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Last updated: June 12, 2021
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If you want to spend the winter sitting around a warm and cozy fire or even heat part of your home with a wood stove through the winter, you’re going to need a lot of firewood. While you could chop firewood from logs manually with a felling ax, you can save yourself a ton of arm soreness and back aches by investing in a log splitter. The best manual log splitter makes it easy and fast to split logs using a hydraulic press or a solid splitter so that you can produce a cord of firewood without suffering through the aches that come with chopping wood.
In searching for the best manual log splitters on the market today, we considered a number of important features. The first was the design of the log splitter, whether a manually operated hydraulic press or another type of manual splitter. We also considered whether each splitter was designed to be used for vertical or horizontal splitting and the size of logs the splitters accept, since the splitter has to match the logs you have in your yard. Finally, we considered the quality of the materials in each splitter since the splitter will be subjected to significant forces when pressing through wood.
After tens of hours reading through technical specifications and customer reviews, we came up with our five favorite manual log splitters – they are highlighted in the table below. Continue reading for detailed reviews of each splitter, complete with pros and cons. Our buying guide covers everything you need to know about log splitters, including the features you should look for and how to use a manual splitter safely. Finally, we announce our three overall favorite manual log splitters.
Users love this hydraulic splitter from Sun Joe, which offers somewhat more room for larger logs in its cradle than comparable manual splitters. The splitter can accept logs up to 18 inches long and eight inches around, while the hydraulic mechanism produces 10 tons of splitting force – enough for most softwood logs.
The main issue with this hydraulic press is that it is slow and struggles with harder woods. Users found that while the press can force its way through some small-diameter hardwood logs, it can fail when dealing with knotted wood. Furthermore, the piston only extends about halfway so you are left trying to pry difficult hardwood logs apart or making a second cut. Even when working with softwood logs, the press is slow enough moving back and forth that cutting a cord of wood would take an entire day.
The splitter is extremely heavy – roughly 100 pounds – but comes mounted on wheels for portability. However, users point out that the wheels are too small to use on anything except pavement, so you will likely need to carry your wood to this press rather than carry your press into the woods.
That said, users were very happy with this splitter for producing small amounts of firewood for recreational use from logs around the yard. The hydraulic levers require much less force than other manual splitters and many older users found this to be a good solution for splitting wood. Sun Joe also offers a two-year warranty on the splitter.
Why did it make our list?
Hydraulic press is easy to use with little physical force
Users love this slide hammer style log splitter from Logosol for how safe it feels compared to the traditional wedge and hammer. What sets this slide hammer apart is the secondary arm on the side of the wedge and guide rod, which allows the hammer to grip the wood during your first few impacts so it has very little room to deflect or slide and cause an accident. The secondary arm doesn’t limit the maximum diameter of log that you can split, although you will need to position the wedge close enough to the edge of any log for the arm to reach past the log’s edge. Although Logosol places a 21-inch maximum log length on this splitter, users report that it can cut longer logs if you are willing to use a mallet to drive the wedge in further.
Compared to a hydraulic splitter, this slide hammer is extremely lightweight at just 7.7 pounds and lightning fast to use. Users report getting a workout from repeatedly throwing down the hammer and prying wood apart, and note that it takes some practice to identify the optimal spots on a log to split with this tool, but overall find it surprisingly able to cut even knotty hardwoods.
Some users find that the hammer itself can break after several years of heavy use, but a replacement is available for less that $10. In addition, Logosol offers a two-year warranty and a two-month money back guarantee.
What do we love it for?
Unlimited wood diameter and long log length
Secondary arm prevents slipping
Lightweight and fast
What were we disappointed with?
Requires more of a workout than hydraulic splitters
Takes some practice to get good at splitting large-diameter hardwoods
This small and inexpensive manual kindling splitter from Kindling Cracker is perfect for those who already have split wood and want to turn a portion of it into kindling to start a fire. The splitter is designed to hold small logs – no bigger than 6.5 inches around – and force them through a grooved splitter that leaves you with several small slivers of wood. While this could be done easily with a mallet, you can even save carrying tools around by simply using another piece of wood as your hammer since the unique groove design requires less force to split wood than a traditional axe.
Users found the kindling splitter was much safer and easier to use than using an axe to split similar small pieces off the edge of a log. They also loved the incredible durability of this splitter that comes from its cast iron construction. Although Kindling Cracker offers a five-year warranty, there is virtually zero chance of breaking this splitter. Plus, the splitter requires almost no maintenance since it does not need to be sharpened to work effectively and will not be worn down if you leave it outside for the winter – it even has bolt holes on the base so you can leave it permanently attached to a splitting stump.
