I have a wood fire for heating and instead of buying all my firewood, I cut it and split it myself. I also help out my neighbors and in turn, they help me which makes it a social activity. Occasionally, when people find out that I chop and split my own firewood they ask me what is the best chainsaw for cutting firewood and how to use a chainsaw, what is the best firewood rack, what is the best log splitter and how to use it. I thought that I would answer the question about “How to split wood with a log splitter?” here since it is a common question that people have.
If you are going to buy firewood I suggest you check out my article on how to measure firewood.
Related: How to get free or cheap firewood
Related: Types of wood you should never use as firewood
Why do I split logs?
Having obtained logs for the winter, the final task I do is to prepare them for the fireplace. That involves splitting them into smaller pieces that easily fit into my fireplace. This can be a time-consuming task but with the right equipment, it is easier and more enjoyable.
There are different types of log splitters, with which this operation can be performed. The major types of log splitters are manual kindling splitter, manual slide hammer splitter, splitting maul, manual hydraulic, electric hydraulic and gas hydraulic.
Which type you should use depends on the number of logs, their size and the type of wood (hard or soft). For example for larger amounts of wood, the best option is to use some kind of mechanical splitter such as electric or gas powered one. On the other hand, if you need a smaller quantity of logs you might use the maul splitter or if you want to split kindling a kindling splitter is a good choice.
Manual log splitters
As I mentioned above, there are a few types of manual log splitters. Let’s take a quick look at how to use each of them.
How to split wood using a manual hydraulic log splitter
A manual hydraulic log splitter uses the force of a hydraulic pump to split the wood into pieces. It is similar to a gas or electric one but it uses pure muscle power instead of an engine to operate.
The manual hydraulic models have pumping handles that are pushed back and forth driving the wood onto a wedge which splits the log. These splitters are ‘easy’ to use and cost much less than their gas or electric equivalents. Their main disadvantage is that compared to an electric or gas powered model they are much slower and require you to pump the handles. I do NOT recommend a manual hydraulic log splitter, it is just too slow and not really worth the money to buy it or the effort using it.
How to use a slide hammer log splitter
Another type of manual log splitter is a slide-hammer log splitter. It consists of a wedge attached to a pole and a hammer which drives the wedge into the wood. The slide-hammer manual log splitter is safer than a splitting maul because you do not swing a sharp blade in front of you. A drawback though is that it requires more strokes and therefore time than using a splitting maul to split the wood. I have one of these but rarely use it as for those small jobs I just use a splitting maul. If you are not confident with swinging a heavy splitting maul then this can be an option. Quite a few ladies I know use this for smaller splitting tasks.
How to split wood with a maul splitter
The last type of manual log splitter is a maul. A splitting maul is a specially designed type of tool similar to an axe, that is used for splitting the wood along the grain (as opposed against the grain which is actually cutting logs into shorter pieces).
The most important thing you should remember when splitting firewood with a maul splitter is to strike the log on the grain- where the log is beginning to split- by this way forcing the wood apart.
Some newer maul models are fitted with a fiberglass handle. I find that splitting wood with a splitting maul with a fiberglass is easier because the fiberglass handle makes the maul a bit lighter and makes it easier to swing than a traditional wood handled. I also find that there is less chance of getting a splinter or something when the handle gets old. If I will use the maul for more than a few logs I usually also use some good work gloves.
What is the difference chopping axe vs splitting maul?
As mentioned above a splitting maul is different from an axe. There are a number of differences between these two tools. The handle of the splitting maul, for example, is usually longer than that of an axe. This is because the maul is designed to be swung towards the ground and the longer handle reduces the risk of hitting your own your feet if you miss. A longer handle also means that you get more ‘leverage’ and the force you hit the log with is greater making it easier to split larger logs.
The “head” of a splitting maul is much wider than an axe and the edge of the maul is not as sharp as an axe. This is because it is designed to wedge between the wood grain and separate then rather than ‘cut’ or ‘slice’ the wood.
With an overall weight of 8 to 12 pounds, the splitting maul requires more effort to swing than a traditional axe. However, the additional weight is its major advantage when splitting larger more difficult to split logs.
How to split wood with a kindling splitter
The kindling splitter is a specially designed tool for splitting kindling (smaller pieces of logs). It is a manual tool that you could even use indoors. It is safer than using an axe or maul because there is no swinging a blade around and a much-reduced chance of injury. However, it is only suitable for splitting small pices of wood.
