Log splitters are tools that let you break up logs into smaller pieces. They are typically used to make firewood out of logs for use in wood stoves and ovens in commercial facilities and fireplaces in homes.
Benefits of using a log splitter
Log splitters can save you a considerable amount of time and money if you need firewood frequently. Whether you have a fireplace or a wood-burning stove, a log splitter can quickly provide all the wood you need.
Of course, you could probably purchase hardwood from your local general store or hardware depot. This is a viable option if you only need firewood occasionally. But firewood costs from $120 to $180 per ‘cord’, and is even more expensive during winter. You can, therefore, imagine how quickly your firewood expenses will add up the more you feed your stove or fireplace.
Even if you don’t mind spending money on firewood, having a log splitter is worth it for the convenience. With a dependable log splitter at home, you don’t have to run to the store when your woodpile runs low or split wood outside in the dead of winter. Furthermore, you won’t have to wrestle with a heavy and unwieldy ax, which can be difficult if you don’t have a lot of experience.
Parts of a log splitter
The most basic log splitters are ax-like tools that have a sharp spike attached to a handle. Powered models are a bit more complicated, although most are still relatively simple and straightforward devices. Powered log splitters typically have the following components:
- Hydraulic oil pump
The engine supplies power to the hydraulic oil pump, which sends a stream of pressurized oil to the valve. The valve then activates the splitter mechanism, which breaks the log apart.
The tank ensures that the system has a steady supply of oil so that the splitter can continue to work when the mechanism is activated. Log splitters also have filters that keep the oil clean and free of impurities during operation.
How log splitters work
Log splitters can be as simple as manual splitting axes that let you break pieces of wood apart. They may also be electric devices that let you place the wood in a receptacle and split them via a hydraulic mechanism.
Manual log splitters are relatively straightforward. They work pretty much like standard axes but are lighter and more comfortable to swing. They also have sharp wedges that make it easy to break up wood without having to cut through the fibers.
You could make do with a manual log splitter if you only need a few pieces of firewood on occasion. But if you frequently use a lot of wood, an electric log splitter is a much better choice. These devices typically have hydraulic pump mechanisms that break logs apart by pushing them against a wedge. Other splitters cut wood by swinging the wedge through it.
Most hydraulic log splitters work pretty much the same way. Valves first pump fluid to the extended inlet of a hydraulic cylinder. This places the piece of wood into the splitting chamber, where it can be split apart by the wedge. The valve then moves to the retract inlet, which pulls the splitting mechanism back so you can insert another log.
Types of log splitters
Log splitters come in three basic types:
Manual splitters are the simplest and most affordable. Some of them can be pretty powerful and efficient, putting out as much as 10 tons of splitting power. However, they can be time-consuming and require a lot of physical effort. They are, therefore, less suitable for high-volume jobs.
Electric splitters are convenient and easy to use. They also don’t emit gas fumes. Most of these are fairly robust, allowing you to process several logs quickly. The main drawback of electric splitters is the need to be near a power outlet at all times.
Gas-powered splitters are the most powerful types of log splitters available. Some of them are pretty bulky and better suited for industrial applications. However, some are pretty compact and ideally suited for home use. If you need to quickly power through a massive pile of logs, gas-powered splitters are unbeatable.
Tips for choosing a log splitter
There are many factors to consider when shopping for a log splitter. These could be broken down into the following:
- Convenience and ease of use
- Performance and reliability
Convenience and ease of use
At the very least, log splitters should be convenient and easy to use. They should make you want to pick them up and use them. The best log splitters make you look forward to splitting logs, which is more than you could say for traditional axes!
Log splitters should also be easy to move. This is as much a safety concern as it is a convenience issue. Splitters with wheel casters can be moved easily from one end of the yard to another. Larger splitters may require ball hitches that let you tow them where you will be working.
If possible, go for a log splitter with an ergonomic transport handle, preferably with a rubber grip. This makes it easy to handle the tool for long periods without discomfort. You should also look into adjustable stands that allow you to split logs without having to bend down.
Performance and reliability
After convenience and ease of use, power and reliability are the most important concerns. Splitting logs entails working with different types of wood with varying degrees of strength and thickness. You may also have to cut wet wood on occasion, which is even more challenging to work with.
When gauging the performance of a log splitter, some of the most important factors to consider are:
- Splitting force
The horsepower and amps determine how well your log splitter will be able to break wood. A 15-watt, 3 HP motor should be sufficient for even large and wet logs. Try to get a splitter with 6.5 to 7 tons of force, which will let you break apart thick logs fairly easily.
As far as cycles are concerned, the quicker, the better. Faster cycles will let you split more logs within a given amount of time. Look for a splitter that has a cycle time of 15 seconds or less.
You will likely have to work with logs of varying lengths and diameters. The best log splitters have a log plate for length adjustment. This feature makes it easier for you to handle logs of different lengths.
Look for a log splitter that can handle large diameter logs. A splitter that accommodates 20- to 25-inch logs of up to 12 inches in diameter will enable you to split a broader range of logs.
Of course, you will want a log splitter that you can operate safely. Some features that will help ensure safety are:
- Two-handed operation. Splitters that let you use both hands to maneuver logs will help prevent injury.
- Control levers. Shielded control levers ensure safety when operating your splitter.
- Adjustable feet. Adjustable swing-out feet improve the stability of the splitter.
- Emergency stop. This feature stops the splitter mechanism in the event of an emergency.
Experience and familiarity with your log splitters will go a long way in ensuring safety. In any case, splitters with the safety features listed above will be the safest to use regardless of your experience level.
Other factors to consider when purchasing a splitter are:
- Manufacturer’s reliability
- User ratings
Log splitters are subject to a great deal of stress and strain throughout their lifetimes. If possible, go for a model that comes with an extended warranty. At the very least, your splitter should have a one-year, no-questions-asked warranty.
It is advisable to purchase a splitter only from a reputable manufacturer with a good track record of quality and innovation. They may cost more initially, but models from well-known manufacturers generally provide better quality and performance. We provide some suggestions on manufacturers to choose from later in this article.
Read through online ratings and reviews of the models you are considering. Testimonials and reviews from actual users will quickly give you an idea of the quality and performance of a particular log splitter. You can then make a more informed decision before making your purchase.
How big a log splitter do I need?
As mentioned previously, it is essential to ensure that your splitter is large enough to accommodate the size of logs you typically work with. Apart from physical dimensions, it is just as essential to consider tonnage.
“Tonnage” refers to the amount of force that a log splitter puts out. The more tonnage a splitter has, the larger the logs it can split. Electric splitters that put out 6.5 tons of splitting power can break apart logs up to 10 inches in diameter.
If you routinely work with 24-inch logs, you will need a splitter that puts out 20 to 25 tons of force. For even bigger logs, a 35-ton capacity splitter may be necessary.
Apart from log size, you should also consider the following when determining the proper tonnage for your splitter:
- Whether the wood is green or seasoned
- The density or hardness of the wood
- The straightness of the grain
Green wood is freshly cut and has a lot of moisture. They are generally more difficult to split apart than dry or seasoned wood.
Some types of wood are harder and denser than others. Woods such as oak and hickory are considerably more difficult to break apart than softwoods such as pine wood.
Logs with straight grains are easier to split because the wedge doesn’t have to work across the tough grain.
Log splitter maintenance
Most log splitters are designed to work repeatedly for long periods. However, they may require maintenance and servicing from time to time. Gas-powered hydraulic splitters, in particular, will benefit from periodic inspection and servicing. Routine maintenance work on hydraulic log splitters includes:
- Oil changes
- Hydraulic fluid replacement
- Filter cleaning or replacement
- Leak inspection
- Component lubrication
The splitting wedges used in most log splitters are pretty rugged and durable. In most cases, they will not require sharpening or replacement for the duration of the tool’s life. Most wedges will remain sharp enough to split wood effectively as long as the splitter is only used on wood and not subjected to extreme conditions.
