When you know you’re going to be splitting logs for firewood or just chopping logs to clear space, it’s time to get the right tool for the job. You could go modern and powered and get a chainsaw, or you could split wood the real and visceral way with an axe.
You shouldn’t just use any old axe to split logs though. You need to get a wood splitting axe or wood splitting maul. They are specifically manufactured to split wood, unlike some other axes which have their own special functions like chopping trees down or carefully carving and shaping wood.
But, what is a maul and what is an axe? Are they the same, and if not, which one do I need? Let’s take a look at the differences, similarities, and even look to see what are the best splitting axes available today.
Not here to read, but just want to see some awesome splitting axes? Check out our top picks -
Splitting Axe Reviews & Ratings
Weight (lbs): 8
Length (in): 37.4
Weight (lbs): 10
Length (in): 36
Weight (lbs): 4.4
Length (in): 30
Weight (lbs): 7
Length (in): 31.5
Weight (lbs): 9
Length (in): 39
*Links on the above chart take you to individual product pages on Amazon.com
This is only a small list of what we feel are some of the best splitting axe and maul options out there.
What are the Benefits of Splitting Wood Manually?
It's all too tempting to skip this entire site and jump into a chainsaw instead, and in some circumstances that's perfectly reasonable. But, there's some very legitimate reasons for taking a more manual approach as well.
Firstly, chainsaws have two major problems:
- They require fuel
- They have chains that love to break when you need them the most
If you plan on working or living in a remote area, the severity of both of those problems increases dramatically.
Not only is the potential of running out a fuel a big problem, if there’s no fuel access nearby, you need to bring it with you. That adds a lot of volume and weight to your initial move from civilization into nature.
The potential for a chain break or other mechanical problem is always something hanging over your head as well.
Second, splitting wood manually is great exercise. If you don’t believe me, give it a try. You’ll definitely feel it the next day.
Third, have you even seen a chainsaw accident? Sure, you can over swing with an axe, which can lead to a pretty unpleasant injury, but if you're careful that kind of accident is not very common. But did you know that over 36,000 people suffer chainsaw injuries each and every year? These are not little nicks either. The same source claims that chainsaw injuries require on average 110 stitches to sew up.
Ouch! No thank you.
Last but not least, like hunting is to shopping in a supermarket, using an axe for splitting wood puts you way more in touch with nature than using a noisy chaotic chainsaw. If you're camping or living in the woods to get away from cities and nonstop technology, do yourself a favor an go manual. Once you do, you'll never go back.
Now, enough with the why and onto the what.
What is a Splitting Maul?
A wood maul is the big daddy of manual wood and log splitting tools. If a hatchet is the handgun of the axe world, a maul is the shotgun. It's big, bad, and makes a serious impact when used properly.
Wood splitting mauls typically have axe or maul heads that are on the heavier side. This is both due to the wider-than-usual head and the desire for having more weight to drive down into logs.
These heads normally weigh around 8 pounds, give or take. When looked at from above they resemble a very healthy slide of pie.
Another common trait is that they all have long handles, as these are two-handed tools. The longer handle also helps with leveraging your swing for maximum impact.
Lastly, on many of these splitting mauls, the wide wedge ends in a flat butt. This butt offers up a lot of surface area for a sledge hammer to assist with driving the maul down and through even the hardest of woods.
Example of a Splitting Maul
The Fiskars 8 Pound Maul is a great example of what a strong heavy maul looks like and is built for.
- heavy, wedge-shaped head
- flat & wide wedge-driving poll
- shock resistant fiberglass handle
This Fiskars model offers everything you expect is a maul. The heavy steel head is forged at a much wider angle than that of a felling axe as it's designed to fracture logs into multiple pieces with one powerful strike. The poll or butt of the head offers a wide flat hammer-like striking surface perfect for driving wood splitting wedges into logs.
Opt for a full-fledged maul instead of an axe if possible if you plan to work specifically with hardwoods, as the extra weight will make a considerable difference.
- Soft woods
- hard woods
- European Yew
What is a Splitting Axe?
A log splitting axe is basically a less extreme version of a maul. It has the same function: break down already felled and pieced trees into firewood or chips efficiently.
Splitting axes also use a wedge-shaped head, but the size of the wedge may appear to look more like a door wedge than a slice of cake or pie. It should be noticeably wider head than that of a felling axe though.
Like mauls, you can have a long handle that assists in getting a serious downward swing going. But, unlike their heavier cousin, there are some smaller one-handed splitting axes.
The smaller versions are excellent for turning smaller logs into kindling. They’ll make quick work of smaller pieces of wood, but don’t try taking on monster jobs, as you lack the benefits of a wider, heavier head and longer shaft.
Example of a Splitting Axe
The Fiskars X72 Splitting Axe is a great example of a large splitting axe that isn't quite as monstrous as a full-fledged maul.
- medium grade wedge-shaped head
- low friction blade surface
- shock resistant fiberglass handle
Compared to the 8-pound Fiskars maul, this model is slightly toned down. It's not as heavy, the wedge is slightly less ample, and there is not a large wedge driving face on the poll. That being said, it's still one of the best wood splitting axes you'll find in it's general price range. It's still designed to split logs with one strike, but it's meant for small to medium jobs while the maul can handle larger tasks.
Popular Splitting Axe and Maul Brands
It just wouldn't be right to break down the differences between the two without discussing popular options for you if you're looking to get a new one. Here at AxeAndAnswered.com we plan to look into quite a few brands and see which are worth their weight in hand-forged steel. And don't worry, we also weigh in on which with think are the best splitting axes and which are more bang-for-your-buck budget option.
Some of the more well-known brands are (click on a name to see in-depth splitting axe reviews for each or brand):
Check out each brand to read our splitting maul and splitting axe reviews. Additionally, to take a quick look at some of the best splitting axes on the market, check out the table at the top of the page. I’ll do my best to keep it up-to-date.
If you’re stuck on whether to get a maul or an axe for splitting wood, just remember that a maul is basically just a bigger badder axe. If you are working on some very large logs, the heavy-headed maul might be your best choice. But, for less demanding jobs, or for when you need something more portable, you can get away with something a little lighter.
Regardless of your choice, take pride in the fact you're getting back to nature and doing this fulfilling work manually instead of letting a powered tool do the work for you. There's something primal about driving hand-forged steel deep into a log only to hear that tell-tale thwak.
You’ll feel good from the workout, and the work done is satisfying too. Starting a campfire or a fire in your cabin’s fireplace doesn’t start with a flame, it starts with the work put in gathering the firewood.
Now it's time to get your axe and get splitting!