Homesteading

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists

by Todd Walker

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

As the song says, “I started out with nothing, and I’ve got most of it left.”

Those lyrics summed up my feelings since starting this log cabin project in February. I all I had to show for my effort was a bunch of skinned logs scattered through the woods and fields. That all changed this summer. Here’s the progress as of mid July…

Setting Sill Logs

I had my doubts about dry-stacked stone piers as my foundation. The largest sill log measured 14 inches in diameter by 18 feet long. A handy online log calculator estimated the weight for this one log to be 925 pounds. The stones/boulders were far from flat. I did my best to shim them with smaller stones to keep them steady.

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Dry-stacked stone piers have supported log cabins for hundreds of years… but I had my doubts.

I spent way too much time with a water level trying to ensure all the piers were the same height. Round logs are not dimensional lumber. Get the stones close to the same height and lay logs on top.

In all honesty, my plan was to use only hand tools for this trial of self-reliance. Trees were felled and bucked with an ax, debarked with a bark spud and draw knife, and hauled to site by me as the mule pulling my LogRite Junior Arch… until I attempted to move those half-ton sill logs. A real mule was needed for this job.

My best friend Philip had just finished skinning the two sill logs when Allen, the land owner, walked up to visit. He told us he had just acquired a Kawasaki Mule. Perfect!

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Philip taking a break after debarking one of the 925 pound sill log with the barking spud in the foreground.

Even with Junior hooked to the back-end of the Mule, the big sill logs were a beast to haul back to the cabin site. But it worked!

Log Lifting Tripod

Lifting close to a half a ton of wood, even a few feet off the ground, would require a lot of mechanical advantage using simple machines. Dead cedars were cut and lashed together to form a tripod. The largest leg/pole was about 6 inches in diameter. Standing this heavy tripod up by myself was like watching the Three Stooges. Wish I had filmed this for some comic relief.

Here’s the video of how I lashed the tripod for those interested…

After positioning the tripod over the heaviest sill log, I attached a four-to-one block and tackle system at the top of the tripod. Upon testing the pulley system, I could only lift the log a couple of inches. Not good. I quickly realized that, even if I was able to lift the log, I could not hold the log in place by myself and control the placement on the piers with precision. I needed a lifting device I could control when working alone. I bought a one-ton chain fall (hoist) for $60 the next day. This one tool revolutionized the job!

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The chain fall rigged to the tripod made light work of heavy logs.

Our video below shows how maneuverable the logs are when choked at the balance point.

Sill Logs Notched and Set

I positioned the first sill log on the ground next to the piers to mark for notching. I made relief cuts with my bow saw on each mark about one inch deep. I used a boy’s ax to remove wood chips between the saw cuts. This produced a flat surface for the log to rest on the non-flat stone piers.

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Flat notches were cut using a buck saw and ax.

I re-choked the log with the tow strap near the bottom of the log. Lifting by myself with the chain fall, the log slowly turned until the notches faced down. Then the log was lifted to the height needed to be lowered onto the piers. On the way up, the log scraped the side of the piers toppling a few. I re-stacked them and lowered the log cautiously. They held up fine but had a touch of wobble. Small rock shims were inserted to steady the piers.

After months of preparation, the feeling of seeing a huge log off the ground and resting on rocks was pure excitement!

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The first log up!

Square Corners

The next day I set the second log to create the first corner. How do you make corners square using different sized logs which are not even? Here’s how I did it…

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The corner nail is near the head of the hammer where the two chalk lines intersect. The tape measure forms the hypotenuse of the right triangle.

I’ve used the Pythagorean Theorem many times to square corners using dimensional lumber. You need straight lines for this to work. I popped a chalkline down the center of each log. I tacked a nail at the intersection where the two lines crossed in the corner. From that corner nail, I measured three feet down the chalkline and tacked another nail. On the other log, I measured four feet and drove in a nail. I lifted the second log just enough to allow me swing in or out until the distance from both nails measured five feet. This creates a 3-4-5 right triangle ensuring the logs are perpendicular in the corner. A 6-8-10 triangle would be more accurate, but I was by myself and didn’t want to stretch a tape measure 10 feet from nail to nail.

Tight-Pinned Corners

The Butt and Pass method requires no notches. Metal pins hold the logs together to create a sturdy, solid structure.

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The brace and bit used to make pilot holes for the rebar pins.

 

I cut 1/2 inch rebar in 20 inch lengths at my shop. Back at the build site, I use a brace and bit to bore a 1/2 inch hole almost through the first log. Probably should drill all the way through but almost through seems to work. Now I drive the pin through the pilot hole and into the adjacent log. I started using a 6 pound sledge with a 36 inch handle. My accuracy suffered. The long handle also kissed my ribcage a few times while hammering bent over. We sawed the handle in half and found it to be the ticket.

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A twenty inch rebar pin hammered flush.

A note worth mentioning on driving pins. If you miss hit and bend the pin, stop. Straighten the pin as best as possible before pounding more. A bent pin will find its way through the side or top of the adjacent log. Once all four corners were pinned together, the sill logs became unbelievably steady on the piers.

Log Floor Joists

Log Cabin Update: Sill Logs and Hand-Hewn Floor Joists ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

3 of 5 log floor joists set in sill logs. I’ll explain the leveling process on our next article.

I’ve begun hewing log floor joists. Dimensional lumber would speed up the process but I want to use as many raw resources as possible on the cabin. One side of a log gets hewn flat and notched with tenons on both ends. The tenons will mate with mortises notched into the sill logs. I’ll do a more detailed article on what I’ve got planned for the floor system.

Until then, here’s our latest video on the floor system…

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

~ Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestYouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Homesteading, Log Cabin, Self-reliance | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Brute Force vs Finesse: The Art of Working Axes

by Todd Walker

Brute Force vs Finesse: The Art of Working Axes - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Photo credit: Didi Davis

Less than a century ago, woodsmen skilled with an ax could chop wood all day and return to do it again, day after day. They were held in high esteem and highly sought after. Power saws and combustion engines sent yesteryear’s axes to hang on old barn walls. Today the usefulness of axes seems to be limited to splitting firewood… or, for the lumber sexual, as boutique wall-hangers.

How you choose to acquire wood is up to you. However, the steps of cutting timber hasn’t changed. A tree must be felled, limbed, bucked, and hauled. Like other aficionados of working axes, I enjoy experimenting with the potential of our most under-appreciated tool in the woods.

It doesn’t take long for the ax handle to transmit to an inexperienced axman’s brain, and his muscular system, that brute force only dulls the functionality of this tool. Fatigue and frustration are the result. And injury is not far behind. There are no secrets to becoming a proficient axman. However, there are a few techniques and strategies I’ve learned over the years which may shorten the learning curve.

Giving unsolicited advice is not my thing. But if you’d like to continue, here’s my take on thick ax handles, brute force, and working axes.

Heavy, Stupid, and Unreasoning

Watching a beginner axman swing is painful. I cringe when I think back on some of my early ax work. But ax-manship can only be improved through swinging sharp steel on the end of a stick. Like any other skill, practice makes permanent; whether good or bad.

When asked to coach someone new to the art of ax work, I try to convey the two types of force used – finesse and brute force. The origin of the word brute comes from the Latin word brutus, meaning “heavy, stupid, unreasoning.” Set the macho aside in ax work and you get a beautiful, rhythmic relationship between the wood and axman.

Muscling through wood is a white-knuckle affair. I broke my favorite double bit handle last year, not by over-strike or mishit, but by stupidly applying my full force throughout initial contact. The handle was thin, flexible, and a joy to use. Brute force ended its usefulness. It is now taped together and serves as a pattern when thinning down fat factory double bit handles.

Brute Force vs Finesse: The Art of Working Axes - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Bucking eastern red cedar with the tuned handle on my best double bit.

Simply reducing my forward force just before the moment of impact would have allowed the inertia of the axhead to do the work. Giving that extra “push” through the strike does more harm than good. You’ll not only save ax handles, you’ll reduce some shock sent up the handle. A thinner handle flexes to help absorb and reduce the beating on your body. At least that has been my experience. Wielding an ax with brute force is not how the old timers lasted all day, day after day. This type of finesse is seldom mentioned or passed down to inexperienced axmen.

The resurgence of interest in axes is encouraging to see in outdoorsy groups. Axes are chic, sexy, and scary – all reasons we like them. The novice buys a high dollar ax and proceeds to break the fat factory handle, even after adding a bulky leather over-strike collar. Handle manufactures compensate for low Ax I.Q. with fatter handles. And then again, the age of working axes was so long ago that even commercial handle makers have no reference point as to what a handle should look like and feel like in the hands.

Thicker, modern handles are not the cure. Wrapping your hands around these clubs makes the uninitiated think they’ll never break. Stephen Edholm makes a logical argument (from actual experience with working axes) for thinner handles in the video below. Anyone who chopped all day with an ax will echo the same.

