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How to Choose a Log Splitter

Winter is here - no doubt about that. If you're one of the many people who heat their homes with wood stoves, you know that chopping wood, while great exercise and a necessary task, can be pretty strenuous work. Perhaps you're reading this from the comfort of your favorite chair, having unfortunately wrenched your back using that old axe. There are better ways to do it - you can use a chainsaw, a maul and wedge, or, if you're feeling particularly angry, a well-placed karate chop - but for convenience, ease of use, and throughput, it's hard to beat a log splitter. In this guide, your friends at WEN have compiled some helpful tips to make choosing a log splitter easier than ever. Your back - and, for that matter, your no-longer-frozen toes - will thank you. 

Types of log splitters

Log splitters can be broken down into three categories - manual, kinetic, and hydraulic. In this article, we'll focus mainly on hydraulic log splitters, but we'll touch on manual and kinetic splitters briefly, for the sake of thoroughness.


A manual log splitter is usually a simple device with no external power source. A maul and wedge is perhaps the simplest version, but essentially, any device that uses unassisted human power to split wood could be considered a manual log splitter. These devices are usually basic and inexpensive, but take a considerable amount of effort to use if you're splitting any significant amount (a quarter cord or more) of firewood.


A kinetic log splitter uses an external power source (often an electric motor, although gas-engine models exist too) to spin up one or more large flywheels, which store kinetic energy. When you're ready to split wood, you drop a lever that engages the flywheels with the splitter ram. The ram smashes forward at high speed and splits the wood against the splitting wedge. These splitters are generally middle-of-the-road options, in terms of price, and usually have less power than hydraulic splitters.


A hydraulic log splitter is perhaps the type of splitter that comes to mind first. They use an external power source (usually an electric motor or gasoline engine) to turn a pump. The pump is connected to a hydraulic system, which is connected to a ram. The ram moves forward as the pump turns, slowly and surely pushing against the wood with incredible amounts of force. Hydraulic log splitters are available at a wide range of price points and splitting capacities, and may require a bit more maintenance than other types.


Log splitters are rated by tonnage (for example, you might hear about a 6-ton or a 30-ton log splitter). This is the maximum amount of force that they can exert. The amount of force needed to split a given piece of wood depends on four factors: hardness, age, size, and dryness.

  • Hardness: this depends on a wood's species. For example, oak, a reliably tough hardwood, is much harder than white pine, a softwood. Wood hardness is rated on the Janka scale. 
  • Age: older wood is generally easier to split than newer (also called "greener") wood.
  • Size: this one is pretty straightforward; a small-diameter branch is easier to split than a large-diameter log. Who knew, right? 
  • Dryness: obviously, the drier the wood, the better firewood it makes. But dryer wood is also easier to split than wetter wood.

To summarize, if you're able to cover your wood and let it dry out for a while, as well as get it into somewhat-smaller pieces (a chainsaw may come in handy here), you'll have an easier time splitting it, not to mention getting it onto the splitter. You can also use the handy chart below as a reference for common species.

WEN wood hardness and diameter to log splitter tonnage conversion chart

  1. Find the species of wood you'll be splitting on the chart. If you don't know what species you have, there are plenty of resources online that can help you identify it. If you'll be splitting multiple species, it's a good idea to use the hardest wood as a reference. If you can't find your species of wood on the chart, you can look up the Janka rating online. This chart shows Janka hardness ratings.
  2. Once you've located the species, locate the hardness rating. For example, ash is generally rated at about 1320 lbs on the Janka scale. 
  3. At the top of the chat, in the Tonnage section, find the hardness range for the species; in ash's case, it's the range of 901 - 1500 lbs. Follow this column down. 
  4. Estimate the diameter of your largest piece of wood; if it's between 2 numbers on the chart, use the higher number. Let's say your largest-diameter piece of ash is about 14 inches across. Use the 18-inches row, so you'll likely want to choose a log splitter with a rating of at least 26 tons, to ensure you have enough power to reliably split all your workpieces quickly. 

Using an undersized log splitter to split very large, hard, green, and/or wet workpieces can be frustrating at best (since multiple passes may be required to split the workpiece, which is time-consuming), and dangerous at worst, since you could damage the log splitter by overloading it. Keep in mind that you may need more power in the future to split larger or harder wood, so if your budget allows, it may be a good idea to buy a splitter with a little more power than what you currently need.

Choosing a power source

Hydraulic log splitters generally come in three flavors: manual, electric, or gas-powered. 


Usually, these hydraulic splitters consist of a small splitting beam, a small hydraulic cylinder, and a way to advance the cylinder, often using a series of pedals and levers that works a lot like the elliptical at your gym. They harness good-old-fashioned sweat equity to slowly advance the hydraulic ram. Although they have lower tonnage ratings than their powered brethren, they're often relatively inexpensive, extremely portable, and very easy to store.


These splitters use an electric motor (usually an induction motor) as a power source, and as such usually require an extension cord. They're a good blend of power, portability, and convenience - to a point. That extension cord tethers you to a nearby outlet, whether it's on your house or generator. However, they're low-noise, low-maintenance, easy to store, and good all-around options for most homeowners looking to split a few pieces of wood here and there for campfires.

WEN 56208 6.5 ton electric log splitter

The WEN 56208 6.5-Ton electric log splitter features a stand for convenient waist-high operation, as well as wheels for maximum portability.


Gas-engine splitters are usually the most powerful options available on the market, with options ranging from 20 - 40 tons. They often include DOT-approved wheels and chassis, as well as trailer hitches, for towing behind a car, truck, or off-road vehicle. Many models can also be used in either the vertical or horizontal position, which makes them extremely versatile. If you'll be far from an electrical outlet (for example, at a remote cabin), if you need the tonnage, or if you split lots of wood each season (especially if a wood-fired stove is your main heat source), a gas-engine powered splitter is likely best for you. Keep in mind that the gas engine requires more maintenance than an electric motor, these models are generally more expensive than electric or manual models, and they take up a lot of storage space.

Putting it all together

Once you have an idea of your budget, the tonnage you need, the type of splitter that will suit you best, and the power source that will work for you, you're all set. Good luck on your search, and stay warm out there!


Thanks for reading! We hope this has been a helpful guide on your journey to choosing a log splitter. If you have any questions about WEN log splitters, or need help deciding which one is right for you, please give us a call at 1-847-429-9263 (M – F, 8 – 5 CST), or drop us a message here to talk to our friendly and knowledgeable technical support team. Now go make some firewood!

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