Problems splitting a log, help needed

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Forum topic by FoundSheep posted 02-18-2018 09:53 PM 947 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View FoundSheep's profile


196 posts in 1223 days

02-18-2018 09:53 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question milling axe maul green

I have a question for anyone with experience milling/splitting/riving your own wood.
I wanted to get more into green woodworking, and I thought an easy first project would be making handles for some old tools (hatchet, axe, hammer, etc.)
I picked up a log from a local source, it is about 3 ft long and I was too late it is yellow birch. Following some instructions I tried using some wedges and a mail to split it in half. The first two wedges went all the way into the log with some difficulty, so I got 3 more. Those also went all the way in, and the log hasn’t split open.
I don’t really know what to do now. Has anyone had experience that can offer help?

-- -Will, FoundSheep Designs

20 replies so far

View Lazyman's profile


5374 posts in 2154 days

#1 posted 02-18-2018 09:59 PM

A better tool for that is a froe (just do a google search for froe). You use it to split from the end and basically follow the grain down the length. Without One, I would simply try using an axe from the end like you do when splitting firewood. Just place the axe head on the end grain where you want to split and use another smaller log as a mallet to drive it in so you have more control.

Edit: note that the type of wood makes a difference how easy it is to split which may be why you are having this problem in the first place.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View MrUnix's profile


8079 posts in 2966 days

#2 posted 02-18-2018 10:08 PM

You are trying to split it the wrong way IMO. Split with the grain, not across it.


-- Brad in FL - In Dog I trust... everything else is questionable

View patcollins's profile


1687 posts in 3632 days

#3 posted 02-18-2018 10:09 PM

Don’t know where you are located but frozen wood splits easier, so if that is an option its worth a shot.

View wichman3's profile


97 posts in 1388 days

#4 posted 02-18-2018 11:02 PM

Looks like the firewood I used to split; major pain in the butt.
Get a “wood grenade” (a type of sdplitting wedge, they are wider than a standard wedge). Use the wood grenade in the end of the log, in the already created split, as close as possible to one of the wedges already in the log (you are trying to retrieve the wedge at this point). Use the two wedges alternately to free the rest of the wedges.
When using the wedges:
1. do not drive the wedge all the way into the wood, leave enough space to a. tap on the side back and forth to remove the wedge before it’s stuck. b. place another wedge next to the first to create a “double wedge”.
2. Use the wedge in the end of the log first to try to define a split all the way through the log, so you can
3. Use additional wedges in the back of the log to force the log apart.

4. Remove all the wedges (good luck) and use a chainsaw to cut the log.

View Dan Wolfgang's profile

Dan Wolfgang

176 posts in 1574 days

#5 posted 02-19-2018 12:10 AM

Are you sure this is yellow birch? In the first photo, is that bark on the right edge? It looks deep and textured vertically, not smooth and banded horizontally, like birch typically is. Is it somewhat rotted around where you’re splitting it? Looking at where you’re “splitting” it… are you actually splitting it at all? It looks like the wedges have been driven in with there being no splitting action whatsoever. Is it that soaking wet, that you could drive them in without seeing any splitting? The wedges don’t really look like they’re inline, especially the bottom-most one of the top photo. If you are seeing some splitting at some point in the log, are you sure you were getting the logs into the split to help it along?

I’ve split quite a bit of birch by hand. Green or dry, it typically splits pretty nicely. As wichman3 wrote, work at defining the split in the end of the log first, then placing one wedge directly next to another, allowing you to control the split and work it open. When the first wedge falls out, again place it directly next to the other and work your way down, or maybe switch to the other side of the log to help it open there.

Of course that doesn’t help you now. I would work at creating a split on the end, and I’d use my splitting axe rather than the maul. I’d probably try to work off-axis of the wedges to split it into a thinner piece. That way, the piece with the wedges stuck in it will require less force to break apart to get the wedges out.

Alternatively, based on the end of the logs and seeing no cracks, It’d just set the log aside. It’ll dry further and maybe your wedges will help it split open where you want. With the wedges pounded all the way in you really don’t have any way to grab them to get them out. Let it dry for a year or two and maybe you’ll be able to split it with your maul then.

View Pogo930's profile


18 posts in 1410 days

#6 posted 02-19-2018 02:08 AM

Get a limb 4-5 inches diameter and chop 1 end into a 2 sided wedge shape with an ax. They should be 12-15 inches long. Use them to free up your iron wedges. They are called gluts, fancy ones have an iron hoop on the driven end.
Looks like you have twisted and/or interlocked grain. Looks a lot like elm. Heated with would for 30 years, always used a wooden handle wood splitter. Back then dead elms were free for the taking.

View msinc's profile


567 posts in 1270 days

#7 posted 02-19-2018 03:29 AM

Yellow birch???? Looks and splits more like sweet gum to me. I don’t know what it is that you intend to do with that, but it doesn’t look like a good candidate for lumber. Winchester made some gunstocks out of gum once upon a time and no one ever tried that again. It’s honestly not even good firewood. It will burn and it will make heat if you can get it split up. Whatever it is, wood that is useful for lumber either splits without using half a dozen wedges or it is no good.

View madts's profile


1941 posts in 3106 days

#8 posted 02-19-2018 03:40 AM

Cut some oak wedges and pound the shit out of it.