No replacement handle I’ve ever bought in recent memory was ready to hang and go to work. To be fair, there may be some turnkey handles out there. I’ve never found them. I either make my own or customize the club-like handles from hardware stores. Then there’s the rare occasion of finding that forgotten ax at an antique store or yard sale grandpa used before the chainsaw came along.

You can see the noticeable difference between the modern and old working ax handle below.

Power vs Finesse

On occasion, I have split toothpicks (Stim-U-Dent – matchstick size toothpicks) with my ax. I don’t say this to brag. It is, however, a lesson in muscle memory, striking where I look, and relaxing at the end of my swing. Knowing I’m not chopping heavy wood, I began to notice that I was unconsciously easing up about halfway into the downward arc of my natural swing. As a result, I’d hit my mark more times than not.

Brute Force vs Finesse: The Art of Working Axes - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Striking where you look.

The human brain is a beautimus, complicated computer. Since few people actually use axes, baseball may help illustrate the point. A pitcher doesn’t aim the baseball as it leaves his outstretched arm. The ball is thrown, not aimed. There’s a significant difference in the two. The same goes for batting. I coached my players to throw their hands at the ball. This is oversimplified. But the brain tells a player when to grip the bat tightly and when to relax the grip. A death grip at the beginning of the swing tightens the muscles in the arms, shoulders, and upper torso causing the swing to be herky jerky. As a result, accuracy plummets since the “flow” is lost. Through years of drills, coordination, practice, and timing, batters learn that aiming won’t hit the target.

I don’t aim my ax. I look at the exact spot I want my blow to land. I then throw my hands through an imaginary plane from my nose to the small target. My only swing thought is “strike where I look.” My natural, controlled swing gets the job done more efficiently. Once you can strike where you look, power will follow accuracy.

Accuracy and Precision

Wasted ax strikes are frustrating and exhausting. Making every blow count takes a combination of accuracy and precision. At first glance, the two words seem the same. But in my world of teaching math and science, they have different meanings. Let’s apply them to working axes.

Accuracy is how close you come to the desired result. Precision is how consistently you get the same result using the same method. Translated to ax-manship, does my swing hit the target and is it consistent enough to repeatedly hit the target?

When bucking, I try to overlap each cut in a three to four swing pattern (depending on log diameter) down the face of the log. This overlapping pattern opens wood fibers to help prevent the ax bit from get stuck in the wood. Repeat this cutting pattern one double bit length wide from the first line of cuts. If accuracy and precision is dialed in, chips the size of the notch will go flying.

Developing accuracy and precision with working axes is like hauling logs, you gotta really want to do it. There’s not a lot of finesse in log hauling.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +YouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Lost Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods

by Todd Walker

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Image used with permission from the builder, Wiley Log Homes.

We built crude log forts in the woods growing up. They weren’t water tight or warm. The wind would cut through the muddle of sticks and threaten to take your hat off. Those were fun times. A bona fide log cabin was what I dreamed of then… and that dream remains.

At nearly my age (55), Dick Proenneke set out to live in a remote area of Alaska. For 30 years, he lived in a log cabin he built with his own hands. You can learn more of his remarkable legacy of self-reliance and conservation by watching the documentary, Alone in the Wilderness.

For those following my cabin project on my YouTube channel, I’m in the early stage of cutting and debarking logs. I don’t have the luxury of waiting a year or more for peeled logs to season. I could wait but patience isn’t one of my strong suits. I’ll build my little “practice” cabin with green logs. I’ve already been asked in video comments how long I’ll let my logs season before building.

Here’s the thing, I’m not going to use traditional saddle notches to connect corners. I may try my hand at saddle notches on cured/seasoned logs at some point. Until then, my research turned up a little-known (to me at least) construction method which uses green, unseasoned logs in construction. If you’re not familiar with this style, let me introduce you…

Butt and Pass Style Log Cabin

The advantages of using the butt and pass construction technique is it requires little in the way of tools and construction experience for a DiY log cabin builder. I’ve got plenty of construction experience and tools. My dilemma is that I have green logs and want to finish the cabin before the end of the school year. This no-scribe, no-notch method will speed up the construction process.

The top photo of this article is a butt and pass log home built by Wiley Log Homes. Ronnie, the owner, gave me permission to share a few of his beautiful handcrafted log homes here. I hope to have a few shots of my own cabin corners soon. Until then, take a look at the corners of these Wiley Log Homes.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

This cabin has a stone basement.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Five foot eves help keep water off the logs.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A good shot of the butt and pass corner style.

No matter what method is used green logs will shrink. However, with tight-pinned butt and pass construction, settling will only happen if the foundation/piers are not properly formed. With each course of logs, holes are drilled through the top log through the bottom log. A length of 1/2″ rebar is driven through the logs (tight-pinned) about every two feet. As the green logs cure and shrink, the logs shrink around their center line. The gaps between the logs increase but the wall height remains the same. Touching up the chinking over the first few years will have to happen as the logs cure, so I’ve read.

Self-Reliance on Trial

I plan to build my cabin with hand tools only. That’s a tall order especially when I have power tools at my disposal. The pioneer method doesn’t trump someone who chooses to use power tools. I have a comfortable home and don’t “need” this cabin. But somewhere, back in my deeper, primal self, I want this cabin, if for nothing more than to put my self-reliance on trial. Who knows, I may not make it through the project using just hand tools. Either way, this project has been brewing in my gut for years and feels good to take the first step.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

My cousin said this to me after he saw the first logs de-barked. “Hardest step is the first one. I’ve been told this but usually by someone who ain’t doing the stepping.” ~ Tim Hester. This is a photo of Dick Proenneke peering out of his cabin door (Image credit: National Park Service)

I’ve only bucked and de-barked one pine tree so far. My first attempt at skinning logs was with a draw knife. The tool peeled bark really well but would not be a sustainable method for this old man. I needed a method where I’m not bent over scraping with pine sap flying in my face. Enter the tile scraper. I ground the edge on this old long-handled tool and it’s a far cry better than my draw knife on my back. I’ve been using it like a draw knife, scraping long strips of bark off the length of the logs, but will try peeling whole sections off logs by prying around the round part of the log. Not sure how well this will work since the sap is not rising like in spring time.

Another hand-tool concerns that comes to mind is boring holes to accept the rebar pins. Twisting a half-inch auger through logs can’t be easy. Yet another challenge will be transporting 12 and 14 foot logs to the build site in the woods. I won’t be able to split them in half or into rails the way I did in last year’s Axe Cordwood Challenge. I need draught horses, or oxen. Seriously!

Progress Report

To keep up with the log cabin journey, I’ve created a playlist on my channel titled, Log Cabin Build. Most are mine but a few are of Dick Proenneke’s cabin. I’ll also be updating here on the blog.

This is the last video in the log cabin series. I traded my draw knife for a DiY bark spud…

With only one day per week to work on the cabin, progress is slow. Winter break should offer a few extra work days. Below are some photos of my progress.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A storm blow-over bucked and ready for de-barking.

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Two debarked logs.

After the first two logs, I mentioned in my video about the fun you can have debarking logs. In honor of Tom Sawyer’s fence white washing pitch, I had a buddy and his son show up to my first Barking Party. Evan Newsom, first picture below, was the first to party on!

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Tom Sawyer would be so proud!

I even have my school students convinced…

Self-Reliance on Trial: Using Hand Tools to Build a Log Cabin in the Woods ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Introduced students at RISE to the draw knife. They have acquired a liking for this tool.

Sure appreciate having the physical health to be able to attack this pioneer project. It will take longer to construct using hand tools. Patience may become a strong suit of mine after all is said and done.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +YouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Log Cabin, Lost Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

5o+ Reasons I’m Thankful for My “Country-as-Cracklin’-Cornbread” Raisin’

by Todd Walker

5o+ Reasons I'm Thankful for My Country as Cracklin' Cornbread_ Raisin' _ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Being raised in the South, these are a few things I’m thankful for today. I’ll bet some of y’all can add to the list.

