4 Great Techniques on How to Split Wood (2024)

Updated: Sep. 27, 2023

Heating your home or cottage with wood takes a steady supply of split logs. Our expert offers advice for DIYers on how to split firewood.

Few methods of home heating are as iconic and rewarding as burning wood — especially if you cut and split it yourself. The hard physical work of splitting firewood is missing from most other heating methods, along with the sense of accomplishment when your house is nice and toasty during a blizzard.

Growing up on a rural homestead, I have many fond memories of splitting wood with my father, dating back to age six or seven. Although I’ve lived in my own home for many years now, I still heat with wood, and enjoy splitting and stacking it just as much as ever.

If you think you’d like to try wood heat this winter but aren’t sure where to start, read on.

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Ways To Split Firewood

Like all practical hands-on skills, the ability to split firewood comes down to two things: the right knowledge and the right tools.

Knowledge comes with experience, and the best way to get both is to start your firewood journey with a person who has mastered cutting and splitting wood. As for tools, what will work best for you depends on how much wood you’re planning to split each season, and how long you want to spend doing it. Here are four options:

Splitting ax

A splitting ax, also called a splitting maul, is one of the simplest ways to start splitting firewood. This tool features a large, heavy, wedge-shaped blade of steel attached to a long, sturdy handle.

The idea is to swing the ax downward, striking the thin edge of its head into the top surface of the log you’re splitting, with enough power to split the log in two. Next, set up the two halves on their ends, and split each again. Repeat the process until the pieces of split firewood are as fine as you need.

A splitting ax usually has a three-foot-long handle and a head that weighs eight pounds. Shorter and smaller models are available for folks who lack the upper body strength to swing a big one. Splitting firewood with an ax is tiring, and slow compared to a gas-powered splitter, but it sure is satisfying.

However, if you plan to split more than a cord or two of wood each year (a cord is a pile of stacked firewood 8-ft. x 4-ft. x 4-ft.), you’re probably better off with a gas-powered splitter — that is, unless you’re exceptionally strong, fit and enjoy testing yourself physically.

Gas-powered inertia splitter

Also called a kinetic splitter, this machine harnesses the power of combustion to make quick work of your firewood pile. Featuring a lever connected to a moving steel wedge, via an internal flywheel and belt system, this type of splitter is the fastest way for homeowners to split firewood.

Although their tonnage rating (how much force they apply to the end of a log) is often high, a kinetic splitter can’t maintain that force for long. Knot-filled or twisted logs often cause them to struggle, and require several flicks of the lever to finally split. Still, if it’s speed and quantity of firewood production you’re after, it’s hard to beat a good inertia splitter.

Gas-powered hydraulic splitter

Similar in appearance and operation to the kinetic splitter, a hydraulic machine is usually slower to split a log, but much stronger.

Using hydraulics instead of belts and flywheels, this machine can split through any log like it’s nothing. I’ve been using my hydraulic splitter for more than a decade and haven’t seen it fail yet, even with the toughest, most gnarly pieces of oak and maple I can find.

Manual splitter

Some folks want to split firewood without bothering with big, loud gas-powered machines. They also might lack the confidence or physical strength to swing an ax effectively. That’s where manual splitters come in.

Design details vary, but most feature a steel wedge attached to a shaft that’s mounted in or next to each log. A sliding weight on the shaft is meant to be slammed into the thick edge of the wedge, driving it into the wood’s end grain, and eventually splitting the log.

A manual splitter was the first method I used to split wood as a kid. It was perfect for me at the time, because it was safer than other tools and didn’t require much skill or strength. The downside? A manual splitter is one of the slowest ways to produce firewood.

Simple steel wedges and sledge hammers are another method of manual firewood splitting. Hold the wedge against the log, tap it in slightly with the hammer, remove your hand, then pound the hammer against the wedge until the log splits. These are the log splitters that we think are the best of 2022.

How To Split Firewood

4 Great Techniques on How to Split Wood (1)Jan Hakan Dahlstrom/Getty Images

For most people interested in splitting serious amounts of wood, I recommend a good gas-powered inertia splitter. They’re fast, easy to use, and the occasional binding up on a stubborn log doesn’t justify the typically higher price tag of a hydraulic splitter.

I split around 10 cords of wood every year. I’ve tried nearly every wood splitting tool out there, and find myself firing up my inertia splitter more often than anything else. If you’re not sure how much wood you need, most homes need between three and six cords of firewood each winter, depending on climate, square footage and insulation quality.

Here are the basic steps and safety precautions involved in splitting firewood with an inertia splitter:

  • Wear a pair of safety glasses, earmuffs and thick work gloves. Never do any wood splitting without these items (minus the earmuffs if using an ax).
  • Wear a short sleeve shirt, tough work pants and steel-toe boots to protect yourself from log-induced bruises.
  • Use a chainsaw to cut your firewood logs to splitting length (the length of your stove or fireplace’s burn box, minus two to three inches).
  • Always wear protective chaps over your pants when using a chainsaw.
  • Check gas and oil, then fire up your inertia splitter, usually with a pull cord.
  • Lift one of the cut logs onto the bed of the splitter, positioning it so the end rests against the steel baseplate.
  • With your hands well away from the wedge and log, pull the lever, holding it in position until it fully splits the log.
  • Retract the lever, wait until the wedge returns to its starting position, then position one of the split log halves against the baseplate and repeat the process.

If you don’t want to split firewood, look into where to buy firewood that’s pre-split. If you’re just having the occasional bonfire and aren’t heating your home with wood, a pre-split bundle from the grocery store will usually be enough.

4 Great Techniques on How to Split Wood (2024)


4 Great Techniques on How to Split Wood? ›

Splitting logs technique

For larger logs, use a maul and splitting Place the steel wedge in the end of the log and strike it with the maul to drive it into the wood. Then, use the maul to split the log along the grain.

What is the best technique for splitting logs? ›

Splitting logs technique

For larger logs, use a maul and splitting Place the steel wedge in the end of the log and strike it with the maul to drive it into the wood. Then, use the maul to split the log along the grain.

What is the process of wood splitting? ›

The idea is to swing the ax downward, striking the thin edge of its head into the top surface of the log you're splitting, with enough power to split the log in two. Next, set up the two halves on their ends, and split each again. Repeat the process until the pieces of split firewood are as fine as you need.

Where do you aim when splitting wood? ›

Take a look at the log you're out to split before setting it on your chopping block. “If the logs are seasoned, you can often find a split or a crack,” Wetherbee says — and that's where you want to take aim. Also, note any knots and knobs and avoid them.

Is it best to split logs wet or dry? ›

In Conclusion. The bottom line is that you can split both wet and dry wood. The latter is usually easier to split, though many people prefer to split the former so that it dries out more quickly. But if you use a log splitter, you shouldn't have trouble splitting either wet or dry wood.

What is the best tool to split logs? ›

The Axe. The classic log splitter tool known to many, the axe, has a sharp blade that's weighted to provide force when swung.

Is it better to split wood with axe or maul? ›

The splitting axes can be used for a variety of tasks outside only cutting wood. When manually splitting the thickest and heaviest wood, mauls are of great assistance. Digging deeply into the wood is made simpler by the additional weight. Softwood can be split in half with just one blow from the splitting maul.

What is the easiest wood to split? ›

Splitting Ease

Hardwoods vary in how hard or easy they are to split. Oak and Maple are generally easy to split, while Sycamore and Elm are more difficult.

Why is splitting wood so hard? ›

Unfortunately pieces of wood often contain knots. A knot is a part of the trunk from which a branch was starting to grow. The result is that splitting wood is a lot more difficult. Cutting through a large knot is nearly impossible.

How do you split wood accurately? ›

Concentrate your vision on the point of intended impact. Bend at the waist and bend your knees to involve all of your body in the swing. At the very last instant, before the maul head strikes the wood, pull it back toward you very slightly using your abdominal muscles and legs, not your arms.

What is the best angle for splitting wood? ›

As discussed in “The Mechanics of Chopping” sec- tion in chapter 11, an ax should strike a log at a 45-degree angle to penetrate the log safely. A sharp, properly profiled ax can strike at a shallower angle and still penetrate the wood because of the gradual transition between the cutting edge and the sides of the ax.

What helps splitting logs? ›

Avoid the Knot: When positioning the log, try to split around the knot. Aim your strikes in the wood's straight-grained sections, away from the knot. Use a Wedge: If you can't avoid the knot, use a splitting wedge. Drive the wedge into the wood with a sledgehammer to help force the wood apart.

What is the best method for cutting logs? ›

The most popular option today is a quality chainsaw. They're fast and efficient at cutting logs down into manageable firebox sized lengths. Selecting the appropriate chainsaw will depend on how much wood, and the size of the wood, you intend on cutting.

What's the best way to stack split firewood? ›

Here are the steps to stack the criss cross method:
  1. Create a base of three-four parallel rows, either of treated 2x4s or pallets.
  2. Build your end pillars at each end of the base by laying 3-4 pieces of firewood right next to each other.
  3. Next, lay another 3-4 pieces on top of your first layer in the opposite direction.

How long should you wait to split wood after cutting down a tree? ›

When is your wood dry?
Type of woodDrying time
Pine, Poplar1 year
Birch, Alder, Ash, Lime tree, Spruce, Willow1.5 years
Beech, Fruit tree2 years
Oak2.5 years


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