Split Wood – Twisted Grain
Today Will and I cut and split more wood for our tiny cottage‘s little woodstove. Two of the logs were maple, one was ash and two were what we know as ironwood but is officially Ostrya virginiana or Hophornbeam – news to me. Tree identification – by leaves in the summer and bark in the winter – is one of the homeschool units we do with the kids.
The logs were buried under about three feet of packed snow so I was glad to have the tractor to dig them out. They have been drying up on the top logging landing since a little over a year ago. Because of the snow I couldn’t drag out the whole logs so I just cut off 20′ sections and brought them down to the tiny cottage for blocking up with the chainsaw into stove size pieces. Will was eager to use the saw again to practice his new skills. That went well. While he cut wood I split.
The splitting was going fine until I got to the blocks cut from the last ironwood log. Usually the ironwood splits easily. Not this time – the splitting axe just bounced or stuck. Whereas normally each block of wood would split with just a single blow these were taking ten to fifteen blows. I was sorely tempted to get out the sledge and wedges but persisted.
I finally figured out the problem. The tree had grown twisted so that within the 18″ length of each block the grain twisted about 2″ to 3″ around the vertical axis. This caused the force of the splitting axe blow to rotate and dissipate. An interesting problem. I finally figured out to strike each piece once on the far edge and once on the near edge to start the fractures along the hard outer edges of the wood. Then I worked the middle of the block with a couple of strikes to split it. Once the block had its first division the subsequent splits to quarters were easy.
Ironwood: Hophornbeam, Ostrya virginiana. … The wood is very hard and tough, but not very useful to man. Fruits are small, bladder-enclosed nuts that look like “hops.” Farmers in Europe used similar species to make “yoke-elms” or “hornbeams” for oxen. The seeds are eaten by grouse, quail, pheasants, and ptarmigans. Deer and rabbits eat the twigs.
–Fox Island Alliance
My guess is that this tree had branches primarily on one side. Perhaps a lightning strike, open clearing or another falling tree had caused this asymmetry. The prevailing wind, or maybe gravity, had spun the tree as it grew creating a ropier log than the usual straight grain that is so easy to split. I’ve seen that before but never so dramatically as in this log. Looking at this effect, how easy it is to split the demi-block and thinking about ropes and cables raises a very interesting point of physics about the fraying of said items and where their strength lies along the strands of the outer fibers.
With our huge old Sam Daniels wood furnace in the cellar of the old farm house I rarely split the logs so it wasn’t as much of an issue. The furnace would take logs as big around as 14″ and twice the length of our new smaller stove. With the little Vogelzang wood cook stove we split almost all of our logs and use a lot more kitchen wood.
For some adventures in snow creatures hop on over to Ben‘s latest blog post.
Outdoors: 27°F/19°F Overcast, 2″ Snow
Farm House: 61°F/48°F
Tiny Cottage: 72°F/49°F Cut & Split wood (5 – 20′ x 10″ to 14″ logs)