If on the practical level ‘economical’ means arranging one’s affairs to maximize the earning and utilization of money with a minimum of work-input, then the project of heating my home from the wood of my forest is not economical. By the same standard I fear that raising my own children would not be very economical. Once money, especially in the form of hourly wage, is used as the fundamental measure of the worth of activities, where do we stop?
How then might I think about splitting wood by hand? The main thought that kept coming to mind is simply how much I enjoy it. There is a unique satisfaction in a well-placed strike that sunders a round of wood. Hand-splitting is a full-body experience, engaging countless muscles and all five senses except taste (actually, sometimes even taste). The rhythmic smack is followed by a pungent scent determined by species and age of the wood. A few rounds slowly grow into a pile of triangular pieces that stands as a solid monument to the work you have just done. You cannot help but look upon that pile, and then look back again, having a feeling of personal accomplishment. “That pile will keep my family warm for … days.” Refreshed, exercised, and satisfied, you turn to whatever else the day holds in store. And this is to say nothing of the conversations had, and bonds formed, with fellow splitters.
So I ask myself: Should I really give this up? Am I being silly by continuing to do that which a machine, or purchased wood, could easily replace? I think I have at last come to my final answer: no. This is not silly; it is good. Work, especially manual labor (manual of course originally means by hand), has an importance in itself. Our society seems to have accepted with little or no consideration the premise that manual labor should be avoided if possible. I suggest that manual labor, as a particularly human form of work, has a special and enduring value in human life. This is especially evidenced in its power to unite the one working with other persons, places, and things.
One benefit of splitting wood that the piece misses is the salutary effect the activity has on the hardness and impressiveness of your hands. My grandfather worked his way through college by splitting and then selling a cord of wood every weekend. (That’s a lot of wood.) He was six foot four and had the largest hands I have ever seen on a man: fully two knuckles wider than those of my father, his son, himself not a small person.