Cutting Pinned-Down Saplings
A dangerous job that goes along with limbing is cutting off bowed-over saplings, whose tops have been pinned down by the fallen tree. Never cut them by giving either the top or the butt a whack with the ax from the outside. They can spring out like a catapult, with a force that can easily break a jaw or arm. The trick is to cut the bowed-over tree from the inside. If this is impossible, give the strained fibers on the outside a light touch with the ax to partially release the strain before fully severing the sapling.
Bucking means cutting a tree into log lengths or firewood bolts once it is on the ground. Often it is also necessary to buck logs that have fallen across trails. Most bucking is done with the saw, but there is nothing wrong with using an ax for this job. A good chopper can often buck a log in the same time it takes to set up a crosscut saw and use it to cut a log.
The beginning chopper should stand on the ground to the side of the log. Make sure you have firm footing. Take a wide stance and chop between your feet, turning your body in the direction of the ax stroke as you cut first one side of the notch, then the other. Again, keeping the handle parallel with the ground will prevent foot injuries.
For an experienced ax user, the proper position for bucking is to stand directly on top of the log and chop halfway through one side. Turn around and chop halfway through the other side to finish the cut. These two V-notches will meet right in the middle of the log (Figure 91).
Figure 91–Top view of the sequence of cuts made
by an experienced right-handed chopper standing on
top of the log. The final power stroke is offset slightly.
On logs that are small enough to be rolled over, you can achieve the same economy without standing on the log. Stand on the ground and chop a V-notch on the top, then roll the log over and chop a V-notch on the bottom.
Often it is necessary to chop a large log while standing on the ground. You must make a very large V-notch to chop all the way through from just one side. You also risk hitting your cutting edge on a rock as you finish the cut.
How wide should you cut your V-notch? The most common mistake is to make the V-notch too small (Figure 92). This pinches the middle of the V-notch before you reach the center of the log. You will quickly find that chips will not clear from a notch that is too wide. If a very large log is bucked, you need to make your notch narrow and then widen it out; the chips won’t clear if you start the notch much wider than 10 to 12 inches.
Figure 92–Size the notch close halfway through
the log if you can chop both sides of the log. If you
can only cut on one side, the notch will have to be
much larger (drawings by Frederic H. Kock).
On a large log you increase the size of the notch by chopping out one side. Always remember your high, low, and middle technique for placing ax blows. Make three forehand swings, high, low, and middle, followed by three backhand swings. If you are standing on the log, your first swing should strike high at the top of the log; the second at the bottom of log; and the third right in the middle. If you follow any other sequence, the ax will stick in the wood. The last stroke, stroke number six, throws the chip on the ground (Figure 80).
The wood to be split is cut into stove lengths that can be anywhere from 12 to 24 inches long. Stand the wood on end, either on the ground or on a chopping block, if the wood has been cut straight with a chain saw or crosscut saw. If the ends are uneven, the wood needs to be placed in a crotch of a downed tree to hold it upright (Figure 93).
Figure 93–Safe and unsafe techniques for
splitting wood (drawings by Frederic H. Kock).
You should have a designated splitting ax. Its blade should have a much steeper angle than a felling and bucking ax. Take advantage of existing cracks or checks in the wood to help direct your first blow, because the first split is generally the most difficult. Swing straight down toward the top of the block. Use your body weight, with your knees snapping into position just as you hit the block of wood. Give the ax handle a slight twist just as the bit hits the block (Figure 94). This throws the block of wood apart and prevents the ax from sticking. The real secret of splitting wood with an ax is in this little twist right at the end of the stroke.
Figure 94–Twist the ax head as it enters the wood to
keep it from sticking (drawing by Frederic H. Kock).
On a knotty, gnarly block of wood you’ll need to start your split from the outside edges and slab off the sides. Inevitably, your ax will become stuck in the block you are trying to split. The best way to remove it without damaging the ax is to rap the end of the handle sharply downward with the palm of your hand without holding the handle.