By Noble Sprayberry
A cozy fire is never free, because you either need to buy firewood or split it yourself. And while often less expensive, cutting a log down to size can be a chore without the proper tool.
A good log splitter, however, can provide a solution.
These workhorse machines can turn even tough logs, such as those from trees such as oak, elm, walnut, and cherry, into a size that’s perfect for a fireplace or a wood-burning stove.
“If you intend on using it on a fairly regular basis, buying a log splitter makes sense,” says Scott Baylor, Log Splitter Product Line Manager for Blount International. The company produces a range of log splitters, including electric- and gas-powered models.
The key, Baylor says, is buying the proper tool for your needs.
A typical splitter works by driving a piece of solid metal through a length of log. The amount of pressure, or tonnage, a splitter can apply to the job is crucial.
For example, entry-level, electric-powered splitters might have a five- or six-ton capacity, which might manage a well-cured log up to 12 inches in diameter.
However, many logs are of larger diameter, but that dimension is only one factor to consider when deciding on the right type of splitter.
Some logs are simply more difficult to split. Gnarled wood, twisted grain patterns, or y-shaped sections are tougher chores. In these cases, more tonnage is necessary.
So, gas-powered splitters that use a hydraulic system to provide the force can offer the necessary tonnage needed for more frequent, more-challenging tasks.
“A 25-ton splitter will do the vast majority of jobs well,” Baylor says.
A gas-powered hydraulic splitter delivering 25 tons of pressure or more can serve anyone from a homeowner to a timber professional well. Prices begin at $1,000 for a 25-ton unit and increase to about $2,000 for a 35-ton unit, Baylor says.
For those with tractors, there are splitters that take advantage of a tractor’s existing, powerful hydraulic system.
“It’s just a matter of hooking up a couple of hoses,” Baylor says. “It’s perfect if you want to use your tractor to take your splitter to the woods.”
Entry-Level to Professional
While log-splitters in the 25- to 35-ton range are the workhorses, some homeowners might be satisfied with an electric-powered unit.
“These are for very infrequent use and they do make it easy to split smaller logs,” Baylor says. “But when you have tough, really twisty or gnarly logs, you’re really workings one of those little things,” he says.
And while electric units claim the entry-level space, a vastly different technology has entered the high end of the market.
Kinetic log splitters, ideal for professional use, do not use hydraulic fluid, pumps, or hoses. Instead, a motor spins either a single or dual flywheels that store kinetic energy. Then, a sophisticated gear system releases that power to drive wood into a fixed knifelike wedge.
“The advantage of the system is that it’s fast, cycling up to six times faster than hydraulic splitters,” Baylor says.
And when putting a new log splitter to work, it’s vital to consider safety, Baylor says.
“Always wear safety glasses, ear protection, steel-toe shoes, and gloves while operating a log splitter,” he advises. “And don’t have others in your work area.”