Posts tagged #cutting firewood with an axe

The BuckStop is Here! Training ProphylAXis For Bucking Firewood Safely

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I came up with this simple, but very cool idea for safely learning to buck logs with an axe. Here are the whys and whats and a few options for building one.

Watching people learn to buck in person and on video has been fairly horrifying at times. Most of the injuries we’ve seen during the cordwood challenge over the past two years were cuts made while bucking logs. This simple concept could allow people to train in bucking more safely, and just as important, to progress in that training more rapidly. I just came up with this idea a year or two ago and finally got around to trying it. The device is a simply a low guard wall that can be slapped together with some junk that might be lying around. I put together four different versions in about an hour including running around looking for materials. To make just one out of materials laying around would probably be about a 10 minute job.

This low wall should stop the axe should any cut go over the top of the log or through it, thus protecting the user from injury. This idea comes from the practice of using a backing log to buck, as recommended by Mors Kochanski and others. Using a larger log behind the log you are chopping can be very helpful, especially in preventing the axe from coming all the way through the work and continuing to the other side where we are standing. The Bucking Wall is taller and flatter than a log, so it should be more effective in preventing the axe from coming over the top of the log. It also allows one to stand closer to the work, which to me is preferable with a short handled axe. It is also lighter than a log. Finally, it can be built with a floor of plywood to catch the axe in case of over reaching strikes that would normally cause the toe of the axe blade to end up in the dirt.

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Consistent results and physical competence with an axe requires a certain amount of time served swinging one. They also require a certain amount of confidence to use well. The tool needs to be taken in hand and used with enough confidence to keep it under control and it is hard to be accurate and effective when timid and hesitant. It is possible to be so cautious and physically stiff that mistakes are increased or amplified. But how do we have confidence before being habituated to the tool? We don’t, which is why the learning phase is so dangerous. Observe the following quote from The Axe Manual of Peter McLaren published by the Plumb tool company.

“The danger of an axe is largely a mental hazard. The user is fearful; he stands so far from his work that his axe is not under control, forgetting that if he misplaces a stroke, or hits a glancing blow, the axe will always come home to him.

“Safety lies in learning to swing correctly and in placing your strokes accurately. Then stand within easy swinging distance and chop with confidence.

“Of course, there is always a careless man who minimizes any risk and chops more with abandon than with skill. In his hands the axe (or any edge tool) is dangerous. Play safe! But do not fear your axe. Instead--- Master it.”

Celebrity Axeman of old, Peter McLaren’s Manual of axe work put out by the Plumb Tool company. Download for free here…  https://scoutmastercg.com/the_axe_manual_/

Celebrity Axeman of old, Peter McLaren’s Manual of axe work put out by the Plumb Tool company. Download for free here…https://scoutmastercg.com/the_axe_manual_/

It is a lot easier to have that confidence once a reasonable degree of physical competence is gained. We don’t want to have false confidence, but ultimately McLaren was right. As a dangerous tool, it needs to be taken charge of and used confidently, with commitment and purposeful intent to do the work at hand.

But he recommended that we learn to use the axe, then use it with purpose and confidence. When each swing feels utterly lacking in said confidence as to where it will end up, or whether it will bite or bounce off, and we are not sure how to gauge distance from hands to the blade, how do we learn to use it safely? A certain amount of time must be spent with the tool before it begins to feel natural and go where we want it to. Enter the Buckstop

Because it is vertical and not round like a backing log, it is even more likely to prevent the axe from coming over the back board and hitting the user. So, at a certain height, it is almost 100% sure to prevent deflected and follow through cuts to the legs while bucking. So, there is the obvious advantage in terms of just preventing accidents, but I think the benefits will extent further. With the fear of injury essentially gone, now we can chop with some impunity, which means any timidity caused by being uncertain of striking our target is no longer at play. This may be a significant factor in allowing one to relax a little and chop with more confidence while working on physical technique. A new user can experiment with things like wrist torque for increasing speed, without increasing danger. In order to chop at their best, the lighter axes that I would typically recommend people start with need to be used with a little snap to create adequate head speed. But experimenting with that head speed is the last thing I would want to see a very new user doing. Using the bucking wall though, you could experiment with that acceleration and with tweaking style and technique in general, without fear of injury. Finally, when you do screw up, it is pretty obvious and I would hope that every time the axe hit’s the wall or wooden base, it stimulates the question of what would have happened if that wall wasn’t there. Even when making the final severing cut at the end to separate off the round of wood, the axe hitting the wall means the axe would be coming through, and if we look at footing position it should give some idea of whether we were at risk for injury.

