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What Are the Different Types of Log Splitters?
Options for those looking to purchase a log-splitting machine or tool are vast and varied. Some of the more common types would include:
- Slide Hammer Manual
- Screw Cone for Drill
As one might expect, each option has advantages and disadvantages, which will be explored in this article.
Having used splitters for decades, I’ve come to some conclusions about each style and what type is best for what conditions.
But First, a Few Preliminary Things to Know!
Before we explore the different types of splitters on the market, it would be good to mention a few items that everyone should know to properly understand the different styles.
First, most log splitters (though not all) are designated with a power rating based on tons of force. Much like a gas motor’s size and power is rated based on its HORSEPOWER, log splitters are rated according to how much pressure they can exert, measured in TONS.
A small splitter would start at around 5 tons of pressure while a huge commercial splitter would offer 80 tons of pressure.
Also, when we discuss hydraulic splitters (which most splitters are) we’re talking about a system where a cylinder uses hydraulic fluid to generate a great force. Hydraulics are not the power source (like electricity or gasoline would be). Hydraulics is merely the system (which needs to be powered) that provides the force.
In other words, you can have a tractor-powered (which is actually gasoline or diesel) hydraulic splitter or an electrical-powered splitter.
Similarly, kinetic log splitters are simply splitters that use a different technology in the process of applying force, but as with hydraulic splitters, kinetic splitters need a specific power source. Both kinetic and hydraulic splitters can be powered by gasoline or electricity.
Gas/Petrol-powered splitters are one of the most commonly available styles of log splitter. Because of their ability to be extremely portable without requiring a PTO (power take-off) unit on a tractor (or hydraulics) or any electricity, they are often best for remote use in a forest far from electrical power.
While not as strong as tractor-driven hydraulic splitters (3-point or PTO), gas splitters don’t need to be attached to a large tractor that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
- Very Portable
- Widely Available
- Typically stronger than similar powered electric models
- Easier to use than electric splitters (ie. can be used with one hand, unlike typical electric models)
- Because of toxic emissions, it can’t be used indoors or anywhere without adequate airflow
- LOUD (compared to electric, manual, kinetic, and even hydraulic)
- More expensive than electric splitters
- Maintenance with re-fueling and oil changes can be a bit more involved than manual, kinetic, or electric
- Marginally heavier than electric splitters
Electric splitters are easily found at any hardware store or online, and are commonly found secondhand on various websites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
Because of their portability and small size, they are often the splitter of choice for homeowners looking to stock up on a few cords of wood for Winter. Compared to any other option of splitter, electric splitters are the least intimidating option and can be used indoors as well.
- Smaller than other wood splitter options of the same power rating
- Very quiet (only make a tiny bit of noise when activated – no hearing protection required!)
- Can be used indoors (garage or basement) since there is no noise or fumes
- Never need to change oil or service the engine
- Less expensive to purchase and operate
- Easier to move (portability)
- Don’t offer really high power ratings over 10 tons
- Requires an electrical outlet to be within extension cord distance
- Operation is designed to use 2 hands on 2 separate controls through the ENTIRE split arm extension, so no hands are free to guide the log properly through the splitting process
SKID STEER SPLITTERS
A skid steer log splitter is a very large (and expensive) piece of apparatus that attaches to the front end of a skid steer (like a Bobcat for example) and connects to the hydraulic system of the skid steer.
The notable feature of a skid steer splitter is that it comes in a huge variety of configurations and offered features – much more so than an electric or gas splitter.
For example, skid steer splitters can be simply units that are carried around and powered by a skid steer, but operate like a gas splitter. On the other hand, a skid steer splitter can also be an “all-in-one” unit that grabs, carries, cuts lengths, splits and pushes the wood through from a large log size to a finished product.
- All-in-one solutions sometimes included in a particular design
- Wood can be lengthed (cut into lengths) and split without even getting out of skid steer.
- Very powerful
- Must be compatible with your skid steer’s mechanics (pump pressure, weight, flow rate)
- Not a stand-alone apparatus – must have a skid steer in good working order
Manual log splitters refer to a style of log splitter than requires some degree of your own, biological physical energy to be used in order to split the log.
This type of splitter is preferred by those with a smaller budget and stronger (younger) body. It offers a host of benefits from budget considerations to exercise to size/weight advantages. Of course, the big downside (aside from requiring your energy) is that the size of log that can be split is very minimal (8 inches diameter maximum).
- Very cost effective/budget friendly
- Small and light for portability
- No need for any complicated maintenance
- No need for costly fuel or electricity
- Offers physical exercise (couldn’t we all use more of that??)
- Offers a pretty high power rating of up to 10 tons
- Very slow in splitting
- Requires your own physical labour as the sole power source
- Offers minimal split size (8 inches is typically the maximum size)
- Build quality is often lower and hydraulic cylinders have often failed
- Not widely available
MANUAL SLIDE HAMMER
A slide hammer is a manual splitter that is perfect for small jobs including kindling preparation. It’s best for logs that are about 8-10 inches tall and 3-5 inches in diameter.
It’s less of a log splitter and more of a kindling-making tool. While it is possible to split larger logs with some styles (yes, it comes in various styles) it’s very tiring and you’ll likely want a powered splitter soon!
Manual slide hammers offer unparalleled economy, portability and convenience, but fall short when it comes to efficiency.
- Low price
- Easy to transport
- Requires no external power (other than you!)