-- Thor and Odin are still the greatest of Gods.

View Ripper70's profile


1377 posts in 1675 days

#9 posted 02-19-2018 06:29 AM

That’s crazy! Soak it in gasoline, set it on fire and retrieve your wedges from the ashes.

-- "You know, I'm such a great driver, it's incomprehensible that they took my license away." --Vince Ricardo

View Wildwood's profile


2864 posts in 2901 days

#10 posted 02-19-2018 11:12 AM

Bought this style maul for lot lesss many years ago and will split just about any species of wood except Gum. Would check local stores for some thing like this style.

I stand longs on end and just go for it.

Good luck but don’t throw away your wedges if run into some Gum species!

-- Bill

View jdh122's profile


1162 posts in 3584 days

#11 posted 02-19-2018 02:28 PM

I agree that that doesn’t look like yellow birch. Birch is harder to split than oak, ash or hickory, but generally relatively easy, and I’ve never had wedges sink in like that. But you need to start the split on the end, putting your first wedge (or an axe) in line with the pith. Once the first one is seated, pound in a second, and even a third, all in the end of the log. Then, once the split starts to travel down the log, you can start putting wedges (or a glut) along the grain to drive the split further along. Of course some species are basically impossible to split – elm, box elder.
Have you watched this video by master Windsor chairmaker Curtis Buchanan?

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View lndfilwiz's profile


114 posts in 2367 days

#12 posted 02-19-2018 03:02 PM

That wood looks like Black Locust to me. I have split many Locust post and they are a pain. Follow jdh’s advice and use a hatchet to cut the fibers/stringers between the wedges. As for making handles for tool, Locust is not very good. It will continually give off splinters.

-- Smile, it makes people wander what you are up to.

View FoundSheep's profile


196 posts in 1223 days

#13 posted 02-20-2018 04:06 AM

Thanks for the advice everyone. Since there were a lot of good comments, I wanted to respond in kind.

Lazyman: My understanding is a froe is for when the log has already been split. The log is a bit big to split just with an axe on the end (I tried), but maybe I’m not doing it the right way.

Mrunix: The pictures may not show it well enough, but I am splitting it with the grain (as much as it would allow). The grain my be spiraling as someone else pointed out.

Patcollins: NW Florida, so no frozen wood these days.

Wichman: I’ll have to look for a wood grenade. That’s good advice to not drive the wedges in all the way (now I learn).

Dan: I was told it was yellow birch, but I think I was mistaken. As far as splitting it, there are some splits, but not consistent. I tried lining the wedges up, but the splits were diving off and weren’t connecting, and the wedges ended up tilting as well. I consider some of that to my inexperience. I’ll try working one of the ends, to see if I can get something started.

Pogo: Thanks for the idea about the gluts, I’m not sure where I’ll track down branches, but I’ll keep an eye out. I think you are very right about it being twisted/interlocked (I know conceptually the difference, but never had any experience with either). Of course not sure what to do now about it.

Msinc: When I was told it was yellow birch (which now doing a google image search clearly tells me otherwise) I was planning on doing some draw knife shaving with it to make handles. That plan may need to be revised now. That’s a good rule about “either splits without using half a dozen wedges or it is no good”, haha.

Madts: That’s the kind of experience I was hoping to achieve. I’ll look for some oak wedges, those may help. Thanks for showing the photos, that looks like a lot of work but a great reward.

Ripper: I’m hoping to avoid that, but as a end solution it may come to that.

Wildwood: That’s an interesting maul, I’ve never seen one like that but I’ll keep an eye out, especially if you’ve had good luck.

JDH122: Thanks for the good description, I didn’t approach it that way. My next time I’ll have to start at the end and work that direction.

Lndfilwiz: Whatever this log is it is a pain. I tried using my hatchet, but I was concerned about hitting the sunken wedges. I’ll give it another shot.

-- -Will, FoundSheep Designs

View FoundSheep's profile


196 posts in 1223 days

#14 posted 02-20-2018 04:10 AM

Thank you again for all the advice. I’ve stared at this log for several days and have gotten very demotivated. Hopefully I’ll be able to use what you’ve taught, and I have a (possible) path forward:

1. This isn’t yellow birch.
2. Get some wooden gluts. Drive them in next to the wedges, try to retrieve the wedges.
3. Start/guide the split from the end.
4. Use a hatchet to remove some of the fibers, and an axe to start the split.
5. Wait for the log to dry some more.

Am I missing anything? Besides just getting a chain saw?

-- -Will, FoundSheep Designs

View 000's profile


2859 posts in 1666 days

#15 posted 02-20-2018 04:18 AM

Thank you again for all the advice. I ve stared at this log for several days and have gotten very demotivated. Hopefully I ll be able to use what you ve taught, and I have a (possible) path forward:

1. This isn t yellow birch.
2. Get some wooden gluts. Drive them in next to the wedges, try to retrieve the wedges.
3. Start/guide the split from the end.
4. Use a hatchet to remove some of the fibers, and an axe to start the split.
5. Wait for the log to dry some more.

Am I missing anything? Besides just getting a chain saw?

- FoundSheep

I didn’t see the mention of dynamite anywhere :>/

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