How to Split Firewood...With a Knife





Introduction: How to Split Firewood...With a Knife

Hi Folks! Welcome to my first Instructable!
First of all, this method was not originally my idea. I noticed that there was not an Instructable on this subject, and I decided to make one. Feel free to leave tips, suggestions, or questions in the comment section.
This technique is known as Batoning, and it is most useful (in my experience) when splitting thin pieces of wood for kindling, or for when the surface you are splitting on is not completely level.
From Wikipedia: This technique is useful for the simple splitting of wood for kindling, to access dry wood within a wet log, and for the production of shingles, slats, or boards. It is also useful for cutting notches, or making clean crosscuts against the grain of the wood. Batoning requires much less energy to perform than chopping, which is helpful in survival situations where energy should be conserved. The technique is also especially useful when a chopping tool is not available.

Step 1: Gather Materials

Safety First:
Eye Protection

Work Gloves (I'm not using gloves because it was hard to work the camera with gloves on)

Sturdy Shoes

Splitting wood can be a dangerous activity. I am not responsible for any injury to yourself or others as a result of this method. Be Careful.

A stump/sturdy surface

A log to use as a club/hammer
Should be easy to hold and swing with one hand

A fixed-blade knife
The knife you use should have a thick spine, and a grippy/secure handle.
Do not use a kitchen knife; do not use a folding knife. Both will probably break.
The blade of the knife needs to be longer than the diameter of what you intend to split
Warning: There is the potential that the blade of your knife will break off into the log. I have never had this happen to me, but just beware.

Wood to split: Should be cut to size to use in a fire.

Step 2: Positioning the Log

Select a piece of wood you wish to split.
If you can, stand the piece of wood vertically upright on the stump/platform you are using. If not, hold the piece of wood upright in you right hand and press down on the wood with your knife in your left hand, so that it doesn't fall over. You can then remove your right hand and retrieve your club.

Note: You want to be holding the knife in your non-dominant hand. If you’re left handed, hold the knife in your right hand and the club in your left hand.

Step 3: Splitting the Log

Tap the spine of the knife with the to get it firmly lodged in the log. Once it is lodged hit the spine of the knife again with a series of hard swings until the spine in below the top of the log. Now, hit the tip of the knife repeatedly until the log splits. You can continue doing this with each log half that you split to get pieces small enough to use as kindling.

Step 4: Tips and Troubleshooting

Firmly press down on the handle of the knife as you are splitting. This will help keep the tip of the blade traveling farther than the handle. If this does happen, hold the log at the top in your hand press down on the handle to attempt to even it out. If that doesn't work, hold the log at the top in your hand and hit the handle of the knife with enough force to make the blade and handle even.

Step 5: Thats All!

Have fun and be safe!

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    25 Discussions

    Some more stuff here to assist in filling the gaping holes in my knowledge!

    Many thanks

    As gpay10 said, this is a variation of Tew and Froe. For a really useful, perfectly weighted, handsome and easy-to hold Tew (mallet), go to your local bowling alley and ask for a discarded bowling pin. I've been using one for years to split small chunks.
    Works perfectly. Great Instructable. Thank you.

    Before you start, carve a few small wedges of different widths so you can tap in one or more into the split behind the knife. This can be to help split it, or to just get the blade unstuck by taking the pressure off of it.

    Well written Instructable. Also many good comments. I first learned of this technique from a Roy Underhill (The Woodwright) book. Roy used a small hatchet. I've used my hatchet (one with a metal shank works nicely) to split kindling for years. It's a fairly safe method to make small pieces and your hands are well away from cutting edge.

    As others have mentioned, this is a pretty risky thing to do, for all but the most robust and sturdily-built knives. Still, it's a good technique to know about in an emergency, though ordinarily you should use a hatchet instead of the knife.

