What Size Log Splitter Do I Need?

Many people go out and make an impulse purchase of an expensive log splitter, without even giving consideration to the question, 'what size log splitter do I need to do the job quickly and efficiently?'

Many fail to choose the best log splitter for their actual needs and end up with something that underperforms, or costs them far more than they needed to pay while never using it's full capabilities.

This simple table shows a ballpark guide to choosing a splitter based on log diameter and hardness. Read on to learn more about these so you can make an informed decision when you buy.

Log Splitter Buying Guide Based On Wood Diameter And Harness Rating

Hardness Grading

300-600lbs

601-900lbs

901-1500lbs

1501-2200lbs

Diameter

Tons

Tons

Tons

Tons

6 Inches

4+

6+

7+

10+

12 Inches

12+

15+

20+

22+

18 Inches

20+

20+

26+

26+

24 Inches

27+

27+

30+

30+

Personally, I think it’s really important to evaluate the type of wood you are going to be splitting on a regular basis before making a decision on which wood splitter to buy. In this article, I'm going to provide you with the questions you need to be asking before you go putting your hands deep into your pockets and blowing the retirement fund on a splitter you don't actually need.

Man using a large size log splitter for split firewood

As usual, and unfortunately, the answer to this question however apparently simple on the surface, is 'it depends'.

I’m certainly not trying to slimy my way out of this hypothetical conundrum. The reality is that some people will spend all their lives only cutting relatively small diameter firewood, while others will fell their own trees or purchase logs where they are never quite sure of the size and hardness of the timber. For the latter group, buying the best-sized log splitter you can afford is probably a good call.

But for everyone, in this world of desire for the biggest and the best, we often want what we can't afford, and don't really need what we want. In relation to wood splitters, what we want from a wood splitter is not always what we actually need.

An example of this would be when a customer goes into a machinery supplier's showroom, answers the questions that are posed to them, and then goes on to dismiss the expert analysis of what they actually require.

Many people just have their hearts set on the biggest possible piece of machinery. Whether this is just ignorance or ego I'm not too sure. I suspect a little of both.

The thing is, most retailers will be happy to sell you the biggest splitter they possibly can if that's what you really desire. Most are honest and will guide you towards the appropriate machine. A small number will just be looking to boost THEIR retirement fund at your expense.

If you actually do have a disposable budget that allows you to buy a large and higher tonnage splitter, then you probably won't go wrong in the long run. But brute force is also no substitute for learning how to use a log splitter correctly.

A large log splitter will do everything a small one can, unfortunately the reverse is not true.

Practical Considerations Before You Buy

  • Is it a reputable brand with a good history?
  • Are parts and accessories readily available?
  • Is the machine imported or built in-country?
  • How fast will the splitter split the wood? This is called cycle time.
  • Does the motor size, pump size, and hydraulic fluid capacity work together?
  • What brand of motor does it have? Is it well-known or obscure?
  • Horse power is not always the most important consideration.
  • What length is the warranty, and what does it cover?
  • Where will you be operating it? Is there access to power? Will you need to tow it?

Answer these questions before even visiting the store, and go with an extremely focused

What Size Log Splitter Will Work Best For Your Wood Splitting Needs?

This super useful video from Northline Express really helps hammer out the right log splitter, depending on your needs. Check this out and then catch up with some essential information below.

What Does Your Typical Woodpile Look Like?

When choosing a splitter to purchase, it's worth looking at the hardness ratings of the timbers you are likely to be using as firewood. From these, in combination with the sizes of timber, you can start to evaluate what size machine you may need. Is it mainly softwoods? Is the wood green or well seasoned? This article on gathering and storing firewood is useful.

The Janka Hardness Test measures the hardness of a variety of wood species. The test provides its results based on how many pounds of force is required to embed a steel ball into the wood. See the guide below to help you evaluate what sized log splitter you may need. Use this as a ballpark figure as every piece of wood has its anomalies and no guideline will be entirely accurate.

Sizing your splitter based on the type of wood, and the typical width of the widest logs in your woodpile is a reasonably effective solution. For the homeowner who is only ever going to split 6 inch diameter softwood branches a simple four ton splitter is probably going to be perfect for you.

But that firewood splitting machine is going to be limited to the small stuff. Will you outgrow it?

A Note On Tonnage

A lot of the figures cited for splitting capabilities can be based on the use of green unseasoned woods, seasoned timbers or naturally harder woods like oak, Poplar and walnut will generally require a higher splitting force to achieve the results.

You may well need a 20 to 30 tonne log splitter if you're going to be splitting 24 inch wide tree trunks of Hickory or Dogwood..

It's obvious that the tonnage or applied pressure of a splitter is crucial to it getting the job done effectively. Your typical splitter works by driving a log against a steel wedge which drew is driven into the wood and splits it along its grain.

An entry-level, electric powered wood splitter may well be up to cope with a green or seasoned log up to 12 inches in diameter. Gnarly woods, full of knots, twisted grain patterns, and Y-shaped forks are a different kettle of fish. The diameter is only one factor that needs to be considered.

I've written about the pros and cons of electric log splitters, take a peek at that article if you want to learn more.

Many homeowners will purchase one of these low tonnage machines and then find themselves struggling to split the wood that they purchase. A gas-powered hydraulic splitter is capable of providing much higher splitting forces that will deal with all but the most stubborn of logs.

I would suggest that for most homeowners a splitter up to around 25 tonnes, although it sounds huge, is probably a good size to aim for if you are going to be splitting a variety of logs on a regular basis.

It's important to say that although a large splitter is great for the big stuff, a smaller electric splitter is actually very useful for splitting small timbers. Big is good, but it can also be unwieldy and cumbersome.

Bigger Is Not ALWAYS Better

Ultimately, you need your wood splitter to complete the work quickly and effectively. Sure, it needs to have enough force to split the types of wood you will be dealing with, but it also wants to be doing it in a timely fashion.

Many of these budget, value, non-branded machines boast high tonnage stats, but the cycle time (the time it actually takes for the piston to push out and retract after slitting the log) is often a lot slower for these mass-import models.

This isn't to say that the traditional, well-known branded units should always be taken at face value as the best, but most companies that sold crap for many years would be out of business. Buyer diligence is essential with large purchases like this.

​​To Sum Up

Everybody's log splitting needs a different, but most people really don't need a splitter over 30 tonnes unless you are a professional commercial operation. It's really important to weigh your options up carefully before you go throwing your money away. Choosing the best log splitting power for your general needs is going to save you money, but also save you a headache in the long run.

Safe Splitting folks!

Homesteading Steve

Hi: I'm Steve and I'm a homesteader and self-sufficiency freak. I love pretty much anything that makes me less reliant on others, and more reliant on my own abilities. I try to avoid consumerism as much as possible, eat well, and try not to leave too much of a footprint during my time on this earth.

Join me for fun and adventures in homesteading land.

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