Firewood is essential for keeping warm during the cold winter months. But log splitting can be a difficult and time-consuming process if you don’t know the right techniques.
To make log splitting easier, we’ve compiled a list of four log-splitting methods that range from traditional axe swinging to modern hydraulic log splitters.
With these tips, you’ll be able to get your log pile (even those 25-inch diameter ones) ready for winter in no time! Read on to learn about the best ways to split big logs for firewood.
Table of Contents
How Do I Split Big Chunks of Wood?
To split large logs, there are dozens of conditions that can be created to make the job easier, and here are a few that you can apply;
Cure your logs for a minimum of 1 year, use a maul and sledgehammer along the outside edge of a large chunk on both sides, orient your log splitter into the vertical position if possible, and don’t expect very large logs to be split right through with one pass every time.
Should I Cure Firewood Logs Before Splitting Them?
Traditional wisdom says freshly-cut softwood should be left to dry (cure) for 6 months before burning. Hardwoods should be left to dry for closer to 1 year. The longer the wood dries, the better it will burn, and 1 year is the better option for all firewood in most parts of the country (USA and Canada).
Obviously, you’ll need to cut your trees into manageable lengths and sizes, but that usually means logs and branches that can be 5 – 10 feet in length or more depending on your wood processing equipment.
Whatever the actual size and length of your logs, the next step would be to cut them into fireplace-sized lengths. Officially, 16-inches is the length to shoot for, but that can range from 2-3 inches in either direction before it gets annoyingly long or short.
There are tools to help you with cutting 16-inch chunks along the length of your logs with a chainsaw. You can use a measuring tape and a marker of course, but if you’re doing more than just a couple of logs for personal use, you might consider a measuring aid.
We prefer not to use spray paint since that’s something that will either run out or dry up, so we like “The Perfect Stick” magnetic measuring tool that never needs maintenance or replacement (unless you lose it!).
The Perfect Stick is a firewood length measuring tool that is simple to use and never needs replacement or maintenance.
Alternatively, another great option is the MINGO MARKER which applies a small dot of spray paint every 16 inches as you roll it along your log. This method is slightly faster than using the Perfect Stick but you have to have the right marker paint and hope it does not clog or run out at the worst time.
The Mingo Marker is the fastest and easiest way to mark off cutting lengths on your log in preparation for cutting firewood at good, useable lengths.
Once you’re done cutting your long logs into 16 inch (or thereabouts) lengths, it’s time to let them sit and dry out for a time.
The prevailing wisdom suggests 6 months for a cure time for softwood and 1 year for hardwood, but it really depends on the time of year you start the clock, and your location geographically. Obviously, your wait time will be shorter in the Summer in Arizona than it would be in the rainy Pacific Northwest in October or November.
Ultimately you want the moisture content at around 15% and that can take much longer to achieve in a damp environment, or much shorter in very dry, sunny conditions.
I make it a rule at my place to just wait for a complete calendar year before I start with the splitting process on any pieces bigger than about 6 inches (for both hardwoods and softwoods) since I only have a 6.5-ton electric splitter.
Also, note that both softwoods and hardwoods come in a variety of different hardness levels, meaning that it’s not as simple as saying softwood is soft and hardwood is hard. Many trees are considered to be a “soft hardwood” or a “hard softwood”.
For example, Ash is fairly hard and is considered a hardwood, but it does not compare with the hardness of Hickory or even White Oak.
If you own a splitter that is significantly larger, like 25-ton or more, you can probably split your wood into ready pieces right away. However, since the wood is fresh, it won’t produce the best burn. It will inevitably produce more smoke from the wet wood.
4 Suggested Methods to Split Any Firewood
Method # 1 – AXE
One of the most classic and most used log-splitting techniques is with the axe. This method works best for small logs and branches, as it takes a bit of practice to master.
Start by finding a sturdy log that won’t roll or move around on you. Secure the log in place if necessary.
Using an axe for splitting works best with cured softwood that’s typically not larger than 8 inches in diameter. It’s also best for creating kindling rather than burning logs which can be as large as 12″ in diameter and 18 inches long.
Using an axe with one hand, find a crack or split in the log and insert the blade of your axe into this crack. Then exert pressure with both hands so that the log splits in two. Make sure to wear protective goggles and gloves when using an axe.
If it’s not already obvious, be aware that you’ll soon exhaust yourself if you’re swinging an axe or maul for a few hours, and it will be especially demoralizing if you are trying to split large, uncured pieces of the original trunk.
With some practice and patience, log splitting with an axe can be a rewarding experience – especially if you’re looking for some physical activity!
