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Kindling generally, and mini-mauls specifically

Discussion in 'Axe, Tomahawk, & Hatchet Forum' started by JackJ, Nov 7, 2018.

  1. JackJ


    Mar 10, 2005
    I heat mostly with wood, harvesting mixed hardwoods (red oak, beech, maple, poplar) from my and my neighbors' property.

    I currently collect branches and splitter trash for kindling, but want to start getting more so my wife and kids can do better at getting fires going quickly when I'm not home. (They seem to be missing my pyromaniac genes.)

    We do have a "Kindling Cracker" (the small one) that I bought for my kids to use, since it's safe. It works fine, but I like playing with sharp hand tools. So I also baton kindling with a Condor Bushcraft Parang. That too works well, but keeping a tool in each hand (parang + baton) makes it slow.

    So I'm wondering about the practicality of the hand mauls. I've more than once been on the verge of buying Estwing's Fireside Friend, but each time I pick one up at the hardware store, I shake my head at the weight. Seems like it'd be way to tiring to use for an extended period. Maybe not?

    So what about the Snow & Nealley Mini Maul, the Gränsfors Splitting Hatchet, the Husqvarna Small Splitting Axe, and similar models? (Fiskars has one too, and while I'm a big fan of their large mauls since they're the only ones I don't break, I'm more interested in something plastic free for this application.)

    Does anyone use these types of tool for making serious amounts of kindling? Would a regular hatchet do as well, the lighter weight making it easier to keep going and thus making up for occasionally getting stuck or needing an extra blow?

    Any tips on efficient techniques are also welcome. I imagine using a chicken stick to slice of 1 - 2" sticks from a larger piece, hoping to avoid resetting the wood between each blow.

    Thank for any insights!

  2. Mike Pierson

    Mike Pierson Proud Veteran Platinum Member

    Dec 22, 2017
    I use an axe and a medium long handled hatchet.
    Here is a YouTube link from WranglerStar, hope this helps ya out a little.
  3. jake pogg

    jake pogg

    Dec 20, 2015
    You've pretty much said it all yourself-for a household that heats with wood the incidental trash from around the splitting site is more than sufficient....(and keeps the area neater:).

    For kids though,i'd recommend studying the structurethe nature of what holds wood together...Learning as much as possible about grain,and knots,and which piece will split easily,and which never in life,and most importantly-WHY.
    As far as starting fires per se,maybe one of the many techniques of "fire-stick" will be more constructive?...

    I split wood into "kindling"practically(under 2") every day for an hour or more(i make charcoal with it,so every day to fill a 55 gal drum or two).
    I use a boy's axe,because it's light,and it saves on my aging physiology to Accelerate the tool,vs using Mass(just as you say about picking up a mini-maul...).
    I discard knots,by splitting my way around them...But the nature of the biz is that one must hold the billet with the other hand.I avoid injury(so far),by Always having my fingers pointing Down,never laying them Across the top of billet(like on a chopping block).So if i ever come close it's a glancing blow to the side of my hand.
    I do it for hours and hoursand of course "flying hours add up"so it's not something that i'd recommend for the young...And since positioning the billet for each and every strike hands-free will be very slow and boring,is why i'd recommend making it into a thoughtful process of study,what makes the wood stay together so well?How does it use this in order to oppose all the tremendous loads as it bends in the wind,or just stands out there,bearing it's own enormous weight....
    (i know it all sounds a bit goofy...:)
    crbnSteeladdict likes this.
  4. Maine20


    Aug 8, 2017
    I split kindling a few times a week during the burning season. I am not a fan of a standard hatchet for turning a normal chunk of hardwood in to kindling. It just seams a bit small. My current tool of choice is a council tool el lobo (1 3/4 lbs) with a 28 inch handle. I can swing it 1 or 2 handed and it has a thick bit.

    I would like to try a mini maul at some point.
  5. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    What you're describing is a handy tool that used to be common but to my knowledge isn't made anymore, a house axe. There are typically a 1-3/4 to 2 pound axe on a 19" +/- handle. I have several and keep one on my hearth for this work. I also keep a short piece of 4x12 beam there to act as a splitting block.

    A house axe has the same size eye as a boys axe. A worn boys axe head can easily be re-ground thin and sharp and re-handled on a house axe handle (which are still readily available).
    Trailsawyer likes this.
  6. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
  7. phantomknives


    Mar 31, 2016
    how can they call that a house axe?!

    thass not a knoife,

    nah this, this is a knoife
    Nbrackett and Jasper33 like this.
  8. Jasper33


    Jan 18, 2015
    For kindling I use a 2 1/2lb head on a 20” handle. I pick out pieces with straight grain that I know will split easily and I first try to split off thin slabs, under 1” thick. Then I choke up on the handle with one hand and start splitting pieces off the slabs as thin as I can. But eventually the axe gets closer to my holding hand so I switch to dropping the wood and the axe together, much safer I think. I have found I prefer this method using only one tool, which I can swing with 2 hands or one handed choked up, and has a heavy enough head that dropping it with the work will still split easily.
  9. A17


    Jan 9, 2018
    I just use whatever hatchet I pick up to split up fatwood. For plain kindling I filled 2 5 gallon buckets full of kindling from around my splitting ordinary wood....with a 25 ton splitter.:D Not very traditional but efficient. I still use a maul if I'm not rushing though.
  10. Square_peg

    Square_peg Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    Using a wooden maul with your house axe can help a lot. If you have access to a hard wood with a coarse intertwined grain that resists splitting than this will make a fine small maul. London Plane and Elm, and Black Locust are good choices. I like the head of the maul to be rectangular with rounded corners. 3-4 inches on a side and having an overall length of 16-20 inches. The handle should taper smoothly out of the head. Squaring off the connection between handle and head creates a weak spot that will surely fail. I have a few I've been using for years. I'll try to get a couple pictures up.

