Axes to Grind

Axes to grind

Two axes to grind

I have two axes to grind: a two-and-a-quarter-pound Boy’s Ax, and a Fiskars 28” Splitting Ax.

Tim gave me the Boy’s Ax for Christmas in 1984, my first winter in Vermont. I was living in a poorly insulated cabin smaller than my Manhattan apartment. I heated the cabin with a small, wood stove. The ax came in handy.

Last year, the ax flew off the handle. This had happened before. As previously, we bought a replacement haft of hickory. But it was also time for a new, heavier, axe, because for the past six years I’ve been splitting wood to heat my writing studio. The building is only a hundred square feet, and the wood stove is tiny; it takes six-inch pieces of wood. So Tim bought me the Fiskars 28, a highly engineered Finnish beauty that cuts wood the way a hot knife cuts butter.

Axes to Grind

A load of logs; my studio in the background.

He should know. Every year, he saws a load of logs to stove length, then splits it all with one of his ever-growing collection of axes and mauls.


A good ax makes a big difference, and not just in cutting firewood. My two axes are as critical to my writing as either a pen or my laptop. Splitting wood, building a fire, stoking the stove, and listening to the chuckle of the fire — these are all part of my writing ritual, and appropriately so. Humans have been using axes since the Stone Age; they predate writing, as does storytelling.

I like to think that after those early ax wielders chopped down trees and split logs and built fires, their clans gathered around that source of light and heat, and told stories. I need both the ax and the pen to follow in this long and distinctly human tradition.

Axes to grind

The tiny wood stove that heats my studio.

Deborah Lee Luskin is an author, speaker and educator dedicated to advancing issues through narrative and telling stories to create change. She blogs at, where this essay was originally posted.

17 thoughts on “Axes to Grind

  1. I like this, Deborah. In the wake of the fear and anxiety of the election, with people wondering what they should do, the Buddhist advice of “Chop wood, carry water” applies well here. And then write, of course.

    • Thanks for the connection to Buddhism, Tina. I thought some of my reaction was simply a matter of age: I remember the election (and re-election!) of presidents I didn’t think we’d survive; I also remember some remarkable advances in civil rights, environmental protection, even peace-making (never our nation’s strong suit), so I have patience – which is a cousin of hope. That said, I also live a very local life where I’m part of a community of activists meeting and pushing back in ways that both protest what’s going on nationally and strengthen our connections to one another locally. Hmm. . . . this is starting to sound like the subject of a post for Living in Place, my blog at I hope you’ll check it out.
      And keep splitting wood.
      All best, Deborah.

    • The smell of a wood fire is definitely one of the plusses of heating with wood. The ash dust – not so much! But I live in Vermont, and firewood is a local and renewable heat source that also provides exercise and philosophy, so it’s hard to beat. Thanks for writing! Deborah.

  2. I so get this–I appreciate your comforting and necessary habits, having often lived in homes over the years with either wood stoves and fireplaces. It always came down to me being the official fire tender overall (spouse often travels) and I loved that work.

    • “Keeping the home fires burning” really is an honor – as well as a meditation and a source of exercise. Thanks so much for reading and responding to this post. ~Deborah.

    • A writer friend once compared my little stove to smoking a pipe – something that keeps you company and needs to be fiddled with / attended to at fairly regular intervals. The sound of the fire is like a cat purring or water in a stream, both very companionable sounds. Thanks for your comment ~Deborah.

      • My uncle used to enjoy postulating that *smoking* was a manifestation by humans to get as close as possible to the dangerous allie that kept them safe and warm and fought back the darkness. Kind of the same idea expressed in “Quest for Fire”, some decades ago. Uncle Earl would expound this theory as we sat around a fire – all of us staring into the flames; tending it; feeding it; letting it touch all of our senses at once.

        I like your little stove!

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