I think this simple device is a solid idea, and could fill a very important need in the learning phase until confidence and skill are gained. I also think it could build that confidence and skill faster if used with intent. It’s not forever, it’s just a training aid. Many axe competitors habitually wear chainmail socks in both training and competition. Safety is good. But, I would recommend not using this indefinitely, because it could very easily foster bad habits and a false sense of security, which brings me to the down sides.

The two caveats I would say are, first that the buckstop should not be used as an excuse to be sloppy and complacent. One should still concentrate primarily on technique and aim, with a relaxed style, and not on speed and power. Ultimately speed and power are earned over time and more importantly they are nearly useless without a good level of accuracy. Forcing speed and power under normal conditions is dangerous, but even with a backing wall, they still will tend to cause aim to suffer and should be pursued intelligently with an aim to improvement of overall effectiveness, of which power is not the main ingredient as every experienced axeman will tell you. I do however, as I said above, think that using the bucking wall could allow one to progress more quickly into not just speed and power, but efficient speed and power by liberating the trainee to experiment more without putting limbs at risk. Which leads to caveat number two.

One could easily develop bad habits and a false sense of security if released from the fear of injury. I actually think it will be hard not to do so, and it is probably even inevitable. If I were training someone from scratch, I would probably approach it as two different stages, where in the second stage with no Buckstop, they have to learn new important habits and reboot the brain into danger mode. There is, of course, the opportunity to learn some safety lessons if you are continually watching that back wall and every time you hit it asking whether or not you would have lost a toe or two, but that requires a sort of intent or presence of mind that many of us aren’t going to have. Try to use the barrier consciously with the intent of hitting that backing wall as little as possible and not as an excuse to flail away with impunity. When the wall is gone, certainly more awareness and presence of mind around possible errors is going to be essential. Regardless, I would try to make the switch from buckstop to no buckstop as consciously and soberly as possible.

As far as design goes, watch the vide All of them work. You can just use a log that is larger than the piece you are bucking, but the wall should work better than a log in that it easier to move around, often easier to come up with, more transportable and allows one to stand very close, which I tend to do in bucking with the short handled axes I use. It is probably also safer, since it is both taller and flatter. If the device is made with a wooden platform for the log, it will also protect the toe of your axe from sticking into the dirt. @watch.your.follow.through on Instagram pointed out that if there is no base at the front for the log to rest on, it allows the device to be moved easily along the back of the log as chopping progresses. That is true, but it is also probably easier to slide a log along a piece of plywood. In a design with no wooden platform at the front, you can just jam a piece of plywood under the section to be cut to protect the axe, though it may not be as effective. Given that this is a training device and not a long term tool, any minor convenience issues like those only matter so much.

I would encourage making something that is super easy to throw together with common materials or junk that is lying around. I like elegant solutions, which means making and using the simple, easy, cheap thing that works. I am very resistant to keep tweaking the thing and turning it into a design project. Many tweaks could prove useful or clever, but the device that works and is actually built because it is so easy to put together is the best one, because that is the one that will actually be in use. Keep it simple and start using it, worry about tweaks later if they really seem compelling for some reason. If you have a saw and either some nails and a hammer or a screw gun, building one should be very fast. So fast in fact that it shouldn’t be a big deal to build an entirely new one or cannibalize the first to build a new one if it seems worthwhile.

I made them at different heights and it looks like 10 to 11 inches will be best. One I made with a 2 x 12 board had to have the front edge chamferred off as I hit the handle on it a few times. If the back stop is plywood, it probably wouldn’t damage the handle. Unless it needs to be shorter for portability, I think that for cutting 16 inch firewood lengths, 5 feet (150cm), or 6.5 feet (200cm), are going to be the magic numbers, with a 5’ wall, you can safely and comfortably cut 3 notches before moving it along and with a 6.5’ wall, you can make 4. But I would not hesitate to use almost any length if it’s easy or what you happen to have on hand.

As far as using the buckstop to train yourself or anyone else, here are my thoughts. First of all, this is so awesome! I’ve not had the opportunity to train someone from scratch, but I’ve often shuddered at the though of teaching someone to buck for the first time. This tool makes that so much easier. We can both exhale a sigh of relief and work on aim and a relaxed technique without worrying about safety. We can also work on the mechanics of acceleration and other technique stuff that would be much more dangerous to toy with otherwise. If used consciously, we can also get some good feedback on when the axe comes through or over the log and whether it might have hit a body part, trying to form good habits regarding body placement. Footing placement should be conscious as otherwise students might tend to stand right behind the cut with feet together, rather than in a safer wide stance. I think in a long term group or fixed camp such as scouts or a multi-day class it might be good to have one for each student. That way every cut in the board adds to a personal history. The wall could also be painted initially so that cuts show up better. Not every cut to the wall really indicates an accident, but it means something. For a more formal training for kids, I could see having a graduation test at some point where you have to buck so many feet of log with a freshly painted wall and if you make no cuts in the wall or base and meet some other criteria, you get to burn the thing ceremoniously and move on.

It could also be very useful for the student to carry out comparative lessons about such things as chopping styles and angles of cut. Also for trying different grinds and tools, but it can all be done safely. You can not only show people what can go wrong, you can have them do it, which will drive the point home much better, without driving the axe into their leg.

I do think that when it’s time to ditch the thing there should be a hard reboot on safety and awareness. I noticed just testing it briefly that I became very lax about footing placement and edge awareness. If you’re working on your own, you have to be your own bad guy, which is not always easy. If training someone else, be the eyes they need to help them cultivate that constant awareness of the edge and of follow through in relation to their body parts. When it’s time to move on, there really will need to be an emphasis on the fact that the game just changed and there are now real consequences and you can’t just hit NEW GAME after a serious accident.

As I said, I don’t think this should be a long term solution. I think it should be used to the best effect, then gotten rid of or it will cultivate bad habits and dependence. Switching back and forth could prove dangerous, because the two mindsets will be quite different. It is also more work to have it available, to move it to the logs or the logs to it. A skills over gear mindset doesn’t accommodate unnecessary accessories. Make a crappy one out of whatever cheap or free junk is available, don’t fix it unless it’s causing you problems, use it mindfully, then get rid of it and reboot your brain into high safety alert mode.

I think this device is going to prove very useful in certain contexts if it is used with intent. Let me know here or on YouTube if you try it, as I would like to get some feedback. As always stay safe and keep the red stuff inside.

First Three Axe Cordwood Challenge Participants Finished! Shoutouts, Questions and Comments

Three people have finished the cordwood challenge cutting a cord or more!  Those people rock.  Also a shout out to people that have started or are planning to do it, all of whom are listed below.  Anyone who is doing the challenge should leave a comment on the official web page so that we all know who everyone is, and so that I can keep track of people. 

FINISHED!:

*Tim Springston, Oxbow Farms https://youtu.be/YbeCFT_SIh4?list=PLGQ0YYG8MKkXMuOmeHl_9Bloy5nLnR41d

*Todd Walker, Survival Sherpa https://youtu.be/dRJvHtcS55U?list=PLpxU0SQfqX02pmlspLody0oV8EJKSD2oBhttps://survivalsherpa.wordpress.com/

*Timothy Sutton, Flatland Woodsman https://youtu.be/8zlF4ZLu7v8?list=PLQunotaCvTeKSXcWdUVCU53QWLwxMc8-G

IN PROGRESS OR PLANNING TO DO:

*DevaJones03https://www.youtube.com/user/DevaJones03

*Aaron Fosterhttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgwXsfSS1lO3Jj_P0_sJiqA

*Patrick Hale https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYpFteNH2MOaFzQK7JPau_Q

*EmLill Thingshttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCl8L71gIPWRs5muBtgUNRHw

*Homestead Boxhttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCD60T9zMzdmXr696wfqoZOA

*JayDigHsxhttps://www.youtube.com/user/dighsx

*J. Vanier

*Capt Henderson

*Brian Larson

*Crescentson

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!