What is a log splitter and how does it work?
A log splitter is an equipment used to split logs into smaller pieces. It can be manual or powered. The manual variety is ideal to use if you only have a few logs to split or small to medium size logs to separate. But if you have a huge pile of logs or need to split much larger logs, the powered variety is preferred. Powered log splitters can be electric or use a gas engine. Each has pros and cons, so choose based on your specific usage. We list the various pros and cons of each below.
Manual log splitters
- They’re cheaper than their powered cousins.
- Inexpensive to run – they do not require a source of energy to operate.
- You can use them anywhere.
- They are safe for the environment.
- They may not be able to split large logs.
- Their capacity is limited and is usually determined by how many logs you can split before fatigue sets in.
- They’re more labor intensive as they require you to use your foot to operate the peddle or your hands to turn levers or lift a hammer.
Powered log splitters
Pros of powered log splitters
- They effectively split large logs.
- They’re high capacity and will split as many logs as needed.
- They have a high splitting force.
- They’re fast.
- Electric log splitters can be used indoors.
- Electric log splitters have no emissions.
Cons of powered log splitters
- They only split logs that fit into them. If some of your logs are larger and can’t fit inside the splitter blade or wedge, the log splitter won’t be able to divide them.
- You cannot use them if you don’t have a power supply, for the electric version, or gas, for the petrol version.
- Gas log splitters may not be used indoors.
- Gas log splitters emit fumes.
- They are more expensive than manual log splitters, with gas log splitters being the most expensive of the three variants.
Features to consider while choosing a log splitter
You’ve decided to go with an electric log splitter. Let’s now look at the features that determine how powerful the log splitter is and what kind of logs it can actually split. For example, what log diameters and lengths can the electric log splitter handle? Is it high-powered enough to split massive logs?
Log splitter type
All electric log splitters use one of two splitting mechanisms: hydraulic or kinetic. In a hydraulic motor, the energy moves through a small cylinder and over a larger area to press down the wedge. In a kinetic system, the motor powers a spinning flywheel first, which in turn powers the wedge that splits the log when the lever is pushed.
Both systems have unique advantages, the major ones being that hydraulic motors are more powerful, while kinetic systems are faster. However, because of the ability to store power upfront, some kinetic log splitters are more powerful than hydraulic splitters with the same specifications.
Also, the hydraulic system is less complex, and, therefore, less prone to operating hitches and defects, making it more reliable and durable than the kinetic motor. You may notice that many of the log splitters running on a hydraulic motor have a lengthier warranty than their kinetic counterparts. This is because of the complex mechanism and the fact that it has more connecting parts than the hydraulic system.
Horizontal, vertical, or combo splitters
Some log splitters are designed to split logs in the horizontal position. Others are designed to operate in the vertical position, while yet others are built to use both positions. In vertical splitters, you place the log on the table in a horizontal position, and then lower the wedge to divide the log. In the horizontal position, you lay the log down on the splitting tables in such a way that the blade will pierce through one end and out the other.
No splitting position is better than the other. Your choice will be purely a matter of personal preference. With the combo splitters, you can choose to use either the horizontal position or the vertical position. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to lift the splitter and support it in the vertical position before turning on the ignition.
Some log splitters come with a lift which you can lower to the ground, place the log on it, and push the lever to lift it till it’s on the same level as the splitting table. Lifts make your work even easier, as you don’t have to haul the logs onto the table.
Splitting force is measured in tons and refers to the force exerted to successfully split a log. Since the splitter works by basically ramming a wedge against the log, this ramming force is the splitting force. The higher the tonnage, the bulkier the rounds your log splitter can split. Gas log splitters have the highest splitting force, with the most powerful of them capping at 40–60 tons. Electric log splitters follow with a splitting force of between 4 tons and 20 tons. Manual log splitters have the least splitting force, which typically ranges between 6 tons and 14 tons.
