Log Splitter Buying Guide
October 2, 2022 by The Merovingian
The right choice of the log splitter will ease your back, the wrong one will leave the machine in the garage and you out with an axe. But before you go to the actual selection of the right device, think about what you’re looking for, where you’ll be using it, or how big and what kind of wood the logs will be. Answering these questions will give you the basic criteria for your selection.
In the following lines we’ll present the basic types of splitters you’ll find on the market. We’ll also look at the individual parameters of these machines.
Last but not least, we’ll describe the ergonomics, mobility, and safety requirements of the machines and how optional accessories can make your work easier. Approximate purchase costs are also an integral part of the selection process, and we list these almost at the end of this article.
How to choose a log splitter in a nutshell:
- Select a price category based on the amount of wood to be split – If you’ll be using the log splitter for commercial purposes (hotel, farm, or guesthouse), choose from the higher quality vertical models.
- Choose the splitting pressure according to the type of wood – For working with hardwood, choose a minimum pressure of 8 tonnes. Softwoods can also be handled by machines with lower pressures.
- Distinguish between drive types – If you plan to use the equipment in the field without access to an outlet, focus on a combustion-powered version. You may need a 400-volt outlet for some models.
- Do you have a second pair of hands? – Powerful chippers can weigh upwards of 200 kilograms and are difficult for one person to move.
- Distinguish between the auxiliary functions – More expensive chippers have a wide range of auxiliary functions.
Types of log splitters
The first decision in choosing the right equipment must be made at the very beginning. Log splitters can be divided according to their spatial arrangement into horizontal, vertical, or combined. Cone splitters are a very special category. Each of these designs has its pros and cons.
- Horizontal splitters
- Vertical splitters
- Combination splitters
- Cone splitters
The principle of operation is similar, after all, these devices share the same purpose – splitting wood. So you’ll always find a space for storing the logs, a moving mechanism with a wedge, a drive unit with a hydraulic piston, and a supporting structure usually equipped with wheels for easier mobility. The splitting process is taken care of by a hydraulic piston that pushes the wood against the wedge or wedge against the wood.
|Types of splitters||Pros||Cons||Usage|
|Horizontal splitter||+ Friendly price|
+ Compact size
|– Low power|
– Worse ergonomics
|– Family homes|
|Vertical splitters||+ High performance|
+ Additional functions
+ Large work volume
– High weight
– Higher price
|– Family homes with higher consumption|
– Guest houses and hotels
Horizontal log splitter
As the name suggests, the splitting of wood takes place in a horizontal position. In the design of the device, the length dimension dominates over the other dimensions. The drive unit is usually located on the same side as the running wheels for better handling when moving the machine. One lever and one button control allow easy operation.
The horizontal layout is favored by lower purchase costs, low weight, and easier operation. Some splitters have a working surface at a similar height to a table, so you won’t be forced to proverbially bend your back. For lower equipment, a stand can often be purchased to make the job easier.
The disadvantage of these splitters is that they’re mainly designed for smaller work volumes, for example splitting firewood for cottages and houses. Although horizontal splitters for professional use can be purchased with a pressure of over 22 tonnes, the price attractiveness drops quickly. A significant disadvantage can also be the worse storage capacity of the equipment.
Vertical log splitter
The difference between vertical splitters and the previous type is obvious – the work is done vertically, similar to working with an axe. The devices are again equipped with a drive unit, work surface, wedge, and wheels. As with the horizontal splitters, control is provided with both hands for safety reasons. Such control is even mandated by law.
Thanks to the vertical layout, these devices allow higher pressure to be achieved at a low purchase cost. This allows harder woods with larger diameters and log lengths to be split. They also tend to be significantly more compact due to the predominance of the height dimension over the other dimensions.
Due to the smaller base area and higher splitting pressures, the stability of the equipment is compensated by a significantly higher weight, which starts at around 220 lbs (100 kg). Compared to horizontal models, the weight is even more than double.
Hybrid log splitters
The third variant is a combination of the two previous ones. However, there are few such devices on the market and they’re more reserved for professional use, which also corresponds to their price. They allow splitting both horizontally and vertically, depending on which position the user prefers.
Cone log splitters
The outlier in the range can be attributed to the cone splitters. This isn’t a complete device, but only a machined steel cone with a thread. Such a cone can split logs with a diameter of one meter or more and is characterized by its high speed.
The disadvantages of this solution is its drive. Cone splitters are driven by the tractor’s drive shaft and don’t have their own drive. An experienced DIYer can connect the cone splitter to an electric motor at home. However, commercially sold self-propelled solutions aren’t widely available.
