How To Split Wood – With Or Without An Axe

Post updated: 25 Feb 2023

Splitting wood doesn’t have to be done with an axe. In this article I’ll cover EVERY possible option for making big logs into small ones!

Getting good with your axe will guarantee you always have a means of splitting wood for your stove. but there are so many options for splitting wood nowadays.

Let’s take a look at all the different ways to split wood – Choose your method!


Straight to the point – How to split firewood

To effectively split firewood, the sharp edge of a wedge-shaped axe or maul should be directed onto the end of a cut log with force, causing the wood fibers of the log to split apart.

How To Split Wood With An Axe [Infographic]

How to split wood infographic

The Many Ways to Split Firewood

Your choice of axe will be the difference between success and failure here. If you have a good axe tucked away, break it out and dust it off – it’s gonna get busy!

Now, depending of course on the size of logs you want to split, your axe should be big enough to step up to the task at hand. A hatchet ain’t gonna cut it for most splitting jobs.

Invest in a good splitting axe for this task, it’s hard work splitting wood – let’s not make it harder for ourselves.

A good splitting axe will last forever so bite the bullet, spend some money and feel secure in the knowledge that you own a proper mans axe!

Here are some of my recommendations for a worthy splitting axe:

Here’s a great instructional video of a normal guy splitting some wood with an axe:

The Axe Method

  1. Preparation
    Your log should be placed on its end on top of your chopping block (A sturdy stump or large log is ideal). Don’t attempt to split wood on the ground, you’ll damage your blade. What we want is the axe to split clean through the log with a single swing and bite into the block.

    Grab your axe and adopt a solid stance with your arms outstretched as you hold the shaft with two hands. The blade of the axe should rest centrally on the log. (For bigger logs, aim a few inches in from one side to gradually pare it down).
  2. Swing and split
    Raise the axe slowly over your head with arms apart then swing it down letting the weight of the axe do the work. Your forward hand will naturally slide towards the other during the swing as the blade travels towards the target.
    If it’s a successful split, your blade will bite into the block as the wood splits apart. This is ideal but it may take a few swings before this happens.

How To Split Wood With A Maul

This is what a maul was made for! A maul is similar to a splitting axe but it’s heavier, therefore it produces more power through the swing. Definitely a better tool for the big stuff but can be difficult to swing because of the extra weight.

I tend to use a splitting axe for most jobs but have the maul handy in case there’s a real bitch of a log that just won’t succumb to my charms.

If you think you’re man enough here are my suggestions for a good maul:

This guy is a legend. Been doing it for decades… Chopping block? Meh!

The Maul Method

  1. Preparation
    Same principle here as the axe method. I’ll assume the log is a pretty big one since we’re using the maul. The log should be upright on the chopping block. Gauge your distance as before and make adjustments for the longer shaft length.
  2. Swing and split
    Raise the maul slowly over your head with arms apart then swing it down letting the weight of the maul do the work.

How To Split Wood With A Hatchet

The key to splitting wood with a hatchet is not to try and split logs in half. Your hatchet will get stuck. You should aim to split around the edges of the log, gradually chipping off sections to make firewood.

We need to be realistic and understand that a hatchet will not be enough to split a whole cord of wood for heating your home. But in some situations a hatchet is the perfect tool.

For camping and hiking, trekking, or out adventuring in the great outdoors it’s just not practical to have a full length splitting axe or maul strapped to your pack. But we still want to be able to build a fire.

A hatchet is one of the most essential tools for the outdoors and it has so many uses. As a splitting tool, you’ll want a good quality hatchet. That means it needs to be sharp and stay sharp.

Related Article: Axe vs Hatchet – What’s the difference?

Wait… I thought a splitting axe doesn’t need to be sharp? This is kind of true, but in a camping or trekking situation, you want a sharp hatchet to chop the wood before you split the wood, right?

A sharp hatchet will be able to chop smaller diameter trees and branches, and will be able to handle the splitting just fine. Harvest your wood, chop into sections enough to break with force, then use your hatchet to split.

If you’re simply looking to split smaller logs at home, and you only have a hatchet to hand, you’ll need to adopt a bit more finesse. Otherwise the principles are the same as with a larger axe, but focusing more on chopping away the edges of the log rather than splitting it in half.

Here are some of my recommendations for a hatchet capable of splitting wood:

The Hatchet Method

  1. Preparation
    The hatchet is a one-handed tool, so it’s held like a hammer. Place your log on a solid surface and do a few practice strokes to gauge the arc of your swing. Your blade should be focused an inch away from the edge of the log. We want to chip away at the sides, not split the log in two – This doesn’t work with a hatchet. I like to do a tap-tap-tap-BANG kind of thing.
  2. Swing and split
    With your blade resting on the edge of the log, do the tap-tap-tap then raise the hatchet with the intent to bring it down hard on the edge of the log – with a vengeance! Repeat this, rotating the log as you go. You’ll have a pile of small firewood thanks to your handy hatchet!