- No on-going maintenance
- Safer than swinging an ax or maul
- Offers up to 10 tons of force
- Very tiring
- Not always more effective than an ax
- Can’t easily split logs that would be easy for even the smallest electrical log splitter
- Steel smashing on steel is very loud and annoying to neighbors
The Splitz-All manual slide hammer splitter is a bit of an outlier. It is far more effective than other manual slide hammer models. It can split 8-inch logs in 2 strokes. However, it is heavier and far more expensive than any other manual model, and is also pricier than almost any second-hand powered model up to 10 tons!
KINETIC & HYDRAULIC
This category of Kinetic / Hydraulic log splitters is a bit deceiving since all the other types are categorized according to their power source.
However, neither kinetic nor hydraulic describes a power source. Both kinetic and hydraulic splitters can have a variety of power sources like electricity or combustible fuel.
Hydraulic splitters are by far the more common type and virtually every splitter you see on the market is hydraulic-based. It uses hydraulic fluid to create pressure in a cylinder to power the push arm.
On the other hand, the less common but MUCH faster kinetic splitters use a rapidly spinning flywheel to create power which is then stored and released as needed to power the push arm which pushes the log against a wedge.
Both systems have advantages and disadvantages that are worthy to note!
- VERY FAST – From the start of the push arm movement until return to starting position (recycle time) it’s only about 2 – 3 seconds instead of up to 15 seconds for a hydraulic splitter recycle time
- Parts to maintain are minimal. Only the engine itself needs maintenance instead of all the other parts like fluids, hoses, etc.
- Uses less fuel per split
- Significantly more expensive than hydraulic splitters
- Because of the speed of the push arm, very hard woods or large logs are more difficult to split than with hydraulic splitters
- Cannot be used vertically
- Relatively new technology
- Noticeably less expensive than kinetic splitters
- More widely available than kinetic splitters
- Well-established technology with a trusted track record
- Can split thicker wood than kinetic
- Slower than kinetic splitters
- Contains more parts to maintain and/or fail
Here’s a unique option that works if you have a strong drill and wrists of iron. A screw cone works on the same premise as a splitting wedge but instead of being forced into the wood with a hammer, the cone has threads that pull itself into the wood.
Better quality cones come with an assortment of shanks and shank attachment options. I’d stay away from any cones that cost less than $50 as their reviews are not impressive.
It is crucial to understand HOW to use it properly. If your log is very small (about 4 inches in diameter) you can drill the end of it, or you can drill the side of the log. If drilling the side, it’s strongly advised that you do NOT drill in the center of the log.
Intuitively it would make sense to drill in the center, but that will increase the likelihood that the cone will get stuck and the log will not be split. If you start nearer the edge, it will be easier to split a smaller chunk off the edge.
- Cost effective
- Very small
- Easy to use
- Won’t split large logs
- May not split very much if technique is not correct
- May irritate or even injure your wrist(s)
- Can cause excessive pressure on the drill componentry including battery
HORIZONTAL vs. VERTICAL SPLITTER
Most log splitters sold are horizontal in orientation since they are typically smaller and can be operated with more convenience from a standing position.
Furthermore, horizontal splitters are less expensive and require a smaller space to operate in most cases.
However, there are a few major advantages to vertical models.
Vertical splitters are designed to be able to accommodate larger logs in both length (or height) and in diameter or width.
By incorporating the splitting wedge into the splitting arm or cylinder which moves downwards, the base of the machine remains flat which allows a large log to be moved into position without actually lifting it.
In addition, many vertical splitters have an attachable, option winch system to help move exceptionally large logs into place. If a winch is necessary, that means you have a very strong splitter that can split nearly any log you have!
Pictured above from L to R: Horizontal splitter, Horizontal splitter with an added winch system
AVERAGE COST OF EACH STYLE OF SPLITTER
The average cost of splitters is not a very accurate representation of what you will pay since the prices vary greatly from a brand new 80-ton Rabaud splitter for $75,000 to a used screw cone for $10.
However, here is a very basic chart with general averages as per our research.
|GAS (9 Ton)||$700 – $1000|
|ELECTRIC (9 Ton)||$500 – $700|
|MANUAL HYDRAULIC||$375 (if you can find one)|
|MANUAL SLIDE HAMMER||$205 (range from $60 to $500)|
|SCREW CONE||$60 for good one (range $14 – $160)|
|KINETIC||$2500 – $3100 for good ones, but can be bought for $500|
WHICH IS THE BEST CHOICE OVERALL?
The question of which is “the best” is impossible to answer without defining “best”, and that is also a difficult task.
Generally, here’s an overview of the best splitter for various conditions:
If you work in a remote forest environment, a gas-powered hydraulic version is likely the most useful option.
If you are not a professional but just want something to occasionally split small to medium logs for personal use, an electric 7-9 ton splitter would be best.
If you are concerned about environmental impact but still need a higher splitting capacity and budget is not as big a consideration, a kinetic model may suit you well.
If you only occasionally split small to medium logs and have a very limited budget, but a set of good, strong arms and some time to spare, a manual slide hammer could be worth a look.
If you are a commercial user like a landscaper or specialized wood delivery service provider, a larger, tractor-driven hydraulic system (horizontal or vertical) might be the wisest choice for sheer efficiency.
If you are mainly splitting wood for kindling (especially if it’s dry) and have a good drill, you might consider a screw cone … or a good old ax!
The sheer variety of log splitter styles, power options, sizes and prices can be overwhelming. If you are pretty sure you’ll need one, then it’s best to do a bit of research and then actually take the step to purchase.
You’ll find that even a modest splitter will far surpass the use of an ax for safety, energy, efficiency and ease of use.
I own a 7-ton electric splitter and it splits more than I thought it would so I’m happy.
Don’t forget to consider variables such as overall weight of the unit and how that may (or may not) affect your decision, as well as issues of ease of use, budget, environmental factors and volume of wood to be split.