For clarity, here’s a table with typical parameters for the basic types of log splitters. The figures are averaged and indicative; there are devices on the market that fall outside these values.
|Horizontal log splitter||Vertical log splitter|
|Weight||88 lbs (40 kg) and more||220 lbs (100 kg) and more|
|Splitting pressure||4-6.5 tonnes||7-8 tonnes|
|Log length||Max 20 inches (50 cm)||Max 53 inches (135 cm)|
|Log diameter||Max 10 inches (25 cm)||10 inches (25 cm) and more|
|Power input||1,000-2,000 W||2,000-4,500 W|
|Annual wood consumption||Max 10 cubic meters||Unlimited|
|Price||< $400||< $1,400|
It would be hard to find a more important parameter that the splitting pressure. It’s a quantity indicating the force in tons that a wedge exerts on a log of wood. It follows that the more pressure we apply, the bigger and harder the log we can split. Most splitters use static pressure, but there are some that work on the principles of dynamic motion.
While soft woods such as spruce, poplar, or lime are well handled by horizontal splitters, which usually have a pressure of between 4 and 7 tonnes, hardwoods (beech, oak, acacia, and fruit trees) are better handled by vertical splitters. In this case, the pressure is between 6 and 30 tonnes. When making a choice based on the splitting pressure, attention should also be paid to the condition of the wood being processed. Experienced axe users will confirm that wet wood is significantly harder than dry wood.
For domestic use, most users can get by with a pressure of between 12 and 15 tonnes. Splitting pressure is also affected by operating time. When working for longer periods of time, the hydraulic oil heats up and the pressure drops. This is negligible in the first ten minutes, but if you want to use the splitter for hours on end, the pressure can drop by up to half. For this purpose, more expensive equipment with larger hydraulic oil reservoirs (more than 4 gallons/15 liters) is used.
Most splitters use continuous and relatively slow wedge pressure against the log. By pushing the wedge into the log, the log will split. Splitting is safer than the dynamic option, but also a little slower. However, this doesn’t mean that a faster splitter will allow faster work. Still, a machine is only as fast as you can operate it.
There are some rather rare splitters on the market that use dynamic pressure instead of static pressure. The principle is then similar to using an axe. The device usually has a rotor with teeth.
When the lever is pressed, the rotor engages and releases the arm with the splitting wedge, which is thrown with high speed and kinetic energy against the log. The disadvantage of this solution is the extreme speed of splitting and the high pressure when the wedge hits the log.
Length and diameter of logs
Other technical parameters directly related to the splitting pressure are the length and diameter of the split logs. The larger and longer the log to be split, the more pressure will have to be exerted. These parameters also influence the design layout.
The maximum length of the split log
Each fireplace or boiler allows the use of different lengths of logs and each person has a different amount of space in the garden for storing wood. Depending on the desired length of the log, you need to choose the right splitter and its pressure so that it can handle the logs without problems.
- Horizontal splitters offer a maximum log length of between 10 to 22 inches (25 and 55 cm).
- Vertical splitters can handle logs up to a length of around 55 inches (140 cm).
Maximum diameter of the split log
For maximum log diameters, horizontal splitters generally allow logs up to 35 cm in diameter to be split. Vertical ones can handle diameters of 50 cm. Of course, there are exceptions on the market that deviate from these values.
Although the heart of most log splitters is the electric motor, there are also combustion-powered machines on the market or those that can be connected directly to the tractor’s drive shaft. In the case of connection to a tractor, it’s often a combination with one of the previous drive types.
Simply plug the cable-equipped device into a socket and you’re ready to cut. This design is the most common and has the undeniable advantage of no combustion engine emissions and a lower operating noise level. Electric motors are also less fault-prone and require minimal maintenance.
While most horizontal electric chippers are designed for 230 V and can therefore be plugged into a household socket, a larger number of chippers require an industrial socket for 400 V/16 A.
Machines with combustion drives are more expensive and also significantly heavier. However, the combustion drive allows a pressure of around 40 tonnes and the splitting cycle is often shorter. The advantage is also the independence from the socket. Manufacturers offer variants with a petrol or diesel engine. Fitting these splitters with a towing device is no exception. Maintenance requires stopping up the operating fluids and, after a while, servicing.
Tractor drive shaft
Some electrically driven splitters are equipped with the option of connecting to the tractor drive shaft. This enables high cutting pressures to be achieved at a relatively lower purchase cost. Chipping cones can also be fitted to the tractor drive shaft.
Power and speed
In the past, you may have seen splitter outputs quoted in horsepower (HP), but this is now a thing of the past. Since 2010, for the sake of the consumer, power in horsepower can only be stated if it’s also stated in watts.
