Product review : Axes for splitting wood…

by M.D. Creekmore on September 9, 2013 · 23 comments

Review by Robert Miller

After the adventure of cutting down trees in my backyard and dealing with the mess, I began to address splitting the wood. Of course a mechanical splitter is easy, but what do you do when it’s all manual labor? What tools are needed and work well?

Currently I have an old 36” hickory handle single bit ax and a small Fiskar (X15 24”) ax and added the Fiskar (X27) 36” splitting ax.

Old hickory is a great chopper and splitter of small limbs. The short ax is great for chopping in close quarters. Neither are good for splitting trunk diameter wood.
Fiskar uses a plastic handle that is guaranteed against breakage.

Everyone has heard of a splitting maul but buyer beware. I bought an eight pound one at a big box and returned it in a matter of minutes. The cutting head was so wide and unsharp it dented the wood and bounced off. To make it effective I would have had to grind off about ¼” and taper it up on each side. Going to a different store, I ended up debating between one made in India or the high dollar Fiskars splitting ax.

The India model warned not to strike the back as it may chip, sometimes persuasion is often needed to drive it in, that left the Fiskar at $30 more ($69). It looks more like an ax head, then it broadens a bit up so it can be buried further when swung. It is also coated with an anti stick coating. Overall it works well. My small axe is about six years old and its holding up well.

Any illusion of simply burying the ax and splitting the wood is just that. Many times the side pieces can be split off easily. Any knots or Y’s require serious work to split apart.

My technique is to try and work a crack across the wood and then pound it in to split it open. Sometimes flipping the log over works just as well. The smaller ax works well to chop strands of wood holding the two pieces together and as a hammer. After four hours of chopping and beating, the hickory head was coming loose. The other two are tight as the day I bought them. It is a serious and dangerous workout.

There may be cheaper splitters/mauls that are effective, but not that I have used or purchased.

Wedges are not a favorite of mine by a long shot. They are soft so they are less likely to send chunks of metal flying, the result is mushrooming heads over time.

Double bit axes are great because you don’t have to stop and sharpen, simply flip it over. The downside is not great for splitting wood of large size.

23 comments

riverrider September 9, 2013 at 8:38 am

LOVE my fiskars.much easier to split with, much easier on my body. and yeah, the handle is just about indestructible. they’re cheaper on amazon. nice post!

axelsteve September 9, 2013 at 11:24 am

I own a couple of axes. Both are single bits.I bought them at garage sales and have no idea what brand they are. I have a maul that is like you said too big to be of any good.I also have a couple of sledge hammers. I have these tapered gizmos that I bought at wallyworld years ago that work great. I find a good spot on the log section. Then I drive it in with the big sledge. Works great. Then after it is split I generally use a axe for splitting into thinner .

Antizombie September 9, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Splitting wood is a serious workout. I would add two things to the conversation. First, cut an appropriate height splitting stand. Hold your ax out in front and get an approximate feel for the length of the log to be split + the splitting stand (a large diameter hunk of trunk). The ax head should strike the top face of the log to be split at about or blow waist height. Too high or two low is hard on the back and increases the chance of a glancing blow.
Next. Not every large diameter piece has to split into 4 equal pieces. A former lumberjack showed me how to cut “slabs” off the outside of the trunk. In other words, if the trunk is 24 inches in diameter aim at the outside 3″ of the trunk and split off a slab, Move over or rotate the trunk and cut another slab, repeat. You can split a fairly large diameter piece of trunk this way.
Lastly, Abe Lincoln is quoted as saying “If I had to split a rick of wood in 6 hrs. I’d spend the first 4 sharpening the ax.” Sharp hand tools are less dangerous and plan first not after.

j.r. guerra in s. tx. September 9, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Cutting those edges was what I was going to suggest as well. Sort of like peeling a banana. And avoid starting a split at a knot, surely the quickest way to dull your edge. Also does no favors to your handle.

Another piece to advice gleaned from Uncle: Insert wood to be split into old lawn tractor tire before cutting. Keeps pieces from flying, and WHEN you miss (not if :^), protects the edge from getting damaged. The shooting advice about “Aim Small – Miss Small” is good here – practice hitting THAT right there, no in that neighborhood.

