The Beginning Farmer’s Guide to Log Splitters

Make cutting up logs for your fire or wood-burning stove easier with this guide to log splitters.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Anne/Flickr

Making your own firewood for fuel is a very satisfying task, especially if the wood is coming from trees on your farm, but splitting the logs by hand can be tricky and tiresome. Fortunately, there are machines that can do the work for you, speeding up the process and enabling you to split more wood with less effort.

Log splitters are a great tool, but come in many different sizes and have a wide variety of specifications to consider. To help you sort through all the options, here’s a guide to the key features and things to consider when shopping.

Electric Or Gas?

Log splitters are usually powered by electricity or gas, with each source of power offering advantages and disadvantages. It’s hard to beat the simplicity of electricity—plug it in and you’re good to go and free from the exhaust of a gasoline engine, meaning that you can split logs in a building if you desire.

However, many electric log splitters aren’t nearly as strong as ones powered by gasoline engines, so for large, tough logs that are difficult to split, a powerful gasoline splitter is the way to go. Although they are heavier, more difficult to move around and require the typical maintenance of any small engine, gasoline log splitters carry their power with them and don’t have to be used near an electrical outlet—if you’ve got a log pile on the edge of your property, far from your buildings, you can take your log splitter to the pile rather than the other way around. Many gasoline log splitters are even designed to be towed by vehicles, a bonus if you need to frequently transport it across your farm.

How Much Strength?

Log splitters come in many different sizes and strengths, and price tags vary based on these factors, so knowing how much power you need will help you save money. If you’re looking to split only a few small logs a year to provide fuel for outdoor grills or campfires, a small electric log splitter might be perfect for you. In contrast, if you’re heating your home with wood and need to produce many cords of split wood for a long winter, investing in a larger, faster and more powerful splitter can help the job go much easier.

The strength of log splitters is measured in tons. Small electric splitters might produce from 5 to 7 tons of force, while larger electric and gasoline splitters are much stronger—20 tons or more of force is common, with many generating more than 30 or 35 tons.

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The type of logs that you’ll be splitting is the main consideration when choosing the strength of your splitter. Generally, coniferous trees, like pines and spruces, have soft wood that splits easily; deciduous trees, like maples and oaks, have much harder wood that requires more power to split.

The diameter of the logs is also important: The thicker the log, the harder it is to split. You might discover that a machine capable of splitting a maple log with a 6-inch diameter might not be able to split a maple log that’s 15 inches thick.

How Long is the Cycle Time?

The cycle time of a log splitter measures the time it takes for the machine to split a log and get back in position to split another. Depending on the model, cycle time can vary from around 10 to 20 seconds, so if you’re planning to split dozens or even hundreds of logs, opting for a splitter with a shorter cycle time can save you a lot of time in the long run.

Other Features to Consider

For gasoline log splitters, the capacity of the fuel tank is something to consider if you’re planning on splitting lots of logs far from a gas supply. Their small engines can run for a long time on surprisingly little fuel, but a splitter that can hold 1½ gallons of gas will run longer than one with a 1/2-gallon tank.

The orientation of the splitting process also varies. Some models require you to place the log horizontally across the top of the splitter, while others are upright and require you to place the log vertically against the splitter. Some units are adaptable and can do both, depending on your preference.

It’s also important to keep in mind that log splitters can’t split a log of any length; they all have a maximum log length that they can handle, because logs of any greater length would not physically fit in the splitter. A larger splitter that can handle longer logs—say, 25 inches—means that you won’t need to cut large logs into as many small pieces as you would if using a splitter with a 20-inch maximum length.

By evaluating the number and type of logs that you’re planning to split, and analyzing the key features of available log splitters, you should be well on your way to finding the perfect machine that can serve you well for years to come!

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