Hydraulic fluid replacement
You will have to top up the hydraulic fluid from time to time, particularly if you use your log splitter often. Information on the proper fluid to use is typically included in the operation manual or printed on the hydraulic fluid tank.
It is a good idea to check the fluid before you power on your splitter. Engine oil should be changed once a year or more often, depending on usage.
If your splitter has a particularly efficient filter, you may be able to use your hydraulic fluid for a long time before you have to replace it. Check to see if the oil in the tank is clear. Unless you see debris or other contaminants, you should be able to keep using the same oil for a few more log-splitting sessions.
What are the best brands of log splitters?
The best log splitters are made by companies such as:
- Dirty Hand Tools
- Black Diamond
Splitters manufactured by these companies generally have durable builds and high-quality components. Most also have innovative features that make log splitting quicker, safer, and more convenient. All factors being equal, log splitters from major brands offer superior ergonomics and better handling than models from lesser-known manufacturers.
Where can I buy a log splitter?
Many of the brands mentioned above are available from stores such as:
- Home Depot. Home Depot has a variety of log splitters in different designs. You can choose from gas-driven and electric models and narrow down your search according to log orientation.
- Lowes. Lowes has a wide range of log splitters, including electric and gas-powered models.
- TSC. Tractor Supply Company (TSC) has a fairly comprehensive lineup of log splitters, including models from CountyLine, Champion, and Sun Joe.
- Harbor Freight. Harbor Freight Tools carries log splitters from Central Machinery and Predator.
You may also purchase log splitters from construction and home supply websites.
Renting a log splitter
Log splitters have come down in price over the past few years. Even so, many of them are still quite expensive and entail a sizable financial investment. Even mid-priced models can be pretty costly. And if you don’t always need to split logs at home, you may not be able to justify the cost.
A feasible alternative is to rent a log splitter. Like many power tools used in maintenance, repair, and construction, log splitters are commonly available for rent in many communities. If you don’t want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a tool that you will use only occasionally, renting a log splitter might be the way to go.
Where to rent log splitters
- Home Depot. In addition to selling brand-new log splitters, Home Depot also has a range of quality splitters for rent. Ask about their discount offers for even lower rates.
- Rental HQ. Rental HQ is a directory-based website that connects homemakers and DIYers with equipment rental companies. Although most listings are for other tools, there are several listings for log splitters.
- Sunbelt Rentals. Sunbelt Rentals has some powerful log splitters available for rent. While many are larger, industrial models, there are some models suitable for DIYers.
- Herc Rentals. Herc Rental is known for its quality power tools and equipment. One of the site’s listings is for a Baretto two-handed log splitter with an 8.7 HP gas-powered motor.
- United Rentals. United Rentals always has a variety of wood splitters for rent, including several gas-powered hydraulic models.
Taking the plunge
Still not sure whether or not you need a log splitter? Think about how often you fire up your stove or oven. If you live in a cold part of the country and enjoy a warm fire, investing in a log splitter is a no-brainer. And if you have a ready supply of hardwood that you are yearning to turn into firewood, you will appreciate the convenience of a good log splitter.
If you use your stove or oven only occasionally, you might consider renting a log splitter instead of purchasing one outright. This is a more cost-effective option for many homeowners, as it allows them to top up their woodpile as needed without the costly cash outlay. If you find yourself having to rent a log splitter frequently, you could then decide to purchase your own splitter.
Whatever you decide, you will appreciate how much easier your log splitting duties can be with a log splitter. When the temperature outside dips and you are in the mood for a roaring fire, you will be glad you have a log splitter keeping your pile of wood well-stocked.