Curling up next to a crackling wood fire can be comforting, but the experience doesn’t come cheap. Depending on where you live, you could pay several hundred dollars for a cord (4 by 4 by 8 feet) of split and seasoned firewood. No wonder lots of folks try to save money by chopping their own wood.
Trouble is, the tedious, labor-intensive process of swinging an axe can hurt your hands, shoulders, neck, and back. The solution? A log splitter! While you still have to fell the tree and cut it into logs with a chainsaw, a log splitter takes care of the hard work of creating smaller pieces that will fit perfectly into a firebox.
Keep reading to learn more about these helpful tools and to find out why one of the following models may be the best log splitter for you.
- BEST OVERALL: WEN 56207 6.5-Ton Electric Log Splitter
- BEST BUDGET: Fiskars 378841-1002 X27 Super (36″) Splitting Axe
- BEST FOR KINDLING: Hi-Flame Firewood Kindling Splitter for Wood Stove
- BEST VERTICAL: Champion Power Equipment 25-Ton Vertical Log
- BEST COMPACT: KABIN Kindle Quick Log Splitter – Manual Splitting
- HONORABLE MENTION: PowerSmart 6-Ton 15 Amp Electric Log Splitter
Types of Log Splitters
Although some are manual, many log splitters are heavy-duty tools that run on hydraulics. Hydraulic fluid is pumped through a cylinder to create enough pressure to force a large steel bar—called a ram—into the end of a log. The ram splits the firewood into halves or quarters, depending on the type of steel blade used.
Unlike manually swinging an axe, which uses force and impact to split a log, the best log splitters use steady, even pressure, causing the logs to split slowly and consistently. A hydraulic log splitter comes in two basic configurations: horizontal splitters and vertical log splitters. Each has its own benefits and considerations.
This type of firewood splitter features a horizontal bed or cradle onto which the log is placed. Using a steel ram, the splitter pushes the log into a sharpened steel blade at the other end, which splits the log lengthwise. Horizontal log splitters are the most common type and relatively easy to operate.
Horizontal splitters are generally adequate for splitting average and smaller logs up to 12 inches in diameter. If you’re planning to split a lot of larger logs, it can be difficult to lift and position them in the cradle of a horizontal splitter. Both the weight and the cumbersome size and shape of the logs can take a toll on the back and shoulders after a while.
Vertical splitters offer a distinct advantage over horizontal splitters for splitting large, heavy logs. With a vertical splitter, the log is rolled over to the splitter and then tipped up onto a flat steel plate that sits at ground level. On a vertical splitter, the sharpened blade is part of the ram itself.
When the ram is activated, its blade is forced into the end of the log, splitting it apart. As the sharpened ram splits the log, the pieces fall to the sides, and large remaining bits can be repositioned on the steel base for further splitting. The best wood splitter for heavy logs typically operates in a vertical position.
A combo horizontal/vertical splitter offers the best of both worlds because it can be used to split logs of all sizes, from small ones to large, heavy ones. This type of combo splitter varies slightly from a horizontal-only splitter in that the sharpened steel blade is positioned on the ram, just as it is on a vertical-only splitter.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Log Splitter
The following factors may come into play when determining the best log splitter for your needs—be it a large-scale power tool or a manual model. A manual hydraulic log splitter does require some labor, but not nearly as much as using an axe. An electric log splitter or a gas-powered model requires only lifting the log into the cradle.
Manual vs. Automatic
Most log splitters operate on either gas or electricity, although manual models also are available. Each type is suitable for certain splitting jobs, and each has benefits and downsides.
If there is a lot of wood to split—or if there is a need to split wood where there’s no electrical outlet—a gas log splitter may be the best option. Gas splitters are typically more powerful than electrical splitters; as a result, they’re handy for logs greater than 12 inches in diameter, and hard types of firewood, such as mahogany and maple.
The downside to a gas log splitter is that it can be quite loud, so hearing protection is recommended. Gas log splitters also can’t be used inside a garage or workshop because they create hazardous fumes.
If you’ll be splitting wood in the backyard, neighbors will be thankful for a quiet electric log splitter. This type of splitter can also be used safely in a garage, since there’ll be no fumes to contend with—or fuel to store. An electric log splitter isn’t as powerful as a gas-driven one, so it’s best suited to log diameters under 12 inches.
Using an electric log splitter requires the use of a heavy-duty, exterior extension cord, usually 12- or 14-gauge, depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations.
A two-handed log splitter works manually—it still uses hydraulics, but isn’t powered by gas or electricity. Instead, it comes with two long handles the user pumps back and forth to force hydraulic fluid into the cylinder to operate the ram. While using a manual log splitter requires some elbow grease, it’s still much less work than swinging an axe to split logs.