While the wattage is often determined by the speed of the splitter and its splitting pressure, the issue is more complex in the case of speed. RPM isn’t directly related to speed or pressure, it’s only a parameter of the machine.
The power input is normally between 1,500 W and 5,000 W, and even higher for some professional machines. In the case of combustion drives, the power inputs are higher. Higher wattage doesn’t necessarily mean better equipment. So choose based on the pressure and speed required. In particular, the power input information will help to calculate the power consumption of the equipment.
TIP: A splitter with a power input of 2,500 W will have a maximum power consumption of 2,500 Wh, i.e. 2.5 kWh.
The splitting speed and wedge return are invaluable criteria that give a direct overview of the speed of the splitter. These speeds aren’t always quoted by dealers but can be found in the manuals of the equipment. For home use, we don’t consider this parameter to be important. Even the slowest splitter on the market will perform well for smaller workloads.
Manufacturers indicate the speed at which the wedge moves in relation to the log. This value is usually presented in centimeters per second. On commercially available equipment it ranges between 1.2 in/s (3 cm/s) and 2.4 in/s (6 cm/s). So, if we’re splitting a log 24 inches long (60 cm), the splitting time will be between 10 s and 20 s. Some rather rate devices have a speed of up to 2 s per log.
Wedge return speed
The second speed parameter is the wedge return speed. As the name suggests, it defines the distance by which the wedge is returned in one second. The range of speeds is wider in the spectrum of available cleavers, with values between 4 in/s (10 cm/s), but it can also be off.
Ergonomics and operation
In order to be a good helper, a log splitter must also be easy to handle, portable, and relatively easy to move. A device with poor serviceability could end up in the garage while you prefer to work with an axe. So make sure the splitter has a stable base and is no heavier than it needs to be. Your spine will also appreciate it if you don’t have to bow to each log, so the height of the work surface is very important.
One of the last pieces of information you may be interested in when making your choice is the weight of the whole machine. As pressures increase, structures need to be more robust, hence significantly heavier. If you plan to take the equipment out of the garage or shed frequently, don’t neglect this parameter. Handling will be considerably easier if you choose a model with wheels. Also, pay attention to where you’ll be moving the equipment. Heavy equipment can dig into unpaved surfaces with its wheels.
The lightest splitters can be found among the horizontal types, which can weigh up to around 88 lbs (40 kg). In the case of vertical splitters, weights start at 220 lbs (100 kg) and more powerful machines can typically reach 728 lbs (300 kg). At least two people are often needed to handle such heavy equipment, and some models are equipped with a towing device.
The optional accessories make working with the splitter much easier. Most splitters, especially the vertical type, allow the use of variable splitting wedges. The basic splitting wedge splits the log in two, which may not always be suitable for large log diameters.
Below we introduce you to the most commonly available accessories. However, keep in mind that the more arms a splitting wedge has, the more pressure it needs to exert. Increasing the contact area between the log and the wedge reduces the effective pressure.
- Four-arm wedge – A handle that prevents your splitter from producing two pieces of the log at once.
- Six-arm wedge – A six-arm wedge can also be purchased for some splitters that produce six pieces of log in one cycle.
- Extended wedge – Sold almost exclusively for vertical splitters, this type of wedge finds particular use when splitting longer logs.
- Extension wedge – Twisted logs made of hardwood or wet wood can make the classic wedge a little tricky. The expansion wedge, which is significantly wider than the basic wedge, is best suited to these demanding tasks.
- Stand – Especially for smaller horizontal splitters, you have the option of purchasing a screw-in stand with wheels.
The basic rule for the maintenance of log splitters is to change the hydraulic oil regularly. The exact rules for changing it are given in the manufacturer’s manual. Usually, the original oil is changed a few months after purchase and then at least once every two years.
The machines also require regular lubrication and regular cleaning of chips and sawdust. You can manage routine maintenance yourself, but in case of breakdowns, it’s advisable to choose more established brands that have better availability of spare parts and quality of service.
Log splitters are designed to help with heavy work, so it pays to choose between machines with better workmanship from established brands and proven dealers. A quality splitter will serve you for many years with basic maintenance.
Generally, the manufacturers of quality equipment include the brands VARI, Lumag, Scheppach, Ballario & Forestelo, Hecht, Güde, Proma, Holzkraft, and others.
Price up to $400
In the price category up to $400, you’ll choose mainly from horizontal wood splitters. These will offer power between 1,100 W and 2,600 W and pressure up to 7 tonnes. The power supply is almost exclusively 230 V and you can split logs with a maximum diameter of 16 inches (40 cm) and a length of 22 inches (55 cm). The weight is up to 220 lbs (100 kg).
