How to Choose a Log Splitter

At this time of year, when it’s so cold that Jack Frost is not so much nipping at your nose as trying to lop it off with a pair of hedge trimmers, my mind drifts away to a little cabin somewhere, a warm glow surrounding me as a blazing log fire in the hearth burns merrily, bathing the room in comfortable, ecologically acceptable heat, while a radiant Halle Berry prepares mulled wine and mince pies, and Michael Bublé sings something mellow in the background.

Well, so much for my winter fantasy. Not everyone’s cup of eggnog, but it is time to think about preparing Yule logs for the fire, stove or burner. However, wielding that axe in the cold can bring on a world of back-related tweaks and twinges. A log splitter could reduce the effort and speed up the job. But there are many styles and models to choose from. Read on and I will give you the basics so you can decide which is right for you.

What is a Log Splitter?

A log splitter (or wood splitter as they are sometimes known) is a mechanical device that uses hydraulics to drive logs against a strong, metal wedge, splitting them to make smaller logs for firewood. A log splitter is in effect a mechanical axe, but where an axe uses muscle power, gravity and impact to split wood, the log splitter uses pressure, a safer and more efficient way of splitting.

What Types of Log Splitter are there?

Very generally, for our purposes, log splitters are divided into four categories…

  1. Electric horizontal (here is an example)
  2. Electric vertical (you can see one by clicking here)
  3. Petrol vertical (see an example)
  4. Petrol tow behind (click here to check one out)

Within these categories, there is a wide variety of features, but we’ll deal with those later. The basic method of splitting remains the same. The most important thing to remember is that, the more tonnage you have, the tougher, larger, or harder wood log you can deal with. Higher tonnage can also help cope with knotty or unseasoned wood.

What is Tonnage?

Tonnage is a measurement of pressure and is used to gauge the amount of pressure each log splitter can exert. A basic, level-entry model would typically exert about 4 or 5 tons of pressure, whereas the larger versions that we sell can easily exert around 12 to 25 tons.

You wouldn’t want to try splitting a very hard, thick, hardwood log with a small tonnage log splitter, so it’s good to know what type and size of wood you are splitting and how much you are going to need.

What Types of Wood are Right for Splitting?

In theory, any wood can be split with a log splitter, but do remember we are preparing firewood and not building a scale model of Noah’s Ark, so ideally, we want to work with wood that is appropriate for domestic fires and burners.

A few good examples are ash, birch, and beech; bearing in mind we want the logs to split fairly easily. Cedar burns well, as does elm. Pine tends to spit when burning but is plentiful and one of the easiest woods to split. Apple wood is good, but it needs seasoning. Hawthorn, hazel, holly and sycamore are also good.

And if you are not the lumberjack type, happily harvesting fallen oaks in your spare afternoon, you may just be splitting logs you have had delivered, so make sure you check with your supplier which woods are being delivered when you are considering splitting.

What Size Logs Can I Split?

As I have indicated before, it really depends on your log splitter, the tonnage, the state of the wood etc. However, as a very rough guide, if you plan on splitting smaller branches of up to 25cm in diameter and up to 52cm in length, a 4 to 5 ton electric horizontal log splitter will be about right.

If you are planning to tackle large sections that are more like 60cm in diameter, you are going to need something closer to 25 tons of pressure.

Each model of log splitter we sell on our website will include a specification table that states the maximum log size it can deal with.

Horizontal or Vertical Log Splitters. How to choose?

It’s simple really. The smaller electric-powered horizontal log splitters we sell are ideal when you have lower volumes and smaller sizes of logs. They’re the most popular type and will be perfectly adequate for most people’s needs. They can be operated either at floor level or on a bench or in some cases come with a stand enabling waste-high operation.

The electric and petrol vertical log splitters we sell are mid-sized machines that can deal with a larger range of log sizes and greater volumes. They’re ideal if you’re going to be preparing firewood regularly and have a larger-sized property with perhaps more than one wood burner. These machines have adjustable base-plates allowing you to configure the log splitter depending on log size for maximum efficiency.

The most powerful log splitters we sell are petrol-powered horizontal machines that generally will have a tow hitch of some description enabling you to hook them up to either a garden tractor, ATV or a motor vehicle depending on the attachment. These are high performance machines that are ideal for anyone who regularly chops wood and needs to handle any and all wood types with ease. Some models also offer added speed and efficiency so these machines might be considered by those looking to save time.

There more differences between horizontal and vertical splitters, but we’ll deal with all that later.

Electric Or Petrol?

Ah. The perennial question – relevant to so many tools. Electric log splitters, while tending to be less powerful, can be used inside, in a garage, woodshed, or even in your kitchen if you have an understanding spouse, and they are low noise, low maintenance and fairly economic.

Petrol splitters tend to be more powerful, but should not be used indoors due to fumes. However, being cable-free they can afford you the freedom to split further afield, down the garden, in the back yard or deep inside an enchanted wood if you so wish… although if you see two children in Lederhosen running away from a house made of sweets, don’t get involved!

So, Which Log Splitter Is Right For Me?

That really depends on how much wood you have to split, how many logs you need, how many fires or stoves you have to provide for, how big the wood is and how new, old, wet or dry, seasoned or unseasoned it is.

If you live in the suburbs, have access to a reasonable wood supply, have one fire and a wood burner, you will probably need something domestic and electric. If, however, you live halfway up a hillside in rural Shropshire, have a range style solid fuel cooker, a wood burner and an open fire in the great hall that the Vikings would be proud of… well, you see where I’m going with this.

But to be a bit more specific, we’ll look at the different types in order. We’ve dealt with the electric or petrol choice so look at some of the other differences….