The kindling splitter consists of cast iron splitting head which is mounted inside of a cast iron frame. To split wood with it, you should simply place firewood inside the iron safety ring and with the help of a blunt instrument (such as a hammer or mallet) strike it several times. This way, the wood is driven down onto a splitting wedge for a quick and easy split.
The kindling cracker as it is also called is made in Australian foundry from high quality cast iron. The only maintenance it needs is a bit of cleaning and maybe some polishing to make it look good.
How to split wood with a mechanical log splitter
How to split wood with an electric log splitter
If you need to split a larger quantity of wood, you may consider buying yourself an electric log splitter. An electric log splitter reduces the time and effort involved in splitting timber and is very easy to operate. An electric log splitter works in much the same way as the manual hydraulic log splitter but faster and easier. The log is pushed by hydraulic pumps into a blade or swings it onto the log depending on the design of the splitter. The only thing you need to do is to operate this splitter is to provide a steady supply of logs for the machine.
There are two types of electric log splitters vertical and horizontal ones. Horizontal wood splitters are preferred by the most homeowners because they are much cheaper, but they can only split smaller logs and require you to lift the log onto the splitter. Lifting logs onto the tray can be tiring after a while so I don’t like the type that cannot be set up vertically. BUT if you want a good work out this could be a good option for you, you could even give up your gym membership. A neighbor of mine has a horizontal electric log splitter and they are very happy with it but they do not use it for heavy duty wood splitting.
Vertical splitters, on the other hand, are capable of dealing with larger logs. That is why they are much more expensive and are used by the tree removal services and others that have a similar need. A verticle log splitter only requires you to put the log under the splitter at ground level and can save you from some heavy lifting. I usually just roll the log next to the slitter and then flip it over so that it is under the splitter wedge/blade, much less tiring than lifting up logs.
Electric log splitters can be dangerous or even deadly if they are operated incorrectly. You should take time to read the operating instructions carefully before switching the machine on. It is also recommended to wear a suitable safety equipment while you operate the splitter. If you are by yourself when using an electric wood splitter you should take extra precautions.
Electric splitters can be expensive. If you do not split wood on a regular basis, buying an electric splitter may not be the best option for you. However, if you have an ongoing need for firewood, you may find this splitter very helpful.
Related: What size log splitter do I need?
How to split wood with a gas log splitter
A gas log splitter is pretty much the same as the electric one. The major difference is that its hydraulic pump is powered by a gas engine instead of an electric motor. This makes them much more portable and powerful than an electric version. Splitting wood with these log splitters is very easy. The only thing the operator should is to put the logs into the splitter and operate the wedge by pushing a lever.
There are three classes of gas-powered log splitters:
Basic gas log splitters
The basic gas log splitters are ideal for personal use or for those who do not split logs too often. These types of log splitter can apply up to 8-16 tons of force, which is more than their electric counterparts.
Although they have one major drawback, they cannot be put in a vertical position.
This means that the operator must lift each log physically on top of the splitter before splitting it.
If you split logs more often throughout the whole year why don’t you consider upgrading to the standard or professional log splitter?
Standard gas log splitter
Featuring engines which provide up to 20-29 tons of force, they are able of splitting thicker and harder logs. Their major advantage is that they can be installed in a vertical position, so there is no need to lift heavy logs onto the tray of the splitter.
Professional gas log splitter
If you make your living from selling firewood, splitting logs or you just have a large amount of wood to split and want to do it conveniently, you should buy yourself a professional-grade log splitter.
Professional log splitters are much the same as the standard models but with a more powerful engine. The engine of a pro log splitter usually produces over 30 tons of pressure, which is great for those big hardwood logs that are difficult to split.
Safety is also a concern with a gas log splitter, so you need to read the safety manual and use safety gear.
A mechanical splitter requires some maintenance. It should be kept oiled and free of debris between uses. Usually, your machine will come with maintenance instructions which are easy to follow.
Mechanical wood splitters also have a variety of additional features such as traps for excess wood debris and self-cleaning mechanisms. These features can reduce your preparation and cleaning time.
As we can see from this article, there are various methods for splitting wood. The choice of the most appropriate wood splitter depends on the amount of wood that you need to split, the type of wood (smaller softer logs vs larger harder logs) and your overall budget.