The only problem with this splitter for those in need of a log splitter is that it’s designed for a very specific purpose – splitting kindling. If you have logs that are too big to fit inside the splitter’s ring, you’ll need to first use an axe or splitting maul to cut down your logs.
This compact slide hammer from Timber Tuff is designed to simplify the process of splitting wood manually and users love it for how well it achieves that goal. The slide hammer is designed with a single-piece construction that makes it easy to use from the first log you split – simply place the wedge on the log, hold the handle, and drop the hammer. Users note that while the hammer alone can get through even knotted hardwoods with enough impact, adding some force to the hammer drop will allow you to split wood two to three times faster.
Thanks to the design of this slide hammer, there is no limit on the diameter and length of logs you can split with it. However, users caution that before splitting larger logs, it is best to get some practice with identifying what grains in the wood are best for splitting with this wedge. In addition, without a secondary arm like that found on the Logosol splitter, it is possible for this slide hammer to deflect slightly if you are not careful to hold it steady when dropping the hammer.
The wedge almost never needs to be sharpened to work effectively, although it is easy to do so with a metal file if you have a particularly stubborn log to split. Users also report that the hammer is durable and exhibits no issues with the hammer or handle breaking after repeated uses. Timber Tuff offers a one-year warranty on the splitter.
Why did it make our list?
No limit on size of logs you can split
Single-piece construction is easy to transport and wield
What is not ideal about it?
No secondary arm to prevent deflections
Takes some practice to be able to split larger logs
his hydraulic log splitter from Ironton is designed to make splitting small logs easy and moderately fast. Although the cradle nominally only accepts logs up to 6.5 inches in diameter, users report using this splitter on logs up to 18 inches in diameter – they note that there is essentially no size limit as long as you don’t mind working away at the log in small pieces. The main limit is that it can only handle logs up to 18 inches long and apply 10 tons of force, although this is enough to easily split any softwoods and even small-diameter hardwood logs. Note also that the wedge only travels about eight inches, as opposed to the entire length of the cradle. Users liked how fast this press is to use compared to other hydraulic splitters, although compared to other manual splitting methods it is still quite slow and primarily good for producing recreational amounts of firewood.
The splitter is quite heavy and comes with small wheels that are limited to pavement, much like the splitter from Sun Joe. However, users appreciated the catchers on either side of the cradle that prevent split wood from falling to the ground – saving you a ton of bending and lifting over the course of a day spent splitting wood.
Given the price of this splitter, users were somewhat disappointed that it only comes with a one-year warranty – especially since some users reported issues with the hydraulic cylinder leaking fluid upon arrival.
What makes it special?
Can split wood of any diameter
Catchers on either side of cradle
What cons did we find?
Only one-year warranty
Heavy, with small wheels
Things to Consider
Now that you’ve learned more about our five favorite manual log splitters on the market today, how do you choose between them to pick the log splitter that is best for your needs? In our buying guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the features that differentiate manual log splitters, offer tips on how to use a manual log splitter safely, and answer some common questions about manual log splitters.
Features to consider while choosing a manual log splitter
Manual log splitters span a wide range of designs, and even manual splitters that look similar on the surface can be very different when it comes time to use them. In this section, we’ll cover some of the important features that differentiate manual log splitters and help you understand how these features affect how you can use the splitter.
Types of manual log splitters
There are several different types of manual log splitters, some of which may seem easier or harder to use depending on your willingness to put some elbow grease into splitting logs.
The most common type of manual log splitter is the hydraulic splitter, which uses a hydraulic press to drive a wedge through the log you want to cut. While these offer a ton of power because of the hydraulic drive, pushing the wedge forward into the wood requires powering handles back and forth, moving the wedge forward only a little bit with each motion. The Sun Joe and Ironton splitters are both hydraulic log splitters.
Another common type of manual log splitter is the slide hammer. These tools have a sharp wedge extending from a metal rod, with a movable weight that can be slid to the top of the rod and then dropped on the top of the wedge to force it into the wood. Once the wedge is in, however, you will need to use muscle power to pry the wood into pieces. The Logosol and Timber Tuff splitters are slide hammers.