  • A dust trail behind a truck coming down the long dirt driveway meant you had visitors or someone was lost and in need of directions.
  • The memory of your first green persimmon when you wiser cousin assured you it was an apple.
  • Daddy’s brains and eggs with a side of country ham for breakfast.
  • The day Daddy walked me down the church aisle and stood with me as I was “washed in the blood” and later baptized.
  • Watching Mama skid the black Pontiac to a stop on the dirt road, wait for the dust to pass, and fetching her snake-killing rock from the boot to dispatch a rattler her tires missed.
  • Eating Thanksgiving dinner at Mother Vaughan’s tiny house, where she and Papa Vaughan raised 10 children, followed by pick up football games in her front yard with cousins.
  • Feeling the painful pinch of a crawdad on your finger under a rock in the creek.
  • Camping beneath the Southern stars on Henry and Randy’s trampoline.
  • Watching your line straighten with a speckled trout hooked on the flats of Apalachicola.
  • Riding your pony dressed like John Wayne and shooting your cap gun.
  • Cane pole fishing in a watering hole in the front pasture.
  • Feeling the mud squish between your toes while walking over the freshly plowed bottom field searching for arrowheads after a spring rain.
  • Shooting Daddy’s single-shot 20 gauge at a squirrel directly overhead and getting kicked to the floor of the jon boat in the middle of Little Echeconnee Creek.
  • The smell of Daddy’s Southern cornbread dressing cooking on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Paddling a seasoned fly fisherman all day on the lake just learn his tricks.

5o+ Reasons I'm Thankful for My Country as Cracklin' Cornbread_ Raisin' _ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

  • Watching the lukewarm summer rain dance on the lake and listening to the rhythm on the tin roof of the plywood shack we called The Cabin.
  • Listening to the grown folk tell family stories which we thought were unbelievable.
  • Finding Mama and Aunt Cindy in the hog pen after school, elbow deep in mud, helping a sow in labor.
  • Pulling over on the dirt road a mile from the house to eat a watermelon on the tailgate of Daddy’s pickup.
  • Building a treehouse with scrap lumber and previously bent nails.
  • Eating the first peach of the season straight off the limb.
  • Skipping rocks across the Flint River to determine how many children you’ll have one day ~ thankfully, that didn’t come true.
  • Riding calves in the pasture in the dark.
  • Cow patty fights.
  • Swinging over creeks on wild grape vines.
  • Scalding hogs and scraping hair in late Autumn.
  • Boat (broken sticks) races in ditches during a Summer gully washer.
  • Freaking out when a Cottonmouth wants to join you in the jon boat while frog gigging.
  • Walking the bottom creek to reach the wooden bridge several miles away.
  • Carving our initials on the Beech tree next to the creek feeding the lake.
  • Dirt clod battles.
  • Listening to Merle Haggard on 8-track on a sleepy Saturday morning.
  • Camping on horseback.
  • Shooting a real gun for the first time.
  • Listening to old timers spin yarns and solve the world’s problems at the Grill.
  • Trying to stay vigilant on a 24 hour detail “protecting” our bumper harvest of corn at the big city farmer’s market but falling asleep on burlap sacks anyway.
  • Loading hay bails on the trailer in the heat of a Georgia summer.
  • Old weathered barns.
  • The smell of saddle leather and horses.
  • The prick of a catfish fin in your hand.
  • The tickle of horse’s lips as she eats sweet feed from your hand.
  • Singing “Amazing Grace”, all the verses, in a small town church.
  • Riding our bikes seven miles one way to the Hays General Store across the street from the Dickey’s Peach packing shed.
  • Sitting in the swivel barber’s chair at Mr. Lindsey’s filling station and sipping on my RC Cola with salted peanuts fizzing and floating inside the bottle.
  • Filling your chest waders after stumbling in a beaver pond while duck hunting in February.
  • Living in a small town with no red lights, a general store, post office, one church, a cotton gin, and a peach packing shed.
  • Riding on the back of a pickup truck on dusty dirt roads.
  • Burning household trash in a 55 gallon drum.
  • Pronouncing pecan correctly… Pee-can.
  • When the judge looks out the courthouse window and asks, “Melvin, those your cows coming down the road?” and dismisses Daddy from jury duty to round ’em up.
  • We still called sushi bait.
  • Grits. We have grits and redeye gravy!
  • When someone says, Fixinto or Piddlin‘, we know what they mean. I reckon so.
  • Hauling a load of trash to the dump and shooting bottles Daddy tossed in the air to help my dove shooting skills.
  • Chasing fireflies on summer evenings.

If the good Lord made anything better than being raised in the South, He kept it to Himself.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +YouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Self-reliance | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way

by Todd Walker

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Technology, a modern marvel, keeps our hands clean and our hearts distant from the trees which built and furnish our homes. Very few ever experience turning a log into dimensional lumber with an ax and saw. Those days are long gone except for a few holdouts, myself included. While our production rate is dwarfed by modern milling methods, resurrecting  traditional skills is worth every ounce of effort, sweat, blood, and fears.

In 1969, we left the city and moved to the country. The old house at the front of our family farm rested on massive hand hewn timbers. Crawling between the stone pillars at age 7, I still vividly remember the ax-scarred wood, a signature left by men who carved out a living homestead from trees.

It was just an old dilapidated house. But those timbers told the forgotten story of the old ways.

And, like their story, my journey to preserving lost skills continues… in the old ways.

Hewing Timber by Hand

There are three basic steps in hewing timber: scoring, juggling, and hewing. There’s no complicated gear list required to turn round logs into square timber. Here’s what you’ll need.

Tools

  • Ax(es) – Start with what you’ve got. A dedicated broad ax (hewing ax) is not required.
  • Saw – Something to cut the end of the log flat. A chainsaw is not traditional but certainly advised if you don’t have a good crosscut saw.
  • Log Dogs – Two large metal staples to secure the log in place while hewing. A 2×4 nailed/screwed to the log works as well.
  • Marking Tools – Chalk line and carpenters pencil.
  • Level – To create plumb and level lines for the layout.
  • Measuring Device – Measuring tape or ruler for layout dimensions.
  • Cant Hook – Not essential but helps when moving larger diameter logs.

Tree Selection

Tulip Poplar grows fast, straight, and uniform. However, if you’ve ever split this wood, you’ve probably noticed that the grain tends to run off in a spiral fashion to one side of the log. My experience hewing, which is limited, Tulip Poplar caused me to change directions of swinging a few times to follow the grain orientation in such a way as to cut across the grain. This prevented my ax from following the grain deep in the stock.

I’m now experimenting with pine. Whatever tree is used, green wood hews easier than seasoned. A tree with clear grain and no knots (or not many of these rascals) is desirable.

Dog the Log

The first order of business is securing the round log to prevent movement in the hewing process. You’ll need two shorter logs which the longer log will rest on perpendicular. These supports are called cribbing. Larger cribbing logs will lift the work off the ground to a more comfortable working height. Your back will thank you.

Drive one end of a log dog into the long log with the other end driven into the cribbing log. Repeat this step on the opposite end. This process is called dogging the log.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A dogged tulip poplar at my fixed camp.

My crude log dogs are two pieces of rebar which I forged in my shop. This metal is not the best as it can be brittle and break under stress while forging.

Below is our video of the tulip poplar hewn above.

Lay Out Dimensions

Cut both ends of the log perpendicular with a saw. Now you have a smooth surface to lay out the dimensions of your timber on opposite ends of the log.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A 10 x 10 inch square layout on one end of the log.

Start the lay out at the top end of the log (smallest diameter). Measure and mark the center of the log with your ruler and pencil. This may not be in the pith of the tree. Place your level on the mark and draw a plumb line down the middle of the log. Measure over from that line your desired width and make a mark. If you’re finished timber width is 10 inches, this mark would be 5 inches from the center mark. Repeat this layout on the opposite side of the center mark. Use the level to mark both of these vertical plumb lines.

For a 10 x 10 inch square timber, measure and mark from the center line up 5 inches and down 5 inches. Draw the top and bottom lines level. All four lines should be drawn to the edge of the log.

Repeat this lay out on the butt end of the log.

Snap Chalk Lines

Strip or flatten the bark off the log where your chalk line will be snapped. I use my felling ax for this step. Cut a notch or slice on the pencil line at the top edge of the log. Secure your line on the end of the log and run the line through the notch, down the length of the log, and through the other corresponding line notch at the opposite end. Secure the line and snap the chalk line.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Be sure to snap the line vertically to preserve the plane laid out on the end of the log.

Snap the line by lifting and releasing the string vertically. This will create a plumb line down the length of the log. This is the plane you will follow for a squared off timber. Note: If you lift the line out away from the log, your plane will not match your layout on the end of the log.

Scoring

The pine I’m hewing now is the largest diameter (18 inches) I’ve worked. This size is large enough to stand on to score. I’ve only done two types of scoring: slash and juggling (or joggling).

Slash scoring is done by making a series of overlapping ax cuts down the length of the log. These slash cuts are angled (30-40 degrees) into the log and about 3 inches apart down the side of the log. A sharp felling ax with a 36 inch handle is what I use. The longer handle makes reaching the bottom side of the plumb line “easier.” There’s really nothing easy about hand-hewing timber.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

V-notches cut to the line create jogs which are removed in the juggling process. The notches don’t have to be super clean.