Electric Horizontal Log Splitters

An electric horizontal log splitter generally sits on the ground and is suitable for an average or smaller household. They are usually compact and ideal for making logs for burners, fires and stoves. They are sometimes sold with stands to raise them and ease up on the back bending and some come with transport wheels for easy storage.

Electric and Petrol Vertical Log Splitters

Electric vertical log splitters and petrol vertical log splitters are slightly easier to use as they are operated in an upright position with the wedge moving down against the log. They are made for a wider range of log lengths. The log rests on a base plate, usually adjustable, which means that if you are splitting shorter logs, the wedge does not have to move so far, saving time and energy.

A vertical machine, electric or petrol, will often have wheels so you can work in different areas.

Our electric vertical machines vary in tonnage between 5 and 6 tons, and our petrol vertical models tend to be between 7 and 10.

Tow Behind Log Splitters

When it comes to tow behind log splitters, we are generally back to horizontal models, for obvious reasons (it’s not easy to tow something vertical unless it’s on a truck). However, some will work vertically once in place.

This type of log splitter will be petrol powered and the models we sell have pressure ratings from around 12 tons right up to the 25-ton mark for heavy-duty splitting of larger, knotty logs with tougher grains.

There are a variety of tow fittings available, some have a ball hitch for SUVs and some are fitted with pin hitches for towing behind lawn tractors and some ATVs.

They are not road worthy, and are still intended for domestic, or light commercial use on private grounds, private roads and woodland.

What Are The Main Features To Consider?

Obviously, there are a variety of features and functions across the types and ranges. Some I have mentioned before, but it’s worth a reminder. Here’s a brief list of features to look out for:

Stands – as mentioned before, these are useful for raising an electric horizontal log splitter from floor level to remove the need for you to bend.

Two-hand safety operation – this means both hands are required for operation for safety.

Wheels for easy transport – from small, simple wheels on the more basic models, up to large wheels with rugged all-terrain tyres on some of the tow behind log splitters; these enable you to store, transport and split on the move.

Transport handle – a comfort/convenience feature that helps you wheel the log splitter from one working area to the next.

Comfortable rubber/sponge hand-grips – some log splitters will have ergonomic handles and comfort grips. This is handy if you are working for long periods as they reduce some of the affect of vibration and just make working more pleasant all round.

Height-adjustable log plate – these are very useful for dealing with varying log sizes and, as I have mentioned before, are a feature of vertical log splitters. They are usually adjustable to three positions, occasionally two. A rare, but linked, feature is the inclusion of sliding guides between the splitting column and guide tube to make height adjustment quicker and simpler.

Shielded control levers – exactly what they sound like. Not only are your hands moved away from the business end of the splitting action, the operating levers are also shielded for extra safety.

Clamps – some vertical models have clamps to hold logs securely during splitting. Some of these are adjustable to take different sized logs and some have jaw-like grips that take a variety of sizes.

Swing out feet – not as ‘strictly come ballroom’ as they sound. These are adjustable feet that spread out to provide more stability. A rare feature, though most vertical log splitters have their own method of stabilising the base often having a heavier base or fixed splayed feet.

On/Off switch with zero voltage trip and emergency stop function – pretty much as it sounds; an enhanced safety feature found on a few models.

Spring-loaded return – this returns the wedge to the starting position quicker. It is a rare feature, but if you have a lot of logs to get through, or you are the kind of person who stares at a quick-boil kettle saying “Come on!” – it’s a useful one.

Shaped log cradle – a feature of horizontal splitters, this adds stability by stopping the logs falling off during the process.

Dual speed on a standard log splitter, the wedge moves towards the log at the same speed at which it actually splits the wood, i.e. quite slowly. This dual-speed feature saves time and energy, as the wedge travels towards the log at speed, then slows down to apply the pressure, for efficiency.

How Safe Are Log Splitters?

Well, first of all, just remember that log splitters are powered tools and, like all such items, should be treated with the utmost respect. However, they are perfectly safe to use when operated correctly and with appropriate care.

The wedge in a log splitter isn’t sharp; it is the pressure and the wedge shape that split the logs. Added to this, all of our splitters come with safety features. Two-handed operation is required to use any of our models, so both hands are on the control levers or switches and kept away from the splitting action.

Even so, we do recommend appropriate clothing and that you avoid wearing any loose hanging items. We would also suggest that you wear safety goggles and preferably work gloves to protect against splinters.

What Brands Of Log Splitter Are Available?

I’m glad you asked that, as it gives me the opportunity to tell you that we stock the largest range available in the UK, including our own MD brand. We sell top brands like Einhell, Al-Ko and Ryobi, as well as specialist brands like Handy, Ardisam, Lawnflite and Weibang.

You can find out more about these brands by vising our log splitter homepage.

Further Advice on Log Splitters

I hope this has given you some useful, basic information and helped to make your choice easier.

Don’t forget that MowDirect are the leading supplier of log splitters in the UK so do have a look at the detailed write-ups of our log splitters before you make your final decision.

And if you need more information or free impartial advice on which model to choose don’t hesitate to e-mail us on sales@mowdirect.co.uk or call and speak to one of our friendly experts on 0845 4588 905 between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday.

And that’s that. Good luck. Now, back to my fantasy. Where has that Halle Berry got to with my mince pie?

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Drew Hardy

Freelance Writer at Mowdirect
A keen allotmenteer with an interest in all things horticultural, Drew has a varied writing background with experience in a number of fields including garden machinery, lawn care and compost. His first experience with gardening was a cultivating a small plot he was given by his house master at school. He grew a decent crop of radishes and lettuce and sold them to a local shop, exhibiting his first, and last, sign of an entrepreneurial spark. Drew lives in North London with his wife, two children and a slightly bonkers cat
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