Posts Tagged With: ax skills

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…

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

49 Outdoor Skills and Projects to Try When Camping

by Todd Walker

49 Outdoor Skills and Projects to Try When Camping - www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Planning your spring outdoor adventure?

Try these skills and projects, even if it’s in your backyard. In fact, your backyard may be the best place to start your journey to outdoor self-reliance.

Burn Stuff (Combustion)

Practice in wet conditions. If it ain’t raining, you ain’t training

Cut Stuff (Cutting Tool)

 

Shelter Stuff (Cover)

Avoid Stuff

Forage/Harvest Stuff

Tie Knots and Stuff

Eat Stuff

how-to-make-modern-mountain-man-mre

Jerking water buffalo

Make Outdoor Stuff

39 Self-Reliance Skills and Projects to Try When Camping | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Firewood processed with the take-down bowsaw

Wilderness Self-Reliance Stuff

Iris and Dave Canterbury being gracious as usual.

Iris and Dave Canterbury being gracious as usual.

Let the fun begin! Get out and stay outdoors.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

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

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: 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: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance, Survival Skills, Wildcrafting | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

4 Essential Ax Skills for Self-Reliance

by Todd Walker

Not many a young boy, in our present chainsaw generation, has ever witnessed his mother fell a tree with her ax. My brain cells blur as to the exact date, kindergarten maybe, but the image of Mama swinging sharp steel rhythmically against that tree is permanently etched in my childhood memory bank. Over 45 years later, my ax addiction continues!

4 Essential Ax Skills for Self-Reliance | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A question you must ax…

How long will chainsaws hum along? Long enough… maybe. Either way, self-reliance requires that one never put all their hopes in one tool.

I’m not anti-chainsaw. I love my Stihl… for certain jobs. She allows me to work without much sweat. Ah, but nothing beats a hunk of steel on the end of a stick. When wielded skillfully by fit individuals, it is a thing of beauty and a joy forever!

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 a forgotten craft… Ax-Manship.

The ax of our past may be the key to our future. You see, the more complicated a machine (i.e. – a chainsaw) the more likely you’ll need a small engine repair shop in your basement to keep it productive. In the field, at a minimum, you’ll need to carry two types of oil, gasoline, gas can, files, and a bar wrench to harvest wood with this machine. You’ll likely need another machine for conveyance just to reach your woodlots with all the stuff accompanying your chainsaw.

A sharp ax (sheathed, of course) can be slung over your shoulder with a sharpening stone in your pocket. That is all. No doubt, a chainsaw can rip through cords of firewood and fell huge timber. But again, the question remains, how long will they hum? If your answer is “forever”, you may view the ax as an archeological artifact with little use for modern man.

Even if combustion engines continue to run “forever”, you’ll never regret owning ax-manship skills. Indigenous peoples, soldiers, farmers, homesteaders, woodsmen, frontiersmen, and craftsmen of old knew the value of this tool and how to use it.

Every self-reliant man should learn these 4 basic ax skills… safely, without shortening your toes.

Warning: Axes are daylight tools. Safe and efficient ax skills only come from using your ax(es) properly. Like other tools, choose the right one for the job. Felling and bucking wood is not the only job axes do well. Job specific axes include: hewing, ship building, butchering, carpentry, fire fighting, wood carving, and many more.

For the purpose of this non-comprehensive ax article, we’ll focus on felling, limbing, bucking, and just a touch of splitting with and ax…

1) Felling

4 Essential Ax Skills for Self-Reliance | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Journal Notes ~ A: Face Cut and Back Cut

Without experience felling trees, you should never lay an ax to a trunk you can’t reach around with one arm. Practice accuracy and technique on smaller trees.

Determine the lean of the tree to be felled by viewing it from a distance two directions: front and 90º to the side. Hold/hang the end of your ax handle between your thumb and forefingers and use it as a plumb line to sight the tree’s lean. This will help you determine the lay or path the tree will fall.

With proper tools (wedges, jacks, ropes), a skilled axman can make most any tree fall in his/her desired direction. However, it’s much easier to fell a tree towards its natural lean if that path is clear of other obstacles.

