Splitting wood takes both brains and brawn

Jerry Apps
Author Jerry Apps' son, Jeff, makes quick work out of this tree.

When I was a kid, with the fall harvest about completed, the granary bins full, the silo filled, and the corn cribs bursting with cob corn, it was time to take up an annual fall task—making wood. 

In our farmhouse, we had two wood-burning stoves—a kitchen cookstove, and a Round Oak Heater in the dining room. Another stove in the pump house kept the pump and the milk cooling tank from freezing. A wood stove in the potato cellar kept our potato crop from freezing.

On a cool November Saturday, when the barn chores were done, my dad and I, and sometimes with my younger twin brothers headed off to the woodlot near the house. An ax and a crosscut saw were our only implements. No fancy gasoline chain saws.

With our trusty team and bobsled, assuming snow on the ground, we hauled the cut branches and logs to a huge pile near our house, waiting for the day when we had a wood sawing bee where the neighbors helped us cut the logs into blocks.

Our next task was splitting the blocks into woodstove size. A task that required both brawn and brains.  Enough strength to wield a splitting mall, and enough brains to be able to read the wood, as Pa would say. 

By that he meant, studying a block before swinging the mall, and deciding the direction of the wood grain, and detecting knots that would make the splitting more difficult. After several hours of splitting, we had a respectable woodpile.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS:  Learn to read a block of wood, the same skill applies when meeting a  person for the first time.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to