The Zen of Chopping Wood

Originally at Simple is Working – 8/8/11

Over the past few weeks I have had several sessions of chopping wood. Strangely enough this is something that I rather enjoy (yes I know that I am weird).  It is both physically taxing and you have to be mentally focused on what you are doing.

Splitting wood is both an anaerobic and an aerobic activity and if you attempt to hit each log with all your strength you will wear yourself out quickly.  There is a technique and rhythm that you develop and learn as you split more and more of the wood.

When using a splitting axe, you have to be completely focused on where and with how much force you want to strike the log with.  If you miss hitting your spot or lose focus for a moment, that lack of focus may result in some pretty good bruises or even scars to your leg (I do have a couple from when I screwed up in the past and the axe hitting your leg hurts). So there is an element of risk when you are chopping wood if you are not paying attention.

Whole I am out splitting wood, I am totally in the moment. As I grab each piece to split, I look at each log and attempt to read the grain and to see if there are any pre-existing cracks that I can attempt to hit and make splitting the bigger pieces easier.  Doing this makes your work easier, instead of just trying to muscle through the wood.

There is something very satisfying about being able to strike the wood and with one blow split the wood, I still don’t always do it, but I am starting to do it more and more as I am getting better at reading the wood and getting muscled into actually doing the work.

There is immediate feedback about whether you have hit the wood correctly or not and you can see the unsplit pile shrinking and the split pile growing.  The sharp crack of a proper hit is one of those sounds that you never forget and when you hear it, you know the result.

While you take rest breaks and you will, you notice the ants, spiders and other bugs crawling around the wood piles, bees and wasps flying around the yard, birds flitting around the downed tree branches, squirrels chattering at you.  You are more attuned to what is going on around you, because you have been so focused – at least this has been my experience.

Chopping wood to me is much more than simply doing a physically demanding task to get it over with and get wood in for the winter.  It has become an opportunity for me challenge myself to split a piece of wood with one deft strike, instead muscling through the wood with several hits.  I certainly am not a master at chopping wood, but I am improving.

But chopping wood will warm you twice and I have a few more cord left to go, to work on that one hit split.   🙂