Power Log Splitting: Trying (and Sometimes Failing) to Build a Better Ax

Wood. Humans have burned it for to heat their homes for thousands of years. It’s truly a renewable source of energy. While it may not be the most efficient or green method to warm a space, it definitely gets the job done. Many homes still have a fireplace or wood burning stove for supplemental heat. For those in colder climates, wood is more than just supplemental, it’s needed simply for survival.

Splitting maul by Chmee2 via Wikipedia
Splitting maul by Chmee2 via Wikipedia

The problem with firewood is that it doesn’t come ready to burn. Perfect fireplace sized chunks don’t grow on trees after all. The trees have to be cut up into logs. The logs must be split. The split wood then needs to dry for 6 months or so.

Anyone who’s spent time manually splitting wood can tell you it’s back breaking work. Swinging an 8 pound maul for a few hours will leave your hands numb and your shoulders aching. It’s the kind of work that leaves the mind free to wander a bit. The hacker’s mind will always wander toward a better way to get the job done. Curiously we haven’t seen too many log splitting hacks here on the blog. [KH4] built an incredible cross bladed axe back in 2015, but that’s about it.

There are a ton of commercial firewood splitters out there. For every commercial model, there are hackers designing, bolting, and welding their own splitters. Many of these homemade devices find their way to the internet. As you probably can imagine, ideas and implementations range from high tech to redneck.

Wood Meets Pressurized Oil

smallsThe most common powered log splitter is a hydraulic design. These are the same types of splitters you might see for sale at your local big box home center. A steel I-beam, hydraulic cylinder, gas engine, and a pump are the basic building blocks of a splitter like this. Think of it as a horizontal version of the machine used in the hydraulic press channel. The cylinder moves a push block, which shoves the log into a wedge. A great example of a home built hydraulic splitter can be found on [Smalls4068’s] YouTube channel.

Hydraulic splitters get work done faster than manual splitting, but you still have to wait for the cylinder to retract. [Ricky Cupp’s] built himself a two way splitter. The wedge is mounted in the center in this system. The push block can then push (or pull) a log into the wedge from either side. If simply splitting a log in two isn’t enough for you, check out [1D10CRACY]. His machine can cut a large log into four chunks at a time. More splits require more force though, which means larger cylinders and bigger engines.

Wood Meets Spinning Wheel (of Doom)

garySome folks have a need for more speed. The hydraulics used in log splitters aren’t exactly fast devices. Kinetic splitters are the solution here. Kinetic splitters use a small engine to spin up a flywheel. When the splitter is activated, the flywheel’s pinion gear is engaged with a rack. The rack pushes the wood into the wedge. Sounds complex, but [Gary Gilmore] does a great job of explaining his design in this video. The flywheel on his splitter began life as part of a bulldozer diesel engine. 75 lbs of steel spinning at several hundred RPM generates quite a bit of force!

wheelofdebtThen we come to a class of log splitters where common sense exits stage left. These are flywheel splitters, sometimes called widowmakers. The winner for scariest machine we’ve seen this week goes to [Jack Dickson] and his creation “The Wheel of Debt” [Jack] turned a pile of steel scrap into a device which makes us cringe just watching it. An 8 pound maul head is welded to a built up steel wheel. The wheel is spun by a small engine through a belt and car tire arrangement. The relatively lightweight wheel must spin quickly to generate enough force to split logs. This video was Jack’s last upload, so we can only assume his creation eventually got him. ‘

Wood Meets Pointy Metal

There are other versions of the widowmaker out there. Those with heavier, slower spinning wheels manage to do the job with less drama, but accidents are just around the corner.

One final type of log splitter is the rotary splitter, also known by the brand name Unicorn. These splitters use a threaded rotating cone to drill into the log and split it apart. Sounds a bit dangerous, right? A commercial version called The Stickler is still available. The Stickler is designed for rear wheel drive vehicles. That didn’t stop [Mikelbonilla78] from hacking his ‘92 Honda Civic into a stationary log splitter. He even added an exterior throttle and emergency battery disconnect. Even with these safety features, we’re going to go ahead and say this one is scary.

So we turn the question over to you, our fine readers. Those who do have the unhappy task of splitting wood, what hacks have you come up with to make the job easier?

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