For the firewood aficionado, the man or woman who likes to keep things real and enjoys some good, sweaty hard graft, the splitting maul is the perfect tool for splitting logs into fire-sized chunks of combustible goodness.
A splitting maul (often referred to as a sledge axe, block buster or even splitting axe), if I hadn't explained it in that wordy intro, is a tool that is used to split large, round logs into smaller sections that fit into a wood-burner or onto an open fire. Splitting the logs into smaller sections makes them burn more easily.
Although one can certainly use an axe to split logs, a maul has a lot more weight to it, and the splitting head has a larger angle than an axe. It looks more like a sledgehammer with a wedge head.
There is no doubt that for the average homeowner using wood as fuel, and not getting it delivered split, the wood splitting maul is probably the most cost effective way to split wood if you are not prepared to purchase a mechanical log splitter.
Some of the best log splitters for the homeowner are pretty competitive in price when compared to a decent quality maul. Check out my wood splitters buying guide if you'd like to learn what is available before reading on.
If you heart is set on a maul, then read on to get the lowdown on the essential knowledge you need to make the best choice.
Table Of Contents
Choosing The Right Splitting Axe Or Maul For The Job In Hand
There are many reasons to split wood. Splitting large diameter logs down into segments to fit in your fireplace or wood stove. Splitting smaller stuff down into kindling to get your fire started.
Are you going to be splitting wood at home or out in the woods while camping? The requirements will be somewhat different depending on what you're splitting and where.
For splitting logs, the maul is the beast to choose. Tough, heavy, opens up the grain as it drives into the log. It's a brute of a thing, but for splitting, it should be your goto hand tool.
For splitting down smaller sections into kindling or those 'in-between' sized logs to get the fire going, a hand axe is a better bet. Something sharp and light that can be held in one hand. A maul just won't be the right tool for this job.
The maul can reduce the workload and the time it takes you to split wood. The axe is more of a precision hand tool that lacks the grunt of the maul. It's got a lot more charisma and finesse 🙂
The splitting axe wouldn't mingle with the maul of they met in a cub or bar. It would look down on the maul as a little thick, rather rough around the edges, as I said, something of a brute.
The maul would ridicule the axe for it's lightweight approach, for being a bit of a sissy, for not being tough enough.
If a fight ensued, as it surely would, the maul would likely win if it could get the first, knockout blow in. It would just try to overwhelm the axe with it's sheer power.
The axe would bob and weave, taking highly accurate, targeted slashes at the maul. These would cut the maul down easily, providing the axe could avoid the brutal onslaught.
Silly analogy I know. But the difference is clear. Axe for delicate, precise work. Maul for the job where precision is not so necessary.
Wood Splitting Maul vs Axe - A Comparison
In this article, I'm going to deconstruct the maul, showing what you should be looking for when choosing the best splitting maul for your personal needs. Before we go on though, let's look at the obvious differences between the splitting axe vs mall.
Check out the two pictures below. The Typical axe head on the left, the maul on the right. The maul has a much larger angle than the axe. Although the axe can split wood well, it is more prone to become deeply embedded in the log.
The maul, with it's wider 'wedge' opens up the log grains much more readily, resulting in easier and more efficient log splitting.
Wood Splitting Maul
The maul head is typically a lot heavier than the axe head. This results in much more force being imparted into the log as it strikes. The maul splits, the axe cuts.
This comparison table shows the differences.
Axe Versus Splitting Maul Side-By-Side Comparison
Narrow Head To Cut Wood
Wider Head To Split Wood
Slices Through Fibers
Splits Fibers Apart
Generally Lighter head
Needs to be kept sharp
No need for regular sharpening
Benefits Of Using A Maul Over An Axe For Splitting Wood
The maul, being a lot heavier in the head department can split wood in a far more efficient way than an axe. Axes work quite well on really fresh green wood, but once the timber starts to season a little, or is of a hard, dense variety, the axe tends to struggle.
It;s the wedge-like blade geometry that plays the vital role here. The narrow wedge of the axe, with its razor sharp blade slices through the fibers of the wood. The maul with it's relatively blunt blade, albeit with a much more angled wedge, punches in the wood fibers. It doesn't cut, but forces them apart until the log is no longer able to hold together.
The thinner head of an axe can often bind in the timber, especially with knotty woods. A relatively blunt headed maul is far less likely to do this.
Axes need to be kept sharp all the time, they slice through wood fibers. Sharpening a splitting maul is far less of a concern as the cutting edge is relatively blunt when compared to an axe. This doesn't mean you don't want to keep a decent edge on it, but the need to hone it to a razor-sharp edge isn't a requirement.
