Why a Firewood Splitter Makes Sense

Reader Contribution by Steve Maxwell
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If I had to choose one machine that does more to boost my household self reliance, a wood splitter would be at or near the top of the list. You don’t need a splitter to heat and cook with firewood, but it sure does help. It was more than 20 years ago that I moved from splitting about 15 face cords of firewood a year with an axe to using a gas-powered wood splitter. These days, I own three different wood splitters and my son and I cut and split about 50 face cords a year in less than half the time it used to take us to do 15. And while a wood splitter is the tool of choice for making useful amounts of firewood, there are things to consider as you decide if a wood splitter really is for you.

Why Split Firewood?

Making pieces of firewood small and speeding up the drying process – these are the two reasons people split firewood. While you saw logs to length so the pieces aren’t too long to fit into your wood-burning appliance, splitting is faster than sawing for cleaving the wood into smaller pieces along the length of the grain.

The most common type of gas-powered wood splitters use a 5 to 12 horsepower engine to drive a hydraulic wedge into the end of a firewood block, splitting the wood along its length. Start the motor, lay a block of wood on the splitter, flip the hydraulic control lever with your hand, then watch the splitting wedge move slowly into the wood, prying it apart in a least two pieces with nearly unstoppable force. Sounds dangerous? It can be, but it can also be very safe if you follow certain procedures to protect yourself. 

Splitter Safety

Of course, the main concern is getting your hand or finger caught between the log itself and the wedge-shaped part of the splitter as it moves into the wood, but there’s an easy solution to this. Never allow your free hand to touch the wood while the splitter wedge is moving. The only part of your body that should be allowed to touch the machine or the wood during an actual split is the hand operating the control lever.

If you always make it a point to lift your non-lever hand off the wood and tuck it behind your back or at your side after lifting the log into place and before activating the hydraulic lever, it will always be out of harms way and impossible to get injured. Sometimes you do need to steady a log momentarily until the wedge contacts the wood, but then it’s hands-off for safety. Click here for my video tutorial on how to use a wood splitter safely.

Using a Wood Splitter

The best wood splitters can be towed behind a truck or car. This is one reason it’s easier than you think to harvest firewood from free sources. This is true even if you live in a city or the suburbs. Tow your splitter to the logs or branches, saw them to length with a chainsaw, then split the blocks up with your splitter on site.

The wood splitting tips coming up next are things I’ve discovered gradually over more than 30 years of cutting and heating with wood:

  • Always wear hearing and eye protection as well as safety boots when using a wood splitter.
  • Greatly increase safety by never allowing a second person to place logs in final position on the splitter while another person operates the hydraulic lever.
  • Save labour by splitting wood right into a truck box or loader bucket, or where it will be stacked. Letting split wood fall to the ground leads to more wood handling because you need to bend down and pick it up.
  • Run the fuel completely out of the tank and the engine before long-term storage of your splitter during the off-season. The engine will start more easily next time when you fill it with fresh fuel.

Is your wood splitter failing to start? Drain the fuel from the carburetor bowl, then try again. Most carburetors on wood splitters have a small screw on the bottom of the carburetor bowl. Drain this gas, re-tighten the drain screw, let the carburetor refill with gas from the tank, then try and start again. This simple trick often allows any small engine with a bowl-style carburetor to start after long-term storage. It has got me up and running many times over the years.

Making your own firewood is hard work, even with a splitter on your side. That said, there’s good reason to make it part of your hands-on lifestyle. There’s nothing quite like being cozy in your home on a winter’s night, warmed by a cheery glow that you made with your own hands, while also safe from global heating fuel supply disruptions and high costs.

Steve Maxwell is a DIY expert and longtime contributor to MOTHER EARTH NEWS. “Canada’s handiest man,” Steve and his family homestead on Manitoulin Island, Canada, cultivating a little patch of farmland surrounded by a sea of forest. Connect with Steve at, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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