Picking the Perfect Log Splitter

Make free firewood from your woodlot or hedgerow using a log splitter.

| January/February 2013

No doubt about it, one of the most sustainable forms of heat for your homestead is delivered through careful harvest and processing of trees growing around your place. If you have sufficient acreage devoted to woodlot, woods and hedgerow, you might even be able to cut a little extra and sell the resulting firewood. In any case, one of the keys to producing high-quality fuel wood is to split 4- to 6-inch-diameter billets in half and larger sizes into thirds, quarters or even more — to ensure that the wood will season properly and burn efficiently. But how do you go about splitting, and what is the ideal log splitter?

Warming twice

If you have images of Paul Bunyan employing his double-bitted ax for everything from felling trees to limbing them to bucking and splitting, it’s time to rethink. Under no circumstances should you consider the ax to be a splitting tool, it was designed as a cutting tool. However, if you wish to get the most heat from your firewood, you will definitely get an extra dose of warmth when you split the stuff using hand tools such as a splitting maul, wedges and sledge hammer, or a combination of the three. For those of you not interested in swinging mauls or sledge hammers, but with relatively small firewood needs, you might consider a dedicated hand splitter (such as the WoodEze Smart-Splitter) — essentially a splitting wedge attached to a slide hammer that you raise vertically above the log and slam into it. The wedge follows a guide so your chances of missing the log are minimal. Carry it one step further and you also can choose a hand- or foot-powered hydraulic splitter — you supply the pumping power and the hydraulic ram does the rest.

Some folks hand split a few cords of firewood each season, but when you find yourself short on time or energy, or routinely split several cords, you might find that a powered splitter is an ultra-efficient luxury worth the investment.

Fluid filled

When your firewood needs expand to several cords each season, it might be time to graduate to a larger, higher capacity hydraulic splitter. Most hydraulic splitters use a power source such as an internal combustion engine or electric motor to pump hydraulic oil into a hydraulic cylinder (ram) at high pressures, causing the cylinder’s piston to move. The end of the piston is generally attached to a flat plate or anvil (on models with a stationary wedge) or a splitting wedge (on models with a stationary anvil) and is positioned on a track such that when it moves, a log placed on the track will get squeezed between the wedge and the plate until it splits. Some wedges feature a crossed design and cause the billet to split into fourths, but most just split the pieces of wood in half.

Hydraulic splitters are typically rated by their maximal hydraulic force, measured in tons. Some so-called dual-action hydraulic splitters use an anvil at either end of the track with a wedge that can split in either direction because it attaches to the upper surface of the piston (located beneath the track) instead of directly to the front of the piston. These models can increase your hourly output considerably because you don’t need to bring the wedge back to the start position before loading another log.

At the smaller end of the hydraulic splitter range, many lightweight horizontal bench-top or roll-around models exist in the 4- to 8-ton range. These machines are usually powered with electric motors, so they are quiet, and you can operate them indoors safely if desired. I’ve used 6-ton models that were quite capable of splitting 18-inch-long billets up to about 18 inches in diameter. Though ideal for splitting dry wood, these little powerhouses can be used effectively with wet wood up to around 12 inches in diameter, assuming it isn’t one of the more difficult-to-split species. If you have a few cords of relatively small stuff to split each year, and/or you like to work indoors, these comparatively inexpensive units make perfect sense. If you routinely have more wood to split and handle larger rounds, you will want to upgrade.

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