The Sport

The Sport of Woodchopping


New Zealand was broken in by an axe and a cross cut saw. As a sport, woodchopping is more traditional to the country than rugby. While there are many stories about how the sport began, the most commonly agreed tale is of a bet between two men in a bar in Ulverstone, Tasmania in 1870. Jack Biggs from Warragul, Victoria and Joseph Smith form Ulverstone, had a wager for £25 to see who could fell a tree the fastest.

Over the years, the sport has developed to involve a number of events and disciplines which include, Underhand Chopping, Standing Block Chopping, Treefelling, Single and Double handed Sawing and Axe throwing.

Wood chopping is a thrilling sport to be involved in with a unique combination of athleticism, timing and technique together with fitness, power and strength as well as the ever present danger element.


This event simulates the felling of a tree. A vertically secured block of wood has to be cut through from both sides as quickly as possible. Optimum placing of the axe and a powerful swing are the factors that ensure rapid success in this discipline. Top axemen take less than 20 seconds to finish off a 10 inch log.


Once a tree is felled it needs to be cut into manageable lengths for transport to the mill. This is what the axeman is doing in the Underhand event. The axeman stands on a horizontally positioned block severing it with blows that land between his feet.





In order to fell a large tree it was often necessary to get above the roots and other growth at the tree’s trunk. To do this the axeman would stand on a perpendicular board wedged into slots cut into the tree trunk. Several boards would be used to climb to the required height. In today’s competition 2 or 3 boards are used to climb to a maximum height of around 2.5 meters. This event requires a lot of precision and skill and is normally the last discipline an axeman learns.


Single and Double Sawing

In this event one or two men or women use a crosscut saw to slice off a ‘disk’ from a log. The axemen’s rhythm and dynamism are what really count in this event.


Nearly all races are run using a handicapping system whereby the better axeman give a head start to their less experienced competitors. Each axeman is given a ‘mark’ which denotes the number of seconds he has to wait before he can start. Novice axemen start on a mark of 3 and are said to be ‘the front markers’. In contrast the ‘back markers’ describe the better axemen who start much later with some starting 40 or more seconds behind the front marker. Generally speaking, an axeman’s mark increases each time he win’s or places in a race.

In some races handicapping doesn’t apply. These are said to be ‘championship’ races and are usually competed for by those axeman with the highest marks on the day.

Just as it all began back in 1870, when you step up to the block, a wager is still involved. You buy into each event, draw lots for logs and are handicapped on the basis of previous winnings.