Method #2 – CHAINSAW
Using a chainsaw is another log-splitting technique that works well for larger logs. It’s important to wear protective gear such as eye and ear protection when using this tool.
To start log splitting using one of the chainsaw methods, set up the log horizontally on a flat surface and make sure that it won’t move around while you are cutting.
Place the lowermost chainsaw bumper spike (the sharp things on the body of the saw where the blade and body meet) into the log to prevent it from erratically flying off its perch. Slowly lower the blade (pivoting down at the bumper spike point of contact) until you have cut right through the log lengthwise.
Keep in mind that using this method of splitting wood with a chainsaw is slow and comparatively wasteful considering the huge pile of shavings, chips, and dust you’ll have around you after splitting 25 logs.
Another method of using a chainsaw to split wood (specifically if the logs/pieces/rounds are very large) is to rip the wood (cutting with the grain as in the above video) but strategically cut smaller pieces around the perimeter of the log.
It’s almost like cutting pieces of a pie. Here’s a great video to show this method:
IMPORTANT: It should be noted that if you cut along the exterior bark and WITH the grain, you’ll end up with nice large strings of wood that is perfect for other uses like fire tinder or even packing material. If you cut the log in any other fashion, you’ll end up with lots of fine sawdust which really can’t be used for anything.
Method #3 – HYDRAULIC (or Kinetic) SPLITTER
For log splitting on a larger scale, or for larger logs, try using a hydraulic log splitter. This tool uses pressurized oil to make log splitting easier and quicker than ever before.
Kinetic splitters are a newer technology that allows for much quicker splitting using a similar machine but with a different power method (though both hydraulic and kinetic splitters require a gas motor).
To start log splitting with this tool, place your log onto the splitter’s log cradle and then position it so that the log is centered directly under the ram.
Then simply turn on the machine and press down on the handle to activate the ram’s motion. As the log is pushed into the splitting wedge, it will gradually be split in two.
Hydraulic log splitters are a great tool for log splitting on a larger scale, as they offer control and precision that can’t be matched with manual log-splitting methods.
Log splitters make any splitting job (large or small) easier, and there are dozens of sizes and models to choose from in a variety of power options (ie. electric, hydraulic, manual, skid steer, tractor PTO, etc.)
Method #4 – WEDGE AND HAMMER
If you’re looking to keep log-splitting traditional, this classic method might be right up your alley! To log split with a wedge and sledgehammer, start by finding a sturdy log to work with.
Place the log horizontally on a flat surface and then secure one end of the log so that it won’t move around. Hammer in a log-splitting wedge at an angle that follows the log’s grain, and then use a sledgehammer to strike the top of the wedge until it splits open.
Depending on the log’s size, log splitting with this method can take some time – but it’s well worth the effort!
Alternatively, you can use a splitting maul near the edge of the log and then use a sledgehammer to pound it down (be sure it’s at the edge so the handle of the maul or axe won’t stop once the wedge or blade goes into the wood 5 or 6 inches).
Do the same on the opposite side and this will split even a large log of almost any diameter, even over 24 inches).
Are Log Jacks Necessary?
A log jack is a strategically-engineered steel pole with a large hook and a set of feet or stabilizers designed to allow you to easily grab, turn, flip and prop up a large log for the purpose of cutting it with a chainsaw (or manually if you really want to).
A log jack is easily deployed by engaging the hook and pulling down on the handle. This action causes the log to be secured by the jack and also lifted and propped up solidly from the ground.
This now allows you to easily and safely cut pieces of the log without having to stick the chainsaw blade into the ground to finish the cut (as you would if the log was sitting flat on the ground).
Log Jacks can handle logs in up to 15 inches fairly easily, and if you purchase a quality log jack, it’s possible to process logs up to 24 inches and in some cases even larger.
In the case of log jacks, it’s important to get a quality brand since lesser-priced jacks don’t have a sharp point on the hook so it won’t grab well, and the design of the hook does not allow it hug the log properly.
Here’s a very quick and simple video showing the use of a very basic log jack or log lifter that lifts and secures one end of the log.
To split very large logs (20 inches in diameter or larger), it’s best to cut them into 16 – 18 inch lengths and then let them dry for close to 1 year.
You can use an axe with a wedge or a wedge with a hammer to eventually split nearly any sized log (even 40 to 50 inches in diameter) but often a chainsaw is best (and fastest) for very large logs.
Log Jacks are very helpful for trees up to 24 inches in diameter.
If all else fails and you have money to burn, one foolproof method of splitting any size logs found in North America would be the Rabaud 80-ton splitter! Check out the video: