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Monday, September 18, 2017


This Cranky re-run is  from September 2014

Several years ago, when Spencer was about seven…(holy Hannah, he just got his drivers license so it was more than several years ago.)

Whatever; years ago a neighbor gave me some firewood.  He did not have a fireplace and he had just cut down an eighty year old white ash tree on a property he was developing. This neighbor, I called him Big John because he was 6’ 6” and was at one time was the leading scorer for the Seton Hall basketball team, dropped off 35 huge logs into my backyard.  Each log was about four foot across and just the right length for a fireplace.

I left the logs in the back for over a year to season.  They burn better when seasoned and they are also easier to split.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out that white ash is a very good tree for fire wood.  This tree being old was extra dense.  A single log fired up easily and burned forever.  This stuff was like gold for anyone with a wood-burning fireplace.

It was not easy to split.  Even when dried out it was not easy to split.  Each giant log had to be split into four smaller logs which could then be split into two fireplace sized logs.  I split two of the original huge logs every week.  It was good exercise, and good bonding with my seven year old son.

I had not split wood before, but I had seen pictures of it being done.  A big brawny guy takes an axe and with one whack one log becomes two.

Not, I soon found out, with four foot in diameter 80 year old white ash logs.  No, to split these logs it took a maul, two sledge hammers, and multiple wedges. 

You start with three wedges through the middle of the four foot wide log and whack them until the big log splits in two, then one wedge to quarter the log, and finally the maul to split the quarters into two fireplace sized logs.

I started the wedges with a little sledge hammer we named “Little Baby.” Once in place a standard sledge “Big Baby” was used to pound the wedges.

Spencer was my helper.

“Spence, hand me ‘Little Baby’ so I can start the wedge.”

“Spence, give me ‘Big Baby’ and watch this split.”

Soon Spencer started the wedges with “Little Baby” which he swung with two hands as I held the wedge delicately in place ready to release it quickly if “Little Baby” was missing its mark.  Fortunately that was not often.  Spence handled “Little Baby” pretty well.
Little Baby
I would then ask for “Big Baby” to pound the wedges in.  When the log was about to split, I would sometimes let Spence do the honors with “Little Baby.”
Big Baby
There is nothing, and I mean nothing as satisfactory as the sight and the sound of a log splitting in half.  It is an adrenaline, testosterone rush! When Spence split a log you could almost see chest hairs grow.

It took a full summer to split all those logs, and two years to burn them.  I would only burn one a night.  They started quickly and kept other logs of lesser quality going.  When I visited people who had a fireplace, I would bring along a log or two instead of a bottle of wine.  Those logs were much prized.

It may look like work splitting wood, and in fact if you did it all day it would be a great deal of work, but for an hour on the weekend it was great exercise, and a great way to bond with a seven year old boy.

I expect some day many years from now, Spence will be splitting wood with his young son. I can hear him now,

“Hand me ‘Little Baby’ let’s get this wedge started.” 


  1. love this Joe. SD is still cutting down trees and splitting logs with his Dad who is now 81. I love watching them work together :-)

  2. I also get the same rush from a neatly stacked wood pile as a sparkling batch of filled jam jars on the cupboard. I didn't any chest hairs though ...

  3. I love the smell of wood, especially when it burns. It's more comforting than coal.

  4. White Ash is excellent firewood? That's good to know.
    This is a lovely post, a sweet read. I'm imagining Spencer's pride as he helps you with Little Baby.
    My dad had a Little Baby in his tool kit, but I never knew what he did with it. He was a plumber/gas fitter.

  5. A fire warms you twice; once when you split wood and once when you burn it. Your fires warmed you for a lifetime of wonderful memories.

  6. All the ash trees in these parts are dead due to an insect called the Emerald Ash Borer. I had no idea that it was good firewood.

  7. Wonderful memories! So many lessons in doing such work together.

  8. My back hurt just reading this. . . ;)

    That's still a lot of work, even an hour at a time. I tip my hat to you, and yer boy. . .

  9. Wow! Sounds like a lot of work. I'll still with my holographic fire.

  10. My bil split all the wood for the wood burner in our log heated studio. For 33 years. Eventually he bought a log splitter. I remember annual "grandma camp" consisting of an assembly line of of children, handing him logs and stacking the product. Good for all involved. Good job with little Baby. Tom's long splitter was Big Red.

  11. Great memories with Spencer splitting wood Joe, he will remember this bonding time you shared with him from now on, yes I agree that he will pass along what he learned to his own children. I enjoyed this post Joe.

  12. Ash is the absolute BEST when it comes to fire and heat. I heated my first apartment with ash but you're right, splitting the big stuff takes extra work. One dirty little secret I found is that seasoning wood makes it easier to split .... with the exception of ash. That stuff splits easiest when still green AND it takes half the time to season that most other varieties do.

    I do miss the logging, for about 15 years I felled, cut, and split the firewood to heat our home. Unfortunately I had no assistants .......

  13. This was a sweet post Joe. Didn't know how much was involved nor the tools needed. Love the idea of the two of you working together on such a manly task.

  14. I never had access to whole logs, so I had to buy firewood every year, a chord delivered and stacked at the rear of my property. On a cold winter night you could step outside and your eyes would burn, there was so much firewood being burned in my neighborhood. Eventually the cost of the firewood, the mess of cleaning out the firebox after just a few fires, and the termites that inevitably showed up in the woodpile, and sometimes our houses, caused many of us to throw in the towel and get some gas logs for our fireplaces. I do miss the "snap, crackle, and pop" of a real wood fire, but the convenience of gas logs is hard to beat. I'm not sure if that's "progress" or not.

  15. I've done that before and it is hard work. But it's good work to do with a son.

  16. We heat with wood and Jack says he doesn't need a gym membership...cutting, gathering, splitting, stacking, loading the wood furnace. I help..I dump the ash bucket. It's the least I can do...literally! You're welcome to visit with a log any time!

  17. I like gas fireplaces. You just flip a switch.

  18. My cousin did the chopping and the splitting, and delivered us a couple of truckloads each fall. It was extra income for him, and something outdoorsy to do. I don't know if he had a Little Baby and a Big Baby. He offered to stack it, too, but my dad liked to do that part himself.

  19. This is a really good idea that you have going on. manufacturing