Lastly – eye protection. Looks dorky but will likely save your eyes someday.

Antizombie September 25, 2013 at 4:59 pm

like the tire idea.

JP in MT September 9, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Currently we only split wood when camping. But that being said, we have 2 large single-bit axes with fiberglass handles (brand unknown), 3 wedges, and a splitting maul (same brand as the axes). These seem to work for us, but I’m always on the lookout for other equipment at yard sales and such. I’ve got enough to start, but I’m always looking to add to or upgrade.

AlaskaLuke September 9, 2013 at 1:06 pm

I’ve been splitting wood all my life. Maybe it’s was reading stories of Paul Bunyan as a child that got me hooked but, my favorite ax is by far the double bladed variety. I’ve split the nastiest biggest rounds you’ve ever seen with them. The only problem is when you do get them stuck you can’t pound them out. You have to use another ax to finish the job. Double bladed axes are also my favorite axes to throw. They are weighted right, for me, and…they just look cool.

TnAndy September 9, 2013 at 2:13 pm

The tools required to hand split depends a LOT on the species and size of wood you are dealing with. If you’re dealing with western softwoods with straight grain and diameters under, say, 12″, then an ax will likely work fine.

I live in the eastern hardwood area, and that heavy, “too wide” splitting maul is the ticket for many of our woods. A splitting maul is designed to bust the wood open, not chop it. The width and duller edge is designed that way on purpose…..so you don’t sink it into the wood.

Take a hunk of oak 24″ in diameter. You would bounce, or bury, an ax in it all day long. First hit with your maul, and you’ll probably make a small crack. Hit it the next time IN THE SAME PLACE, and the crack will open. Third time, you’ll bust the wood apart. The maul is designed to use weight AND width to bust open wood. You don’t have either with a sharp ax.

I worked my way thru college cutting and selling firewood. Wasn’t unusual to cut and hand split a pickup load 4-6 times/wk. ( this was in the 70′s when we had an ‘energy’ crisis and lots of folks went to wood heat ). I’ve split a LOT of wood by hand.

I still cut and split 4-5 cords/year for personal use….And now I use a 10hp Honda powered splitter….ahahahaaaaa

axelsteve September 9, 2013 at 8:02 pm

We have live oak in my area and they get to be pretty big sometimes. There is also madrone and uke trees. You use oak to get the uke going ,it is a pain to burn just uke.I like the smell of a madrone fire.

Fixit September 9, 2013 at 8:37 pm

I use a splitting maul and a double bit axe. The key to a good split is to split it as it stood and look for the fault in the wood. Yes some need to be slated out a bit . The biggest I ever split was a red oak that a storm blew over. 52 inch on the butt cut . I keep sledges and wedges but don’t use them much unless I am fighting a twisted grain lick beach trees . I burn a lot of wood as I heat a house , a full time shop and cook with wood year around.

Sensible Prepper September 9, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I too split wood manually, and my tool of choice is a splitting maul. I usually split a little more than a half cord each year. It is great exercise, and the beer afterwards could not taste any better. It amazes me how easily the Oak splits when it is no longer green…

riverrider September 12, 2013 at 11:06 am

i used a maul all my life until i got the fiskars splitter axe. omg, the difference is amazing! it felt like the wood split itself almost. i don’t understand how it works, but i will NEVER use the maul again.

charlie (NC) September 12, 2013 at 11:00 pm

well I must admit I’ve never used a Fiskars or even seen one until just now when I saw a picture online. From the picture it looks more like a maul than an axe to me. there is a lot of wedge in the blade. I wouldn’t mind trying one.

Zee September 10, 2013 at 12:54 am

We hand split about 3 cords per year, but to get to that point we cut logs into rounds with a chainsaw. Any one have any experience felling trees using non-electric tools?

Donna in MN September 10, 2013 at 8:31 pm

I have a splitting axe that is just a bit wider than a regular axe like yours with a flattened back. It works great and I love it for up to 2 foot diameter logs. I split a cord of logs in 2009 but my muscles were not used to all that work so I had to split with an electric splitter the next year as I recovered from pulled tendons and muscles. (It took 6 to 9 months to heal at my age) I learned to do a little and quit, a little and quit, each time doing a little bit more than the last. I haven’t injured myself since then and still split when I don’t want to pull out the electric splitter.