The other scoring method I’ve used is juggling. Also called joggling due the joggles protruding between the V-notches down the side of the log. If the log is large enough to safely stand on, step up on the top of the log and cut notches to the line about a foot apart the entire length of the log. Make your notches about twice as wide as the depth needed to reach the line. Standing on top the log gives me a better read on making my notch vertical down the entire plane of the log.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A view from above a V-notch. The blue chalkline is faintly visible to the left.

Slash scoring, in my experience, is best when there is not a lot of wood to be removed to reach the line. With more than a couple of inches to be removed, juggling works better for me.

Juggling

You’re now ready to remove the joggles or the slashes, depending on the scoring method used. For simplicity sake, I’ll describe the method for removing joggles. Either way, this step holds the most potential for injury. The reason being, if your juggling on the ground, is that your making powerful vertical ax strokes which are not backed up in your frontal zone.

There are ways to reduce the risk of an ax in the foot. The safest way is to swing from on top of the log to remove the jogs… that’s if the you’re able to stand on top of the log. Be sure to keep your feet behind the chalkline and the swings below your feet.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Jogs removed with a felling by standing on top of the log. I tend to cut too close to line. About a half-inch of wood should be left for the hewing process.

You can remove jogs while standing on the ground. With the log to your left, place your right foot forward and about two feet to the right of the log. Your left foot should be well behind your body with the left leg braced on the log.

I’ve also removed joggles by standing on the opposite of the log. This is very safe but requires that you turn the log at an angle so you can reach the joggles with your ax. This also means the log must be repositioned to plumb before hewing. On smaller diameter logs, straddling the log is an option.

I like using my felling ax to remove joggles. I’ve seen some use a broad ax to do the job. And then again, Tim at Oxbow Farm (link to his YouTube channel) has demonstrated hewing beams using his felling ax only. Do what works for you.

When the joggles are removed, there should be about a half-inch of wood proud of the chalk line. This remaining wood will be removed in the next step.

Hewing

Hewing to the line transforms a round log into square timber. The hewing swing is not a full ax stroke. It’s mostly performed through forearm movement. Hewing is best performed with a circular slicing motion on each swing regardless of the style of ax used.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Reverse this stance if you have a right-hand hewing ax.

Note: The pictures shows me using my broad ax which is hung left-handed. I’ve yet to re-handle it for right-hand hewing. However, when hewing with my felling ax, I hew right-handed, which is described below.

Stand with the log to the left of your body for right handers. Place your right foot forward and away from the log with your left foot back. Brace your left leg against the log for stability. Grip the ax handle right hand forward and left to the rear. The forward hand should be close (6-8 inches) to the ax head.

The traditional broad ax handle in America was short, in the 20 inch range. Handles were steam-bent into S-shapes or dog leg patterns to help the hewer’s knuckles clear the log edge on swings. My handle is straight and causes me to bark my knuckles from time to time.

Start from the top of the log and work towards the butt end. Begin with gentle strokes on the line to separate the remaining wood. Continue to raise and lower the ax in a controlled manner as you follow this kerf to the bottom of the log.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Very thin shavings can be produced using a broad ax.

Each swing should end in a slicing motion. Some of the chips removed will be as thin as potato chips. When your forearms need a break, and believe me, they’ll be screaming, standup and sight down the log edge to check for plumb. I usually notice that my bottom edges have un-hewn wood proud of the plumb line.

The process described above is repeated on the remaining three sides of the log. To hew the opposite side of the log, remove one log dog and reattach it on the hewn side of the log. Removing both dogs at once may shift the log out of plumb. With two sides are hewn flat, the timber will lay steady on the cribbing. If the cribbing is level, the remaining two sides can be hewn plumb. Adjust as needed.

Logs to Lumber: Hand-Hewn Timber the Old Way - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The hewn surface isn’t as smooth as I’d like on the first pass with the broad ax. It needs a another pass to help smooth out the side.

My journey in the traditional skill of hand-hewn timber has just begun. I’m rewarded with useable timber, rough to experienced hewer’s standards, and a deeper connection to simple technology and the old ways.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Lost Skills, Preparedness, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Off-Grid Firewood: Lessons from Staying Warm with an Ax

by Todd Walker

Off-Grid Firewood- Lessons from Staying Warm with an Ax - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Imagine having only one off-grid tool to heat your home, would your family stay warm or freeze to death? Silly question, right? Only a lunatic would rely on one tool for firewood getting… especially with the antiquated ax. Call me crazy, but I chopped a full cord (128 cubic feet – 4’x4’x8′) of firewood with an ax.

Here’s why and a few things I learned in the process…

Off-Grid Firewood ~ Stay Warm with an Ax

I began Steven Edholm’s Axe Cordwood Challenge on February 7th and finished a cord of ax-cut firewood the last day of winter, March 19, 2017. I took the challenge to hone practical ax skills which were commonly known and practiced by our woodsmen, homesteader, and pioneer ancestors.

This was one of my most rewarding and satisfying journeys of self-reliance I’ve undertaken. Stacking that last stick of firewood made me pause to appreciate the journey more so than the finish line. In fact, finishing one cord actually whetted my appetite for another.

In the process of this challenge, I’ve compiled a fair amount of video footage documenting some ax skills and techniques. For those interested in video format, you can find these on our Axe Cordwood Challenge Playlist. Another resource you may find a bit of value in is our Ax-Manship Playlist.

Risk Management

The only way to improve ax-manship is to swing axes. Even with good technique and accuracy, your body is at risk from not only sharp steel, but falling timber and dead limbs being dislodged high overhead. There’s no way to insure safety 100%. You can, however, mitigate a large portion of the risk by using common sense.

Off-Grid Firewood- Lessons from Staying Warm with an Ax - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Chopper Beware: This dead pine broke midway up during the fall. Give a wide berth when felling trees.

Even so, you have to accept the potential for injury. One tree I felled got hung up. To free it, I had to fell a smaller tree (5 inches in diameter) under great tension. Misreading the direction in which the tree would release its tension, my last chop sent the tree into my thigh. Fortunately another tree stopped the full impact. It could have much worse than a bruised muscle.

Off-Grid Firewood- Lessons from Staying Warm with an Ax - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Not a part of the Cordwood Challenge, this dead pine hung up at the top and stump. This set up helped free the base by leveraging with a rope and 10 foot pole.

Even bent saplings as small as your wrist pose a huge danger to the wood chopper if cut without a strategy. Here’s a video link demonstrating a safe method to release stored energy.

Off-Grid Strategy

I chose to cut a cord of wood at base camp. Not because I’m more pioneering than other’s who have undertaken this challenge, it’s just that base camp is where the trees live. And firewood hides in trees.

In my off-grid setting, the greatest challenge, in my mind, was transporting large diameter logs on my shoulder over uneven terrain, vines, and ravines without a modern means of conveyance. My strategy was to fell, buck and split logs too heavy to lift for transport.

Off-Grid Firewood- Lessons from Staying Warm with an Ax - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Red Oak logs hauled back to camp

Splitting Strategy: Wedges and Maul

To accomplish the plan with an ax only, I carved two sets of wedges (or gluts as Kephart called them in Camping and Woodcraft) from a dogwood tree to be used at each felling site. Each set contained 4 wedges – Fat Set: a steep incline plane; Skinny Set: a gradual taper with less slope. Both were useful for different tasks. I found that the fat gluts inserted into smaller splits would bounce out after a couple of blows from my wooden maul or ax poll. The fat set could be driven deep to separate stubborn logs after the skinny set opened the split wide enough to accept the fat wedges.

Off-Grid Firewood- Lessons from Staying Warm with an Ax - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Pine halved for hauling

The skinny wedges, inserted in the initial ax split at the butt of logs, performed beautifully to further the split down the logs – even on seasoned red oak.  I found the one pine tree I cut to be the most cantankerous to halve. You’d think a soft wood would split more easily than hard. However, once halved, the pine split into rails more easily with my ax without the aid of wedges. That is, if the log was knot-free.

The dogwood wedges held up to a great amount of pounding even though they were green (non-seasoned). I had the idea to make a maul from the base of the dogwood tree which gave me the wedges. I discovered that dogwoods have a hollow space in the root ball which travels a foot or more up the trunk depending on the tree’s size. This fact makes this species unsuitable as a maul unless you cut the hollow part off. Hickory, oak, or other hardwoods have a solid root base and makes a fine maul for driving wedges.

Other DiY Tools: Chopping Platform

As my strategy dictated, after hauling logs and rails back to base camp, further splitting and cutting to length was necessary. I made a chopping platform based on the one described in Dudley Cook’s authoritative work, The Ax Book. Without a doubt, the chopping platform was the most used and multifunctional DiY tool throughout the challenge.

