How to Split Firewood: Splitting 101

There's more than one way to split firewood. If you're new to log splitting, you'll want to brush up on some basic wood-splitting techniques to get the best results when operating your log splitter.

Video Transcript

Welcome to "How to Split," or as we like to call it, "Splitting 101." I'm Jared with RuggedMade and I'm Jake from Dude Ranch DIY. We're still down here in Connecticut hanging out with Jake in his awesome wood lot. One of the topics we wanted to cover today is kind of how to get started with splitting your own firewood. Now, this video would be great for someone who maybe they already do some home heating with firewood or some fire-pit-type recreational fires but they buy their wood and they get split wood dropped off. Maybe someone's got one of those little electric five-ton tabletop splitters and they do just a little bit of splitting but they're ready to step up to a big boy machine, something maybe hydraulic, maybe even a RuggedMade log splitter. It doesn't have to be. What we're talking about today is pretty much any hydraulic log splitter. So, we're going to go over some tips. We’ve got Jake here who really knows his way around splitting firewood from taking on the tree to processing to selling [and] everything in between. This is going to be kind of a “basics” video. Cool. Back to basics. I like it.

So, let's talk about what kind of wood to split. This can range from what kind of variety, what size wood, how seasoned it is. Jake here knows a lot about this stuff as a professional arborist. So, what do you think some tips would be for someone in terms of what to split? So, yeah, I mean, there's a bunch of different factors when you're figuring out what kind of wood you want to split, whether it be species or size. The biggest thing, I think, is what type of machine you have. You mentioned a little five-ton electric tabletop machine. That, obviously, can't handle big 30-inch rounds that are full of knots and stuff but certain machines like this one probably could. So, the type and size of machine that you have I think designates the size. Also, how much effort do you want to put into moving those big pieces around? Cutting them- you need to have a big enough saw to be able to cut them down to the proper length, which is another factor. Where are you going to be burning this wood? Is it in a fireplace? Is it a fire pit? Do those things have limitations to the size? And then, how soon do you want to be splitting it? Do you want to split oak [wood], which takes about two years to dry completely until it's really seasoned? Do you have a place to store it? Right. Do you have a place to store it or are you in a rush for wood? Do you want to cut down some standing dead ash or ask a tree service to drop off some standing dead ash that you could probably split and then be burning it in a couple months? So, there's a lot of different factors there as far as what to split. Yeah. And, depending where you are in the country, you might have different varieties of wood. We can't account for all the different varieties. We're up here in the Northeast, so we kind of know what we have.

So, depending on what machine you have, you should have a rough idea of what it can handle for diameter and how knotty and hard and that kind of thing. What do you think are some typical… in terms of a diameter? We’ve got our tape measure here because sometimes if you're if you haven't really done much splitting, you look at a piece of wood in a video like this and it's kind of hard to eyeball how big that is. We're going to kind of show you a couple of examples here. Yeah, so we probably have some like 15-inch diameter pieces here. That would be 15. Yeah, I cut all my wood to 16-inches in length because that's a pretty standard length to cut to. Yeah. That's going to fit in a lot of things, anything from like a small, indoor, wood-burning stove to an outdoor like, Solo stove. If you're heating with a wood boiler, chances are you want some larger pieces but it's still important to have those pieces seasoned. Yeah, then you might go up to your… Your standard machine is probably going to split 24. Some machines like this, there's an option to go up to 30 inches for those big gasification furnaces. Right. And then, you need to also determine the size in which you split those rounds, too. So, once you have that 16-inch round, do you want to split it just into four quarters, which is going to take longer to dry but once it's dry it'll probably burn for longer? Or do you want it to dry quicker and you're going to split it into smaller pieces that are easier to handle? If you're out at work during the day and the wife is stoking the wood stove or the fireplace or something, you probably want some easier, more manageable pieces to handle. Yeah, but at the same time, it's going to take more effort [and] more re-splits to break your log down into the small, easy-to-handle pieces. Right. That's a trade-off.

So, before we fire this machine up, let's talk for a minute about safety. It's always a good idea to wear some basic safety gear. Probably the most important one would be IPRO. Hearing protection and gloves is not a bad idea either. One thing you really don't want to do around any kind of equipment is wear loose clothing that can get caught. These machines do have some pinch points and they are powerful, so you just really want to use your brain. That's your main safety device as far as operating the machine. Yeah, definitely. So, let's get it fired up and split some wood. All right. Sounds good.


So, Jake, when you were doing that splitting, tell us a little bit about what you were thinking in terms of getting your sizes? Any issues you had with knots? Yes, so I mean, this was sugar maple. It was standing dead sugar maple. You can see there's no bark on it. A couple of pieces were a little funky on the inside or there were some knots and stuff but that's all right. Generally, I like to split my wood pretty small. I like to be able to pick it up easily with one hand and make sure that anybody could pick it up easily with one hand. These big, monster pieces, they just end up taking a lot longer to dry and at the end of the day, it all amounts to the same cubic foot of wood. A cord is a cord but if you split the cord smaller, it'll dry quicker.

So, today, we happen to have a machine with a four-way, which is also removable. So, those quarter pieces are certainly burnable, especially if you're doing like a campfire or something like that. But, I think you make a good point. Sometimes, getting them down to this kind of manageable size can be worth it with the time to re-split. Now, let's get some measurements off this next log we're about to tackle. Yes, this one. Oh, nice 14-inch. Yep, and you can see, there's a knot kind of up on the top here. Now, typically when I have a crotch or a piece with a knot that's visible, generally speaking, it works best or it splits best if that knot is facing up or the crotch is vertical. The splitter just, in my opinion, seems to go… the wood goes through the splitter better, I should say. So, I got this knot in the up position and we can split this bad boy up.