    Oh, and these are great for driving the wood wedge into an axe, too.
  11. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    The Snow & Nealley is nice enough that this past summer I brought one down to my family's camp to permanently reside there. It makes a nice combination splitter and mini sledge hammer, essentially. There are a lot of contexts where a mini maul can be quite handy. Bark, if gathered and dried, can really account for the bulk of your kindling, but it has to be really thoroughly dried to perform so well. Works great when done right, though. But when you need to generate materials that build nicely in progression of bulk going from smaller stove size into dimensions that are readily processed by things like a splitting knife or billhook, the mini maul does a great job.
  12. Smaug

    Smaug Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 30, 2003
    Jack, I think the idea behind the Fireside Friend is that you take one good swing with it to bury it in the log, then pound it through with a sledgehammer.
  13. Moonw


    Nov 19, 2014
    The hammer part should be hit with another hardened metal only if it is hardened itself - which the manufacturer does not state, so it's pretty safe to assume it isn't. It could rather be used itself to repeatedly hammer wooden, plastic or aluminium wedges all day.
  14. jblyttle

    jblyttle Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 3, 2014
    Actually the opposite is true. Hard on hard is when you start to risk chipping and creating shrapnel.
    FortyTwoBlades likes this.
  15. jblyttle

    jblyttle Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 3, 2014
    I was going to extol the virtues of a large hatchet/house axe, but I see that it has already been done. I likewise like a 2-2.5lb head on an 18-20" handle. In my opinion, regular light hatchet is frustrating to use for all but the most easily split woods. Even the house axe wont get them all. A boy's axe would also serve and also step in for some regular splitting. I'd also recommend some wedges and a hand sledge, but that would be more for general splitting, not as much for creating kindling.
  16. Moonw


    Nov 19, 2014
    I guess it depends how hard we are talking about? 35 (hmmm, this may actually be in the annealed state), 50, 60 HRC (in plain-carbon steel of course)?
  17. jblyttle

    jblyttle Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 3, 2014
    I'm not sure about details like that. I don't see even a hardened hammer approaching 60 HRC anyway. But this is why splitting wedges are left soft and mushroom over time. I have hit stuck mauls with full swings from an 8lb sledge and luckily nothing happened, but I stopped doing that once I learned that it wasn't a great idea.
    FortyTwoBlades and Moonw like this.
  18. Moonw


    Nov 19, 2014
    60 may be high, indeed, maybe too brittle. But then, so is the surface (backed by a shock-absorbing steel) that hits. Cross-section can compensate for brittleness. (I wouldn't be shocked to learn that the smaller hammers are left harder, while the bigger ones tempered lower.)

    At 45-50 HRC, the steel would indeed mushroom in time. Just like a softer knife edge would roll rather than chip (of course, we are talking about geometries so different, it isn't even funny).

    I think most things you're supposed to hit with a hammer are hardened to an extent that is a compromise between resisting plastic deformation and chipping (between hardness and toughness).

    FWIW, here's what Vaughan says:
    "Claw Hammers are hardened specifically to strike common (unhardened) nails, spikes and nail sets. They should never be used to strike hardened nails or tools such as cold chisels, punches or drills. Vaughan also offers hammers designed and specially hardened to handle these jobs.

    Ball Pein hammers (left) have a larger face, and wider bevel, and are not as hard as claw hammers. They are available with hickory handles in sizes to tfit the job from 4 oz. up to 32 oz. Hand Drilling Hammers are the hammer of choice for heavy duty use with star drills, cold chisels and brick chisels. the extra-large, beveled striking face is specially hardened to perform these tasks with a greater degree of safety!"

    In the end, this is all pedantic (as long as I can't provide anything more "scientific" to backup up my claims), and I guess everyone hit something with something else at one time and later regretted it :). Probably, most of the time, got away with it :D!
    Square_peg and Trailsawyer like this.
  19. JackJ


    Mar 10, 2005
    Thanks for all the helpful replies! Want to follow up on a few.

    I don't own a splitter at this point--I borrow or rent one a couple times a year to get caught up, and to handle the nasty pieces I can't persuade with mauls and wedges. Even then, two full days of splitter work yields a lot of great kindling with no added effort. Probably close to enough with the branches, bark, and stuff from manual splitting, if it were just me starting fires. But alas, while I love my family dearly, they're not terribly interested in putting thought into building a fire efficiently. They want heat with no effort. And since we do also have a gas furnace, they're more likely to turn to that when the stove is slow to get going.

    Never heard of the house axe before, but it sounds like exactly what I'm after. Is there anything distinct about the shape of the head compared to a typical boy's axe, or is it really just the short handle?

    Yeah, that one's a front runner in my mind.

    Thanks again for the help!

    jake pogg and FortyTwoBlades like this.
  20. survivor45


    Feb 15, 2018
    I guess my question for you is.
    Do you want to build your axe or just buy a tool ?
    I put this together for $10.00.
    Keen Kutter head. On a 19” handle total weight is 3 1/2 libs
    Square_peg likes this.

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