Wood-Splitting Tools for Today’s Homestead
How to Skip the Wood-Splitting Axe and Save Your Back
Wood-splitting tools have enabled homesteaders to survive and thrive for centuries. Just like many of today’s tools we use on the homestead, there have been some marked improvements since the days of yore. Today, the modern homesteader has lots of options available to them, thanks to newer technology.
Many people still believe that axes are the best way to split wood, and they may be right, but it’s not the best way for everyone. If you’re young, able, and can do for a quality workout, then perhaps splitting wood the old-fashioned way is the best way for you. If, however, you don’t have the time, inclination, or physical ability, you really should evaluate other options.
The quintessential wood-splitting tools, the axe and maul are still a viable way of splitting wood. You can find them in their utmost of classic forms, and you can find them with updated handles and head designs, but in the end, they’re still just an axe and maul.
A good, sharp axe will serve any homesteader well, and every homestead should have one, even if you prefer to use more modern wood-splitting tools. Likewise, a proper maul gives you the heft and head weight to tackle some big species of wood that your axe may not handle. There is a time and place for both these tools, but unless you’re a glutton for punishment, I don’t suggest using them as your exclusive method of wood-splitting.
If you heat solely with firewood or have a stove that consumes large amounts of wood, such as a wood-burning cookstove, then you will surely tire of using manual wood-splitting tools in a hurry. Aside from expensive, fully-automated firewood processors, the now-common hydraulic wood-splitting tools of today are definitely your best bet.
Almost every large farm, tool, or hardware store now sells hydraulic log splitters. These splitters feature a gasoline engine or electric motor to power a hydraulic pump, which in turns actuates a hydraulic piston. This piston crushes lengths of wood between a wedge and flat anvil surface, making it split. Depending on the moisture content and type of wood you’re splitting, this splitting may be sudden and violent, or slow and controlled.
Independent hydraulic wood splitters are very popular and for a good reason. Most of them can tow behind a truck or car, which makes them easy to transport. Many people who split wood like to do the splitting some distance away from the house, either next to a storage shed or where the tree fell. Having a mobile and independent wood splitter lets you wander afar to split your wood.
Small gasoline engines emit high levels of carbon monoxide, which means you must operate them outside. Without proper ventilation, you risk carbon monoxide poisoning, which will make you sick and can easily (and quickly) kill you.
Another issue with small gasoline engines is the noise they emit. Exposure to loud engine noises can cause serious long-term hearing loss, so be sure to wear hearing protection. Even if you wear hearing protection, the droning sound will eventually wear on you, your neighbors and fellow residents.
Electric Driven Splitters
If you split your wood next to a woodshed with electricity, or near your house, you can consider an electric log splitter. The vast majority of electric log splitters are slow and feature a marginal tonnage rating (the amount of force it can exert to split your wood, expressed as tons of pressure). These typically small units are okay for low volume splitting and may work for someone who burns wood occasionally, but someone who burns a lot of wood should look elsewhere.
There are exceptions to this rule, however. Some high-end, high dollar electric log splitters can be found with force ratings of 20 tons or more, and are available in 220V configurations. 220V powered splitters will offer better efficiency, longer motor life, and lower electricity bills compared to an equal unit in 110V.
If an electric log splitter sounds like a fit for you, I strongly suggest buying a 220V unit in as high a tonnage as you can find and afford. These units will be quieter than gasoline fired wood-splitting tools, but not silent by any means. Electric log splitters can be operated indoors, such as inside a woodshed (which is the best way to store firewood), without the concern of toxic fumes. If that is important to you, then an electric driven hydraulic splitter is an excellent choice.
Tractor Driven Hydraulics
If you already have a tractor, you have a fantastic third option for hydraulically operated wood-splitting tools. A three-point hitch mounted log splitter implement takes advantage of your tractor’s onboard hydraulic system. Most modern tractors have hydraulic fittings on the back near the three-point hitch to attach to powered implements. If you have these fittings, purchasing a three-point log splitter should be quite cost effective.
Tractor-mounted log splitters offer superior power compared to gasoline or electric powered unit. Additionally, since you’ve provided your engine and hydraulic pump, a three-point log splitter can deliver more tonnage at a considerably lower purchase price.
For tractors which don’t feature rear-mounted hydraulic connections, there is still another option. Tractors with a live PTO can install a PTO driven hydraulic pump to operate the log splitter. These splitters will have a large oil reservoir and are effectively a self-contained hydraulic system unto themselves, minus the engine. The added components do add cost to the log splitter, and setup takes a little more time when mounting a PTO pump, but these systems work well.
Winter waits for no one, so if you intend to heat with wood, start planning today! Do you have a preferred log splitter already? Let us know in the comments below!