“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” —Abraham Lincoln
2 minute read

The act of splitting wood is proper work—Spartan-like and elemental. It requires no computer. There is no cubicle. When we swing an axe, nothing needs to be plugged in, optimized, or synced.

Swinging an axe is good work

Unlike much of what we do in modern life, splitting wood invigorates, strengthens, and satisfies; it demands muscle and knowledge and precision. It reconnects us to a simpler time when one's merit was a measured by skill with a blade.

Swinging an axe allows us to channel destructive urges in productive ways. Viewed through this lens, an axe is therapeutic and a wood pile is medicine.

An axe can be therapy

Woodsmen learn that there are two ways to do a job: The right way and again. Lincoln said that if you gave him six hours to cut down a tree he would spend the first four sharpening his blade. The axe teaches us that if we fail to prepare, we are preparing to fail.

With axes, accuracy is more important than power. While it is tempting to aim a mighty blow at the dead center of the round, an experienced woodsman knows that a precise strike near the edge of a round hits the growth rings where they are most vulnerable. The lesson is simple and goes beyond the woodshed: Confident precision is more effective than blunt force.

An axe teaches us to appreciate quality. An inexpensive blade is cheap for good reason--it comes from an assembly line, not a craftsman's workshop. It has no spirit. Its blade will never hold a keen edge. A well-crafted axe, in contrast, feels balanced in the hand. Its blade is true. Over time, the handle bears a patina from our touch. Eventually, we proudly pass it down to our children.



The axe is an ancient tool forged for survival. To hold an axe today reconnects us to our ancestry, reminding us that there is value in work that is done with the hands. Axe work is hard work but it makes us humble and it makes us strong.

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