Safely splitting wood with thin knives

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Dave Budd

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Whilst writing an upcoming article for the website, I was reminded of a recent thread from a chap who managed to bend his knife by driving it through a log. I figured I would just throw up this little post to offer an alternative if you don't have a crowbar-bushcraft knife or axe.

I refuse to use the word 'batoning' to describe this practice. Batoning, is derived from the French 'baton' or 'stick', so as English speakers we could equally use the English word 'bludgeon' to describe the practice of driving a poor defenceless knife through a log, despite often having an axe (a tool literally designed for splitting wood) to hand. I don't remember this technique being common practice in outdoor pursuits before the modern bushcraft era (ie Ray Mears et al), but that could be rose tinted memories? There are (very) rare occasions, I grant you, that even I find that I have to split a piece of wood without an appropriate tool. I have in the past (as a child) even done this with a Swiss army knife, without breaking it.

The key is the power of the wedge. On a larger scale this method can be used to split whole trees or even rocks. In this case I grabbed a couple of seasoned sticks from my kindling pile, but even a green twig can be used quite happily and so requires no forethought and very little preparation. Simply make a small wedge (or two, or three depending on the size log). Your knife is designed for cutting and carving, not splitting; so use it to carve a wedge on a stick! This is literally 30 seconds work and will save your knife any potential damage, save potential strain to you hand/wrist and allows you to split larger pieces of wood than your knife might.

splitting a log1 by buddknives, on Flickr

Place the knife on the end of the log to be split, holding the handle loosely (gripping the handle tight can lead to damage or pain) and drive it in using a wooden mallet or stick (your actual baton!). Once you have sticked, sorry 'batoned' (roll eyes), the knife in as far as it goes, drive a wedge in behind it (rather than levering the handle, striking the tip or otherwise risking your knife). In this case, the log was not much wider than the blade length, but this method works with any diameter log.

splitting a log 2 by buddknives, on Flickr

The first wedge is driven in next to the handle where I know the log to be split in the correct place. As soon as it is tight and beginning the split, the second wedge is put in at the other end of the blade. The two wedges are driven a little deeper, opening the crack wider than the blade thickness and I can take my knife away to safety. A few more strikes on alternating wedges and the log is cleaved in two.

splitting a log 3 by buddknives, on Flickr

The knife used in this picture was made from a saw blade, so is less than 1mm thick. I could very well use this knife to cleave an entire tree without damaging it, just by making a few wedges with it first!
 

Robson Valley

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I like the knife. Just my style.

The concept of using wooden wedges to split wood is a good one.
I use western red cedar wedges for all my WRC wood splittings for carving.

If you're splitting firewood, look for small naturally occuring cracks in the end of log pieces.
These are lines of weakness to be followed.
 

Janne

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You might be correct, mr Budd, I have never seen ‘batoning’ before mr Mears.

I was myself told off by father when I started splitting a log using my knife.

Superb technique. And instructions.
Maybe a good idea to make two or three wedges from a hard wood ( oak?) and bring with you?
 

Toddy

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Honestly Janne, you don't need anything special to use as a wedge. Even a few wee stones pushed into the split and hammered down using another bit of stick will split the timber.
We did use knives to split wood, we called it kindling and spills. You can do it with a butter knife if you're aware of what you're doing.

M
 

Woody girl

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When working on the time team peat moors sweet track episode, we used wooden wedges and hand made mallets to split planks out of a huge oak to make the walkways on the reconstructed sweet track made purely for the episode.
In the episode it shows Tony and friends splitting off a plank in this manner (it went a bit squiffy as they didn't realy know the technique :) )
We had a great time experimenting with stone axes and other bronze age tech.
Sadly they edited out all the btcv crew and the peat moors staff except Guy out of the episode despite a whole weekend working at it filming it all.
So if it works on a huge tree trunk using wooden wedges and a batoning stick, it can for sure work for small logs. Save your knife and show your primative skills!
So sad I never became a tv star :) :) :)
 
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Janne

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Yes, but a hard wooden wedge will last for a long time!