If hoping to split a pile of green logs, use a log splitter with a higher splitting force, bearing in mind that green logs are harder to split than seasoned ones and therefore need more power and splitting force.
Engine and power
The engine power determines how powerful the log splitter is, which in turn determines the size of logs it can split. Log splitters with big engines and higher amperage will easily split big, hard logs. Those with smaller engines and less amperage may only split small logs and may not have enough power to split green logs. Specific properties to look at are the horsepower, amperes, and splitting force. Log splitters with higher values in each category have more power and are better suited to split tough logs, while splitters with lower power values have lower capacity and are best suited for splitting small, easy to separate logs.
Log length and diameter
This refers to the maximum log length and log diameter the log splitter can divide. Some log splitters can only split logs that are 6 inches wide, while some will only take in a log that’s 20 inches long or less. These dimension capacities are crucial as they determine the size of logs your log splitter can split. If you expect to split many bigger-sized logs, it’s advisable to choose a log splitter with a greater maximum log diameter and log length. Otherwise, your log splitter will be limited to splitting small logs only. Likewise, there are log splitters with a max log diameter of 40 inches and a max log length of 30 inches. Examples of log splitters with great diameter and length allowances include the RuggedMade 37-Ton Horizontal Gas Log Splitter, Swisher LS22E, and Swisher LSED14534 34 Ton Timber Brute. With such a log splitter, you’ll be able to effectively split bigger logs. Some log splitters have an unlimited max diameter, meaning they can take in logs of any width. This is the best type for heavy duty logs which wouldn’t fit in the smaller log splitters. Good examples include the Kindling Cracker Firewood Kindling Splitter and the Logosol Smart Splitter.
Cycle time refers to the amount of time it takes for the log splitter RAM to split a log and return to the starting position for a second round. The faster the cycle time, the faster the splitter works, and the more logs the log splitter will split. With such a splitter, it’ll take less time to split logs. Super-fast log splitters, most of which are kinetic, have a maximum cycle time of 1 second. A good example is the Powerhouse Log Splitters XM-880. But even a 5 to 15-second cycle time is considered fast and will go through a pile of logs pretty quickly.
Single-handed or two-handed operation
Some log splitters require a two-hand operation, where you have to use both hands to turn two levers. With this type, you must push both levers down to operate the wedge. If you only push one lever, the wedge won’t budge. This type is considered safer because, in case of any mechanical failure, there will be little risk of injuring yourself. It can be used in both manual and powered log splitters.
The second type requires only one hand to lift or push down one lever to operate the wedge. Placing the free hand in the wrong place when using this type of log splitter can lead to a serious injury if the hand comes in contact with the wedge. Do not attempt to move the log with your free hand once you’ve begun the splitting process because this can cause serious injury.
Your log splitter comes with wheels for ease in moving it around. When quality wheels are used, only one person is needed to move the log splitter because it’s stable. Ensure that the wheels roll with ease and do not jam or move sideways. Some log splitters come with a transport handle, which makes moving them even easier. You can move the log splitter a bit if buying from a physical store.
If buying online, be sure to test the log splitter as soon as it arrives. In case you notice a problem with the wheels, notify the manufacturer or seller immediately and they should be in a position to arrange a replacement.
If the log splitter also has a ball hitch, it means you can tow it elsewhere if needed. Just hitch it to your truck and get moving. Some people like to tow it on the lawn mower. Use whatever works for you, but first, check what the manufacturer recommends so that you don’t end up damaging the splitter or putting yourself and other road users at risk. Also, watch your speed when towing the log splitter. Stick to the speed limits for the area where you’ll be hauling your log splitter and you should have no problem. Great log splitters for towing include the RuggedMade 37-Ton Horizontal Gas Log Splitter and the Swisher LSED14534 34 Ton Timber Brute.
