Electrical log splitters: advantages and disadvantages
Is an electric log splitter truly a better choice for you than a traditional gasoline-powered or manual log splitter? To answer that question, you first need to understand the unique advantages and disadvantages of electric log splitters compared to these other designs.
There are a number of advantages to electric log splitters over both gasoline-powered and manual splitters. First, compared to manual splitters, electric log splitters require only a fraction of the effort and time because the electric motor provides the force needed to split a wood round – rather than requiring you to pump a hydraulic jack or repeatedly hammer at a piece of wood.
Compared to gasoline-powered splitters, electric splitters are significantly quieter when running, which saves your ears over time and can be important if your yard backs up against neighbor’s houses and the sound of splitting wood will bother them. Electric splitters also produce none of the same gasoline fumes or carbon monoxide, which means that you can take your splitting operation into your garage or shop and out of the freezing winter snow and rain without worrying about suffocation hazards.
Electric motors also do not require any of the maintenance – including frequent oil changes – that gasoline motors require to work over the long run.
On top of all of that, electric log splitters are typically cheaper to operate – since gasoline is expensive – and don’t require that you keep a tank of fresh gasoline around your garage.
That said, there are some important disadvantages of electric log splitters compared to gasoline-powered splitters. The foremost is splitting power – while the best electric log splitters can compete with medium-sized gasoline-powered splitters, large gasoline-powered splitters can far exceed the splitting force capacity of any electric log splitter. Although this can make a difference when you are working with huge wood rounds, like those from old-growth hardwood trees, most home users will have no issues with the power output of electric log splitters. Another disadvantage is the durability of electric motors. In general, electric motors do not last as long as well-cared for gasoline engines and are harder to fix cheaply when something breaks.
Finally, one of the main disadvantages that home users are likely to notice is that electric log splitters are limited in their range of use by a power cord. This means that it will be difficult or impossible to bring your splitter out into the woods without a generator – at which point you might as well use a gasoline-powered splitter. So, plan on bringing your wood close to the house when using an electric log splitter.
Features to consider while choosing an electric log splitter
There are a huge number of factors that affect how your electric log splitter will perform at splitting the wood you have around your yard. In this section, we’ll cover some of the most important features you need to know about when choosing an electric log splitter and explain how they will affect how you can use your splitter.
Horizontal, vertical, or combo splitters
The vast majority of electric log splitters are horizontal splitters, meaning that the cradle is oriented parallel to the ground. These splitters require that you lift the wood round you want to split from the ground onto the cradle, rather than bring the splitter to your wood. Although this is fine for most logs, it can be quite difficult to lift large and heavy logs – which is where a vertical log splitter like the model from Goplus comes in handy. Vertical splitters are designed to split a log that is sitting on the ground, so that you don’t have to lift the log itself.
Some splitters, like the model from Swisher
, are designed to be interchanged between horizontal and vertical configurations as needed to provide more versatility.
The splitting force is one of the most important technical specifications of any electric log splitter because it describes the amount of power that the splitter can exert on a wood round – which in turn determines what diameter and length of softwoods and hardwoods you’ll be able to split with your splitter. Splitting force is typically measured in tons and ranges from the four to six tons found on most of the splitters we reviewed to as much as 22 tons on the Swisher splitter.
As a rule of thumb, six tons of splitting force is enough to split a six-inch diameter softwood log, while it takes 12–15 tons to split a 12-inch diameter log of the same wood. When dealing with hardwoods, you will need a splitter with more splitting force – a six-inch diameter hardwood log requires around 10 tons of force to split, while a 12-inch diameter log of the same wood will require as much as 22 tons of force.
Engine and power
The engine that drives each electric log splitter is also important to consider when choosing a splitter. The power output from electric engines somewhat translates to the splitting force, although not directly – for example, both the Swisher and OrionMotorTech splitters are equipped with two-horsepower engines, but the OrionMotorTech has a splitting force of only seven tons while the Swisher splitter boasts 22 tons of force. Thus, a larger engine is not always necessary and will draw more electrical power, thus increasing the operating cost of your splitter. Smaller 15-amp motors are also extremely common among electric log splitters – for example, these motors are found on the Pow’R’Kraft, Yardmax, and Wen splitters.
Log length and diameter
The length and diameter of the logs that you can split will depend in part on the splitting force of your splitter, but also on the design of the cradle or vertical splitting system. This is because the cradles of electric log splitters can only accommodate logs up to a certain size.
Most of the electric log splitters that we reviewed are designed to hold wood rounds up to 10–12 inches in diameter at most, which makes sense because this is roughly the largest diameter of softwood logs that these splitters are capable of splitting.
The length of log depends more on the overall size of the splitter – most of the splitters we reviewed are designed to hold logs up to 20 inches long, although the Swisher splitter can accommodate logs as long as 25 inches. Logs longer than these maximum lengths will need to be cut down to size with an axe or chainsaw before splitting.
The cycle time of an electric log splitter describes the amount of time the splitter requires to reset between splitting logs. Splitting times range from as brief as 10 seconds on the OrionMotorTech splitter to as long as 30 seconds on the Boss Industrial splitter. Note that some splitters measure both the feed and retraction cycle times, which need to be added together to calculate the full cycle time.
