As our weather turns colder, this homesteader’s heart and mind turns to managing the firewood pile. That includes cutting and managing a lot of kindling. I started last time with a discussion of the importance of kindling in the post The Firewood Supply: Kindling. I’ll continue those thoughts here.
Cutting kindling is finer, lighter work than splitting rounds. While a full sized splitting ax works, I prefer a child’s ax, or even a hatchet (see A Child’s Ax Can Do a Man’s Job).
(If you can’t see my short video above, try viewing it on YouTube, here. The commenter who suggested using tongs to hold the wood has likely never cut kindling in his life—one would never get the job finished!.)
If you have the choice, always cut your kindling from straight grained wood. Your wood stove will need a variety of sizes of wood for different heating needs, so it doesn’t make sense to try to wrestle a warp-grained or knotty round of wood into kindling. Set it aside for burning, and find a straight-grained piece that will pop apart easily with lighter blows of your ax.
The basic kindling split involves holding your ax with your dominant hand and steadying the wood with the other. Hold the wood lightly about halfway down the wood’s length, or at least 6-8 inches from the top. Brace the butt of the wood on your chopping block. Tap your ax blade into the wood until it “bites,” sticking into the wood.
Lift the ax and wood together, then swing the ax short and lightly to tap the butt of the wood on your chopping block. As you begin your down swing, release the wood with your holding hand. This is important—for maximum safety, you should not be touching the wood at point of impact!
If the wood doesn’t split into kindling, repeat the process, always coordinating your holding hand’s release with the down swing.
You’ll soon be popping small chunks of wood into lovely, straight sticks of kindling. How far you take them down is up to you. I often succumb to the “potato chip effect,” splitting smaller and smaller until some of my kindling becomes mere splints. That’s okay, as these can light with a match, and be used like long fireplace matches, but if you chop wood in harsh weather, as I often do, I try to leave this fine work for inside. I keep a small round of wood and a hatchet near the firebox for last minute adjustments to kindling when necessary.
Some will tell you that wet wood is easier to split, but I’ve never found this to be true. A well seasoned piece of wood will practically burst apart under an ax. Seasoned wood is also lighter, reducing the labor involved in moving the rounds into position and stacking your finished work. Also, since you’ll be using it to start a fire, you’ll want your kindling bone dry. Unless you’re cutting kindling for next season, or have no other option, don’t bother cutting it from wet or unseasoned wood.
Generally, softer woods work well for kindling. Hard woods burn slower than soft woods, so they have the place of honor in a woodpile, but in the initial fire, you want something that’s going to catch easily and burn in a hurry. If they’re a bit pitchy, they’ll catch even faster.
If you don’t take your kindling inside immediately, be sure to store it out of the weather. The fine-cut wood will absorb rain or snow a lot faster than bigger rounds.