Price from $400 to $1,000
Vertical log splitters are starting to appear from around $440. These offer a power of up to 4,000 W and a splitting pressure of up to 12 tonnes. More powerful devices are already offered with 400 V and require an industrial socket. The maximum log length is around 53 inches (135 cm) and the diameter is up to 18 inches (45 cm). With higher pressures and more robust construction, the weight increases rapidly, ranging from 220 to 440 lbs (100 to 200 kg).
Price from $1,000 to $2,000
The more demanding customers who split larger volumes of wood each year will find in this category already really high-quality equipment with high splitting pressures of up to 25 tonnes. The category also includes vertical-horizontal splitters with combustion drives and towing devices. The weight ranges from 440 to 660 lbs (200 to 300 kg), but there are also machines weighing almost 700 kg. The maximum log diameter is 20 inches (50 cm).
Prices above $2,000
With a price of over $2,000, you are almost exclusively in the professional category of heavy-duty, heavy-duty splitters. They can split much larger logs than the average user needs. With a price of up to $12,000, they can also be used in specialized lines in the woodworking industry.
Tips for working with a splitter
The devices sold today are equipped with a variety of safety features. The most important of these is the two-handed switching of the device in the case of vertical splitters. Given the purpose of the equipment, it is advisable to follow a few guidelines that will not only ensure your safety but also make your job easier.
- Read the manual. Manufacturers clearly state how to operate the equipment safely, but maintenance instructions are also included.
- Protective equipment. Chipping can cause small chips to fly off even over long distances, so wear safety glasses. Gloves, on the other hand, will protect your hands from catching chips. Don’t forget sturdy footwear too, ideally, with a steel toe, a log falling on your foot can be unpleasant at best. The noise emitted by the splitter is around 88 decibels, protecting your hearing too.
- Level ground. Place the splitter on a firm, level surface so that it cannot tilt.
- One hand. Never put your hands in the splitter compartment when the machine is in operation. Only one person should operate the equipment at any time.
- Dry logs. Wet wood resists up to twice the pressure of dry wood. It is therefore recommended to let it dry before splitting.
- In the direction of the grain. Always work the logs lengthwise, never across. The recommended storage of the wood is usually illustrated in the instructions.
Frequently asked questions about wood splitters
How and which wood splitter to choose?
When choosing a wood splitter, it is crucial to determine the basic requirements of the selection. These include the volume of wood to be processed, the type of wood, budget, and storage space. For smaller volumes of work in a cottage or family home, cheaper horizontal splitters will suit you well, but if you only heat with wood or own a hotel or guesthouse, you will appreciate more powerful vertical splitters. Find the best wood splitters in our comparison.
How does a wood splitter work?
The device is equipped with a drive (electric/burning/tractor drive shaft) that exerts a certain pressure through a hydraulic cylinder. A piston is then ejected from the hydraulic cylinder, at the end of which is the splitting wedge. There are two variants, i.e. a moving wedge or a moving base. The wedge strikes the log to be split and splits it into two or more parts. The plunger is then retracted again and a new log can be inserted.
What are the advantages of working with a wood splitter?
A well-chosen splitter saves time and money. Working with this device is significantly faster than with an axe, the amount of logs processed per hour is 80 or more. The financial savings come from the lower purchase price of firewood that has not yet been split.
Choose a vertical or horizontal wood splitter?
The horizontal version is generally cheaper, produces less splitting pressure and is therefore particularly suitable for households with smaller volumes of processed wood (up to 10 m3 per year). The vertical device allows a higher splitting pressure and is more stable. It is suitable for larger volumes of work as well as for professional use. In both cases there are exceptions, and these are, for example, horizontal splitters with combustion drives classified as professional machines. For a specific comparison of chipper types, see the chapter on Chipper Types.
What is chipping pressure?
The device exerts pressure that divides the split log into two or more parts. The devices available on the market have pressures between 4 and 35 tons. For normal domestic use and splitting softwoods (European conifers and lime trees), a range of 4 to 7 tonnes is sufficient. For hardwoods (deciduous trees) you will need a pressure of 8 to 14 tons. In the case of wood that is not dried, the pressure required increases up to twice as much. See the chapter on splitting pressure for more information.
How to maintain the wood splitter?
It is a relatively simple machine, so no special maintenance is required. The basic rules for trouble-free operation are to keep the equipment dry and clean and to observe regular hydraulic oil changes in accordance with the manufacturer’s manual. Maintenance instructions may vary, so we recommend reading the instructions included in the package.