A second type of manual log splitter features a splitter blade that faces upward in the center of an iron holder into which a small log (about 5 inches in diameter) is positioned. The user then hits the log with a hammer or mallet to drive it downward over the blade, splitting the log in two. The splitter may need to be bolted down to a sturdy surface to keep it from moving when striking the log with the hammer.
One of the first things many notice when shopping for log splitters is a reference to tonnage in product names, such as “6-ton” or “20-ton.” Tonnage is the amount of power the splitter uses to force the ram. The higher the tonnage, the more powerful the splitter.
However, since there are no industry guidelines that regulate tonnage, there’s no guarantee that a 10-ton splitter from one manufacturer will provide the same force as others. This is where research helps. It’s vital to choose a reputable brand and do some exploration into whether a splitter lives up to its advertised tonnage.
The info below provides a general idea of how much tonnage is needed from a log splitter, depending on log diameter and wood hardness. Wood hardness is rated on the Janka scale, and logs made of harder wood are more difficult to split. Keep the following tonnage ranges in mind when selecting a splitter that suits the size of the logs you’ll be splitting.
- 6 inches in diameter: 4- to 10-ton splitter
- 12 inches in diameter: 12- to 22-ton splitter
- 20 inches in diameter: 20- to 26-ton splitter
- 24 inches in diameter: 27- to 30-ton splitter
Also called “return cycle time,” this is the amount of time it takes the log splitter to fully extend the ram and retract it back to its starting position. Most log splitters feature 10- to 20-second cycle times. Cycle time can vary even on the same machine based on wood hardness and whether the logs contain a lot of knots, which are harder than other parts of the log.
For professional firewood producers, a faster cycle time means more logs can be split in less time, but for the average person who isn’t in a hurry, slower cycle times may be acceptable.
On most log splitters, one lever is pulled and held down to extend the ram, and then a second lever is pulled and held to retract the ram. While many DIYers find this to be an acceptable way to split wood, the process goes faster if the log splitter has auto return.
With the auto-return feature, a log is positioned, then a single lever is depressed, and when the lever is released, the ram returns to its retracted position—there’s no additional lever to hold down. This allows the user to quickly remove a split log and position a new one on the machine while the ram is retracting to its starting position.
Most DIY log splitters feature two back wheels useful for moving the splitter from one spot to another—just lift the opposite end and push like a wheelbarrow. Larger, commercial-type splitters are often built onto a trailer base that can be connected to the back of a pickup truck and towed into the woods for splitting logs on-site.
Compact log splitters save on storage space and are typically still powerful enough to use for splitting firewood for personal heating use. Maximum log length is limited, often to around 16 inches long, so a chainsaw may be necessary for cutting longer logs to length. Manual splitters and splitting axes also take up less storage space than powered splitters.
On the smaller end, a manual splitting wedge may weigh as little as 9 pounds and be less than 1 foot wide and tall. These compact models are portable and often come with holes in the bases to stabilize them by bolting them down to tree stumps. At the other end of the scale, gas-powered splitters can weigh hundreds of pounds and come mounted on their own trailers or wheel-bases, some of which can be as large as a compact car.
Additional Features and Accessories
Log splitters are straightforward in design and don’t come with a lot of bells and whistles. Their main purpose is functional but a few additional features and accessories may be handy.
- 3-point hitch: For farm and commercial use, heavy-duty log splitters may come with a 3-point hitch that attaches to the power takeoff (PTO) on a tractor or other piece of heavy equipment.
- Table: Some log splitters come with attachable tables that extend the work space. These are typically made from durable steel and mount to one side of the cradle.
- Cover: Large log splitters may not fit in a garage, so a cover can keep rain, snow, and dust out of the engine and other working parts.
- Woodchuck: This isn’t a little critter that gnaws on wood, but rather a hooked tool. Also called a “cant,” it makes it easy to roll large logs across the ground via a steel hook at one end.
Our Top Picks
With the above key features and shopping tips in mind, check out some of the best log splitters available, chosen for performance, quality, and price. Wood splitting needs vary, and some may need a hefty gas log splitter to split enough wood to last all winter, while others may want a small manual log splitter that serves only to further split quartered logs into kindling. No matter the needs, one of the following log splitters should fit the bill.
Generate up to 13,000 pounds of log-splitting force with the WEN 6.5-Ton Electric Log Splitter. This horizontal electric log splitter includes a 34-inch stand for splitting logs at waist level, or it can be placed on the ground to make loading large logs into the cradle easier. The cradle features elevated “wings” to keep logs stable and reduce the risk of a log rolling out.
Because it won’t generate fumes, the WEN log splitter can be used in a garage or a workshop, or with a heavy-duty extension cord for backyard operation. The WEN features a 20-second cycle time and is suitable for splitting logs up to 10 inches in diameter. Its wedge-shaped head splits logs into two halves, which can then be repositioned in the cradle for splitting into quarters.
