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Drive A Wedge | Winter 2005 Out Here Magazine

Cut and split wood about six to 12 months before you want to burn it.

Log splitters go through wood 'like butter'

By Noble Sprayberry

Photography courtesty of Tractor Supply Co.

The popularity of wood stoves and fireplaces rises as winter heating bills climb, and keeping woodbins stocked often requires more than reliance on an ax, maul, and wedge.

"A log splitter makes it so much easier to split the wood and split a volume of wood in a short time," says Norm Michels, sales manager of the splitter manufacturer SpeeCo based in Golden, Colo.

Anyone depending on wood to fully or partially heat a home will understand the advantage of the gas-powered time saver.

"Splitting wood by hand is simply hard work and it takes a toll on your body, particularly your arms, back, and shoulders," Michels says.

Log splitters can ease the physical burden and trim the time to produce an increasingly popular fuel, Michels says.

"People have heated with wood forever," he says. "But, in the last five or six years, the increasing prices of natural gas and heating oil have increased the popularity of burning wood for heat and the popularity of log splitters."

The device's goal is simple: splitting log-sized chunks of wood into manageable size.

Any splitter on the market can handle most types of wood, easily splitting hardwoods such as oak or maple, Michels says. It's often not the hardness of the wood that brings the biggest challenge.

Many people cut wood during the spring or summer, when a tree's sap is running. "With sticky woods like elm, you can hardly split them with an ax or maul," Michels says. "A log splitter will go through them like butter."

Log splitters evolved during the past 25 years, increasing in power. Splitters use gas-powered motors and hydraulic cylinders to drive a wedge through logs. The sizeable tools range in weight from 500 to 700 pounds.

An entry-level splitter will generate about 22 tons of splitting force, enough to get through most woods, and will have a six-horsepower motor. Expect to pay about $1,000.

A mid-range unit will produce between 25 and 26 tons of pressure and have an eight- to 10-horsepower engine. These units cost about $1,200.

Paying $1,500 buys a splitter capable of 33 or 35 tons of pressure and a 12-horsepower motor.

"The entry level unit will split most woods but the high end is going to split the tougher, harder woods a lot quicker," Michels says.

Michels suggested choosing models with built-in log cradles, which makes it easier and safer to secure logs while splitting. Anyone using the powerful tools should wear goggles and gloves and remember to keep their hands clear during the operation.

Also, people should remember to start splitting wood six to 12 months before they want to burn. Storing wood in a dry area that's off the ground allows it to cure, Michels says, and results in a cleaner, hotter burn.

Noble Sprayberry is a freelance journalist based in Dallas.