A good log splitter comes with a manufacturer’s warranty. Be wary of buying one without a warranty because, should you run into a problem, you’ll be on your own. And considering how much money you’re spending on the machine, it’s only right to have the manufacturer’s backing. Some manufacturers offer an all-inclusive warranty that covers the hydraulic, parts and workmanship, while others give different warranties for each – a warranty for the hydraulic and another one for the parts and workmanship. Warranty period can range from one year to five years, so weigh your options carefully, taking note of what’s covered and what’s left out, so that you’re not disappointed when, months down the line, you need repairs or parts replaced.
Also note that when two warranties are given, the warranty for the log splitter mechanism will mostly be shorter than the one given for parts and labor.
How to use a log splitter
Log splitters are easy to use. You only have to be careful to eliminate the risk of injury. This you do by familiarizing yourself with the log splitter before using it and knowing the various parts that will be in motion when the log split is in operation. Doing this helps you take note of all the moving parts and ensures you don’t place your hands or foot there and suffer an injury. Here’s a simplified, step by step procedure of how to use a log splitter:
- Ensure that you have enough fuel if using a gas log splitter. If using an electric one, make sure that it is close enough to the electrical outlet.
- Turn on the engine and if using a gas log splitter, turn the fuel valve to switch it on.
- Place a log on the splitting table.
- Push the lever to bring down the axe, maintaining the action until the log is fully split.
- Pull the lever to lift the wedge.
- Remove the split logs.
- Repeat the process for all the logs.
Of all three variants of log splitters, manual splitters are the easiest to maintain. They have no running expenses and may only require very little care. Electric log splitters are also easy to maintain and, save for the cost of electricity, they don’t much operating expenses. Gas log splitters are the most involving of the three. You incur more running expenses with them because you have to refill the gas each time it’s depleted. And with gas being more expensive than electricity, you’ll be spending more. They also require a more rigorous maintenance routine than the other two. Here are some tips to maintain your log splitter in top condition:
- Avoid using the log splitter if it’s in questionable mechanical condition. It’s good practice to thoroughly inspect the splitter before each use.
- Tighten any loose bolts, nuts, screws, and hose clamps, and replace any worn or damaged parts, ensuring that any replacement parts you use meet the manufacturer’s specifications.
- Check the oil level before each use. The recommended safety level is indicated by the marks on the dipstick.
- Avoid using and storing the splitter in a wet environment. Use and store it in a dry, cool place, preferably indoors.
- Replace the hydraulic fluid as recommended by the manufacturer.
Most manufacturers use a series of safety features to keep the log splitter as safe as possible during use. These may not be available on all log splitters, so check whether any model you’re interested in buying has one or more of these.
- Some log splitters have non-slip rubber grips which keep you comfortable while operating the levers and ensure you don’t accidentally let go of the lever.
- Some also have clamps to hold the log in place while splitting.
- Some have emergency stops to instantly stop the engine for enhanced safety.
Additional safety precautions you can take while handling the splitter include:
- Do not touch the towing handle, the splitting table, or the RAM while the splitter is running. Also, don’t tamper with the splitter during operation. For example, removing the vent plug from the hydraulic reservoir while operating the splitter can result in serious injury from hot oil.
- Always block the splitter wheels using bricks or wooden blocks during operation to keep the log splitter from moving.
- Always operate the splitter from the indicated ‘operator zone’ so you have easy access to the levers and can comfortably push them as needed. Your user manual will have this properly illustrated.
- Never attempt to split two or more logs on top of each other. This can cause serious injury.
- Never attempt to cross-split the log. Always ensure that you split your logs lengthwise. The log splitter is designer to work along the length of the log, not across the log. When split horizontally, the log may burst and cause injury.
- Never check for hydraulic fluid leaks with your hands. Instead, pass a piece of cardboard over the area you suspect to have a leak and look for discoloration.
- Never make alterations of any kind on any mechanical part or motor. Use the log splitter as designed and assembled from the manufacturer.
- Never use your splitter in the rain or snow. Wet conditions are a safety hazard.