Friday, 25 January 2013

Splitting with wedges.....

I've always thought it a bit of a paradox, that those who work with wood, and craft something smooth and delicate, and are careful and loving and caress and polish the finished item, often begin with a proceedure as brutal and almost violent as splitting wood with wedges. And yet, for anyone who's done it, it's such an oddly satisfying and enjoyable activity.

I have not had the opportunity or cause to do much, but when I have done, I am often so surprised at the way the timber reacts to the wedges, amazed at how something so strong and seemingly unbreakable can be rendered weak if you find just the right spot and work it just the right way.

Any way, to this end I thought I'd do a little post about splitting. I've already said I've had only limited experience and so am in no way an expert on the matter - barely a novice if truth be told - so I'll simply outline the method I use and that has generally worked for me.

 Here are the basic tools I use: a set of steel wedges; a lump hammer; a medium weight good splitting axe ( I usually use a long handled, 6lb axe but I have lost it in my garage, which gives you just a little incling into how untidy my garage currently is); a beadle - which Julian and I call 'Timmy', as in Timmy Mallet.

I begin by knocking the axe into the log at one end, with the handle facing away from the log so it doesn't get in the way of my first wedge. I appreciate that this little ash log would have been fine just splitting with the axe and doesn't really need the wedge treatment, but just humour me for the purpose of this post - imagine it's considerably bigger. Though when I first started 'playing' with axes I enjoyed the manliness of swinging with all my might and plunging the blade into the wood, it didn't take me long to learn the benefits of calmly placing the cutting egde where I want to split the fibres and simply knocking it in with the beadle. Entirely more civilized!

Once a split begins to open, pop in the first wedge and tap it home with the lump hammer. When I first bought my wedges they were really very blunt and didn't bite into the wood when I needed them to. I appreciate that generally they are used for wedging open an existing fissure, sometimes it's not as simple as that and if the grain is twisted you need to be able hammer the wedges into pristene timber. It was exactly the same when I bought my froe. Needless to say, five minutes on my bench grinder and they work much better.

Then I simply work my way along the log, inserting a new wedge as the split extends. Usually, as you add a new wedge, the previous one works loose enough for you to lift out and reuse. I know that with bigger logs this is not always the case and you would need a number of hardwood wedges as well, in order to have enough to run the length of the log.

I should mention at this point that to me one of the most satisfying parts of splitting with wedges is the gentle sound of straining and tearing fibres as the wedge slowly opens up the split and the fibres creak and crack apart. Again, I know this sounds brutal, but it's essential if you are going to have the splits you need for whatever beautiful thing you are going to make. A saying about making omletts and cracking eggs comes to mind.

And eventually the split extends both vertically and horizontally until you are left with two halves and the grain and substance, the knots, twists and idiosyncracies of the wood are revealed and straight away you can assess what you have and begin planning what you can and can't do with your newly split wood.


  1. Good stuff,does the split always follow the curvature of the wood ?

    1. Hi Piscator - this is the fourth time i've tried posting this - sorry if you get all four! It doesn't always split along the curvature of the outside shape of the wood. the split is always dictated by the direction of growth of the internal fibres, but you can't always predict this from the outward form of the limb or log. best indicator is the position of the dead centre ring to the outer rings at either end of the log - the closer to the centre the higher the likelihood of it splitting straight; if not central it will twist. If you are interested in reading further, check out Peter Follansbee's blog, he has lots of experience of splitting big wood and had written a few good posts. Thanks, hope this works this time. Richard