Factors To Consider When Buying A Splitting Maul
When buying a splitting maul, it would, one the surface appear to be a simple decision. Go to the store, find the one that fits your budget, wield it ominously, then head to the counter and cough up the cash.
Woahhhhh there, not so fast. Do you want a maul that is going to last, to be a friend to you while you work out together or not? Seriously, you're going to get to know this thing intimately (don't even go there) so it really pays to understand what you should be looking for to get the best for your money and needs.
Whether you are getting a cheap, value maul, or one of the well known branded tools from Husqvarna, Gransfors Bruks, Stil or Fiskars, the essential requirements remain the same.
Make sure you consider:
The Splitting Maul Handle
I don't like to wear gloves when I'm splitting wood. It always feels like the maul or axe is going to fly out of my hand and become embedded in my wife's head, or trim a leg off the dog. So for me, a decent handle is really important, and it should be for you too.
A handle that allows me to retain a good grip, that slides through my hand as I raise and drop the head onto the log, and that doesn't give me splinters or friction burns. Not asking a lot is it?
Some argue that the fiberglass and composite handles do not belong on striking tools. They say that the power that is delivered to the striking head in reduced and that more shock and vibration are returned to the hands, arms and shoulders.
Many forum users, including many seasoned professionals have found that the plastic or lacquered handles cause blisters. A lightly oiled prime hickory handle is still the preferred choice of people who use this type of tool day in and day out.
The traditional maul handle was made from wood, often Hickory which is considered the premium wood for axe handles. Fiberglass and composite materials are now taking over. They are lighter than a wooden handle, can give more effective grip in wet conditions, and of course, they don't tend to rot or split as a poorly cared for wood handle might.
Replacement of handles is also a problem with the modern composite and fiberglass models. Yes, they are supposed to be virtually indestructible and last for many years, but I can say from personal experience that they can get damaged. Handle replacement is not really an option as the handle and head tend to be bonded together.
A wooden handled maul or axe however, can easily have a new handle replacement fitted. It's not always a 5 minute job, there is sometime a need for some sanding and slicing to made the handle bit into the head, but it's not a job that most handy-ish people couldn't do.
There are a number of standard maul heads that take a standard wooden sledgehammer handle which are widely available and easy to fit. This is an easy solution. Buying a replacement splitting maul handle for non-sledgehammer type models shouldn't be too hard, there are plenty of awesome suppliers of traditional handles.
The choice of handle is up to you. Traditional wood handles which tend to be more shaped and designed for comfort and ergonomics, or the modern man-made material handle, with longevity (most of the time) and generally, a cheaper maul. You choose, I prefer wood, but have used both. Either is acceptable. But the handle isn't the only feature worth considering.
The head of a maul is, to all intents and purposes, the business part of the tool. Delivery is of course, via the handle, but the quality and weight of the head will make a massive difference in the splitting capabilities.
The weight of the head is directly proportional to the amount of force that will be delivered to the log when it hits it. When using a maul or axe, the user should really be allowing the tool to fall rather than using a huge amount of personal energy to increase the velocity of the descending head. This makes for a less tiring splitting session, which is of course, what we all want.
The opposing side of the argument is that a heavier head requires more energy in the swing due to the extra mass.
Mauls range in weight from as little as 4 lbs up to 12 lbs or more, with an 8 ponder being the most commonly purchased type.
Build quality is super important when buying your maul, the way the handle is inserted into the head and retained there, the quality of the steel, it all makes a big difference. The problem is, it's hard to see and know when you pop into the local tool store.
This is why it pays to do some research, look at the models that get good reviews, check out some of the online forums with professionals who are using this stuff every day. A maul might only cost $50-100 for a mid range one, but if you have to replace it every 12 months it adds up pretty quickly.
No need to stand on one leg with your eyes closed here. I'm not testing you!
When you are swinging a maul, axe, or sledgehammer above your head, probably hundreds of times each session, the balance that is built into the tool's design becomes a very important factor, often overlooked. So what influences balance?
- Design and overall shape of the tool
- Weight of head ratio to length of handle
The better the balance, the easier it is to swing, and the more efficient the tool will be. Check out this video to learn how. Correct use will prevent damage to the maul head and handle.
How To Use A Splitting Maul Safely And Effectively
Preventing damage to your tools should be high on your priority list. A damaged tool is a dangerous tool. Many people just throw stuff down, leave it out exposed to the rain, baking sun, frost, and then wonder why it doesn't perform well.
If you select decent equipment based on the guidelines I've explained about, and practice good form when splitting wood, the tool should last you a lifetime.
Good luck, I hope that you find the perfect maul for your needs. Any questions or observations, leave a comment below or drop me an email.