How To Split Wood With A Wedge And Hammer

A wedge is used for leverage, allowing you to insert it into a natural crack in the wood to aid splitting. I’ve seen lots of posts and videos online about the technicalities of using a wedge to split wood but this is nonsense. There’s nothing complex about using a wedge.

You ram it into a log and smack it with a sledgehammer!.. Am I missing something? A wedge is used to facilitate the splitting of a log. Simple.

Here’s a few reputable wedges you can find online that will perform adequately:

Here is a great example of how simple the wedge method is:

The Wedge Method

  1. Preparation
    Place your log on the chopping block. Take a hammer and use it to drive the wedge into the centre of the log, Keep hammering until the wedge is good and tight – a couple of inches imbedded into the wood.
  2. Swing and split
    Now, with a sturdy sledgehammer in hand, adopt your well-rehearsed log-splitting stance and bring that sucker down hard on the wedge. Depending on the log hardness and thickness, you may have to repeat this process.
    If the wedge disappears into the log before splitting, use another wedge on another section of the log.

    You’ll find this will crack open the log freeing both wedges. Rinse and repeat until you’re content with the size of wood pieces.

How To Split Wood With A Log Splitter

If you have access to fallen trees or cut logs, you can create your own perfectly sized firewood with a log splitter. These are available in manual, gas-powered, or electric models and make short work of splitting chopped logs down to manageably sized pieces of firewood.

The log splitter is a great way to split wood if you find axe work too arduous. A lot of people are switching to log splitters nowadays – it’s just so easy, but there’s always room for a good axe for fun!

Good clean wood is easy enough to split with an axe or maul, but rough gnarly stuff is a bee-atch to split by hand so probably best handled by the log splitter.

If you’re looking for a capable log splitter to replace your hand tools, here’s a few recommendations for the best log splitters available today:

Related Article: Best rated log splitters – for big logs!

Take a look at this short clip to see how effective these things are at splitting big logs:

The Log Splitter Method

  1. Preparation
    Set up your log splitter as per the instructions. Place the log against the endplate ensuring the cut end is facing towards the wedge (so the log will be split along the grain).
    Keep the log steady with one hand on the log. Keep your hands well away from both ends of the log – you could do real damage to yourself here so be safety conscious throughout the splitting process.
  2. Split
    Set the control handle to Forward and wait until contact is made with the log. Remove your hand and watch the wedge drive through the log like a knife through butter!
    Depending on the power of your own log splitter, a bit of forward/backward movement may be required for stubborn logs. Once split, reverse the wedge back to starting position for the next log.

How To Split Wood With A Drill

In order to split wood with a standard drill you’ll need a firewood drill bit. This is a conical shaped carbon steel threaded bit that drills into the wood to split it apart. These are relatively inexpensive (around $20) but how effective this is at splitting wood will ultimately come down to the quality of your drill.

It has to be said that this option is mainly for kindling – it’s not going to be effective for average or large sized logs, but it’s an option for those in a bind who don’t have an axe to hand and they need some kindling.

Here’s a quick demonstration of the firewood drill bit in action:

The Drill Method

  1. Preparation
    Attach your firewood bit into your drill and set down a piece of wood on the ground. Plant your foot on it to keep it steady.
  2. The Split
    Drill into the edges of the wood to create small kindling. Don’t try and split down the centre, you’ll end up spinning the wood instead of splitting it! Take small pieces from the edge as you pare away until your single piece has become a pile of kindling.

How To Split Wood With A Saw

The folding saw is an invaluable tool for camping, bushcraft and survival exercises. Great for sawing obviously, but there’s a really neat trick for splitting wood with a folding saw that’s not immediately obvious – and really handy for bushcraft.

Watch the great Ray Mears demonstrate this clever technique:

The Saw Method

  1. Preparation
    With a newly-chopped log in hand, find a decent spot to place it ready for sawing. Use your folding saw to cut halfway through the middle of the log.
  2. The Split
    Now take your log and strike it against the nearest tree until you hear a crack. The force of the strike should create a split all the way up to the saw mark. Amazing! Repeat this on the other side.

How To Split Wood With A Chainsaw

Splitting wood with an axe is fun, but it’s hard work lets be honest. Personally I enjoy spending a morning splitting logs – I get my two boys off their Playstation to help with some good old manual labour! They moan at first but we have great fun when we get going.

