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Like with almost every task in life, while working with wood the age old saying of there's more than one way to skin a cat is extremely fitting. That's especially true for breaking down lumber and splitting logs.
The option you choose mostly depends on the amount of logs you have to work with and how much manual labor you feel like putting in. Price is also something you need to keep in mind as some options are much less expensive than others.
Here are the four most common tools used for splitting logs.
Splitting wedges are a simple but very effective option for splitting logs. They are exactly what they sound like. A splitting wedge is just a wedge shaped tool that you drive down into a log. The shape forces the log fracture and split into several pieces.
Almost all wedges are made of steel. In fact, you'll be hard pressed to find one that isn't made of some type of steel.
Of all the four options this is definitely the cheapest. However, that's not always entirely true.
This is not a standalone tool. In order to use a wedge, you are going to need another tool to drive it into the log. Many people use a sledgehammer, but if you have an axe with a flat poll, you can use that as well.
General Cost: Low
Required Labor: High
Another popular and fairly low cost option depending on the quality of tool you decide to purchase is a splitting maul. The easiest way to understand what a maul is to to simply think of it as a splitting wedge attached to an axe handle.
There are different types of axes for different jobs, and a maul is made specifically for splitting logs. They have a very wide wedge-shaped head that are generally much heavier than other axes. Their weight actually more closely resembles a sledgehammer than it does other axes.
However, this weight makes them a little easier to use as they require a little less power on your down swing than a sledge/wedge combination due to everything being attached.
Many mauls actually have a flat poll so they can be used as a sledge too if you need one and you don't have the real thing nearby.
General Cost: Low - Medium
Required Labor: Medium - High
Next up we have a tool with a name that could not be more clear. Log splitters do just what you think they would do.
Log splitters are a very specialized tool. There's not much else you can use them for. But, wow do they do their one job extremely well.
You have a few different options to choose from if you decide to go this route. There are manual though hydraulically aided machines, gas powered machines, and electric machines. The options that's best for you really depends on how and where you plan to use it.
Regardless of your choice, these things are awesome and a breeze to use.
General Cost: High
Required Labor: Low
The last of the four tools for splitting logs into firewood or just generally smaller chunks is of course the chainsaw. It's a hand tool like an axe but it's powered like the powered log splitters. And, you have two choices: electric or gas.
Unlike the other tools discussed thus far, chainsaws are much more multi-functional. You can fell small to medium sized trees with a chainsaw. You aren't going to have much luck doing that with a maul as they are simply not engineered for that task.
At Axe & Answered they are not our favorite option. But, there's nothing wrong with using one in the right situation. If you are going the chainsaw route though make sure to invest in some ear protection too as they are quite loud.
General Cost: Medium
Required Labor: Medium
If you plan to split some logs and make your own firewood, or you offer your labor as a service for others, you are going to want decent tools to help you do the job efficiently and safely. There is no one size fits all solution, so you need to make a conscious and educated choice as to what tool is going to fit the particular tasks you have in mind.