Splitting Logs for Lumber

Not everyone needs a saw mill to cut some lumber. If you find yourself out in the woods needing a bench, bridge, or even to build a small camp, all you need is an ax. It’s really amazing what you can do with an ax in the woods and this one is worth knowing just to amaze your friends.

Cut down your log of choice preferably one without a bunch of branches. This won’t work well on hemlock because the branches work like wood pegs holding the log together.

Some woods like hemlock can give you trouble because of the branches and knots. Hickory can also give you trouble because of its strength. If you plan to cut a lot of wood, I would try splitting one before you decide to cut any others down.

Oak works great but just experiment with wood varieties. Try and look up the tree and assure that it’s not twisted. A twisted tree will produce twisted wood when you split it.

You will need a good ax, preferably a felling ax, and a splitting maul. I also like a selection of plastic wedges to help with the splitting process.  That’s about it or supplies, unless you are new to these types of skills. If you are new, get some safety equipment: gloves, glasses, leg guards, and steel-toed shoes.

Once you’ve picked your tree and cut it down, you need to stabilize it so it can’t spin, slip, or rock. Standing in front of one end swing your felling ax about  six inches from the end to split it down the middle, get a split started enough that you can get a wedge to bite. Tap the edge of the wedge with the back of the splitting maul until it won’t go any further. If the log starts to split just keep working the wedges in with the back of the splitting maul. If it won’t go easily straddle the log so you face the wedges and use whichever ax works better to open the split then drive the wedges in further. Work the wedges down the line until you split your log in half.


If you need to, you can prop up one of the halves and split that in half to get a board. Secure it by pounding in two stakes then prop the board against it. Use two more stakes and drive them in against the log to hold it in place while you split it.

I would also recommend taking off the bark with your ax. Leaving the bark on can cause your wood to rot if kept out in the elements. If you plan on letting the wood stack for the season in a dry place, stick some wood slats in for spacers. After a year, the wood should be dry enough to be used for fine wood working.

That’s all there is to making your own boards. This skill has many applications that can entertain or save your life. You could make a few of these boards and quickly make a shanty in the woods at just the cost of nails.