Monday, November 8, 2010

Guest Article: The Maul and Wedge, by the Wandering Thinker

Today in the News:  We finally have our second guest writer!  I'd like to welcome The Wandering Thinker.  TWT has been active in the comment area of the blog, offering good advice and conversation.  He decided to write an article on the maul and wedge, two things I'm not that familiar with.  I really enjoyed his article and I think that you will as well.  He did a great job at illustrating his writing with photos.  I'd like to thank all of the people that have left comments.  I'm learning a lot from all of you.  If you're new, please don't hesitate to click "follow" in the upper left hand corner.  I'd eventually like to monetize this blog in an effort to be able to offer our guest writers rewards for writing contests.  If you click "follow", it will make that part of the quest easier when the time comes. 

Link of the Day: . Sticks65 offers up a triple-threat here.  From the main page, you can access his blog, youtube channel and forum.  I've just checked out the forum so far, but there is lots of good conversation happening.  Check it out!

The Maul and Wedge, by The Wandering Thinker

Also known as the Splitting Maul or Splitting Axe, the Maul is one of the primary tools used in splitting wood. Now it is common to use a single or double bit axe around the home but the Maul (and Wedge) was specifically designed for the job. Unlike the Axe, the Maul has a wide, somewhat blunt, and heavy head typically weighing 8 lbs that is used to split the log or bolt with the grain. The common Axe has a narrow, sharp, and light head that is used for cutting, chopping, and slicing.   

            For smaller jobs there is absolutely nothing wrong with using a light Axe. It is easier to swing all day and with a little practice, and wood free of knots, it is quite adept at splitting in one swing. However, with a Maul there is no need to twist the tool at the last second in order to keep it from sticking in harder or larger pieces. Its wide head keeps it from becoming stuck (usually) and also allows to wielder to put a groove in harder wood so a wedge can be easily placed. This is especially handy when dealing with grain irregularity or several knots, the Maul and Wedge split around and with these changes in the grain, where the Axe tries to cut through them.  The Maul also dose not create a lot of chips which makes it more efficient, especially when wood is scarce.

             A Maul is also notable for its long haft/handle ranging anywhere from 31-36 and the relative straightness of it. A lot of newer Mauls come with a slightly crooked end to help keep a better grip but most older ones are fairly straight because leverage is the key, not control and maneuverability.

Now, lets take a look at the Wedge and specifics of the Maul.
When dealing with any tool the most important thing if to make sure it is free of any damage. The Maul I used in the picture series has a nasty chip fairly close to the head which needs to be replaced before it is used, period.

 However the other two I had at my disposal were also damaged, one cracking and one completely broken, so I opted to use it for the series anyway (I was working with sap rot Popular so I wouldn’t need a lot of load on the haft). A good idea is to always give your tools with a coat of any petroleum based product before and after use, I prefer Liquid Wrench or WD-40 but anything can be used. I also recommend at least hitting it with a wire brush if there is any scale or rust build up, it just keeps it healthier longer and lets face it, some other people just don’t care about there tools and if you get it second hand there could be nasty chips or cracks hiding under the build up.

 Another thing to look for is ANY cracks in either the Maul or Wedges, the Wedges will typically have mushroomed heads on them if there have been used before and that’s ok, but any fractures in the body of either tool should be dealt with immediately. If you can fix them, DO NOT USE THEM. I can’t stress this enough because if either one is damaged there is potential for pieces to break off and hurt you or someone around you. Another thing to note is the condition of the edges. Neither has to be sharp by any means; in fact the one my father used for years was only touched up when he hit a rock. To condition the blade all that is needed is a few hits from a heavy/course file and a few from a medium one to get a consistency across the edge. You’re not looking for something sharp, just even. A mushrooming effect may develop on the edge of cheaper Wedges with prolonged use, which needs to be filled off and reshaped.
            The basic safety rules of using any Axe or sharp implement apply here, but there are two additional things to add. One, do not over work yourself! The head weighs 8 lbs for a reason; let it do its fair share of work. Two, make sure the surrounding area is clear because some hardwoods can suddenly give and send the halves flying in opposite directions. As always have a proper stance and use the haft as a distance guide. Too close and you’ll snap the head if and when you miss, too far away and you could glance off and either ruin the edge on a rock or get eight pounds of steel squarely in the leg (and it will shatter the bone).
            The first approach to using a Maul is quite simple. Place your piece level on firm ground, but not asphalt or concrete so you wont damage the edge if you hit the ground, find your mark along the grain, either already on a crack or at least without any knots in the top half, and give a few good, solid, consistent swings. With the old Popular I used I was able to get a very nice and flush spit in about three swings.

 The first few established the break and the last one split it almost effortlessly. If this doesn’t work after several swings its time to move on to the Wedge. Either place the Wedge in the indention already made or tap the wood lightly with the splitting edge of the Maul to make one and gently but firmly tap it with the flat side of the Maul until it stands on its own.

 With the Wedge square (don’t put it at too much of an angle or it could cause a miss or the Wedge to fly out) tap it in with increasing force until it’s secure and start hammering away.

 With hard woods it is common for the Wedge to become stuck before a full break has been made. If this happens lay the piece on its side a drive another wedge down into the split (at a 90 degree angle from the first, but at the furthest point from it). Once a sufficient break has been made the first wedge will usually fall out, but sometimes in large, well seasoned Hickory, a third or fourth Wedge will have to be driven in and the splitting edge of the Maul used at the edge of the split to force it apart. If the first Wedges gets stuck in the wood because the split has gone around it, simply hit near the edge of it (on the wood) with the Maul and it should break free.

            Another method of splitting with a Wedge is to lay the wood on its side (usually I do this with halves to avoid knocking them over, or if my end cut is not flush) and tap a Wedge into the end, then hold the piece with your foot and start driving it in. It is better to use this method in soft wood and stand on the side opposite your split (I don’t recommend this for halving). If there is a violent break you want to be on the side with more weight so it won’t be traveling as fast if it hits you. Watch your toes though if you’re using a lot of force to drive the wedge in it could slip and break your foot.

            A third technique (with the piece on its side) is to drive the Wedge in at a 45ish degree angle (going from bark to heart). This sends the force through the grain and from the Wedge to the ground, in the event of a blow out the smaller piece will have a tendency to travel down instead of out.

            I was going to find some general history and variations on the Maul, but my searches turned up nothing. I suppose its one of those designs you just don’t mess with. An interesting thought occurred to me while looking at a drawing of an old man splitting wood in our living room today. The reason an Axe is used so widely today for splitting instead of a Maul very well could be because the older Axes were more wedge shaped than today's. Does anyone have any comments on this?

Remember when splitting: “A sledge and a wedge, not an edge”.

That's all for today, folks.  I hope you enjoyed TWT's guest article as much as I did!

Pax Domini Sit Semper Vobiscum,

Mike, Oscar, Hotel....out.


  1. Great article, Kurt. Tons of great info and pictures! Good to see another guest writer here as well. :)


  2. Thank you! I'm glad to be doing it.

  3. Nice read Kurt - you settled a debate for us back home in regards to the mushroom head on our maul.

    Chris W.
    Ontario, Canada

  4. There is so much I can say about splitting mauls. I have been using the Gransfors Bruks for a while now, but its hickory handle broke after I accidentally run over it with my truck. I am planning to buy a new one and your guide is the best source of information I have found so far. The following post offers some of the best products:

  5. oohh nice article.very informative article .

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