Camping Tip: A Safer Way to Split Kindling

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As any outdoorsman knows, dry kindling is a fundamental for building a fire. That said, splitting fine kindling from a larger piece of wood can be dangerous, especially in a backcountry setting. Far too many people (including me, at times) try the quickly-move-your-hand-out-of-the-way method of splitting fine kindling. But one slip of a sharp axe can result in significant injury. To avoid potential harm while generating dry kindling, try contact splitting, wherein your hands are never near the axe blade.​

Contact splitting allows kindling to be split while minimizing the swinging of an axe through the air. Instead, the length of wood and the axe are held and swung together, then hit against a stationary block or solid surface. Once impact is made, the cutting edge of the axe is driven into the wood, splitting it lengthwise. The process can be repeated with increasingly smaller pieces until the wood reaches the desired thickness and diameter of kindling.

1. To contact split kindling, first cut a round piece of dry hardwood 3 or so inches in diameter and 16 to 24 inches long. Place the axe along the wood lengthwise, with the cutting edge pressed into the top of the piece. Hold the opposite end of the wood tight against the axe handle. This will create a triangle of sorts, with the wood on the bottom and the axe handle forming the downward slant. (Seen above.)

2. Holding the wood securely centered on the axe handle and the cutting edge, lift the axe and wood together, then slam the axe-head end of the wood against a solid surface. This stroke will drive the cutting edge into the wood, splitting it.

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3. Repeat the process with split lengths, dividing each piece until the desired thickness is achieved.