If you rely on firewood for primary or supplemental heating during the colder season, at some point your wood is going to get wet.
One question that many people ask is whether or not wet firewood is safe to chop. Some people swear the wood is easier to chop, while others say it is harder.
So is chopping wet firewood safe?
Generally, yes, it’s safe to chop wet firewood. Depending on the species of wood, it might be a little easier or a little harder than normal, but is not inherently more dangerous – so long as you handle tools carefully and safely.
That being said, depending on your preferences, the species of wood you are chopping and what tools you have at hand, you might be facing an easier or harder time processing your firewood.
It is good to have a backup method on hand in case you run into trouble, so we’ll tell you about six methods that will allow you to reliably chop wet wood in the rest of this article.
The Characteristics of Wood Change When it is Wet
Wood is an inherently unique material. One of the defining characteristics of wood is its ability to absorb and retain water.
When wood absorbs moisture, the fibers start to swell and move, however subtly. The degree of change depends on the species of wood.
This change in volume can actually cause significant shifts in the grain, and this is why we see warping and cracking over time in wood that has dried out completely, or been exposed to moisture repeatedly.
Understanding this characteristic gives us a clue that our firewood is likely to “behave” differently when we try to chop it while it is moist or totally wet.
Like most things, there are pros and cons.
Wet wood is often tougher to chop since the wedge shape of axes and mauls encounters more resistance from the swollen fibers and the water they contain.
On the other hand, the moisture acts as a natural lubricant when cutting using a handsaw or chainsaw, and won’t slow down a power splitter at all.
The species of wood, as mentioned, can also play a role. Some woods, like hickory or oak, are already quite tough when dry and are usually easier to chop when wet.
Softer woods like cedar or pine may be harder since the water makes the fibers even more flexible. It’s like trying to cut wet noodles!
Overall, the characteristics of wood, even previously cut wood, are dynamic and significantly affected by changes in moisture content.
Regardless of the wood’s inherent characteristics when wet, assuming you have the proper tools for cutting or chopping you can still get the job done.
We’ll give you some options for taking care of business in a bit, but first we need to talk about safety.
Is Chopping or Cutting Wet Wood Really Safe?
When chopping or cutting wood, it is always important to follow strict safety procedures to minimize the risk of injury.
This is even more important to stay safe when working with wet wood or in a wet environment.
The specter of danger that seems to hang over this topic is not because the wood is wet, necessarily, but because you and your workspace are likely to get wet in the process or are already wet.
Wetness means a loss of traction, and no traction means no grip. Losing your grip- hand, foot or workpiece- can mean injury or disaster.
That’s why some people are so skittish about chopping wet wood. So long as you can ensure you can maintain control when working, you won’t have any issues.
Consider the following before you get after it.
One of the most dangerous aspects of chopping burned or wet wood is that it can be slippery and prone to skidding out of the cutting path of your tool, leading to overcorrection or a miss and then accidental injuries.
This is particularly common when wet wood is also resting on a wet surface.
To reduce these risks, it is essential to wear standard safety gear, including tough gloves and protective eyewear.
In addition, it is important to stand on a stable surface where you won’t slip and use a sturdy chopping block or stump for stability.
When cutting wet wood with any tool, always keep your movements deliberate in order to prevent accidents.
Be wary of overcorrecting or rushing as this, combined with wet conditions, can lead to mishap when it otherwise wouldn’t when it is dry.
Even with something like a power splitter where the tool does all the work, you could conceivably stumble into the path of the tool and be severely injured.
Complacency kills! Take your time and be sure of your footing.
Finally, be sure to clean up your workspace periodically in wet conditions.
While chips, cuttings and slivers might not normally be an issue on dry ground, in damp or wet conditions they can contribute to a loss of footing or control.
With these tips in mind, anyone can chop wet wood safely and efficiently. Now, let’s get to the business of actually chopping it.
6 Ways to Chop Wet Firewood
If you’re new to chopping firewood, the axe is the traditional and flexible tool to start with.
