I have an official page that is the Hub for the project.  Please leave all relevant declarations related to the cordwood challenge there rather than on any of my youtube videos.

Resources: I can only offer so much support on technical advice like felling and gear, due to limitations of time and energy as well as qualification in many cases.  Please avail yourself of whatever information is out there on axes, chopping, felling trees, forestry, etc., but be critical.  A list of resources appears below.  Even though I feel I’m not the best person to do it, I’ll be making some videos on axe use and safety in support of the project.  Hopefully some of those will be out sooner than later.  I can’t completely endorse anything as entirely accurate, “correct” and relevant, these seem to be some good sources of information.  I would recommend consuming all of them.

Books:

Mors Kochanski,  Bushcraft  Excellent book all around and great axe use and safety stuff.  A must read.  

Dudley Cook, The Axe Book  And outstanding work focused on using axes for firewood processing.  Another must read.

Peter McClaren’s Axe Manual Read free online.  Somehow I just discovered this book, so I haven’t even read it yet, but it looks potentially amazing.

Bernard S. Mason Woodsmanship  A great old book with considerable detailed axe information.  Download it here for free

Woodcraft and Camping, E. H. Kreps   Download free:

An Axe to Grind  Government manual on axe use, maintenance and safety download free

Video: 

Best Axe Use and Safety Videos Playlist  Some great stuff in here all around and a few exemplary examples of axemanship! 

Cordwood Challenge Playlist.  Any supportive videos I make on axe use and safety will go in here.

Websites, Forums Etc:  There are no forums of discussion type groups I know of that are solely or primarily focused on working axes.  If you know of one, please let me know.

AxeConnected  The Vido's axe website.  Infrequently updated, but deep insightful content from long time axe users.

Facebook's Axe Junkies  Over 20,000 members strong.  Axe Junkiest seems to be the hub of internet axe culture Lots of advice available on restoring, handles, sharpening and such,  and there are a lot of knowledgeable members that will sometimes comment on practical questions.

Reddit's AxeCraft  Not a lot on practical application, but again some experienced knowledgeable members.  I've had some good conversations there.

Have fun and try to stay safe!

First Entry for the Cordwood Challenge, Tim Springston of Oxbow Farms

Even though I haven't really officially kicked off the cordwood challenge (working on it now) Tim Springston (on youtube as oxbow farm) has already finished a cord of wood!  Way to go Tim!  He says it was so much fun and he has learned so much that he's thinking of chopping another cord this year.    Tim has been making some videos talking about the project.  I'm embedding his cordwood challenge playlist here.  Congratulations for finishing the challenge in style, being the first ever to finish it, and finishing it safely.  When I get the strops and cordwood challenge merit badges together they're in the mail to Tims neck of the woods.