Well, not really, but I’ll come back to that, although I was out splitting wood this afternoon. But first a little bit of history.
Shortly after I acquired my woodburner when I first came to France, I got hold of an hydraulically operated wood splitter. It’s more or less essential if you are burning serious quantities of wood because it costs a fortune to buy-in wood that has been pre-cut and pre-split ready for burning. I found mine on Le Bon Coin, the web site that everyone in France uses to buy and sell anything, as I have for many items that I’ve acquired since being here. It was a low-level model with a horizontal ram working at up to 5 tonnes pressure and was in as-new condition at what was a bargain price of only 125€.
I worked it pretty hard and it served me very well although towards the end of my ownership of it it began to play a few tricks, like allowing its ram to get stuck and not withdrawing it when I let the power off, often several times during a session, meaning that I spent almost as much time keeping the machine running as I did splitting wood.
The final straw eventually came when after its ram had become stuck the last time, a spreading oil patch appeared under the pump end of the ram, which caused me to decide that as it didn’t owe me anything given what I’d paid for it, the time had come to seek a replacement. I put it up on Le Bon Coin as ‘for spare parts or repair’ for only 25€, a price that was evidently much too low because the phone didn’t stop ringing until I removed the ad when it had been sold to the first person who saw it.
I’d already decided that acquiring another low-level model with a horizontal ram was a non-starter. I’d found that constantly bending down to pick up logs and operate the machine frequently became back-breaking and had decided that when the time came, I’d look for an upright one. This would also have the advantage that vertical machines work at higher pressures, meaning that I’d be able to split larger diameter logs, which tend to be a bit cheaper, with ease.
I came across two machines at the right price that would have met my needs perfectly over Christmas, but there has been another complication. Whereas a horizontal machine is small enough to fit in the back of my Ford C-Max, the same doesn’t apply for vertical ones, which are heavier and much longer even when laid flat. So if I had bought one of them, I’d have had to use a trailer to pick it up, and therein lies the problem.
Regular readers will recall that whereas my Kia Sportage, which is still in the garage, has a towbar fitted, the C-Max doesn’t because at the time I tried to fit one, I couldn’t get its rear bumper off. I’ll return to the problem and sort it out when the weather improves in the spring, but for now I don’t have a car to hitch my trailer to, and as the splitters in question were both some distance away from my home, I didn’t think that I could impose myself on my friends by asking to borrow one of their cars.
The problem will soon be resolved one way or another. The C-Max will have its towbar fitted in the near future, but in any case, the Kia has had its replacement engine installed which appears to be running well. So even if I can’t fit the C-Max’s towbar immediately on returning from the short holiday that I have planned for a few days time, at least the Kia should be available when I get back should I need to dash off to pick up a replacement wood splitter.
So how have I been managing in the meantime, you may be asking yourself? The answer is, without too much difficulty, as it happens, using an alternative splitting method, namely my trusty little hand-held axe. I usually only use my little axe for cutting kindling wood that I use to get my woodburner going when I first light it, but after I’d honed the blade on my bench grinder and found out how much more effective it had become, I thought I’d have a go at using it to split logs.
The logs I now buy in have all been pre-cut in lengths from 30 – 50 cm to go straight into my stove, but some of them are of diameters that I’ve found to be too large to burn effectively in it. That’s why I need a splitter, but I’ve been amazed at how many of them I’ve been able to split down using my little axe. OK, it won’t split large diameter logs of solid oak or even of ‘chataigne’ if they’re solid.
But I’ve found that many, if not most of them, aren’t. Closer inspection reveals that almost all of my logs, even the largest diameter ones, have acquired a split down their length while they’ve been drying, and if I can swing my little axe accurately enough to hit the split, many of them will fall into two pieces even just with one good stroke. And as soon as you’ve split them the once, they lose their strength and its an easy matter to reduce the log sizes down further.
Here are some shots from this afternoon that show what I’m talking about. They are of a fairly large diameter oak log that has a length-wise split which is quite clearly visible in the second image.
Here’s how it split down after a couple of strokes with my little axe.
But using my little axe hasn’t been without its problems. Initially I found that the surface of the concrete floor of my wood store was beginning to disintegrate as I split more and more logs. ‘How come,’ asked Victor, ‘If you’re using a chopping block?’ A reasonable question that any intelligent person might have asked, and the answer, of course, was that I wasn’t. I’ve now got a lovely one which is very effective at preserving my floor as shown in the above pictures.
I’ve also been a victim of my own stupidity. Yesterday I swung my little axe so far back over my head before bringing it down as hard as I could onto a recalcitrant log that I whacked myself on the back of my head. Blood was dripping down in no time, but even so in my pain and embarrassment I had to allow myself a wry smile. What if I’d managed to bash my skull in and had been found lifeless in the twilight with my blood on the back of the axe head and only my fingerprints on the handle?
Nobody would ever have believed that anyone could be so daft as to bash themself on the cranium and by now a man-hunt would probably have been launched throughout the Dordogne and beyond for the criminal responsible for the bloodthirsty act of despatching a harmless elderly English gentleman in the throes of his retirement. Who knows, I might even have made it onto the national television news 😉