Finally, the kindle splitter, like the model from Kindling Cracker, is a safer alternative to a traditional hammer and wedge. This tool requires you to place the piece of wood over the splitter and then hammer it down, but thanks to the metal cage there is no need to hold the wood or a wedge with your other hand.
Horizontal vs. vertical splitting
When it comes to small logs, you may not think much about whether your splitter works horizontally or vertically. But when you have trouble moving large logs around, whether your splitter will work in either orientation can matter a lot. Slide hammers and kindle splitters are necessarily vertical splitters, although slide hammers may be more versatile because they do not require picking up the log before splitting it.
If you are using a hydraulic splitter in the horizontal orientation, you will need to load the log onto it before you can split it – which may be impossible with a massive log. This is an important consideration when choosing the type of log splitter you want, since both of the hydraulic splitters we reviewed are only designed to be used horizontally.
Log length and diameter
The length and diameter of logs you can split also depends on the type of splitter you will be using. Slide hammers can split nearly any length and diameter of log, since you can continue to use the hammer to drive the wedge in until you have enough power to pry the log apart. The kindle splitter is limited in diameter by the diameter of the metal holding cage – in the case of the Kindling Cracker splitter, the cage accepts logs only up to 6.5 inches in diameter. Hydraulic splitters have limitations on both the length and diameter of logs they can accept, since the log must fit inside the cradle between the endplate and wedge. Both hydraulic splitters we reviewed are limited to logs 18 inches long or less.
Manual log splitters don’t have a lot of moving parts that can break, but having a warranty can be important given that they will be subjected to somewhat extreme forces quite frequently. Manufacturer’s warranties vary widely, from one to two years on hydraulic splitters and slide hammers to up to five years on the Kindling Cracker kindle splitter.
How to use a manual log splitter?
How you use your manual log splitter depends on the type of splitter you have. Before operating a splitter, it is best practice to cut the ends of the log so that they are flat. Also, ensure that the length and diameter of the log do not exceed what you splitter is capable of handling.
To operate a hydraulic splitter, place the log with one end firmly against the endplate and slide the wedge against the front end of the log. Engage the hydraulic mechanism and then move the levers back and forth to drive the wedge all of the way through the log before disengaging the mechanism and sliding the wedge back.
To operate a slide hammer, position the wedge firmly on the top of the log. Pull the hammer midway or higher up the guiding rod and then drop it to push the wedge into the wood. You can repeat this process as necessary to drive the wedge deeper into the wood until you have enough leverage to pry it into two pieces.
When using a kindle splitter, place the log inside the cage of the splitter with the bottom against the wedge. When ready, use a hammer or mallet to strike the top of the log and force it through the splitting wedge.
Modern manual log splitters are designed to be significantly safer than the traditional hammer and wedge method of splitting wood manually, but they can still be dangerous to operate because of the forces involved.
Always be sure that you are wearing proper safety clothing, including boots and protective goggles since it is easy to drop a log or for woodchips to fly when wood is split.
Make sure that your hands are never near the wood or wedge when striking the wood or moving the hydraulic press and, if you are working with a second person, ensure that everyone is clear of the wood before making any impacts.
Hydraulic splitters can require less muscle power to operate than other types of splitters, but it is important to keep in mind that they also require a lot of bending over and lifting wood into and out of the cradle. On the other hand, they do not require a hammer like a kindle splitter nor the manual prying force to split a log like a slide hammer, so some users might find them to be the easiest manual splitter to use.
Manual splitters can split either softwood or hardwood, although hardwood will require significantly more effort. Compared to commercial, motorized log splitters, manual log splitters will be limited in the diameter of wood they can split since they can only exert so much force.
If you use your log splitter frequently, it is a good idea to sharpen the wedge from time to time. This is relatively easy to do using a metal file.
Our overall favorite manual log splitters on the market today are the Sun Joe LJ10M, the Logosol Smart Splitter, and the Kindling Cracker Firewood Kindling Splitter. All three of these splitters are designed in different styles, so choosing between them largely depends on the types and sizes of logs you are splitting and whether you want to generate smaller logs or kindling. Users loved how easy and safe all three of these splitters made their respective processes compared to traditional methods, especially in the case of cutting kindling with the Kindling Cracker splitter. The Logosol splitter also comes with a secondary arm to help prevent the deflections that can make other slide hammer splitters dangerous. We feel the Sun Joe splitter is the overall best manual log splitter for most people because the hydraulic mechanism takes much of the physical force out of splitting wood and is capable of splitting wood up to eight inches in diameter.