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We’ve been burning more wood in the fireplace this winter than last, thanks to some colder temperatures, and have now reached that moment when the woodpile is down to those unwieldy chunks that I’ve been avoiding for a year and a half because they’re too heavy to carry in or they won’t burn well. So yesterday I took my wedges and splitting maul out to the pile for some splitting time.

Wood-splitting was one of my chores as a boy, although we used a double-bitted ax instead of a maul, and of course when doing an outdoor chore I am always reminded of my father, who passed away eight years ago this past week. He would have been horrified at the poor condition of my maul and wedges — I’ve not sharpened them in years — and would no doubt have reminded me that a poorly-kept tool doubles not only the amount of effort needed for a job, but the chances of an accident. But I labored on, recalling also Thoreau’s remark about how firewood warms a person more than once.

The natural world and its processes are easy targets for moralizing — isn’t that what writers have been doing since Roman times? But I’ll throw in a few observations about wood-splitting anyway.

It’s not so much the force but the accuracy of the blow that counts. That being said, even a well-aimed blow that doesn’t have enough power behind it won’t split the wood. You have to set your feet, figure your distance, then just swing from over your head with confidence that you’ll hit where you’re aiming. Half-hearted over-the-shoulder swings never work.

To preserve your back, stop every so often and pretend to inspect the woodpile. This task actually helps, because you can clean up your workspace and avoid stumbling over split pieces.

Never try to split through a knot. You end up frustrating yourself and chopping off weird-shaped chunks from a piece of wood that stubbornly remains too large. Turn the wood and split around the knot instead.

Thus Endeth the Sermon of the Wood-Splitter. And oh yes, I need to go to the blade sharpening shop down the street.

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