While a faster cycle time may seem desirable, this is only necessary up to a point. Most single users will not be able to realistically remove a split log and load a new log in less than 15–20 seconds, and even for a pair of users it is difficult to unload, load, and activate a log splitter while paying attention to good safety practices in less than 12 seconds. Therefore, splitters with cycle times less than 12–15 seconds all offer roughly the same level of fast performance.
Single-handed or two-handed operation
While it strictly only takes one hand to operate an electric log splitter – typically pulling a ram lever to activate the splitting action – many splitters require two hands to operate as a safety function. In the case of a two-handed electric splitter, the second hand has to hold down another lever or button while the lever is activated in order for the splitter to work. This design makes sure that both of your hands are away from any dangerous areas of the splitter while it is operating, but some users do not like this design because they want to use their second hand for other things while splitting.
Whether you want one- or two-handed operation largely comes down to personal preference and the degree to which you want to practice the safest splitter operation possible.
An electric log splitter is a major investment in your arsenal of yard tools, so you want to be sure that it will function efficiently for many years to come. Having a warranty on an electric log splitter is especially important since electric motors are difficult and costly to repair, in contrast to gasoline-powered motors. Warranties on electric log splitters are typically short – one to two years – although some manufacturers like Swisher offer separate warranties on the hydraulic system and the rest of the splitter so that the body of the splitter can be covered for a longer period.
How to use a log splitter?
Using a log splitter is relatively straightforward. To start, make sure you have your log rounds properly cut to size and are certain that your splitter offers enough splitting force to split the type and diameter of logs you are loading. It is also good practice to cut the ends of the log flat so that there are no irregular edges.
For horizontal splitters, simply load the log onto the cradle with one end of the log flat against the endplate. When ready, activate the splitter by pulling on the ram lever – you may also need to hold a safety button or lever if your splitter requires two-handed operation. Allow the splitter to retract before removing any splintered pieces of wood from the cradle, and be sure to pick up the split logs from around the splitter so that you do not trip when loading the next wood round into the cradle.
While electric log splitters don’t require motor oil like traditional gasoline-powered log splitters, they are still hydraulic tools – which means you’ll need to replace the hydraulic fluid from time to time to keep your splitter running smoothly. Electric log splitters typically use 10W hydraulic fluid, which is designed to stay fluid in extremely hot or cold conditions and so is good for use throughout the winter.
When do you know that it’s time to change the hydraulic fluid? Best practice is to check the splitter’s dipstick before each session of use – the dipstick should be marked with lines to indicate the minimum and maximum hydraulic fluid levels.
If you forget to change the fluid and end up with a humming electrical motor that won’t trigger the ram when you pull the lever, that is a sure sign that it’s time to change the hydraulic fluid.
More general maintenance includes cleaning the splitter of wood chips and dust to keep everything running smoothly and ensuring that all bolts are tightened properly before each new season. It is also a good idea to check the electrical cord for fraying, since this is a common breakage point that can lead to a dangerous electrical hazard.
If you’re operating a splitter in your yard, you’ll almost certainly need an extension cord – otherwise you’ll be tethered to within a few feet of the AC outlet on your house’s wall. Pay close attention when choosing an extension cord for your splitter, since not all of these cords are made the same. Specifically, it is essential that you use a 12-gauge extension cord for an electric log splitter. While a lower-gauge cord will also work if you already have one sitting in your garage, the added expense of these thicker extension cords is not otherwise necessary. Note that a 14- or 16-gauge is not sufficient for operating an electric log splitter.
The reason that a 12-gauge or thicker extension cord is required is that electric log splitters require a lot of current (15 amps or more) to run at their maximum power – and thus require a lot of wiring to deliver that electricity. Using a thinner extension cord will cause your log splitter to run at less than its optimal power output and will increase the heat put out by the wires, which can ultimately damage your splitter’s motor and decrease the lifespan of your tool.
Whenever using an electric log splitter, safety is paramount – the massive, rapidly moving ram on a log splitter can be quite dangerous if any part of your body gets in its way, while the splitting wood can present a hazard in and of itself.
The first step in protecting yourself when operating an electric log splitter is to wear proper safety clothing. You should always wear eye protection, since splitting wood can fly in any direction – including towards your eyes. A hard hat, thick workman’s apron, and thick pants are good ideas for the same reason. Always wear close-toed shoes, since it is easy to drop a log on your foot when loading or unloading the splitter. Finally, be sure to wear gloves when handling wood, since split logs typically have many splinters that can lodge themselves in your skin otherwise.
Operating the splitter itself also requires attention to safety. When working in teams of two or more, best practice is that whoever loads a log onto the splitter is the same person to active the splitter to split that log – this ensures that the second person in a team does not activate the splitter before the first person has fully cleared the cradle. Opting for an electric log splitter that requires two-handed operation to activate the ram is also a good idea to increase safety, since this ensures that both of your hands must be clear of the cradle before the ram can be triggered.
Another good practice when using a log splitter is to clear the split logs from around the splitter after each impact and to stack them in an orderly pile several feet away from the splitter. This ensures that you will not trip over split logs when loading the splitter, which can lead to a dangerous situation.
Finally, consider the logs you are planning to split. Make sure that they are within the capacity of the splitter you have – both in terms of their length and diameter as well as the force required to split them. It is good practice to cut the ends of the log flat so that the ram and endplate will not encounter irregular surfaces that allow the log to slip when it is impacted.