For those willing to expend a little elbow grease, buying a log splitter doesn’t have to break the bank. Among the most manual of all wood-splitting options, the Fiskars Splitting Axe weighs just 5.85 pounds and is 36 inches long, making it well suited for taller users. Best of all, it comes at an affordable price point.
The Fiskars axe is fully manual, but its advanced bevel convex blade concentrates splitting power with each strike and also makes it easier to pull the blade out of the wood if the split is incomplete. This is a balanced axe, designed to increase swing speed and multiply striking power. It comes with a textured, nonslip grip to reduce hand fatigue.
Standing just 9.5 inches high and weighing in at 9 pounds, the Hi-Flame log splitter is designed for reducing larger pieces of firewood into thin, kindling-size pieces, and its small dimensions make it suitable for transporting in a car or truck.
The Hi-Flame splitter is made from bright orange, powder-coated steel and features a sharpened vertical blade welded to a base plate that can be positioned on the ground or bolted to the top of a log stump for added stability. Each side of the vertical blade features a slanted steel guide that directs the split wood at a diagonal angle to reduce the chance of logs getting stuck on the blade. A mallet or maul is required for splitting the firewood.
For sheer power and the ability to split logs either horizontally or vertically, it’s tough to beat the Champion Power Equipment Log Splitter. This bad boy generates 25 tons of ram force to easily split large logs up to 24 inches in length that weigh up to 100 pounds. Not fond of lifting those heavy logs? With just a couple of quick adjustments, the Champion tips up to a vertical position, allowing you to easily roll a log into place on the strike plate.
This gas-powered splitter is designed for serious log splitting. Weighing in at a beefy 430 pounds, this splitter is not easy to lift, but there’s no need. It comes mounted on its own wheelbase and comes with an ATV/UTV 2-inch ball hitch for pulling it into remote locations.
When storing a large log splitter is out of the question, consider the KABIN Kindle Quick Log Splitter that weighs just 12 pounds, is a mere 10.25 by 9 inches wide, and stands 15.5 inches tall. This compact manual splitter is portable and well suited to taking on camping trips or just to the backyard for splitting small logs with a mallet or sledgehammer.
The Kindle Quick is made from solid cast steel in a tripod designed for stability, and it comes with a sharp wedge blade in the center that splits firewood in two, reducing the amount of strike force required to split the wood.
This basic electric log splitter comes with all the features necessary for splitting logs up to 21 inches long and 10 inches in diameter. The PowerSmart Log Splitter features 6 tons of ram force and can be placed either on the ground or a sturdy workbench, making it more comfortable to split wood in a garage or workshop during inclement weather.
The PowerSmart runs on electricity, so there are no fumes and no need to swing an axe or mallet. It features a 20-second cycle time and comes with a steel frame for durability. It weighs 104 pounds and comes with large wheels and a handle for easier maneuverability.
FAQs About Log Splitters
Swinging an axe to split logs is hard work and can quickly result in sore arms and shoulders. Whether powered or manual, log splitters are designed to reduce some of the labor associated with this task. For those wanting an easier way to get the job done, a few questions are expected.
Q. How does a log splitter work?
The best log splitters work by forcefully pushing a log into a sharpened blade or pushing a sharpened blade at the end of a steel ram into a log to split it apart. Most log splitters are powered by hydraulics, but some are manual.
Q. How much power does my log splitter need?
Thicker and denser logs require splitters with more power than is needed for small logs or softwoods, such as cedar and pine. A 4-ton splitter handles logs up to 6 inches in diameter, but a massive 24-inch tree trunk requires a 20-ton splitter.
Q. What is the difference between a full beam and half beam log splitter?
Full-beam splitters come with the cylinder mounted at the towing end of a large beam. Half-beam splitters mount the cylinder in the center of the beam, which makes them more compact. Half-beam splitters are sometimes—but not always—less powerful than full beam splitters.
Q. What is the best gas-powered log splitter?
Gas-powered splitters are more powerful than electric and manual splitters, and several powerful models are available. The Champion Power Equipment 100251 25-Ton Horizontal log splitter is among the best options available for gas-powered splitters.
Q. How good are electric log splitters?
Electric log splitters are suitable for light to medium wood-splitting needs and personal use. The WEN 56207 6.5-Ton Electric Log Splitter is one of the best electric models.
Q. Can you move a log splitter by hand?
Log splitters are pretty heavy, weighing between 9 pounds for a manual splitting wedge up to several hundred pounds for gas-powered models. A handle and large wheels will make moving a smaller splitter easier, but the largest models come mounted on trailers or their own wheel bases for towing with trucks or ATVs.
Anyone who has to split wood on a regular basis will likely appreciate the assistance afforded by a log splitter. Whether it’s in the form of a sharp steel wedge or a beefy gas-powered model, all splitters reduce the amount of physical effort needed to split logs for your fireplace or wood-burning stove.