Before Your First Swing

  1. Visually check the tree for any widow makers (dead limbs) that might dislodge and crash onto your body. Dead standing trees are excellent for firewood but also pose a higher risk of dropping limbs when being hacked on. Even small twigs falling can damage your eye the moment you look up to check. Eye protection is advisable.
  2. Clear your swing radius of all debris that might snag your ax mid swing. Miss hits and glances mean potential injury.
  3. Watch the wind. Predominant wind direction and gusts can be your friend or foe when felling trees.
  4. Have multiple escape routes. Things can go very wrong if a tree kicks back or gets snagged in an adjacent tree on its decent. Take time to plan and clear paths. Be ready to drop everything and retreat if need be.

Swing Stance

Position your body so that your feet are behind the chopping strokes and to the outside of your feet. Chopping stokes should be outside the “train tracks” (two parallel lines running to the outer edges of your boots) with your feet inside the tracks on flat ground where possible.

Face Cut

Aim to make a 45º face cut near the base of the tree. This notch should go about halfway through the tree and be perpendicular with the imaginary line of fall. Make progressive cuts in a pattern to remove wood chips. Accuracy is more important here than strength and power.

Never swing in an upward manner to remove wood chips in the notch. Upward ax swings are likely glance and end in your face. Continue making 45 degree cuts from top to bottom of the face cut. Decreasing your swing angle slightly to about 10º will help remove chips… just never swing upward! Also, keep the ax handle as horizontal as possible while swinging. Do this by flexing your knees and waist with the ax head at 45º.

Now you have a 45 degree face cut with an even shelf about halfway through the tree. Time for the next notch.

Back Cut

The back cut is a smaller version of the face cut. Again, this cut needs to be a 45º notch with its shelf an inch or two higher than the face cut shelf. This hight difference creates a “hinge” between the two notches.

The hinge serves as a safety device to prevent kickback when the tree begins to fall. Even with smaller diameter trees, the weight of the tree falling causes the base of the tree to push backwards. It’s physics.

You may find it helpful to score the area of the back cut with your ax to give you an accurate target. Use the same cutting strokes as you did with the front cut. As you close in on the front cut from the rear, pay attention to the trees movement. Once it starts to lean, you may get one more swing in. After that, it’s time to get out of the way and let gravity take over. Do not stand directly behind the falling tree. Move to a safe distance to either side… and get ready to drop your ax and run if need be. Unlike how I demonstrated on the video below…

2) Limbing

4 Essential Ax Skills for Self-Reliance | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Journal Notes ~ B: Limbing

Limbing can be dangerous since there is no backup to stop the ax once it severs the branch. Here’s some tips for limbing safely:

  1. Swing in a direction from the base (trunk) to the top of the downed tree. This removes the limb even at the trunk leaving little to no snags.
  2. Start by removing limbs from the topside of the downed tree to prevent them from interfering while limbing side branches. Remember to keep your feet inside the “railroad tracks” and the limb outside the tracks on all horizontal swings. Once severed, remove to keep your work area clear for side limbing.
  3. Keep the tree trunk between you and the limb you are removing when at all possible. Keep your body slightly behind the target limb as you swing.

3) Bucking

Once your tree is down and limbed, you need to move it to camp or your woodshed. If the chainsaws are no longer humming, vehicles probably aren’t either. Or, you may be too deep in the backwoods to be reached with a truck or tractor.

4 Essential Ax Skills for Self-Reliance | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Journal Notes ~ C: Bucking

 

Buck it! Bucking is the process of chopping logs into manageable lengths for conveyance. If you know the length of your ax, use it as a measuring tool to lay out the log sections to be bucked.

Bucking tips:

  1. Scotch the log with wooden wedges or smaller branches on both sides of the log to be bucked.
  2. Stand on top of the log with feet straddling your cut mark. Spread feet about shoulder’s width apart with knees and hips slightly flexed. This stance is adjusted up or down depending on the length of your ax.
  3. Maintaining your balance, swing accurately and begin making “V” notches from the center of your mark to a width equal to the diameter of the log. For instance, a log 10 inches in diameter will have a V notch about 10 inches wide.
  4. Once you’ve notched one side of the log, turn and repeat the notching on the log’s opposite side. The two V notches will meet in the middle of the log and break apart.

4) Splitting

The-Woodsman's-Secret-to-a-Well-Hung-Ax

Splitting both short and long bucked logs will be covered more thoroughly in our next post in this series. But for now, here is a post from last year that will give you a few safety tips on spitting 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 and our Facebook page… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network on PinterestGoogle +, and Facebook.

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: 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: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 22 Comments

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