Wood Heat

The Dirt: My favorite wood splitter

There is a saying that there is a tool for every job, and that is as true in homesteading as it is anywhere else.  When we first got started on this adventure, we were a little overwhelmed by exactly what tools we needed, which products offer the best value for our money, and which ones to stay away from altogether.  To share our experiences, we plan to do a series of product reviews that we are calling “The Dirt”, where we will review the best and worst of the homesteading products that we have tried.

Today, I am highlighting one of my all time favorite tools…the wood splitting axe.  Specifically, the Chopper1 Axe.  With the winter over and us being solidly into our springtime routine, it feels like an odd time to be writing about splitting wood.  But, such is life in homesteading.  No sooner are we through one winter before we start preparing for the next.  Spring is actually a great time to split wood, giving your logs plenty of time to season before you need them to burn clean and hot when the cold winter sets in again come fall.  In fact, I have not yet finished all of my wood splitting for next year, and I am feeling a little behind about it!

The Chopper1 Axe is made by a small company in Phillipsburg, NJ, and is one of the toughest axes that I have ever used.  I use this for almost 100% of my wood splitting needs, except for making kindling, where I use a smaller, lighter axe, or sometimes a hatchet.  This ends up being about 3-4 cord per year, consisting mostly of oak, beech, and maple, including logs that are 24″ or more in diameter.  Most of my neighbors use hydraulic splitters, and they wonder how (or why) in the world I do all of mine by hand.  In addition to my sheer love of splitting wood by hand, this axe is my secret.  Here are a few specific reasons that I love it…

1) It can split almost any piece of wood – The axe uses a simple technological enhancement in the form of spring loaded wedges that, when the head strikes a piece of wood, exert a tangential “sideways” force that greatly enhance its effectiveness.  With a little experience in knowing where to strike a piece of wood and a little technique in how to swing a slightly heavier axe (more like a maul than a standard splitter), this axe is capable of splitting all but the most gnarly and knotted logs.

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Figure courtesy of www.Chopper1Axe.com

2) It is extremely durable – This is one seriously tough tool.  From the solid head to the finely crafted wood handle, everything about this tool is built to last.  The only part on the tool that has failed in all of my years of using it is the springs that attach to the wedge.  I break about one per year, which are cheap enough that I just keep a bunch on hand and won’t have to worry about it for another 10 years or so.  This is actually the same kind of axe that I grew up using…my Dad still has his, which is >20 years old at this point, and it still works as well as the days that we chopped wood together when I was still a little boy.

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My Chopper1…a little weathered and rusty (shame on me), but always ready to work

3) Not only is it made in the USA, but it is fairly local to us – It is really important to us that we support local family owned businesses.  This is a great opportunity for us to do that, with the benefit of getting a great tool that will last a lifetime.

At $90, the Chopper1 is a little more than you will pay for a regular wood splitting axe at the local hardware store, but the extra money is well worth the splitting power and the durability of the axe.  If you split your own wood, and enjoy doing it by hand, this axe comes with my highest recommendation!

Chopping Wood, the “5 Why’s”, and a Window to My Soul

While modern homesteading is becoming increasingly popular, this way of living is still fairly divergent from today’s norms.  As a result, we get asked a lot of questions about what our motivations are for doing it.  Our drivers for this choice are many, but one sticks out above the others…quite simply, we love it!!

I was reminded of that one night this fall while chopping wood (yeah, that’s not a mistype, I chop wood at night since there is not enough time after work before the kids go to bed, and weekend days are rare). As I “day”dreamed that night, I realized why it is that I enjoy homesteading so much and, in that, found a rare glimpse into the “window of my soul”.  I know, sounds corny, but it’s true.  While seemingly fleeting, I have found myself able to reproduce the experience a few times since, giving me deeper insight into what drives me, what makes me happy, and why I behave the way that I do.  The ability to understand and embrace what makes you truly happy seems to be very hard in today’s world and is, I believe, a major reason why we have so many “successful” people who are depressed and miserable.  They are good at what they do, but don’t enjoy it or find meaning in it, leading to many years lost pursuing someone else’s path.

Anyway, here is my story, and some thoughts on how you might do the same for yourself. One night, I was chopping wood by the glow of my Husky work spotlights.  It was getting cold, and I was tired.  I found myself asking “Why the hell AM I cutting wood at 10pm?  No one else that I know, nor anyone in their right mind, would be doing this.  Why don’t I just go in and kick on the electric heat?”. It didn’t make sense on the surface, but yet I didn’t stop and I didn’t go inside.  Why?  In addition to the wood heat being mostly free and evenings being the only time that I have to get anything done around the house during the week, I realized how much I just enjoyed splitting wood.  The mental exercise of setting the log up and positioning for the best strike.  The tension of raising that axe to take a swing at a big log.  The satisfaction of the head hitting the intended mark with precision.  That nearly musical crack of the log splitting in two (or three, my favorite!).  The fulfillment of seeing the wood piling up and knowing that it will bring heat to my house and my family.  The burn in my arms the next day after getting a good physical workout. Surely, these are all great reasons to split wood, but is that really all there is to it?  Or was there another, deeper reason that I was out there that night?  I found my thoughts drifting to my day job, and was reminded of a problem solving technique that we often apply called the “5 Why’s”.  At a very simple level, when you have a problem, you ask yourself why it is happening (Why #1).  Once you identify some potential causes, you ask yourself why those causes happened (Why #2), and so on and so forth until you reach the 5th level of why’s, with the answer to the last why being close to the “true” reason that the problem happened.  I started thinking about this in the context of my wood chopping, and found some pretty interesting things out about myself.

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It went something like this…

  1. Why do I like chopping wood?  Because I like the way that it makes me feel.
  2. Why does it make me feel good?  Because it requires accuracy and makes me feel strong.
  3. Why do I like things that require accuracy?  Because it is a challenge to hit the right spot.
  4. Why do I like the challenge of hitting the right spot?  Because it reminds me of sports.
  5. Why do I like sports?  Because I am competitive.

So, one reason that I like to chop wood is that I am competitive.  Through this same technique (diagram below), I also found that I like to chop wood because I am:

  • family oriented
  • a provider
  • a tactile person
  • driven by order
  • goal oriented
  • a solitary thinker

I now understand why I enjoy so many of my other hobbies that align with these attributes, and why I don’t like some other things that do not align.  I have also tried this same techniques on other things that I like in order to expand the list of my core attributes.  With this increased self-understanding, I can now be much more selective about life decisions.  I can pick the things that I know will make me the happiest, even if they are not the typical things that I am told I should do.  Like homesteading!

So, what can your hobbies tell you about yourself?  You might be surprised how easy it is to find out, and how powerful knowing yourself can be.  After all, you can’t expect to find satisfaction if you don’t know what makes you happy in the first place!