It also takes on new life when chopping wet wood that is tough to work with when it is dry, like oak. You’ll find chopping it with your axe much easier when it is wet!
There are a few things you should know, particularly if you want to chop wet firewood.
First, always use a sharp axe or hatchet. A dull blade will not only make the job harder, but it can also be dangerous since it increases the risk of deflection.
Second, make sure the log you’re chopping is supported on a raised but steady, level surface.
You don’t want it rolling away or skittering off while you’re trying to cut it, and you don’t want to chop wood near ground level if you can avoid it; you are much more likely to hit your own feet.
Finally, be aware of your surroundings and your position, and make sure there is nothing in the path of the axe that could be harmed in case of a miss or deflection (including you!).
Many people enjoy the satisfaction of chopping their own firewood the old fashioned way.
Not only is it a great way to get some serious exercise, but it can also save money in the long run since you won’t need fuel for a power tool.
When it comes to processing a bunch of firewood by splitting it, you’ll hardly do better with a manual tool than you will with a maul.
A maul, or splitting maul, is a specialized tool that is designed for splitting wood along the grain quickly and easily.
Compared to an axe, a maul head is wider and has a pronounced wedge shape that gives up some cutting performance in order to excel at this single task.
When used correctly, a splitting maul can make quick work of even the toughest logs.
The safety procedures for using a maul are identical to those of an axe. Here are the steps for chopping firewood with a splitting maul.
Start by positioning the log on a level surface. If possible, elevate the log so that it is slightly higher than your waist.
This will make it easier to swing the maul with accuracy while generating enough force to split the wood.
Start your swing with the blade of the maul at the center of the log – the bullseye.
With both hands on the handle, raise the maul over your head, and then swing it down smoothly and with force.
The momentum of the maul will cause it to split the log into two pieces. You should notice it will do so far more reliably than an axe in the same conditions.
Compared to axes, mauls tend to be heavier and so will tire you out more quickly. So long as you capitalize on its greater efficiency (fewer swings to split) it will save you time in the end.
If you are starting your chopping chore on a large log, or if you don’t mind taking a little longer on a smaller one, you can use wedges and a mallet.
You can split a whole log right down the middle with a few wedges and some gentle tapping.
While it may seem like a daunting task, splitting firewood this way is actually quite easy if you have the know-how and some patience, and it is one of the safest ways to split wood, wet or dry.
Here’s what you need to do…
First, gather your supplies. You’ll need splitting wedges (preferably one for every few feet of the log), a sturdy mallet, some protective gloves, and of course, your log.
Next, find a level spot on the ground to work on. Another perk for this method is that it can be done safely and effectively at ground level.
Lay the log on the ground, and then position it so it won’t roll away or move as you pound on it.
Place the first wedge on top of it a little ways from one end, and use the mallet to drive it in well until it’s about halfway in. Pound it in until a split visibly starts to spread.
Then place the second wedge at the end of the split made by the first and repeat. Do the same thing with the remaining wedges, and keep going until the entire log is split in two.
Keep in mind you might need to remove wedges and reinsert farther down the line, or pound them deeper to split the log all the way through to the opposite side.
Once the log is split in two you can start the whole process again to further bring it down to size or use an axe or other tool to finish processing it.
A handsaw is a common tool useful for making crosscuts on smaller diameter branches or young trees that you plan on burning as whole logs of firewood.
It is particularly useful for cutting wet wood and you’ll often use it in conjunction with a splitter for processing so you can fit your logs into it.
It also happens to be quite a bit safer (and slower) than using a chainsaw or axe for the purpose.
A mishap with a sharp handsaw can still deliver a nasty cut, but usually nothing like the severity of the other tools on this list.
Even so, there are a few important steps that must be followed if you are planning to cut firewood using a handsaw. The first step is to know what you are getting into!
Hand-sawing turns into one heck of an aerobic workout. Softwoods, such as pine or spruce, will generally be easier to cut than hardwoods like oak or maple whether they are wet or dry.
I’m not saying you can’t saw hardwoods by hand, only that you must allot enough time for rest and recuperation.
