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What is the secret to splitting logs?


If you have a fire pit, a wood stove or a fireplace, you need wood to fuel it. While small branches may be sufficient for tiny, portable models, if you have anything larger, you will want to learn how to use a log splitter so you can build the best fire.

Believe it or not, the secret to splitting logs isn’t having a sharp instrument, such as an ax. It is better — and safer — to use a blunt, heavy tool that splits the wood but doesn’t cut it.

Chopping vs. splitting

Many people use the terms chopping and splitting interchangeably. However, they are actually two different tasks that require two different tools.

When you chop wood, you are cutting across the fibers of the wood. To do this, you need a tool that’s slender and sharp. Conversely, splitting wood means you are prying apart the wood fibers — you do not want to cut through them. To do this, you need a heavy tool that is blunt and has a wide V shape.

If you use a tool designed for splitting when you are trying to chop, you won’t have much success because it won’t be sharp enough to cut through the log, which can be a safety hazard. It also will be too wide to get the blade very deep.

If, on the other hand, you use a tool designed for chopping when you are trying to split wood, the head will embed in the log without prying it apart, and you will quickly get frustrated.

Why do logs need to be split?

You might think wood is wood — when set aflame, it will burn. While that is true to some extent, starting and maintaining a fire with split wood is just better because working with a split log gives you four distinct advantages over trying to use a whole log.

  1. Split logs dry faster. The main reason for splitting a log is to help it dry faster. Wet firewood does not burn well. It produces more smoke and less heat than dry wood. A log’s bark seals in the moisture, keeping it from drying. Once a log has been split, any moisture inside can evaporate more quickly.
  2. Split logs are easier to light. Besides sealing in moisture, bark has some natural flame-resistant properties. When you split a log, you create more surface, so 50% to 75% less of its surface is covered by bark. This means the flame can catch more readily, making it easier to start and tend to a fire.
  3. Split logs produce more heat. Again, if you add a whole log to a fire, the bark will inhibit burning. Besides making the log harder to light, it will also produce less heat.
  4. Split logs are safer. A whole log might roll away. This is bad enough when storing but can be even more dangerous if that log is on fire and it tumbles out of the fireplace. While splitting logs won’t fully prevent them from rolling away, it means they will travel only so far before stopping.

Do I always need to split firewood?

While there are definite advantages to using split wood in a fire, there may be instances when you choose to use whole logs. If you have an occasional smaller log, for instance, you could opt not to split it for safety reasons, such as not having the proper equipment to split small logs. Another reason to use whole logs is when light is more important than heat — a whole log won’t produce as much heat, but it will take longer to burn.

How to split logs with a splitting maul

A splitting maul is like an ax, only it is blunt and wide.

  1. Set up a work area. You need a safe space away from the possibility of anyone casually walking by when you’re in mid-swing. Your workspace also needs a short, level chopping block to provide a spot for the blade to drive into when it splits the log.
  2. Place the log on end, and aim to split it in half. Carefully, line up your position. Take a half step back and bend your elbows, bringing the tool over your head. When you bring it down, it should drop vertically onto the log with the force going straight down, not arcing. If the log is large enough, repeat this action to cut it in quarters.
  3. If you get tired, stop. The likelihood of an accident increases as fatigue builds. If you feel tired, don’t push yourself to finish up. Take a break.

How to split logs with a manual log splitter

With a manual log splitter, you need a sledgehammer to drive the log down onto the blade of a stationary tool.

  1. Set up a safe work area. The manual log splitter should also be placed on a short, level chopping block. For added safety, there are holes in the base so you can attach the splitter directly to the chopping block, if preferred.
  2. Place the log on the top of the splitter where it is held on end. Drive it down onto the blade of the splitter with repeated strikes of a sledgehammer. Not much force is needed. Let the weight of the sledgehammer do the work. Since the size of the log is limited by the top opening on the manual splitter, this is often a good way to split small logs.
  3. If you get tired, stop. 

How to split wood with an electric log splitter

An electric log splitter uses a motor to drive the log into a wedge. 

  1. Designate a safe work space.
  2. Read the owner’s manual. Each powered log splitter has slightly different operating and safety features. Make sure you read the entire manual to know what size logs can be split — length and diameter — and how to safely use the machine. Most require two-handed operation to keep your hands free from danger while splitting wood.
  3. If you get tired, stop. 

What you need to buy for splitting logs

Ryobi 5-Ton Amp Electric Log Splitter

Ryobi 5-Ton 15 Amp Electric Log Splitter

This 5-ton splitter is suitable for logs up to 20 inches long and 10 inches in diameter. It features two-handed operation for safety, and the heavy-duty steel frame is designed for durability.

Sold by Home Depot

Kabin Kindle Quick Log Splitter

Kabin Kindle Quick Log Splitter

The Kabin is a smartly designed manual log splitter made of cast steel. The base has four bolt holes for easy attachment to a stump and the extra-wide mouth and tall base help prevent jams.

Sold by Amazon

Razor-Back 8-pound Wood Splitter with 34-inch Fiberglass Handle

Razor-Back 8-Pound Wood Splitter with 34-Inch Fiberglass Handle

You can use this tool to drive wedges or split logs. It has a 34-inch fiberglass handle and a forged steel head for durability. This splitting maul is rugged enough for professional use.

Sold by Home Depot

Razor-Back 4-pound Sledge Hammer with 15-inch Fiberglass Handle

Razor-Back 4-Pound Sledge Hammer with 15-Inch Fiberglass Handle

If you need a smaller sledgehammer to drive logs into a manual splitter, this forged steel model is a solid option. It has a 15-inch handle and a reinforced steel pin that securely holds the head to the handle.

Sold by Home Depot

Inno Stage Heavy Duty Firewood Log Carrier

Inno Stage Heavy-Duty Firewood Log Carrier

After the splitting is done, you need a way to transport your firewood. This scratch-resistant, waxed canvas tote bag can be carried by one or two people and holds logs as long as 23.4 inches.

Sold by Amazon

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