But the chainsaw is just for me! First and foremost you need to make sure your chainsaw is up to the task. The cutting length of your chainsaw should be longer than the length of your logs.

An 18 inch chainsaw should be adequate to deal with most wood for domestic use. Personally I use a Husqvarna 20 inch 455 Rancher for cutting logs to 16 inch pieces to fit my stove. This is a pretty standard size log for most fires. You’re gonna be splitting these logs lengthwise.

Just like this guy here:

The Chainsaw Method

  1. Preparation
    Place your cut log on the block with the cut end facing you. Safety up with gloves, goggles and face mask, and start up your saw.
  2. The Split
    Holding your saw at an angle so the lower end of the bar touches the top edge of the log, drive the saw through a couple of inches then level out the saw so you’ve made a cut along the full length of the log.
    Drive it through until it splits in two. Quarter your split logs with the same method.

Related Article: What you should look for when buying a chainsaw

What Is The Fastest Way To Split Wood?

A splitting axe or maul gets through a woodpile faster than anything else, provided your wood is nicely cut clean wood. To split wood fast is really all in the preparation.

Every single job known to man is made more efficient with proper planning and preparation. To split wood fast you need to think of log splitting as a process, and a process consists of input-process-output.

Input – What do you need to put into the process for it to function?

  • Tools (axes, chopping block, wedges, sledgehammer, chainsaw, log splitter, safety gear etc.)
  • Wood!

Process – What are we doing?

  • Splitting big logs!

Output – What do we want from all this effort?

  • Small pieces of wood nicely stacked ready for use.

It sounds obvious but this helps plan the whole operation. Regardless of your splitting tool, you need to have everything prepared to ensure the whole process goes as quickly as possible.

Get a production line going – Logs to the left of you, jokers to the right – no, seriously though, plan out your workspace. Log pile, chopping block or bench, and wood storage should be close to each other to remove any wasted time and effort.

Maintain your splitting tools – Look after your equipment and they’ll last a lifetime. It’s so important to maintain your gear so it performs efficiently. Keep your axes sharp, your bench clean and your workspace clear.

What Is The Easiest Way To Split Wood?

The easiest way to split wood is with a log splitter. These are available in manual, gas-powered, or electric models and make short work of splitting chopped logs down to manageably sized pieces of firewood.

All you need to do is place the log onto the cradle, set the wedge to Forward and watch the machine do the work.
It’s much more fun to split wood with an axe, but a log splitter is becoming a hugely popular piece of kit for harvesting firewood the easy way.

What Is The Best Tool For Splitting Wood?

The best tool for splitting wood will greatly depend on the circumstances. I know that’s a bit vague but although a great splitting maul would be the obvious choice, it’s not necessary for most average sized logs.

A log splitter is fantastic for splitting logs, but again not really necessary for most stuff.

Related Article: Best heavy-duty log splitters… For big logs!

The chainsaw will make short work of big logs, a hatchet is all you need for splitting jobs in a camping environment. At home maybe you use a hand drill with a wood splitting bit and it’s perfectly adequate…

There are so many tools available for splitting wood and hopefully this article has provided some help in this regard. It really is down to personal preference on what is ‘best’ because it depends on the specific job you are doing.

In my defence of the humble axe though, there are very few situations where a good splitting axe will fail to split your wood – whatever the size.

How Do You Split Wood Without A Chopping Block?

The advantage of a block is to protect your axe blade. After you split the log the blade of your axe bites into the chopping block. It’s not very wise to split wood on a hard surface such as concrete cos that’s gonna damage your blade quickly.

It also raises the log so it’s not too hard on your back. If your ground is firm and free from stuff that will damage your blade – like stones and roots, go for it.

You can also just lay down a plank of wood or even put another log underneath the one your splitting. As long as you have a firm base free from debris you’re good.

My Wood Splitting Tricks

  • Throw an old tyre around your log before you split. This will avoid wood flying into your shins as you split. Alternatively, use a bungee cord or chain.
  • A long axe handle is preferable to split wood – but if you’re not a big guy or gal, use what is comfortable!
  • Hardwood like Oak, Hickory and Ash will burn longer than softer wood
  • Try this alternative splitting technique for logs that won’t stand up vertical on the chopping block:
Alternate log splitting technique

The supporting log props up the target log as you split, and also makes sure the axe doesn’t travel towards your legs if you miss.


There are so many options for splitting wood. An axe is easy – swing and split. Wedges help with the big stuff. If power tools are your thing, go at it. Just remember to be safe and aim to make your wood splitting as efficient as possible. This comes with time and experience.

Please comment below with any questions you may have on the ancient art of wood splitting!


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