Chuck Findlay September 11, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I have several axes and wedges but I don’t use them any more. Swinging an axe all day sucks. A few years ago I bought a Harbor Tools 10-ton manual hydraulic log splitter for $120.00. being that it only cost $120.00 and it was made by Harbor Tools I was not expecting much. But after 2-years of use it works well. It has 2 handles to pump the ram (one for fast movement and one for slow more powerful movement of the ram) to split the log. It says it is made for only a 6 ½ inch log, but I always split logs up to 14 to 15 inches with no problem at all. I put the larger logs in it and pump the handles and the log splits easily and quickly.

It splits wood with ease, no electricity and faster and with little work on my part. It weighs 70 pounds, but it has wheels on it to cart it around.

I bought it because I burn wood for part of my heating and I wanted to split wood without the grid. I could not be happier with this tool, in one-day I can split almost 3-weeks of wood to heat my house with.

Antizombie September 25, 2013 at 5:04 pm

That sounds good. The off grid especially interests me. Thanks for the post.

charlie (NC) September 11, 2013 at 11:48 pm

A splitting maul has a blunt edge on purpose. It is supposed to split the wood on it’s grain and not cut into the wood. You can’t effectively split big logs (greater than 14″ or so) with an axe. The axe will stick in the wood and you’ll have to drive it on through or back out. A maul will do the job but you have to be man enough to swing it. It’s not a job for lightweights.

The warning about possible chipping should be on any axe or maul that is intended to hit or be hit by another piece of steel or iron.

Cameron September 12, 2013 at 12:36 am

waiting till its cold (sub freezing) helps too. Green wood that has ice forming will darn near explode when split when the frost falls.

Chuck Findlay September 12, 2013 at 2:15 pm

I have several hatchets, axes and wedges, but the log splitter is a much better tool. An axe is in my opinion, hands down the most dangerous tool you can use. They can cause extremely bad wounds that can not normally be dealt with by a homesteader. It takes an emergency room and doctors to fix the wounds an axe can cause. Add to that with people that have never had to cut wood and post-SHTF world a doctor may be unavailable or unaffordable and it is not a good situation. Saws and log splitters are a much safer choice.

I use axes, hatchets, saws and the log splitter, but I give the axe the most respect and I will use a saw or log splitter first.

Hunker-Down September 12, 2013 at 2:50 pm

If I ever have to cut wood again I don’t expect the electrical grid to be working. Because of the ‘no grid’ issue we bought a 2 man crosscut saw 4-5 months ago and I felled an 18 inch diameter maple with it. In high school I worked a chain saw for dad as we sold firewood.

I used the same double bit axe from ‘of old’ to do the trimming. I was taught to blunt sharpen one side to be used when striking near or into the dirt, and to thin taper the other side for clean cutting limbs.

After the limbs were trimmed off I used a chain saw to buck the logs, working from the tree top back to the trunk. I found out that after not using a chain saw for over 55 years, its just like riding a bike, all the safety habits automatically kick in.
Back then, we always let the wood season a year before splitting it (mostly oak) and that double bit axe never saw a chunk of wood it couldn’t split. We just made a split 2 inches on either side of a knot and sort of ignored them.

Captain Roy September 17, 2013 at 10:25 pm

I have an old Gransforth Bruks splitting maul that I think I paid 65.00 dollars for. I think now they are pushing 200.00. Knowing what I know now I would be tempted to buy one if I didn’t have one already. These things split like crazy. Well worth what you pay. They come shaving sharp. These things are awesome.

BlindSquirl September 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

I own both Fiskars axes as well as their hatchet. I also have an 8 lb sledge, 2 wedges and a “diamond” splitter and an 8 lb splitting maul. Over the years, I’ve split 20-30 cords of Red Oak and Beech with all of these tools and can tell you that I’ve needed the entire arsenal at different times, splitting different types of cord wood at varying degrees of dryness. It’s an excellent workout though.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post:

Home | Contact | Advertise | Disclaimer | Site Map


© (Copyright) M.D. Creekmore and TheSurvivalistBlog.net, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to M.D. Creekmore and TheSurvivalistBlog.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Dedicated IP Address: 173.201.144.10 e5013230