Once you have your wood of choice, begin by making sure that your saw is sharp and in good working condition. This will ensure smooth, clean cuts with minimal effort.
Next, you should make sure you have a work surface that will hold the wood securely without letting it roll away. Note that reducing movement or “wobble” will make the job much easier.
A jig, miter box or even a pair of forks on some saw horses will help immensely.
Then, start sawing, taking care to support the ends of the log if necessary to avoid kickback.
Once all of your firewood has been cut to length, you simply need to trim away any knots or branches if required.
Following these steps should allow you to easily prepare your wet firewood for burning with nothing but a simple handsaw.
If you’ve ever needed to process a ton of firewood, you know that it’s not a job for just any tool.
Particularly when chopping or cutting hardwoods, manual tools make for a long day of backbreaking labor and exhaustion.
That’s why most pros and amateurs alike make the chainsaw their tool of choice to cut firewood.
However, as you likely already know, operating a chainsaw can be dangerous, especially when working in wet conditions (again, the wet wood won’t impede the chainsaw in any meaningful way).
As always, it’s important to follow some basic safety guidelines: proper safety gear, including gloves, goggles, cut-resistant chaps and hearing protection is a must.
When cutting the log, make sure to keep your limbs well away from the chain and cutting path.
Also make sure the area around the log is clear of debris and you have solid footing before you start cutting, and never try to cut through knots or dirt-encrusted wood.
These can damage the chain or cause the saw to kickback violently. Once your workspace is set, it’s time to actually start cutting.
You’ll want to start it up, apply throttle, hold the chainsaw securely with both hands and then begin moving it in a shallow arc as you work it into the wood.
Make sure not to rush or move too quickly, as this can lead to an unsteady cut that can easily veer off course or cause the saw to jump out of the log.
Maintaining steady pressure and a straight path will ensure that you get clean and consistent cuts every time.
Finally, once you have finished making several cuts, it’s important to shut the saw off and clear away any caked wood pulp from the blade.
Since the wood is wet, it will likely stick to the teeth instead of being blown clear. Not the end of the world, just something to watch out for.
With a little care and attention, cutting wet firewood with a chainsaw can still be a safe and easy task.
Splitting wood can be a laborious and time-consuming task, especially if you use a heavy axe or splitting maul.
Chainsaws can make short work of the job, but they are quite dangerous and make plenty of people justifiably nervous. Fortunately, there is an easier way to get the job done: using a powered log splitter.
These powerful machines utilize hydraulic power to drive a large blade into wood (or the wood into a fixed blade) with immense force at a relatively slow speed, effectively splitting the log in a second or two.
Although they are usually more expensive than other splitting methods, powered log splitters are more efficient at processing huge quantities of wood quickly and with minimal effort.
It is also possible to fashion one from a salvaged motor and other materials if you are crafty. They are also completely unaffected in efficacy or safety should they be used with wet firewood.
There are only a few steps that are involved in effectively splitting firewood with a log splitter.
The first step is to measure the wood you will be splitting, as the size and density of the logs can affect performance depending on the capability of your splitter.
Once you have your measurements confirmed, put on some eye-pro and set the desired split height and adjust any other settings as needed, such as speed of operation or activation settings.
Most users set the splitter to run continuously so they can focus on loading. Then, just start by loading your logs onto the splitter, taking great care to stay out from between the splitting parts.
Your split logs might need to be manually removed, or they might tumble off on their own depending on the design of the machine.
If you’re looking for a fast and reliable way to split logs, consider investing in your own log splitter and putting the power of modern technology to work for you.
Once you get a taste of how reliable and easy these splitters are to use, you might have a hard time going back to other methods.
Chopping Wet Firewood is No Problem
When it comes to chopping wet firewood, you don’t need to worry about the wood itself posing much of a problem, or hazard.
Some species of wood might be a little harder to chop or cut, or they might be a little easier.
Just be sure to take some safety precautions and you’ll be fine no matter what tool or method you are relying on.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.