1Get a good ax and make sure it’s sharp. Having a quality, sharp ax is key to a successful split. Zdon recommends a 36-inch handle with a 4-pound ax head (Zdon used a Best Made Co. Felling Ax for this demonstration). As an unofficial test to see whether or not the ax is sharp enough, cut through a piece a paper. If the cut is clean and easy, you are good to go. “Or you can use your arm,” Zdon says (to shave the hairs) — though that isn’t recommended.

If your ax is dull, use a sharpening stone with mineral oil. The mineral oil helps to “lubricate” the ax and keeps the metal shavings from binding and clogging the stone. Zdon likes to use a sharpening stone with Soft Arkansas stone and Black Arkansas stone on his axes. Use a back-and-forth “sawing” motion working your way up and back on one side of the blade. Then flip the blade over and do the same on the other side.

2Pick your wood. Picking the right wood is an important part of the process. If you are looking to stock your woodpile with BTUs for your fireplace, using seasoned hardwoods is recommended. Seasoned wood has been cut down into smaller logs and left to dry out, covered, for about six months to a year.

Take into consideration what you will be using the wood for. If you are going to be putting it in your wood-burning stove, be sure to measure the size of the wood that will fit. This will determine both the size of the log you are splitting, and how many times you are going to need to split the log. To start out, Zdon recommends splitting a log roughly the diameter of a large grapefruit (about 6 inches) and about as long as your forearm. “The shorter the pieces, the easier they are to split,” he says.

3Place your wood on a stump or large base. The base that you place your log on should be sturdy — a large stump is ideal. Place your log on the stump close to the edge that is farthest away from you. This will give you plenty of space, if you do happen to miss, where the ax can sink into the stump instead of your leg. Make sure that the log sits sturdily on the stump so that it doesn’t fall over while you are swinging.

4Get in your stance and grip the ax. Grip the ax with both hands. Your dominant hand should be the one gripping the ax near the head. Your non-dominant hand should grip the ax at the end of the handle. It is important to keep a relaxed grip, “but you don’t want it flying out of your hands,” Zdon says. Measure out, with the ax extended, how far away to stand from the log. There is no steadfast rule for this, but if you stand too close to the log you risk missing the head of the ax and striking with the handle — which could result in breaking the ax. If you stand too far away, you could miss the log and stump, increasing your chances of bodily injury. Measure twice, cut once.

Take an athletic stance with your feet about shoulder width apart. Zdon recommends using the twist method, in which the head of the ax makes contact with the wood at about a 30-degree angle. This technique uses the leverage of the ax head to split the wood.