9 Jun 2010 - 11:42 AM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

I split my splitter. To turn huge chunks of wood into a useable size for the cooker or heater, you need a block splitter. And mine, after too many over-hits (where the handle hits the wood as much or more than the blade) finally succumbed to the force.

I’m learning more than I thought possible about splitting wood. And chainsawing. My little Wood Boss chainsaw, which I thought of as a gnarly, big-toothed machine when I bought it last year, isn’t up to some of the logs I’m cutting. It feels like I’m attacking hardwood with a paper clip. Seven or so slices through a log and the chain is blunt, this greenhorn handler worn.

It’s hard work, using a chainsaw, with lots of bending and crouching and you certainly need your wits about you. Touch anything hard and they’ll kick back. Have your head/shoulder/leg in the way, and it could be that which is sawn. I bought myself some chaps, special overpants that will clog the chain blade if I ever get unlucky enough to wield the saw near my leg.

When you order logs for firewood, as my pommie neighbour found out, they aren’t little logs like they have in the UK. They’re the trunks of trees. And these trunks need cutting up and splitting. The Wood Boss doesn’t quite make it through most of these. In fact, to cut a big log with a small saw is a bit like scoring an orange, running the blade around in a circle. Problem is, in the hands of a novice that circle starts to become a spiral, never quite meeting on the other side. Which is fine, if you like extra work, because not only do you have to cut again, or use a crowbar or wedges to prise the pieces apart, you also end up with wonky surfaces that send chips flying when being split, or that wobble on the block.

Once the logs are cut into rounds, in my case short rounds that will fit the cooker, they need splitting. Anybody who does much of this kind of work will have a mechanical splitter. I have what looks like an axe, with a heavier head. You wield it over your head and attempt to strike a crack in the timber.

A kindly neighbour gave me some advice. After I’d spent two days with the splitter bouncing off any log that didn’t already have a crack. Two days of spine numbing reverberation, feeling like a cartoon character where the vibration of the splitter ends up with the vibration of the person holding it.

First thing he reckons is to cut from the root end. For some reason, this makes it easier (I guess in theory the grain of the timber is looser at the fatter end). The other is that you don’t try to force a small piece of metal into the centre of a piece of hardwood. There’s just no give. Try hammering a nail into stringy bark compared to soft wood. No, what you don’t do is try to cut the rounds into wedges like you would a cake (that must be my chef training). You take chunks off the outside. That way the timber has room to move slightly as the metal head of the splitter forces its way in. Work your way around in a circle, and the disk of wood is suddenly much smaller in diameter. Eventually, then, you can get the splitter into the middle to break it up.

The most important thing I’ve learnt, however, is that a good splitter, like my new one with its fibreglass handle, is a lot easier to use than a blunt old one. Leaving me with enough energy to stack the wood afterwards.

You need more energy than I can muster in this game. Especially if you want to do things in a satisfying, hands on, old-fashioned kind of way, like picking apples for the pigs. At an orchard where they didn’t spray, I picked up nearly half a tonne and loaded them into the ute. The possums, wallabies, parrots and goodness knows what else have been raiding them each night. Still, there’s enough to give the pigs some extra roughage, and Maggie gets a few just for being her.