How to Split Wood by Hand
If you want to split wood, start by forgetting the quaint old Westerns you have seen on the television. Splitting wood with an axe is done out of necessity, not preference, and it is an extremely dangerous method to use. The proper way to split wood is to use a steel wedge and a sledgehammer or wood maul (a wood maul is a special tool that has a sledgehammer on one side, and a specially designed axe head on the other).
Step 1 - Prepare
Clean the area you will be working in of obstructions. Small limbs, plants, chairs, or other items are potential trip hazards. The ground needs to be relatively level, so you have a firm footing for both legs when swinging. clear an area that is at least twice as wide as your maul (or axe) is long.
Step 2 - Use the Chopping Block
A good chopping block stands around 12 inches high, and is 10 to 18 inches across. Old stumps or sections of hardwood trees make an excellent chopping block. Never chop wood directly against the ground, The ground could result in both the maul and the piece of wood flying off at an out-of-control angle. Additionally, striking the soil will dull the cutting edge, causing you to work harder to achieve the same task.
Step 3 - Place the Wedge
Stand the piece of wood on end on the chopping block. Place the cutting edge of the wedge against the place you want to split. Holding the maul 6 to 10 inches back from the head, hammer the wedge into the piece of wood using the hammer side of the maul. Make sure the wedge is firmly seated so that it will not fly off when struck with force.
Step 4 - Drive the Wedge
Stand back from the chopping block with your legs spaced approximately 2 feet apart, and your lead foot slightly forward. Your lead foot is the one opposite of your strongest arm. If you are right-handed, lead with your left foot. Swing the maul in a long continuous motion from over your right (or left) shoulder down to connect squarely with the wedge. With practice, you can make a complete split with each stroke, but it may take two or three tries when first starting out.
Learning to Use an Axe
If using an axe to split wood is your only alternative, wear work boots. If you have never had an experience with splitting wood, wrap the axe head in several layers of cloth and practice for an hour or more. Go through the motions just as though you were trying to split wood. In the first few swings, you will discover why an axe is not the preferred tool, and gain a new respect for the padding around the blade. Until you are comfortable striking the wood to be split without the axe or the piece of wood flying off the chopping block, practice with a covered ax head.