Initially I had planned on using it for chopping smaller rails to firewood length. It also served as a splitting and bucking platform. I experimented with bucking smaller logs (5-6 inch diameter) on the platform instead of separating them into rails first. The platform offered a solid back up for vertical ax strokes (swinging towards your feet) when bucking.

80% of the wood was split into long rails and cut to length on the chopping platform. In case you’re not aware, ax-cut wood will not stand on end for splitting. The remaining 20% was bucked to length on the platform, tossed on the ground, and split using the Tiger technique (video link).  This method worked well on all clear grained wood. When knots were present, I learned quickly to lay the round on the chopping platform to split.

Make Every Stroke Count

The first human I witnessed felling a tree with an ax was Mama. With that moment etched in my five-year-old mind, I was hooked on axes.

Technique

The ax swing is a basic physical movement. However, proper technique employed efficiently saves energy and time. A tinderfoot, unfamiliar with technique, gnaws into a tree with a flurry of misdirected chops and slashes until the tree submits or he gives up. The wood chips produced are as fine as flower bed mulch.

The super computer in our skull coordinates with our muscles to strike where our eyes look. I’m not saying that you don’t need repetition to develop muscle memory. You certainly do. Practice makes permanent… not perfect.

Every stroke is made under control. Muscle up on swings and accuracy suffers. Use your natural swing and let the tool do its share of the work. When felling, the least practiced skill due to the low number of trees needed to produce a cord of wood, a pattern of overlapping strikes is followed for both the face and back notch. A small notch is created as the base for larger notches. With the small notch complete, large wood chips are freed more easily as you progress. A slight twist of the ax after each stroke helps to loosen and remove chips on the top and bottom cuts of the notch. Repeat this blueprint until you near the center of the tree. Do the same 45 degree notching technique on the back cut.

Aim and Accuracy

My ax placement dramatically improved over the course of this challenge. Cleaner notches in felling and bucking were evident with more purposeful practice. One tip I’d offer in bucking is to swing the ax through a line vertical with your nose as your eyes focus on the target.

As my accuracy grew, I concentrated on cocking the ax handle back with my wrist at the peak of my backswing before the downward stroke. This seemed to increase velocity of the ax head. Accuracy and velocity equates to more work done with less effort.

Trading Theory for Action

Early in my teaching career, I was the sage on the stage dishing out book information and theory. As I grow gray, I’ve come to realize that lessons last when students are given the opportunity to learn by doing the stuff. Building knowledge through experience makes math relevant in the real-world. This is even more true with ax-manship and self-reliance skills.

Remove electricity and the combustion engine from the firewood equation and suddenly the ax becomes relevant. Modern tools, which I own, can get the job done more quickly. But I needed to experience, in context, what it takes to cut a cord with an ax only.

By Doing the Stuff, opportunities and learning took place…

  • Emergent skills were honed
  • Unpredictable situations improved learning
  • Reflected on consequences, mistakes, and successes
  • Improved woodland management
  • I could indeed keep my family warm with an ax

In full disclosure, a bucksaw was used for one back cut on the last tree felled. My buddy, Kevin, came out for about an hour and cut the face notch. A large wild azalea, which I refuse to cut, prevented safe ax work on the back cut. This was the only time a tool other than an ax was used.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

How to Hone Ax Skills and Chop Your Way to Functional Fitness

by Todd Walker

how-to-hone-ax-skills-chop-functional-fitness

Crazy eyes! They stare at me when I tell folks I’m cutting a cord of firewood with an ax. No chainsaw, no bucksaw, no maul… just an ax.

Real-world ax skills require massive, deliberate action.

February is history as are 88% (probably more) of the 2017 New Years resolutions. Following the season of overindulgence, these were the top five according to the Google:

  1. Exercise more (38 per cent)
  2. Lose weight (33 per cent)
  3. Eat more healthily (32 per cent)
  4. Take a more active approach to health (15 per cent)
  5. Learn new skill or hobby (15 per cent)

Expensive gym memberships, designer workout clothing, and faddish fitness equipment were purchased by folks really wanting to keep their resolutions. I’m so over the whole gym thing… have been for years. Here’s why…

  • Gym workouts are too predictable and safe
  • And the big one, they’re indoors!

Lifting heavy stuff in the gym is loaded with one-dimensional sameness. Running on a flat, rotating rubber mat has to be the most boring exercise ever invented. Any increase in fitness levels will obviously benefit anyone who enjoys the outdoors. But exercising for the sake of exercising is one reason people lose interest.

Why not combine resolution #1 and #5 (above) and actually get stuff done around the homestead, backyard, or base camp? I’m aware that many reading this will be limited in both skills and resources (trees). For those in the beginner stage of ax work, I would highly recommend spending time learning how to safely swing an ax. This is dangerous work. If you’re not a bit nervous before swinging your ax, you’re probably too cooky and will soon be humbled. The danger aspect is what keeps me focused while swinging sharp steel attached to a long stick. There is, however, nothing as satisfying in this woodsman’s psyche as honing an essential self-reliant skill and staring at a stack of ax-cut firewood seasoning.

The functional fitness aspect of wood chopping is a natural byproduct of ax work. Are you gonna bulk up like bodybuilders admiring their sculpted bodies in the mirror? No. If that’s your goal, stick to the gym. You will see noticeable gains in stamina for real-world, ever-changing daily tasks. Moreover, there’s the practical reward of watching a firewood pile grow which will provide heat to your family.

There are many more qualified axmen to learn from than me. I’ve wielded an ax most of my life but never in such a concentrated manner or time frame as the last six weeks. Hopefully, my experience will benefit some, and, perhaps, encourage others to start using our most basic of woodcutting tools. The ax is back!

Tree to Firewood

Old school professional boxers knew the benefits of swinging an ax. Jack Dempsey, George Foreman, and Mohammad Ali, to name a few, were known to chop wood for peak performance. As mentioned previously, finding available resources to chop may limit your adventure. An alternate workout, one I did several years ago, is to swing a sledge-hammer. But swinging a blunt object won’t increase your firewood supply.

There are far too many concerns and safety issues which need to be addressed to turn a standing tree into split firewood with an ax. I’ve covered a few Ax-Manship topics on our blog over the years. Before launching into serious ax work, I can’t recommend The Ax Book highly enough. Mr. Cook covers these topics more thoroughly.

Felling, limbing, bucking, hauling, splitting, and stacking your own firewood, in the woods, on uneven terrain, is physically demanding. According to Dudley Cook, after cutting a cord of firewood with an ax, “you will cumulatively lift about 24 tons for each cord.” Especially if you haul logs back to camp on your shoulder.

Not everyone will choose to cut their firewood with an ax only. If all you have available for a functional fitness workout is a long log, the following movement is an excellent way to exercise your major muscle groups.

Shoulder Log Lift

I’m in the middle of the Axe Cordwood Challenge at my base camp. There are some interesting obstacles with my scenario. Once a tree is down, my means of conveyance is to haul the logs back to base camp on my shoulder. I have neither machine nor animal to transport the wood. I’m the mule… or jackass in many cases.

Daddy taught me this method for hauling heavy pipe early in my youth in his plumbing/welding business. Balancing a long, heavy object on your shoulder is a skill every woodsman should learn.

I’ve found it easier to lift a longer pole than shorter logs of the same diameter. A six to nine foot log needs less vertical lifting force than a 4 footer of the same diameter. The reason is that a longer log tips over the shoulder (fulcrum) without needing extreme vertical force to get it into position.

Here’s the technique on video…

One would be wise to make a pad to protect your neck and shoulder. My makeshift pad is a cloth possibles bag stuffed with a shemagh I carry in my haversack.

How to Hone Ax Skills and Chop Your Way to Functional Fitness ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

My makeshift shoulder pad. That’s one crooked red oak on the ground in the background.

Also, when limbing the tree, be sure to cut all limbs even with the trunk. Protruding limbs, even slightly raised, will not only poke into your shoulder and neck, but find a way of snagging every vine along your path of transport.

If it’s too heavy to lift one end, don’t attempt a shoulder carry. Split it into manageable rails first. You’ll develop a feel for what you can and can’t shoulder by standing the log vertically.

How to Hone Ax Skills and Chop Your Way to Functional Fitness ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Notice the amount of bend required to position my shoulder at the midpoint of this 6 footer vs. the 9 footer in the next photo.

How to Hone Ax Skills and Chop Your Way to Functional Fitness ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A 9 footer of smaller diameter. Longer logs require less vertical lifting power.

Once the log is vertical and balanced, position your feet near the base with your heels close together. Squat facing the log where your shoulder will meet near the balance point of the pole. Keep your back straight, grip the base of the log, and let the pole lean back over the shoulder as you lift by straightening your legs. A slight backwards rocking motion helps. Lifting with your back bent is inviting serious injury.

