Chopping Wood (as a metaphor)

chopping wood I’m returning to my home and native land Canada in a few weeks and I’ve been thinking incessantly about “chopping wood”.

Chopping wood isn’t easy! Most city folk who try it, look like bumbling fools. Even if they manage to do okay, they last only a few short minutes. It’s a workout!

I’ve chopped many a pieces of wood back of the house on our farm – so let me share a few of my insights into this very misunderstood art.

1. Force is not what it is about. It is all about striking in the right place. Not dead center but thereabouts. Find that spot and you are a winner, she’ll give way like butter to a hot knife.

2. Your axe is you. You are one with the tool. Respect it and keep it sharp, constantly sharpen it.

3. Each piece is different. Some will give way with one blow. Others, wet, old, knotty – you’ll have to turn over and hit with the back of the axe head. Those are the victories you’ll remember.

4. The chopping block matters. Low, flat, hard and wide. Steady and stable. It should stand the test of both time and energy/force. Old and cranky is the best.

5. Listen to the sound as the axe meets the wood. There is a lot to be learned from that.

6. If you keep at it, you can chop wood with your eyes closed. I swear you can, it is an art of the most ancient kind – the art of interacting with the physical forces around us.

7. Choppin wood is a necessary but very lonely job. I know of no machine that can chop wood. It is one person and one swing at a time, over and over. The winters keep coming and the labor must be done.

8. Chopping wood is very important. Our house needs wood to last the winter, to keep the cold away. We chop wood not for sport but of necessity. Respect that, honor that. It isn’t a weekend hobby.

9. The wood has to be stacked. Yes, it is fun chopping but at the end of the hour or the day – you have to measure it all. Find a way that suits you – cross pile, stack straight, lump and cover with a tarp. Whatever works for you but you’ll have to do this. We need the security of knowing we are safe, there is that pile there to keep the cold away.

10. Chopping wood burns A LOT of calories! It is tiring and after a few hours swinging the axe, you’ll be ragged, tired, dragged down…. You’ll get fit but it will always at times “hurt” and be “stressful”. So be warned. But the benefits far outweigh how tiring chopping wood can be!
So there you have it. My few words of wisdom straight from the chopping block.

UPDATE: Here I am, freshly arrived in Canada and chopping wood!

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2 Responses

  1. ellen! says:

    I love that video! “Oh yah, yah… eh?” 😀 😀 What a pretty dog… she doesn’t seem all that interested in fetching, though! 😀

    And the sound of the chop…

    David, I don’t think chopping wood has to be lonely. As I was reading I wondered, “Do women chop wood all alone?” And then I thought of my grandmother. Her parents immigrated to Canada (Prince Edward Island, I believe, but I might have that wrong) from Scotland because the Canadian government was giving away free land if you would settle it.

    Anyway, my great-grandparents had 10 girls and then finally one boy, and then Great Grandfather up and died of pneumonia! Great grandmother became the area’s midwife to help support her children, so the girls were alone for days at a time (GGM had to travel distances by horse to do her duties). They lived in a one room (and one woodstove) house. Granny used to describe the cold by saying they warmed themselves like pancakes, huddling up to the wood stove… by the time your front was warm, your backside was cold again, and you had to flip around.

    From her stories, it seemed like the girls never did anything alone… including pulling off the cow’s tail one day while trying to milk her! (They told their mother, who was away at the time, that the wolves had come in and eaten the cow’s tail… GGM response was, Hmmm, that sure was a brazen wolf!)

    One winter the cows began to die in the field from starvation, but all the children lived, not even one died in infancy. I can’t imagine any of those girls chopping wood for hours alone. I wish Granny was here to ask, but I imagine the older ones taking shifts chopping, with the younger ones stacking.

    Sometimes fathers make chores lonelier than they have to be : ). Leave it to a gaggle of girls to fix that!

    Great blog. My response is because I have imagined you sometimes as a little boy all alone with an overwhelming task, and I feel mad about it- not right to do to a little one. Hard work? I admire it. Making a child do it all by himself, for hours? Why? Why not do the chores together?

  2. ddeubel says:


    glad you found the “public” blog.

    My parents weren’t cruel, just a lot of work to do on the “homestead”. When you are building things, clearing land, tending animals – not enough hours in the day.

    I used the word “lonely” in the sense that only one person at a time can swing the axe. That, plus the concentration, makes it somewhat “solo”, if that is a better word. Made the point as it applies to teaching – we close the day and a lot of the time, we are “alone” and by ourselves…

    Yep, quite typical for our area too. Your great grandparents were tough cookies, I’m sure. When I look at our lives and times – we sure are pampered. Even in our struggles. The times have changed.

    I hope one day to get back to the farm and live and think and chop wood more…..


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