A couple of weeks ago, a reader named Jules had some questions about our log splitter. I had other posts I wanted to put up prior to explaining about this piece of equipment, but I figured now is a good time to delve a little deeper into it.
When we first moved to Idaho in 2003, we already had several years of experience using a woodstove and were confident about what it took to gather our wood supply. Granted Idaho has much colder winters than the ones we got in southwestern Oregon, but after all a maul is a maul and we were both pretty good at hand-splitting oak, maple, or madrone.
But this part of Idaho doesn't have hardwoods. We're surrounded by conifers. And soft woods, we learned, behave much much differently than do hard woods when it comes to applying a maul.
The first few attempts to split some red fir were actually pretty funny. Remember those old Looney Tunes cartoons with Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner? Poor Wile E. -- every time he tried to set a trap for the Roadrunner, it backfired. In one such cartoon he tried to chop something with an axe, and the axe bounced back and sent Wiley vibrating all over the landscape.
Well that's what happened to us. Every time we tried to whack a piece of fir with a maul, the vibration from the blow reverberated up and sent us shaking like Wile E. The soft fir or tamarack absorbed the blow of the maul so much more than oak that it took many many more blows to split a piece of wood. Don and I looked at each other and knew we would never be able to split the many cords of wood we would need to keep warm over the winter.
So... enter the log splitter.
Quite simply this is an immensely powerful tool that doesn't take "no" for an answer when it comes to splitting. As I recall, it cost us about $1100 back in 2003 (we got it at Home Depot) and it's never given us a lick of trouble. Because of its durability and dependability, it's become a neighborhood resource where many of our neighbors use it as well, and it's worked beautifully for everyone.
It exerts 25 tons -- that's TONS -- of pressure, slowly but inexorably, on the log, splitting it with very little effort on our part. Try doing that with a maul.
It has a 6 horsepower engine. It runs on regular unleaded gas and regular automobile oil.
The wedge simply goes up or down as necessary...
...controlled by the lever on the right.
I'm usually the "splitter" in the family. Don cuts the logs with a chainsaw, and the girls divvy up the tasks of manhandling the rounds to me (which I split), then they use a sled or wheelbarrow to move the split pieces to the porch where the split wood is stacked.
I sit on a crate (usually padded by a boat cushion). I also wear ear protection, since the lot splitter is pretty noisy up close.
We usually keep the splitter parked next to the logs for convenience.
After we finish using it and when the motor has cooled, we cover the engine with an old tub to keep off rain or snow. Alternately, we could wheel the splitter into the barn for protection from the weather, but since it's very heavy, wheeling it around is not something to do on a lark.
This log splitter has two positions: vertical and horizontal. We only split using the vertical position, then lock it down in the horizontal position for moving it around (it has a hitch and wheels, so our neighbors usually move it to their homes with the aid of an ATV). It can split logs in a horizontal position as well, but we never bother using it this way.
We don't have experience with any other log splitter (and I'm not up on the latest models), but frankly this particular model has been sturdy, virtually maintenance-free, and highly useful.
In short, a log splitter (coupled with a chainsaw) is a phenomenal labor-saving device, and particularly useful as Don and I get older. However we also recognize it has its limitations: namely it won't operate without gas and oil. Should those resources ever become unavailable, we have a cadre of hand tools we've accumulated over the years: two-person bucksaw, axes, mauls, wedges, sledge hammers, a peevee, etc. And on our wish list we have such items as the "smart splitter" and a "leverage splitting axe" (though we haven't used these and so cannot attest to how well they work).
But for the moment, we're very happy with our log splitter.