    If weight is not a consideration (which it would be to some backpackers), there is also a tool, sometimes called a Wood Grenade, that is made of hardened steel & shaped like an ice cream cone with a flattened top. You stick the pointy end in the center of a short log, hit it with a HEAVY hammer, and the wood splits, usually in several pieces at once. I make my kindling with it, using a small sledge (several pounds weight). Works better with dry, seasoned wood, obviously.

    For those who didn't grow up with a wood stove, you should know that there is an UP and a DOWN side to splitting wood. The grain is further apart closer to the roots, so you should turn the wood UPSIDE DOWN from the way it grew, to make it somewhat easier to split. Also, starting your cut in a radial crack (if there are any) saves some elbow grease.

    And SHARPEN your ax or hatchet, if you use one, regularly. Saves lots of time & work, and lessens the chance you'll have a tragic accident.

    Us old timers call this, using a "Tew and Froe" the log or wood mallet, is the "Tew" and the skatchet blade is the "Froe". the Froe looks like a long thin hatchet approx 2" x 10" that is sharpened along the entire upper edge. It is held with the handle up and blade down upon the wood to be split, it is then struck on the Froe end opposite the handle with the Tew. shingles and rails used to be made this way as well.

    As author states, do NOT use a folding knife! I broke my Leatherman on a piece of maple about 4" diameter by 3-1/2" long. (I wanted smoke wood for the BBQ.) I was using a stick about 1-1/2" thick for the baton. I was just amazed when I realized the blade of the Leatherman broke!.

    I sent the tool to Leatherman with exactly this story AND THEY REPLACED IT! So, I'm not gonna do that to the Leatherman again but I have to say this was warrantee above and beyond my expectations!

    Heavy, full tang knives are best suited for this. The rat-tangs of Kabars can break under higher amounts of stress. Great 'ible. I'm surprised no one ever wrote about this.

    1 reply

    I was just coming here to say this as that is what happened to me and my Ka-Bar that I bought 30 years ago. It was heartbreaking.

    Good instructable. Just as you warned in Step 1, a few months back my blade broke off into a log. It was an inexpensive knife, and the company replaced if for less than the original price. I now know not to attempt this with a knife of any sentimental value.


    4 years ago

    I think it was Nesmuk that said, "Never use a knife when you can use an axe." But if you gotta this is the way to do it. Also note that knives that have a distal taper (get thinner from the hilt to the point) are weakest near the tip (ie fighting knives like this Ka-Bar). And nothing says you have to start the split in the middle, I guess you could split of just a bit from the outside and work your way in. It would be easier on the knife too.

    being a montanan knowing what to take with you hunting\fishing\camping\anything is vital to potential survival situations. batoning is great, but use a hatchet instead of potentially breaking your knife. bring a small saw to save time and energy as opposed to relying on your hatchet. basic stuff really

    You have made an awsome instructable, very useful for me and great a great time of yr for this post!!! 5stars! You're great thanks yo!!! i wish you a happy and warm holiday season!

    Thanks for the very clear and good instructable. However I have to go along with other to say that this is a rather "emergency only" practice and not to be used in hard wood or in logs with knots. My personal thoughts on this skill: "Know it but don't use it"

    Batoning with a knife is
    and should considered an
    emergency means of
    splitting wood when you have to a fire to survive otherwise use a small hand axe or hatchet

    1 reply

    I came here to say the same thing - also smacking the tip of the knife with a log is a bad idea.

    If you've got a saw to cut the logs, you've probably got an axe for splitting them.

    Don't forget axes aren't all for splitting

    It should be noted that the warranty on a kabar does not cover batoning. This doesn't mean that I wouldn't do it. I would. I bought a kabar specifically because it is a tough knife. Just as PossibleFire mentioned the tang narrows at the handle. Batoning is hard on a knife. Again, I would still do it in an emergency. But try to limit this and NEVER pry your knife sideways to assist in the splitting process. That is asking for a busted knife and kabars ain't cheap.

    Very clear instructable. This seems like it would work on non-complicated logs that don't have serious knots in them. I don't have anything like a kabar but I do have several short machetes that I use a lot and keep sharp. Good job on the instructable!