Position the log to balance slightly toward the rear, not forward. To adjust the lay of the log on your shoulder, hold with both hands and give a slight bounce with your legs to move the log forward or backward. When set properly, walk with one arm cradled on top of the log as your travel. Use your other hand if needed over rugged terrain. Here’s where nature’s gym throws a real-world workout at you.

Wear sturdy boots, take your time, and watch for tripping hazards. If you stumble, and a tumble is imminent, drop the log from your shoulder and get out of the way in the opposite direction. If possible, hedge your bets by walking inclines with the log on the downhill shoulder.

When you arrive at your destination, reverse the process to unload the log. With the end place on the ground, flop the standing end over. You’ll create a stack of long logs ready for splitting on a chopping platform. For smaller stock, just toss it off your shoulder taking care to avoid a kickback of the falling timber.

How to Hone Ax Skills and Chop Your Way to Functional Fitness ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

An updated photo of my ax-cut firewood stash.

The old adage, “Chop your own firewood and it warms you twice,” is a big fat lie! In my experience, the number is more like 7-10 to turn a standing tree into firewood. If you’re up to it, you’ll develop ax skills along with upping your functional fitness level. For those interested in either, check out the additional resources below…

Additional Resources:

Disclaimer: If you choose to use an ax in any manner to chop your own firewood, recognize the inherit dangers and take responsibility for your own wellbeing and safety. I am not responsible for anyone doing stupid stuff, or any other stuff. Even doing non-stupid stuff holds risks of injury and/or death when wielding an ax.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

 

Categories: Bushcraft, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting

by Todd Walker

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The permanent scars on my parent’s car port floor are a reminder of that grand idea Craig and I came up with while splitting firewood in 1977. The winter wind felt like we were tied to a whipping post.

“Let’s get out of the wind.”

“How ’bout the car port? The wood’s gotta be stacked in there anyway.”

Not our best idea ever, but we set up shop on the two-year old concrete floor. Driving the metal wedge with 8-pound sledge hammers, a few, quite a few actually, shot like bullets through the wooden rounds followed by a distinctive twang of metal meeting concrete.

“Ya think he’ll notice?”

“Nah. It’s just a few dimples. And we’ll stack wood on top anyway.” Upon further inspection, they were chunks, not dimples.

Had we known of these two splitting techniques, we could have saved Daddy’s new floor… and a lot trouble when he got home from work.

The Twist Technique

The normal way to turn big rounds of wood into little stuff is to use a splitting maul or hammer and steel wedge. These tools are heavier than an ax and doesn’t mind eating grit, even an occasional rock under ground. But they’re heavy fellows and not convenient to tote to base camp. A proper ax is easier to carry and does a noble job of separating wood rounds.

There are many frustrating ways to split wood. Typically, one balances a round atop a chopping block, takes aim, swings, and one becomes two pieces. And neither piece stays on the platform for further splitting. The cycle of bending over, balancing a half-round atop the chopping block, and splitting again is about as fun as a pulling teeth. Even using an old tire to hold the stick together while splitting requires lifting and placing the wood inside the tire.

If you want to speed up the splitting process, put a twist on your swing.

Stance, Swing, and Safety

Trees, like people, are different yet have similarities. No matter the wood species, when possible to determine, split rounds from top to bottom. That is, position the wood vertically as it grew in the forest, top end up, bottom (butt) down.

Longer axes are safer than short-handled ones. When splitting, even on a chopping block (backed-up vertical stroke), with a boys ax (24 to 28 inch length), if you miss the target and chopping block all together, your follow through will likely turn your foot into a clove hoof. A 36 inch or longer handled ax extends the swing arc and would stop in the ground on miss hits.

With that in mind, and the fact that we’re not using a chopping block, we’re actually splitting what would traditionally be used as a chopping block – a big, round chunk resting on the ground. A slight twist or flick of the handle at the moment the ax meets the wood will prevent the ax from traveling through the length of wood.

To start, target the outside edge of the round. For my swing, I aim about 3 inches in on the outside edge of the chunk. My right hand grips the bottom of the handle and flicks or twists to the right on impact. You’ll be moving around the chuck steadily removing wood so make sure your area is clear of all tripping hazards and swing obstructions.

Clear, straight-grained wood like the Red Oak in the video makes for fine splitting… until you hit a knot. At that point, the twist technique is not effective. Other tree species can be difficult to split even with a splitting maul. Sweet Gum, for instance, reveals a mangled, interlocking grain which frustrates the most seasoned wood splitter. The best strategy to get through knots with an ax is to strike dead center on the knot. Or, just designate the piece a long-burner.

The Tiger Technique

Steven Edholm, who issued his crazy Axe Cordwood Challenge, along with my fellow participants have tried to come up with a name for this splitting method. Nothing official has stuck. What I’m calling this golf-like-swing is the Tiger. You may have figured out by now I’m referring to Tiger Woods, professional golfer.

Whatever you choose to call it, the Tiger is my favorite and fastest method for turning a pile of large rounds into small, burnable chunks. Before the Safety Sally brigade shuts me down for even suggesting you use what appears to be a dangerous ax swing, allow me to explain the method behind what seems to be pure madness.

Safety Concerns 

I covered the basics of swinging an ax inside and outside your frontal zone in a previous article. There are inherit dangers anytime you swing 3 and a half pounds of scary-sharp steel. I get it. No matter how many times I grip my ax, my mind pictures a few online ax injuries, which can’t be unseen, as I soberly begin swinging. Even then I must follow, without exception, the protocol of safe ax use.

A few concerns always pop up from Safety Sally folks who have never attempted the Tiger. It just looks awfully dangerous. Here’s the gist of their advice/concern…

  • A glancing blow and the ax hits your leg. Don’t split that way.
  • The log should be propped up against another back rest.
  • Looks like an accident waiting to happen – especially with a double bit ax.
  • That’s a hazardous way of splitting wood. I’ve chopped and split wood growing up. Never chopped that way.

What’s interesting is that other seasoned axmen comment on the effectiveness of this method. This is a lateral swing and is preformed outside the frontal zone. The important part is to keep your feet ahead of the point of ax impact. Clear-grained wood separates with alarming speed… and will fly many feet in the wood lot.

When clearing and area for ax work, I use this same swing to remove small saplings close to the ground. As the ax arc begins its upward motion, the bit separates the sapling cleanly. Again, follow the Frontal Zone rules for safe swinging.

Just like any other ax technique, Doing the Stuff is the key to improvement. You can’t watch the video or read about it to become proficient. Study proper technique and go split some wood.

Here’s a few photos of my firewood stack at base camp. The Axe Cordwood Challenge is coming along nicely and teaching me some valuable lessons on the journey.

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The front stack is all ax cut: felling, bucking, splitting, and cutting to length. The Red Oak in the rear was sawn and doesn’t count in my Cordwood Challenge.

2 Ax Techniques for Fast Firewood Splitting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Red Oak and Tulip Poplar stacked. You can see the difference between the sawn firewood and ax-cut wood.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Functional Fitness, Homesteading, Lost Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Ax Chopping Platform: Speed Up Firewood Cutting Safely

by Todd Walker

ax-chopping-platform-speed-up-firewood-cutting-safely-thesurvivalsherpa-com

On a modern homestead wood lot, one cranks a chain saw, cuts logs to the length, and splits the rounds to season. The motorized saw makes quick work of large and small wood. But in an operational base camp, lugging a chainsaw, bar oil and fuel, on a regular basis is not practical. A good ax weighs less but can get the job done. However, there are challenges to cutting firewood (not splitting) to length with an ax.

Here’s a simple solution which not only saves your ax bit from grit and rocks in the ground, but allows you to use a powerful vertical chopping stroke safely – described in our last ax work article. To cut a winter supply of firewood with an ax only, take the time to build this speedy chopping platform.

The Ax Chopping Platform

Adapted from The Ax Book (D. Cook)

Here’s what you’ll need to build your own…

  • 2 Base Logs – six to seven-foot hardwood logs about 10-12 inches diameter
  • Stop Stick – 5 inches diameter by one foot
  • Sturdy, heavy gauge wire
  • Ax, of course
  • Saw – chainsaw will speed up your project
  • Pliers for twisting and cutting wire
  • Hardware – 4 nails, 3 feet of cable or chain
  • 5 pound weight

Step 1: Cut Base Logs

For axmen, chop down a hardwood tree with your felling ax. Buck it twice to get two 7 foot lengths. Or crank your chainsaw for the task. Either way works.

The Authentic Lumber Sexual Guide to Ax Work ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The opposite, or back cut separates the log

I chose a half-broken Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua). City folk hate them in their yards due to their pesky, prickly fruit, a scourge on bare feet and medieval projectiles when mowed. Trash trees in the view of many. But very resilient.

