Sunday, December 28, 2014

The log splitter

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.


  1. Seeing teenagers working to help instead of sitting on their back sides playing video games or talking on the phone is a testament to good parenting.


  2. I'm afraid your spot on .... I do believe I'm getting to old for splitting with the maul .... Hey my 27 Ton can beat your 25 ton?...Hahaha (my dogs bigger than your dog thing) ...

  3. Harbor Freight has a 10 ton manual splitter that works surprisingly well for something made in the PRC. It's slow but it's better than a wedge n sledge.

  4. I've split a lot of wood with my maul, wedges, sledge and axe but I would estimate that even with years of experience having a log splitter will easily lessen the time you spend splitting by 80 to 90%. They are worth more than their weight in Gold....

    I think you can even buy the kits to convert the one's with Briggs and Stratton engines to alternative fuels too.

  5. Have you seen homegrown splitters like this one, made with what looks like a car spring or similar? Caption says it's from Ukraine, and one of the commenters on this link said "would be good for soft wood but not hard wood" (do you know why?). Finger guards a good idea.

  6. I grew up splitting that fir and pine in Northern Idaho. Splitting it requires a combination of dry wood, a good stump to set the wood on, and aiming the maul properly. So long as the wood was seasoned for a year, I could normally spit a log in three hits - far, near, and finally center.

    But a log splitter is much faster and easier. I went back one year and helped my dad split about eight cords of wood with a log splitter. After we were done, I asked him "Dad, why didn't you get one of these while I still lived here?" And he responded "Well, because you still lived here!"

  7. We have a little, foot pedal based, hydraulic splitter. I forget what its rated for, but its worked very well for us for everything we've tried it on. Since we buy the large majority of our firewood, and our woodburning stove is very small, we frequently have to split down some of the bigger pieces in order for them to fit into the stove, and this little splitter has held up wonderfully so far! I'm not sure if its the same brand, but it looks alot like this one:

  8. I love all these side-splittin' comments....see what I did there?

    I've split plenty of wood in my day. (Can't believe I just said, "in my day.") I've split with a sledge and a wedge, a maul and a splitter.

    I've spent 15 minutes on one 20 inch log, with a sledge and a couple of wedges. I don't mind it if I have the time and need the exercise. But for real woodpiles, you need a splitter.

    The one thing I love about splitting - however it's done - is hearing that first "crack." When you hear that very certain kind of "crack," that's when you know the log is toast. I love that crack. When it comes on the perfect sledge/wedge strike, I feel on top of the world. ROAR!

    Just Me

  9. There are so many unique log splitting devices and techniques out there now thanks to youtube. Here's one of my favorites:

  10. Patrice, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I wasn't sure my email went through. This is exactly what I wanted. Wonderful review on your splitter. I have the same issues: getting older and not really wanting to split by hand. This investment will make our splitting so much easier, not to mention more convenient. We can bust it off and split for an hour or so, instead of trying to get all our splitting done in one weekend.
    Thanks again.

    Have a safe and Happy New year!

  11. Wow, just read all the other comments. Thanks folks. The community here is just incredible!


    I purchased this hydrolic log splitter two years ago and have absolutely no regrets. If the log is too big for the splitter my hubby gets out the maul.

  13. I fondly remember my Grandpa's log splitter. Dad would farm me out early every fall to raise them blisters. Too bad I wasn't hydraulic...

  14. I have no experience with the "smart splitter". But when faced with a large round of softwood, I've learned to not try and split down the middle, but to 'whittle away' from the edges. I guess the theory is; the mass of wood able to absorb the blow is lesser on the sides, so work from the outside in, cleaving off "slabs".

    As for the Vipukirves you are eyeballing, you may want to give up on that idea. Again, I've never used one, but here's a video of a man I trust. Cody, from, LOVES axes and saws and such. He tried a Vipukirves against a regular maul and had this to say:

    Steve Davis
    Anchorage, Alaska

    1. Ditto on the Vipukirves. Not sure how it would work on your softer wood. Cody's pretty smart.

  15. That thing looks like a beast. I still prefer the manual side of things, but I have to say, anything that can push out 25 tons of pressure kind of raises the hairs on the back of my neck.