Grit Blogs > The One-Acre Farm

Gas, Electric or Manual, Part 1

Jim BakerOnce more I am delving into an area that will have detractors and supporters of all of the above. I recently returned from the Mother Earth News Fair with a head full of ideas and thoughts. The thoughts don't cost anything, the ideas are also quite free. The implementation gets pricey right out of the chute.

Let's just talk straight talk for a bit here. With no supplemental income from my one acre here, I will be living on less than $19,000 a year. I do have a house payment, modest as it may be compared to some, and my truck, although 15 years old, it is paid for free and clear. One credit card, a small bank loan and monthly living expenses pretty much fill out my financial obligations. I am sharing that information to look at the next bit of information.

For me, living simply means living inexpensively where possible. I heat with wood, or will be this upcoming year. And my wood, for the most part is 'free,' meaning I go get it from wherever it is, bring it home, split and stack it. Oh, and yes, I am now stacking, but I will go into that in a later post.

The subject I am getting into here is a log splitter. And there are all sorts out there to be sure. I have seen small videos where a 5-ton electric splits huge pieces of oak. I have seen redneck homemade flywheel contraptions that look like you are literally taking your life in your hands to even start the thing up. I am aware of a couple of companies that have come out with very safe and reliable centrifugal type splitters as well. Then there are the tow-behind multi-ton hydraulic versions that are fantastic. There are even hand-operated hydraulic units that use a hydraulic bottle jack and two hand-operated levers or a foot pedal to make the split happen.

All nice, all work, all cost money. Except for the hand- and foot-operated units, they all cost money to operate as well. Electricity costs money if you have an electric splitter, gas as well as oil costs for the larger units, and all of them use hydraulic oil. All are also subject to maintenance needs and breakdowns, usually at the most inopportune moments.

Pricing new splitters, from the hand operated through electric through hydraulic and centrifugal types, in my area will cost a few hundred for a new foot or hand operated hydraulic unit to more than $5,000 for a top-of-the-line hydraulic or centrifugal unit with all the bells and whistles attached. Even used units or homemade hydraulic ram units in my area go for anywhere from $500 to $1,000, or more.

Simply stated, I cannot afford that luxury, and it is a luxury indeed, and as time goes on, it makes less and less sense to have one. The follow-up thinking on the gas-powered hydraulic ram types is cycle time. I am in average shape, and on a good day, when the hands work right, I can manage a steady four or five hours of splitting wood with a maul and wedges when needed. And I split anything that burns that isn't poisonous to me or the environment. In other words, no pressure treated anything.

my wood splitter 

I can split straight-grained seasoned oak logs roughly 18 inches long and upwards of 20 inches or more in diameter roughly four or five times faster that a hydraulic ram machine, simply due to cycle times. Can I go 24/7? No, yet I am splitting for my home (roughly 1,200 square feet) with an occasional pickup load sold throughout the season.

I am not yet sure of my total usage since I just started heating this way this year. And I split all year, since free wood is available all year, and yes, for the purists out there, I burn pine, a lot of it.