Now for the fun part… getting them back to camp. My good friend, Cokey, pork-butt-smoker extraordinaire, speaking in full southern drawl, always has this to say about any hard work,

“It’s like haulin’ logs. Ya gotta really wanna do it.”

Ax Chopping Platform: Speed Up Firewood Cutting Safely ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

This size log would normally be split lengthwise, then quartered to haul back to camp.

And I did. I flopped and rolled my two sticks, dodging trees and obstacles, back to camp. My peavy was a fine companion to have along the journey.

Step 2: Secure Base Logs

For the sake of clarity, the end of the platform where the chopping happens we’ll call the “Head“. The opposite end of the platform will be, you guessed it, the “Tail.

Position the two logs side-by-side so the fat end of one mates up with the skinny end of the other. This will form the trough to hold the long wood you plan to chop into smaller wood. It’s a good idea to lay two length of cedar, or other rot resistant wood, perpendicular at the ends of the logs to keep them off the ground. This also makes the wiring job you’re about to do much easier, i.e. – passing wire under two real heavy logs.

Your choice in wire matters. In my video, the electric fence wire couldn’t stand the pressure. I cut lengths of rusty, but still strong enough, barbed wire from a fallen hog wire fence line near base camp. Be resourceful.

Wrap the wire around the Head of the platform and twist tight with pliers. You could also use a stout stick as a windlass. Beat the exposed barbs down if you use wire in the barbed variety.

Mr. Cook illustrates three wooden dowels driven through the two logs horizontally. If you’re building this project at your homestead, that may be feasible. Or, just drill and run all-thread rods through and secure with nuts and bolts. In the woods, I used the simple method, wire.

Step 3: Secure the Stop Stick

Butt the stop stick against the newly installed wire crossing the trough. Twist it down until taut. Too much twisting and you’ll sheer the wire and have to start over. Fencing pliers come in handy but other pliers work. Another option would be to use a Spanish windlass to tighten the wires. Ted, a member of our Doing the Stuff Network, pointed me to the Cobb & Co Hitch method.

Ax Chopping Platform: Speed Up Firewood Cutting Safely ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Stop Stick secured with front kickback guard installed

Step 4: Attach Front Kickback Guard

If you’ve ever had a wooden missile fly at your face while chopping through a horizontal stick, you’ll appreciate the importance of this step. A whole lot of pain accompanies a stick in the eye. To prevent this stick-to-the-face event, install a piece of domed wire 6 to 8 inches past the stop stick.

I cut a section of that old hog wire long enough to arch over the platform creating a two-square wide hood of sorts. It hugs the top of the stop stick with about 6 inches overhanging the platform logs. I used two 16d nails and washers to secure the four ends to the sides of the platform logs. This gives me enough room to chop firewood lengths while safeguarding my noggin from flying firewood.

Step 5: Install Rear Kickback Guard

As experienced wood lot choppers know, as the stick you’re chopping to size shortens, especially the final two short lengths, the butt end is free to fly, and often does. Another kickback guard will hold the last length in the trough. However, this rear guard can’t be secured permanently over the trough or the stock your chopping won’t rest flat between the platform logs.

Ax Chopping Platform: Speed Up Firewood Cutting Safely ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A wired rock works for an improvised backcountry weight

Screw or nail a section of chain or wire to the chopping side of the platform with a weight attached to the end of the chain. This will allow you to toss the restrain over the stock in the trough as it shortens.

The distance between the front and rear kickback guards depends on the length of firewood you need. For instance, at base camp, 18 to 20 inches is about right. Mark the trough at your desired length. From that mark, attach the rear guard about the same distance as the front guard towards the Tail end of the platform.

On a homestead, any metal 5 pound weight can be located to hold the rear guard in place. In the forest, not so much. I stole a jagged-edged rock from my fire pit, wrapped it with wire, and attached it to the end of my chain restraint. When engaged (flopped over the logs), the weight rests about midway down the opposite side of the platform.

Step 6: Wire and Notch the Tail

To wire the Tail, cut a 90 degree notch in the end of both logs. The depth of the vertical cut should be slightly past the depth of the trough. Now cut horizontally to meet the vertical cut and remove the notch and create a ledge. Wrap wire around the log ledge and twist taut. If you run the wire tight in the corner, you’ll have a small, horizontal “table top” to sit your hot cocoa while sitting on the platform around the campfire. Flat horizontal surfaces are a luxury at base camp.

Ax Chopping Platform: Speed Up Firewood Cutting Safely ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A view of the wired Tail end of the platform

Step 7: Get to Chopping

Green wood is easier to chop than seasoned. Both are easier to separate when chopped at a 45 degree angle to the grain. Feed your stock into the trough up to the stop stick. Position yourself at a 45 degree angle where you can make a full vertical, backed-up stroke in the trough on your marked chopping spot. The stock is easily separated with a single, well placed stroke. On thicker stock that doesn’t, rotate the stick in the trough and chop it once more. That ought to do it.

Remember to “engage” the rear guard as the butt end of the stock shortens and gets itchy to jump off the platform.

The Axe Cordwood Challenge

In our Ax Chopping Platform video, I mentioned Steven Edholm’s “Axe Cordwood Challenge” on his YouTube channel, Skill Cult. Some may be wondering, why in the world would a person chop a cord of firewood, a stack measuring 4’x4’x8′, with an ax only?! They’re still manufacturing chainsaws, ya know! They do indeed. I own a couple of these modern marvels.

But, the ax, a simple machine, unlike the chainsaw, requires minimal field maintenance. Granted, the chainsaw cuts firewood to length quicker than an ax. To accommodate modern cutting, you’ll need to haul the gas-oil-mix can, bar/chain oil, an extra bar and chain for saws stuck in a log, and other field maintenance tools. You’ll probably carry an ax alongside the motor saw as a backup anyway. But with modern means of travel, four-wheelers and trucks, that’s not a huge deal.

Here’s the thing, for me at least…

In my mind, more significant is the fact that ax-manship is an old-soul skill which few moderns wish to re-kindle, never seeing the possibility of a future dependent on axes to stay warm. It is neither convenient nor easy. However, ax work is my most personally rewarding, satisfying, and warming undertaking I’ve done over the years.

You find an axman, one who turns a tree into firewood by felling, limbing, bucking, splitting lenght-wise for hauling, and then, chopping wood to length, and he’ll confirm that the most challenging job of staying warm with his ax is chopping to final burning size. This chopping platform greatly increases the speed, safety, and efficiency of making long logs short.

So, Steven, I’m taking you up on your challenge. Updates will be posted on my progress. If nothing else, I’ll be in great shape from swinging steel and hauling logs.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Lost Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments

The Authentic Lumber Sexual Guide to Ax Work

by Todd Walker

The Authentic Lumber Sexual Guide to Ax Work ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I’m not sure when the bastardization began. But, make no mistake, it’s happened.

From a distance, there was an aura about the young man, he looked as though he had just stepped out of a 19th century lumber camp photo, like a man who knew the secrets of ax work and living off the land. The beard, plaid flannel (red and black of course), skinny britches rolled up a few turns to show off his vintage L.L. Bean boots with just a hint of wool sock protruding at the top. I imagined the aroma of wood smoke from his stack of flapjacks and coffee would hit me as I pushed DRG’s shopping cart past him on the frozen food aisle. Nope. Just another fashion-fabulous hipster.

A lot of my authentic southern readers may have never heard of this crossbred, the lumber-sexual. My Publix sighting confirms they’re here and not going anywhere no time soon. They seem to have migrated from their native habitat up north, the over-priced Minnesota coffee shops. Apparently, the lumberjack look was a new twist for hipsters. Remember the rhinestone cowboy craze from the 70’s? Same thing. They are born from cross-breeding a metrosexual and urban hipster (google these terms to get up to speed). The closest they’ve come to chopping a tree was the cutting of the Yule log at the office Christmas party. I guess the look and feel of simple lumber attire conjures up nostalgia, and, presumably, a boost in manliness.

I get it, chic clothing trends, like chiggers in a Georgia summer, never cease. A hipster sipping a passion tango herbal tea on a leather sofa at the corner coffee shop posing as a lumberjack seems non-congruent in my mind. I’ll give ’em one thing, they can buy an authentic lumber-look, even earth scented beard balm, but, to their chagrin, they can’t buy callouses. Those come by doing the stuff old lumberjacks did.

For the lumber sexual who stumbles upon this article, and feels the need to stop playing dress up, and would like to add authentic skills to match his attire, learn the art and lore of ax work. That wall-mounted ax over your headboard longs to feel its hickory handle whist through crisp air, hear metal separate wood fibers, and watch dinner plate size wood chips fling loose. This alone will assuredly add authenticity to your next filtered Instagram ax-selfie.  An added bonus… the calloused handshake over a craft beer reeks of masculinity… adding to your woods cred.

