As any experienced fire builder knows, a good fire depends on good tinder and good kindling. Thus, the ability to split kindling from the proper species and to the proper size is crucial to building great fires that establish more quickly with only one strike of a match. Personally, I’ve been building fires and splitting kindling all my life, and so I have experimented with different methods. In this article, we will outline a few common methods, and I’ll tell you why I like or dislike each. Finally, I’ll tell you the best (by far) method of splitting kindling I have come across and why I absolutely love it (spoiler alert: It’s a kindling splitter).
Let’s start with the most common method, which is also the worst.
Worst: Splitting Kindling on End
Reliable and proven
Can cut split even stubborn species.
You WILL eventually hurt yourself
Can be frustrating and difficult to land hits accurately
We’ve all done it before: Splitting kindling on end. Why not? It is by far the most obvious way to split. Well, as anyone who has tried this knows, the smaller a piece of wood gets, the more difficult it is to stabilize and stand on end. At that point, one of two things will happen. Either you will try to stabilize it with your hand and eventually miss and hurt yourself, or you will try to stick it to the end on the axe and pound it against a log. The first method is an absolutely horrible idea, unless you like hospital bills. The second method can work, but it is slow, energy intensive, and requires repeated accurate hits. Hitting it down the wrong way can cause the log to fly off or misalign on the blade. Overall, it is just a poor and frustrating way of splitting kindling.
Decent: Splitting From the Side
Safer than splitting on end
Requires excellent strike accuracy
Not easy to split difficult species.
Maybe you have heard of this method, maybe you haven’t, but it is a favorite for many. Because you don’t need to balance a small piece of wood on end, it is inherently safer than the previous method, and if you land your hit right, you can split in one strike, as the axe needs less travel to sever the wood entirely. However, this method introduces a problem of geometry.
When you stand a log on end, you are always striking the flat end of the log. When you sit a log on its side, however, you could be striking a very angled surface, which can easily deflect the energy of your strike and cause the wood to go flying off, superman-style. This is particularly true with difficult to split species like hardwood. Of course, some choose to still stick the wood to the end of the axe and pound it against the log, but it can be difficult to even do that! So even though it is the favorite of many, I don’t consider it the best way to split kindling. Far from it.
Absolute Best: Using a Kindling Splitter
Very safe and incredibly easy
Splits any species
Incredibly forgiving when it comes to strike accuracy
A bit of an upfront investment
Using a kindling splitter (like this Kindling Cracker shown) is by far the best method of splitting kindling that I have come across. It is safe, incredibly easy, and always results in the perfect kindling sizes.
Basically, a kindling splitter is a wedge that you can secure to the end of a small log. You then attach or hold the logs against the wedge and gently pound them with the end of an axe (or even hammer if you want to be extra safe). Not only does this almost entirely eliminate the need for super-accurate, controlled hits when splitting, but it gives you absolute control over where the wood splits, allowing for optimum-sized kindling.
The best part is that it works for any species! I am going to say that again because it is so important: With a kindling splitter, you can make perfect kindling out of any species.
Here is why that is so crucial. To build a fire you need heat, fuel, and oxygen. Generally, the fuel and oxygen aren’t the issue when building a fire. Proper fire building is mostly about building up the heat. The best firewood species like maple don’t ignite easily and require a a fire with a fair amount of heat to burn. On the other hand, species like cedar produce low amounts of heat, but also ignite easily. Thus, cedar is often used to stoke up the heat of a small tinder fire until it is ready for better, higher-heat logs.
But what if you could cut maple or other hardwoods to sufficiently small pieces so that they readily ignite with little heat? If you can do that, your fire can establish much more quickly than it otherwise would. That is the key to a great fire, and that is where kindling splitters shine.
Cedar splits easily. You can whisper to cedar about what an axe is, and it will sever. Not so with maple and birch. They are much harder to split, and they are difficult to get to kindling sizes. Kindling splitters make it super easy.
Check out how small I can get these pieces of sugar maple. Look at that and tell me those aren’t going to ignite and create a hot fire with just the help of some newspaper or birch bark:
That’s why kindling splitters are the best way to split kindling. They give you total control of your fire resources, making your life oh so easier.
The biggest (and probably only) downside to these is the cost. The Kindling Cracker pictured here (which you can get here), costs about $90 at the time of writing. However, cheaper versions do exist. What makes the Kindling Cracker different is the ring around the top of the wedge, which helps to prevent your tool, the handle of your tool, or your hand from smashing against the blade in the event of the miss. With that extra element of safety and longevity, I consider it superior, especially if you have a family with multiple people using it.
Whichever model you choose, I highly recommend you give one a try. You will never start a fire the same way again.