Kindling is a bit different, a knife is fine.
It is seeing people splitting logs using knives which I find a bit upsetting.

There are two Dutch knife merchants that do it in a spectacular way. One of their tests if a knife is of a good quality.

@Woody girl , never mind being a tv star, you are our star!
 

Robson Valley

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Soft wood wedges work just as well and they do no mark the big wood surface.
Wooden wedges come in an infinite series. I don't care how long they last ( very long time.)
 

Woody girl

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[QUOTE="Janne, post:

@Woody girl , never mind being a tv star, you are our star![/QUOTE]

Ahhh so sweet! Thank you.

I'm glad I'm not a tv star!!!

It was a lot of fun working on the episode. Must admit to being hugely dissopointed when I watched the episode.
I was in a Johnny Kingdom episode though, so I got my 5 seconds of fame!
My son got about 20 seconds! Grrrrr!
I think there is a you tube clip of Johnny bolving from the series a year on exmoor showing my son. It cuts before it shows him bolving and getting a reply. Can't post link as I don't know how. But just type in johnny kingdom bolving to watch it.
It's a fun pass time in the autumn( as long as you are in a safe place!)
 
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Dave Budd

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nice photo set there John :) I've split large ash trees into bow staves (couple of dozen on one occasion) with nothing more than a hatchet and a pile of wooden wedges. Firewood and the like has been exploded with just a wedge pushed into a crack. I just hope the general bushcraft populace will start to ween themselves off this obsession with bludgeoning a knife through a log!
 

Broch

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I'm afraid we were battoning with full tang knives in the early 70's when Ray was still in nappies - he hasn't invented anything 'bushcraft'. The truth is, with the right knife (not stick tang) it's very safe and reliable and better than an axe to get the thin 1cm starting sticks:) But, like Dave, as soon as the log is over half the blade length I use a wedge.

Mr Burgess' method in the video above is about as dangerous as I have seen and the type of practice I discourage in my camps. Never ever hold the wood under the falling blade :)
 
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Paulm

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Wedges can be useful in some situations for sure, but in this case it's solving a problem you don't need to have, just use a decent knife in the first place, simples ! :)
 

Toddy

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It all rather depends on the 'decent' bit. I use little knives, but they are every bit as capable as a big one.
Since we're all posting previous tutorials, here's one of mine from nearly ten years ago :)
Had a heck of a time finding it on the old forum.
I titled it, With one wee knife.

https://bushcraftuk.com/community/index.php?threads/with-one-wee-knife-photo-heavy.39163/

Helle Polar, 70mm, triple laminated stainless steel, tanged blade.
Nice everyday knife, comfortable in the hand, easy to use and sharpen, keeps a good edge, I made the feather sticks without doing anything to the blade after battoning.......sorry no shaving, mother nature didn't provide enough arm hair for it to show :rolleyes:
I strop it and then put it in it's sheath when I'm finished.

The log is a bit of bone dry pine from the last meet up. Took me about five minutes in total.



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The log coggled at this one so I left it and went for the other side knowing I'd get the first side later.

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Once the cut is made a wedge battoned in helps break apart even the most stubborn of logs :)

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:D
Kindling ! :D

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Feather sticks, and small splints

IMG_8985.JPG

Stropping to tidy up.

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Knife in sheath :)
 
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Toddy

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If you're going to that bother, just use a froe,
It's a very good tool is a good froe. Just mind that you have to hold it down firmly enough so that you can hit it with a big stick and not have either bounce.
 
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Toddy

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I don't carry a SAK anyway, I do have a Laplander in my foraging bag though :) When you said saw, I admit that's the kind of saw I thought of.

I have a tiny, tiny little spyderco on my keyring though....and I can split a log with it, because I can cut a small slit and widen it using wedges, or stones.

Dave's, @Dave Budd original post is really clear :D shows just how to do it without any damage to the knife at all :approve:
 

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