The Authentic Lumber Sexual Guide to Ax Work ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

No worries. Fixin’ Wax helps.

This guide may also be useful for the non-lumber sexual…

Authentic Ax Work (Not AXE Grooming Products)

Outside of fire, little else can contribute more to living comfortably in the wilderness than knowing how to properly use a well-chosen axe.

~ Mors Kochanski, Bushcraft, 1988

The ax is the oldest, most under-appreciated, yet invaluable tool which serves not only as a wilderness lifeline, but a simple machine that connects your hands to the forgotten craft of ax work. You’ll need an authentic ax to get starter. Don’t waste your money on box store axes. Once in my life, only once, I traded a Benjamin and some change for a Swedish ax just because of their reputation of forging fine steel. I was not disappointed.

A more budget friendly way, my preferred path, is vintage American made axes. Forgotten and left to rust in the corner of grandpa’s shed, these old treasures are waiting to be born again and eat wood.

For more guidance on choosing an ax, check out our article here.

How to Swing an Ax

All ax swings are inherently dangerous. Some are safer than others. But that’s part of the lure of ax work. Learning to reduce the risk of maiming (or worse) is your first priority.

It may not seem obvious, but the very first step, before your first swing in the woods, is to clear every vine, twig, overhead limb, camera man, and pet away from the area of your ax arc. The smallest thing can snag the ax on both backswing and forward chop. Look up and down the tree you plan to chop for any dead limbs. These hangers earned the name widow-maker for a reason. Even a small limb plummeting from 30 feet can crack your skull or destroy a shoulder. I know of a dead pine with a trunk split cradling a wrist-size limb in the crotch, tempting me to sink my felling ax into its trunk, but I resist, hoping and waiting for a gust of wind to bring it down. My gut tells me three thuds of my ax and DRG may be a widow. Follow your gut. Wise axmen strike the tree with the poll of their ax to loosen any potential hangers. Be prepared to drop the ax and follow exit routes you’ve cleared beforehand.

Ideally, you want level ground to plant your feet for chopping. That’s not always possible. If you’re new to ax work, find level ground free of tripping and slipping hazards and sink those vintage Danner boots in firmly.

For right-handers like me, grip the end of the handle with your left hand and your right hand on top of the left. Reverse this arrangement for southpaw. As you were taught in little league baseball, do not cross your wrists, right on bottom and left on top for right-handers, on swings. Coach Melvin told me this would break my wrists.

There are two basic ax swings: lateral and vertical. Certain guidelines should be followed for each swing.

Lateral Chopping

Lateral swings (diagonal and horizontal) are used to fell a tree, cut saplings in one swoop, and finish chops to separate a log while bucking. Any strokes outside your frontal zone is considered lateral swings. What’s your frontal zone?

Adapted from The Ax Book

Adapted from The Ax Book

In The Ax Book, which I recommend you devour until the pages are dog-eared, Dudley Cook describes the frontal zone as two parallel lines running along side the outside edges of your feet when chopping. All lateral swings should be outside the parallel lines, always. A miss hit or deflection from a full, extended-arm swing only stops when it strikes a target. Inertia forces the ax head to a stopping point, and that point could be your body if you disregard the frontal zone guidelines.

There are too many additional considerations such as, proper notching (face and back cuts), lean and lay, hang-ups, kick-backs, which can’t be covered in this one article, which is already a long but value-adding read, for you to safely chop down your first tree. I plan to write more on the subject later. Until then, read The Ax Book and watch more videos in the additional resources listed below.

With that being said, we will concentrate on ax swings which require wielding sharp steel within the frontal zone (toward your feet).

Vertical Chopping

Since the chainsaw removed the ax from most wood cutting, splitting firewood is by far the most used vertical swing presently. But, wanting to add authenticity to your life, there are other vertical strokes you should master.

Vertical chops fall into three categories…

  1. Backed up
  2. Non-backed, and
  3. Bucking, or chopping below the level of your feet

Backed Up

Backed up strokes are performed on another piece of robust wood (chopping block) wide enough to stop the ax swing momentum once it cuts through the target. The shorter the ax handle, the more dangerous the ax. The popular “boys ax” measures from armpit to finger length and makes a great all-purpose tool. However, care should be taken to understand that missing your target on vertical strokes with a shorter handle will likely bury the ax in your lower extremities. Keep the ax parallel to the ground at impact by bending your knees and waist during the downward stroke. This shortens your body and will likely sink the axhead in the chopping block, not your leg.

When chopping wrist-size green wood for your firewood pile, I’ve found this methods effective. Hold one end of the stick (about as long as you are tall) with your left hand and lay the other on a chopping block (backed-up stroke) with a notch or saddle on the edge of the stump. Accurately strike the stick where it rests in the notch at a 45 degree angle. Continue feeding the stick through the saddle notch until the last stove-length piece is left in your left hand. The angled cut should never be perpendicular to the stick. If struck too close towards your body, missing the saddle notch, the cut end will fly back toward your face like a wooden missile.

Steven Edholm has a great video demonstrating this technique on his channel, Skill Cult. He captures the wooden missile moment.

Another method, which I’m building at base camp now, is the Chopping Platform described by Mr. Cook. I’ll post the project once it’s complete.

Non-Backed Chops

Of all the vertical swings, this one possesses the most potential for injury. This stoke is not for a novice. Even experienced woodsmen make this cut only when other options are unavailable.

There may be an overhead limb which needs cutting. The safest way would be to saw the limb. However, an ax can be used with these precautions. Strike the limb with a modified grip by sliding your right hand half way up the ax handle to gain more control of the ax should it slice trough the limb. Strike at a 45 degree angle using only enough force to cut a portion of the limb’s diameter. Remember Newton’s first Law of Motion? An object (your ax) will keep moving until acted up by another force to stop its motion. Don’t let that other force be your body.

Do this ax stuff enough and you’ll encounter the bent sapling. I felled a broken Sweet Gum tree for the upcoming Chopping Platform project. In the limbing (de-limbing) video below, I demonstrate how to relieve tension with a non-backed, properly place ax stroke. Cutting a spring-loaded sapling near the ground unleashes unbelievable tension stored in the tree. If cut through, the potential energy converts to kinetic energy, and will not only mess up a well-groomed beard, but kill with a throat punch or head shot.

Bucking

Any wood large enough to stand on is fair game. The ax swing is safely backed up by the log being chopped as long the stroke stays below the level of your feet.

Again, clear all obstacles from the arc of your bucking swing. Hew two flat surfaces on either side of the cut line at the top of the horizontal log giving you a solid platform for your feet. If the log is on the ground and rocks while standing on top, step off and secure it by driving wooden wedges under each side for stabilization. Mark the width of your V notch with your ax on the side of the log to match its diameter.

The Authentic Lumber Sexual Guide to Ax Work ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

One side of a Sweet Gum log bucked

The Authentic Lumber Sexual Guide to Ax Work ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The opposite, or back cut separates the log

I’ve used two methods to buck logs. First is to make a small V notch and widen it gradually to the desired width and halfway through the log. In my experience, I find the second method, described below, a more effective bucking technique.

Stand on top of the fallen tree and begin cutting a small (2-3 inch wide) V notch on the first mark with controlled strokes. This notch serves as the side cut for the larger notch. Now begin chopping the other mark at about a 45 degree angle. Use a pattern of overlapping cuts on the full length of the second mark (bottom to top). You should begin to loosen large wood chips from the entire notch at this point. Repeat this chopping pattern on each side of the notch to about halfway through the log.

Turn 180 degrees and face the other side of the log to repeat the same pattern. Ideally, you want the point of the two V notches to meet a hair off-center in the middle. When the log is close to separation, step to one side of the notch, the one securely supported, and separate the log with a few well placed strokes.

To cut closer to the bottom of the log, bend your back and waist and swing with fully extended arms. Chopping closer to the top of the log requires that you straighten your back but maintain extended arms on full swings. Do not choke up on the ax handle to make cuts at the top of the log. Pay attention to fatigue and rest as necessary.

For accurate downward strokes, swing the ax in line with your nose as you look at your target. Ax control and accuracy will develop with practice.

For the lumber sexual, authentic fashion is job one. Hijacking the ax, the lumber attire, and the beard on Instagram will develop neither the skills nor the callouses of lumberjacks. To be completely honest, I really couldn’t give a warm spittoon of tobacco juice that you look like an authentic lumberjack. You may have bought the look, complete with an expensive ax, but you can’t buy old skills. So grab an ax – chop, chop. And no, you can’t borrow mine…

The Authentic Lumber Sexual Guide to Ax Work ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A few of my working axes

You may loan your last dollar to a friend; but never loan him your axe, unless you are certain that he knows how to use it.

~ Horace Kephart, Camping and Woodcraft

Ax Work Resources:

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

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Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Lost Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 16 Comments

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