Yeah, so some of the things you want to be thinking about. So, as Jake's pointing out, is the knot? Where is there a knot? Depending on what kind of machine you have, if you have a four-way that's removable, maybe you want to take that off to get a piece like this broken down initially. Maybe not. In this case, I think we'll just tackle it with the four-way. Yeah. We'll see how it does. This picker log is, wow, very precisely 16 inches. I wonder why that is. You've got a little device that maybe… I got a couple little tools that help with the cutting. Yeah. Is there a little orange dot? Yeah, I think there should be. Yeah, there was an orange dot there. So, that's more like pro-level stuff: getting your stick marked out to 16-inch increments. But, all right. Let's get this one split. All right.


That log split nicely. Yeah, it did. Got some nice pieces out of it. Yep. Was definitely a little knot in there but the four-way makes quick work of it. Yeah. So, knots are just a… it's a part of the splitting life, but sometimes they can stress out a machine. So, we've even had to take the occasional sledgehammer to knock a really nasty piece off and sometimes they can kind of pop on you. One of the reasons for wearing gear. But, anyway, that one went pretty well. What were we splitting here? What is this? This is sugar maple. All right.

Another thing to keep in mind as you're thinking about getting into this kind of splitting, is are you going to be operating by yourself most of the time or do you have the benefit of a helper? You certainly can get a lot more done with a helper. Definitely. Yeah, more productive with two people but even if you're by yourself having a machine with a log lift, something like this is nice, because you don't really have to lift up the rounds. You could just kind of roll them on and then let hydraulics do the rest of the work. Yeah. And, back when we were talking about the size of logs, I mean, these are nice, manageable sizes for most folks but if you need to split big pieces like you see here in Jake's wood lot, you’ll also want to think about how you're going to get those into position. Maybe your machine can split vertically and you never have to lift that log. Maybe you've got… Jake's got a tractor here with a grapple bucket. I mean, you could have all kinds of cool gear but if you don't, you're going to have to figure out how to get that into position or just try to get the smaller diameter sticks or logs.

There are a lot of handy tools that can make your life a lot easier that you may not yet have. I know Jake swears by his pick-a-roon here. Absolutely. It's a nice way to get logs into position. It's got another cool tool here that we kind of alluded to earlier with our orange dots. What's that thing? Yeah, so, this is called the Mingo marker and these are relatively inexpensive and pretty easy to use. Basically, you put a can of spray paint in here and it comes with different size wheels here. This one is specifically for 16-inch length but if you wanted to cut 18, 20, 24, it comes with all different size wheels. You just put it on and when you have your log, basically just run it down. You start at one end [and] go to the other, and it'll make a little orange or pink, whatever color paint, dot at every 16, 18, or 20 inches, depending on the size of the wheel that you use. So, it's a really nice way to be accurate if you do have a stove that is on the smaller side and you're limited to the length of pieces that you can put in there. Other than that, it's just nice to have all your would be generic. It's easier to stack, easier to store, stuff like that. And there are some old-school methods, too, to get your lengths right. Just break out a tape measure. They're even those little sticks that go into the bar of your chainsaw with a magnet.

Jake, you mentioned stacking and storing. So, we've got all this nice split wood. We're not done yet. So, where do we go from here? So, now, I mean, if we were doing this in my wood yard, which we were, I stack all my wood in IBC totes. That's because I have a tractor that can pick up and move those IBC totes really easily. Yeah. But, for somebody that's just starting out, maybe you have a lawn tractor or a wheelbarrow. A lawn tractor with a little garden cart is really nice. The wheelbarrows definitely work, too, or you can go old school and just pile it up in your arms and stack it. Whether you're stacking it on a small rack in your garage or you have bigger pallet racks or something outside, reusing and recycling old pallets, a lot of people do it that way. Stacking and seasoning your wood is the name of the game because nobody wants to burn green wood, so the more airflow and sunlight you can get to that stuff, the quicker it'll season. That leads back into the size of your splits.

So, the splitting part of this is what tends to appeal most to people but you are operating equipment. Equipment means maintenance. You definitely don't want to skimp on maintenance. And, they don't need a lot, but you've got a gas engine. Do your regular oil changes. Fresh fuel. Water and ethanol in the fuel these days is the most common problem we ever see. There's some points here for lubrication, depending on the design of the machine and we're talking even just one basic log splitter. Then you go up to where Jake is with his operation and look at all this gear. I mean, that's like almost a full-time job keeping that running. What's it like to make sure your machines are always good to go? Yeah, it's definitely work. It takes time and money. Maintenance isn't free. But, in the long run, it easily pays for itself. So, just keeping all this kind of stuff maintained is the name of the game. That way, every time you come out, you're ready to go and you can be productive. Yeah. Whether it's just your own machine for personal use or you're running a business. When the machines don't work, you don't have that income. It's an important part of it. For some of those of us who like the machines, it's also part of the fun.

Well, thanks for watching our video on Intro to Splitting. It's been great to visit Jake down here at the Dude Ranch again. The woodlot keeps progressing. He keeps making great videos so be sure to check out Dude Ranch DIY. Yeah. If you have any more questions about more advanced techniques because, for some of you folks, this has all been new information. Some of you may be more advanced and have been splitting for years. Let us know in the comments what else you'd like us to cover. But hopefully this gave you an idea if you're kind of new to splitting some of the basics. What do you think, Jake? Yeah, I think we covered it all. It would give anybody, whether you're new or intermediate, some good tips and tricks for the trade to hopefully be more productive and safe overall. Yeah. So, have fun with your splitting and we'll see in the next one. See you guys.