I’ve had a pile of firewood sitting in the backyard for a while — actually for a few years. This pile was made up of branches that I’d cut off our various trees, either because the branches were dead or I needed to cut back branches of the trees because they were spreading too far. Regardless of the reason, there was a stack of tree limbs that needed to be dealt with.
Finally, though, I got around to building a firewood rack, so that I’d have a place to put all of that wood. Setting the rack beside the garden shed, I started stocking it. So far so good. Some logs had to be cut to length, “bucking” them for firewood, but that wasn’t much of an issue, either. The problem came when I tried to split them.
Now, I haven’t split firewood for a few years, so I expected to be a little rusty. But rusty wasn’t exactly the term for it; the Three Stooges comes more to mind. Even though I (supposedly) knew what I was doing, all I could manage was to split small chunks off the sides of the log, not really splitting it into usable firewood.
In my own defense, I need to mention that this wood was all hardwood and had been sitting for some time. Had it been freshly cut, I might have been able to do a better job. It’s usually easier to split wood when it’s somewhat green, not once it’s sat there for a few years.
I can’t blame the axe I was using, either. Actually, I wasn’t using an axe, but a maul. For those who don’t know the difference, a maul head is wider than an axe head, even though they look pretty much the same. The wider head makes a better wedge, specifically for splitting wood. An axe really isn’t the tool for splitting wood; a maul is. Oh, and I sharpened it before starting, too.
Splitting wood is a pretty basic survival skill, particularly during cold weather. But as I’ve recently re-discovered, that’s not as easy as I remember it being.
The solution is to find other means of cutting wood. While I won’t claim to be an expert on everything, I will say that there are some rather innovative ways to do it, as well as some that have been around for a long time. The point isn’t whether the idea has been around for a long time or not, but finding one that will work for you, allowing you to get your firewood ready for winter.1. Hydraulic Firewood Splitter
1. Hydraulic firewood splitter
The first and best known option is the hydraulic firewood splitter. These come in a variety of sizes, made by a number of different manufacturers. They use a hydraulic cylinder (think hydraulic bottle jack) to push a wedge through the wood. You can buy these splitters in either manual pump models or ones with an electric motor and pump, depending on how much wood you’ve got to split.
While hydraulic splitters work well, they can be rather expensive. Even the smallest cost a few hundred dollars, while a large one can run as much as $9,000 or more. Of course, that’s a commercial unit. But to me, they all seem a bit like commercial units, in that I wouldn’t feel justified in the expense if I wasn’t either selling wood or heating my house with it full time.
2. Auger splitter
The auger splitter is another one that has been around for a while. They come in several varieties, some of which are designed to bolt onto a lawn tractor’s axle, while others work independently, powered by an electric motor. The idea is that the auger is like a big screw that is driven into the log. However, this screw gets wider very fast. So, it ends up acting like a wedge, pushing against the log from the inside, just like a wedge, ultimately breaking the wood.
While very effective, auger splitters, like hydraulic splitters, are a bit expensive. If you have a good motor sitting around, you can save yourself a lot of money by buying just the auger screw and using it with your own motor or axle.
The LeverAxe is a totally redesigned ax, designed to make splitting wood much easier. This tool just recently came off of one of the crowd-funding sites and the price went up quite a bit. But even at the higher price, this tool is well worth the money, making the job of splitting wood much easier.
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The off-center head of the LeverAxe acts as a much wider wedge than it actually is, simply because of the way the weight acts against it. In videos I’ve seen, the person operating the LeverAxe didn’t even lift it all the way, like a regular ax or maul. They were only lifting it about two feet above the log to be split. This looks like a much easier way to split wood, especially if you are splitting larger logs, like I was.
4. Kindling cracker
This is another new invention, coming from a teenage girl in New Zeeland. The log is set into a holder, sitting on the ax head. When the back end of the log is struck, it pushes the log down onto the ax head, splitting it. This is great for people with a poor aim or who don’t have the strength to swing a maul with the necessary force for splitting.
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While it may need several strikes with a sledge hammer for some people to split a log, it will work.
5. Wedge and hammer
If you want to simplify things and not buy a special tool for splitting would, you could split logs with a wedge and hammer. The wedge is placed on the end of the log and driven in with a heavy hammer. While a slow method, for someone who doesn’t have a lot of wood to split, it is still effective.
6. Table saw
Some might call this cheating, but you can split a log easier by cutting it partially through on a table saw. Simply cut along the log’s length, “ripping” it in several spots. Then, when you hit it with an ax, maul or wedge, the wood is already partially split. All you really have to split is the center part of the log, where the blade couldn’t reach.
Be careful pushing the log through the saw. You don’t want your fingers to find the blade accidentally. Nor do you want the log to start twisting as you push it through. Doing so could cause the log to bind up the blade, acting as a brake. This could either bring the saw to a stop or cause the log to be thrown by the saw’s blade.
7. Smart splitter
The Smart Splitter is a simple device which uses a weight as the driving power to split logs. The device needs to be mounted to a stump or log that is being used as a work surface. Logs to be split are then set on the work surface, end up, with the wedge of the Smart Splitter on them. The weight is raised and dropped, driving the wedge down into the end grain to split the log.
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Like the wedge and hammer, this isn’t the fastest means of splitting wood. The weight won’t provide as much force to the wedge as swinging a maul would, but it will get the job done. Chances of injury are very low with this sort of log splitter
8. Build a counterbalanced splitter
One of the most ingenious methods of splitting logs I’ve seen was in a video on YouTube. A man took a maul head and mounted it to a counterbalanced frame that he built. This allows him to pull the head down, having it strike the wood and split it, very efficiently. Little actual muscle strength is actually expended, as the work is being done by the device he built.
This idea is not commercially available, so you’d have to build your own, just as he did. However, I’d say it’s one of the most ingenious wood splitting devices I’ve ever seen. I’m even considering building one myself, especially If I don’t do any better the next time I try splitting wood with my maul.
What would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the section below: