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Splitting Firewood by Hand vs. Machine

Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva and landscape contractor Jenn Nawada split firewood using a variety of techniques.

How to Split Firewood By Machine

Jenn demonstrates how to use an electric log splitter. While it’s an easy and helpful tool to use, it is also extremely dangerous and needs to be operated carefully:

  1. Turn on the power for the splitter.
  2. Carefully place the log on the track against the wedge. Be sure to grip the log on its sides. Never place your hand near the wedge.
  3. Stand on the side of the splitter. Pull the safety bar towards you.
  4. Push the bar for roughly two seconds. It will activate a piston to push the log against the wedge, splitting it in two.
  5. Power off the splitter when finished.

Firewood Splitting Tools

Tom demonstrates a variety of tools that can be used to split wood by hand:


Axes have thin heads that are designed for cutting, rather than splitting. They’re really meant for cutting down trees or doing other lumber cuts against the grain.


Mauls are designed for splitting firewood. Their heads are heavy—about 8 pounds—and they’re designed with a wide wedge that can get in between the grain and split it apart.

Sledgehammer and wedge

Another tool that’s similar to a maul is the combination of a sledgehammer and wedge. The wedge has a sharp point that can be pushed into the log, and the sledgehammer and drive the wedge further down, effectively splitting the wood. It’s about as heavy as the maul.

Splitting axe

Tom recommends trying to split wood with a splitting axe. It has the wedge of a maul but the weight of an axe, making it easier to swing.

How to Swing an Axe to Split Wood

Tom then shows Jenn the proper axe-swinging technique:

  • Place the splitting axe towards the closest edge of the log. Adjust your feet accordingly so you’re standing the correct distance from the log.
  • Lift the splitting axe and swing it around your head with one hand. This will build up your internal centrifugal force.
  • When the axe is above your head, grip the bottom of the handle with both hands and drive the axe down on the targeted area.