Jack McCall column


A few falls back, I came into possession of an abundance of hardwood tree tops. I am set for firewood for the rest of my days.

For a while I considered the purchase of a hydraulic-driven wood splitter, but I just couldn’t bring myself around to it. Maybe I didn’t want to fork over the money. And, then again, maybe it’s because I am a little bit too “old school.”

You see, I come from a long line of wood splitters. My maternal grandfather, Will Herod Brim, left me with indelible memories of his wood splitting. I remember piles of cook stove wood that were higher than my head. Of course, I was just a boy, and not very tall. But that seemed to make the mountain of wood that much higher. 

My father was handy at splitting wood as well. He didn’t attack the job with as much enthusiasm as my grandfather. My father was known to pull an entire trimmed tree up in the edge of the yard with his tractor, and saw it up and split it just at dusk. Sometimes his “eleventh hour” effort didn’t set too well with my mother.

For most of my growing up years we heated our house with an Ashley Wood Heater purchased at D.T. McCall and Sons; Carthage, Lafayette, Cookeville, Lebanon, and now Franklin. (As my late friend and legendary insurance professional, Tommy Martin, use to say, “Early to bed, early to rise; it always pays to advertise!) 

My mother was the keeper of the fire at our house. In the winter time she saw to it that every able-bodied male in the family used his wood-splitting skills. All my brothers and I learned to be good wood splitters.

So, with my newfound supply of hardwood, I have worked my way back into wood-splitting shape. It has not been so easy.

First, I purchased a new wood-splitting maul at the Home Depot. It has a dye-cast, 8-pound head and a yellow, fiberglass handle. It does an adequate job.

But my favorite wood splitting tool is a splitting axe just recently acquired.

Thanks to some generous friends, I received a monetary gift a few Christmases past. I was told, “Buy something for yourself.” 

On a trip to East Tennessee, I saw a Wetterlings hand-forged splitting axe at the Smokey Mountain Knife Works near Sevierville. I had never owned a hand-forged splitting axe. It bore a hefty price tag. Made of first-rate Swedish steel it was forged in Storvik, Switzerland. The axe head weighed 6.95 pounds and featured a genuine, American hickory handle. Since I had come into some special funds, I decided to own it. 

I have not been disappointed. I am now convinced I will never purchase another instrument which features a fiberglass handle. It just isn’t “natural.” As the “preacher” (played by Clint Eastwood) in the movie “Pale Rider” said “Nothing beats a good piece of hickory.”

There is something about the feel of a wood handle that ties you back to the earth. And this splitting axe also features something else: balance. It’s a beautiful thing.

Another favorite tool of mine is one our family came to call “the little axe.” I am the fourth generation to use it. It is a prized possession.

My friends Johnnie and Phyllis Godwin, retired now, are avid fire builders. They burn several ricks of wood each winter at their home in Gallatin and at their retreat on “Godwin’s Mountain.”

A few years back I began a tradition of providing the Godwins with cedar kindling for their winter fires. That brought into play my little axe. In my opinion, nothing beats dry cedar for starting a fire. It lights quickly; and the smell of cedar? Why, I won’t be surprised if heaven has the smell of cedar about it. I have already stacked next year’s offering in the dry.    

Re-introducing myself to splitting wood has also reminded me of some things I had forgotten — things like the expression, “Solid as an oak” or “solid oak.” That oak is one solid wood … and heavy, too; and how hard it is to split wood around a knot; and how careful one must be with a sharp axe.

Splitting wood has all kinds of advantages to the splitter. If you like the good feeling of tired muscles, it will do the trick — and enjoying the feeling of a job well done — and being reminded of the words of Abe Lincoln: “He who cuts his own wood warms himself twice.” 

Jack McCall is a motivational humorist, southern storyteller and author.  A native Middle Tennessean, he is recognized on the national stage as a “Certified Speaking Professional.” Copyright 2020 by Jack McCall.

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