In the 21st century, homeowners, property managers, farmers and outdoors-people have countless technological gadgets to help them manage – or otherwise live off – the land.
From emergency generators and snowblowers to brush cutters and floor sanders, getting things done is quicker and easier than ever.
Acknowledging this, many of us nevertheless will occasionally opt for low tech solutions: the garden hoe, the machete, the chisel and, yes, the axe.
Sometimes these basic tools just work better. At other times, using human strength and dexterity satisfies the soul as it conditions the body. The chainsaw gives way to the axe – for chopping and for splitting.
How Wood Grows
Although axes can apply to other materials (not too many, hopefully!), their primary medium is wood – i.e. the limbs and trunks of trees.
To examine a cross-section of one of these segments is to discover an array of concentric rings. From the center project rays – like radius lines – as spokes do on a bicycle wheel.
In trees like the basswood, for example, each trunk ring roughly corresponds to one year. Rings are formed by the changes in growth rate between wet and dry seasons. This is why tropical tree rings are barely visible, if that.
How Wood Gets Cut
Wood can be cut from multiple angles but the two most effective ways are tangential and radial. Go to a lumber yard and peruse the boards and planks on sale.
If you can see the wavy pattern up and down the piece of wood, you are looking at a tangential cut: the cut was made at a tangent to the grain. Alternatively, a radial cut is made along the rays – those “spokes” noted above.
Using the lumber example again, a board from a radial cut will look striped because the wood is cut at right angles to the rings. The pland cuts through the rings rather than along them.
The same principle applies to axes. Splitting makes radial incisions while chopping does so tangentially.
When you want to fell a tree, you would not try to split it from its highest extensions to its roots. More logically, you would cut horizontally at the trunk. This is the act of chopping.
Certain axes are fashioned for just this kind of movement. Constructed to penetrate against the grain of the wood, a chopping blade is (or should be) very sharp and narrow.
Whether you chop horizontally – as to fell a tree – or verically, like when shortening a log, you want to make your way through the wood with as few strokes as necessary.
Splitting logs is almost always a verical action. With downward motion – ably assisted by gravity – the splitter cuts along the grain of the wood to section a log into halves, quarters etc.
Such axes are designed to deliver maximum penetration with each blow. Because of the cutting direction, a well-crafted splitting axe should ideally separate the log in one stroke.
To achieve this, the heavier weight of the head must be in optimal proportion to the sharpness of the blade and the strength of the handle (often called the haft).
Whereas a chopping axe needs a streamlined head to overcome grain resistance, the splitting axe must offset sharpness with the force of weight to separate wood fibers swiftly and completely.
Talking with an arborist or landscaping expert will help you select the right axe for your needs.