Fresh or dry. When is firewood easiest to split?

By The Helpful Engineer / On / In Technical & Discussion

Comparing firewood for choppingI always considered that immediately after it was harvested was the time to split wood. This is for the simple reason that splitting the timber opens up the pores and allows the timber to start drying quickly. Waiting for the timber to dry first before cutting will take the seasoning process longer. But when is it easiest to split firewood?

When is it easiest to chop wood? The honest answer is I am not sure, because I have usually always chopped my firewood as soon as I obtained it (or bought it pre-chopped). But I have tried chopping large wet, green timber and found it hard going at times. If I allowed it to dry out it might have been easier. When timber is seasoned properly and dried, shrinkage cracks open up. These presumably would make the timber in question easier to chop?

Simple experiment. To try and help answer the question, I tried a quick experiment. I lined up three beech logs of similar size. See photograph below. One was frozen, LHS, (I put it in the freezer for 3 days!), one was dry, RHS,  and finally one was wet, centre. Comparing firewood for chopping

Comparing wood for chopping

I tested how much force it took to chop the various logs by dropping a maul from various heights onto each log.

The results. The results were that, for this test at least, dried and wet logs split at a similar force. But the frozen log split much easier. So while this answered the question as to when wood was easiest to chop, frozen is best. It didn’t demonstrate whether green or dried timber was easier to chop. So that the next step was to ask around and I decided to check with people who cut a lot of timber:

Paul Carroll of The Fuel Depot in Allenwood, County Kildare. Paul supplies seasoned firewood and turf to Kildare and Dublin. He thought that it was more difficult to chop dried wood than fresh green wood. However he said that many woodmen still leave harvested timber uncut to season for a year, as it is harder to store when chopped. Presumably as they use machines to chop the timber any increased difficulty in chopping dry wood is of less concern.

Gerd Benndorf, County Kildare. A fellow engineer and good friend, Gerd, harvests his own firewood and chops it by hand. He said that in his experience conifers split easier when seasoned, but that wood from deciduous trees splits easier when green. He also said that he noticed that wood was easier to chop if the log was positioned for chopping in the same orientation as when the tree was growing.

Anyone else have their experience to share?

7 thoughts on “Fresh or dry. When is firewood easiest to split?

  1. I’m afraid there is as more in technique to chopping wood than there is might. My 80 year old grandmother could effortlessly chop a log into little pieces with an axe whereas no matter how much force I try at chopping the same log to no avail. Apparently, log chopping is something one has to learn to acquire the skill much like riding a bike. I’ll leave it to the experts. But to this day I’m still baffled at how peopl can chop a 1 foot log in one swing of an axe whereas I only get the axe stuck on it about an inch in.

  2. I have recently cut a big ash bough. I tried to split it immediately and found the axe difficult to embed in the wood. The blow seemed to rebound a bit as if the wood was rubbery. I did succeed though. After 10 days in good summer conditions, I returned to the job and noticed some star shaped shrinkage cracks. I found it easier to embed the axe in the wood, the hard rubbery effect was gone.

  3. Good to hear of all that sound British hardwood: “Hearts Of Oak……..

    In the Great North Woods of the New World, hardwood is a rarity, but conifers abound. They do have a lot of resin and seem to split easiest after 1 or 2 seasons of drying…….under shelter. Lots of rain is good for veggies but not fuelwood.

    The tool is important. Forget axes…….they are for cutting across the grain (good Boy Scouts NEVER “chop” wood…….ughhhh).
    You need a MAUL. I use a 6 lb’er for general work and a 12lb’er for stubborn logs and those with many knots. Keep them sharp (to start) and forget traditional wood handles…….plastic rules! Protect the shaft under the head with extra tape.

    To learn the knack: either wait until you are as old as that grannie, read up on Asian Martial Arts, or lead a pure life. Intelligent practice helps.

    Remember: “Firewood warms twice……..

    Thanks for the research. Happy splitting……………

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