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Brian Dougherty

Recommendations for a splitting maul

24 posts in this topic

I like to split wood, but don't do it very often.  Every couple of years I end up having to take a tree down, and will generally opt to split and sell the wood to help offset the cost of getting it cut down.  For the last 20 years I have used some cheap red-handled maul that I bought at the local farm store.

I have a monster of a tree that needs to come down immediately before it falls.  It is some sort of oak, but not one I am familiar with. (Ie, not red white or pin)  It has two 4'+ diameter trunks that are both pushing 90' high, but pretty straight.  I've cut up some big trees in the past, but was going to be happy to let the pros take care of this one.  However, the estimates are coming in at $5k less if they just drop the tree and I do the cleanup.

Now I am wondering if I am missing out with my $20 maul.  Would the $200 GB maul be a worthwhile investment?  I'm assuming that some mauls work better than others, but I don't have much to compare to.

 

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Is a maul the best answer?  If you like the exercise, that's one thing, but hand splitting is not really efficient.  Out in the West (where I live) there is a style of axe called a "dogging" axe, or a "hammer" axe.  It's a wedge shaped, 5lb (ish) axe with a heavy hammer poll.  They used them to drive dogs (spikes with a ring end) into logs to make log rafts for transport.  Lighter than a maul, but with a wedgy profile.  It is what I use for splitting.

I have seen videos of hand or foot operated splitters (https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=foot+powered+wood+splitter&&view=detail&mid=3C4A811A0DA096FF936A3C4A811A0DA096FF936A&&FORM=VDRVRV) that seem to work well, but in the end a powered splitter seems like the way to go.  We rented a splitter a few years ago, and with the help of a couple of friends, split up a couple of cords in a day.  One person running the machine, one to load and stack, one to fetch logs, trading off.

Just my .02

Geoff

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Thanks Geoff,  If I just wanted to get it done, renting a splitter would be the right move.  However, I do enjoy splitting by hand for some reason.  I'm looking at this as my winter exercise program :)

I'm not familiar with a dogging axe, and it turns out that isn't the best term to search for at work.  (You people in the UK are shocking ;) )  However, it sounds a lot like a light maul or a heavy splitting axe.

There is a Fiskars maul out there that seems to be on every top 5 list I find.  It is an ugly soul-less fiberglass handled thing, but at only $50 it is pretty cheap thing to try.

Edited by Brian Dougherty

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7 minutes ago, Brian Dougherty said:

There is a Fiskars maul out there that seems to be on every top 5 list I find.  It is an ugly soul-less fiberglass handled thing, but at only $50 it is pretty cheap thing to try.

Well, you are on a bladesmithing forum and I know you have the skills so... Copy the size/shape, add some flare (pattern welding, etching, carving, etc.), make your own handle, and have at it!  It seems like it wasn't too long ago (maybe a year or so) that there was a thread about a bunch of traditional European (Nordic maybe even) ax shapes.  I looked briefly and couldn't find it.  

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BTW, I too enjoy chopping firewood.  Very satisfying way to work out.  

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1 hour ago, Brian Dougherty said:

I'm not familiar with a dogging axe, and it turns out that isn't the best term to search for at work.  (You people in the UK are shocking ;) ) 

Hur hur hur ;)

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1 hour ago, Jerrod Miller said:

Well, you are on a bladesmithing forum and I know you have the skills so... Copy the size/shape, add some flare (pattern welding, etching, carving, etc.), make your own handle, and have at it!  It seems like it wasn't too long ago (maybe a year or so) that there was a thread about a bunch of traditional European (Nordic maybe even) ax shapes.  I looked briefly and couldn't find it.  

:D

"No honestly honey, I can't get to clearing the 22,000lbs of wood out of the yard until I forge myself a maul!"

Hmm, after 20 years of marriage (to me no less) she'd never buy it...

Edited by Brian Dougherty

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Brian,

If you're  planning on splitting this one by hand I  have two  suggestions:  one--cut the tree into sections and then wait for it  to  freeze  this winter before splitting  and  two--get yourself a couple of splitting wedges to use  along with your maul.  Much easier!

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I’ve split quite a bit of oak, and have two mauls and an axe, axe for smaller and very dry larger stuff, a 6 lb maul with a more acute angle for medium sized logs, and an 8 lb with a wide angle for big stuff. Both the mauls were fairly cheap, $20-30

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What Gary said.  Frozen oak splits oh-so-effortlessly, but you will need some wedges to break down the big rounds.  The second (or third) is to help retrieve the one you got stuck too deep to keep hammering on.  I grew up heating with wood and I enjoy a little splitting, but there's a reason I heat with oil...

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I wish oak would make a comeback as a handle material. I like it but it isn't flashy enough. I'd drop one of the "tan oaks" on my place, and have a lifetime of material after I rived it out and cured it.

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Brian, I wish I would've taken a picture of the pile of oak wood I split at work last year. we still have alot of it left. Our shop is heated by a really big woodstove, and my boss's dad used to work for this company that sawed logs into railroad ties. So, they give him the drop from the ties, and he brings back multiple truck and trailer loads. I will tell you it is a seriouse workout with just a maul(especially when you're on company time and that is your job for the day). You've really gotta throw your weight into it (which wears you out fast). If you don't you have to swing more (wearing yourself out). It is fun though and It keeps you warm. I would rather be forging a blade for fun though.....An Idea of how to put it to good use; I wonder if oak makes for good blacksmithing charcoal?

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Brian unless I was going into the business. I think I would just go rent a splitter for the weekend! They are kind of pricy just for one time use! 

 

So everyone was talking about splitting by hand. Well back when I wore a younger man clothes. I found out splitting by hand was a good pressure relief. If the wife and I were arguing or one of the children had got on my nerves I could split a cord before I realized it! LOL

I got a hold of a bunch of scrub oak out a fence row one year. The fellow said I could cut all I wanted. Well when I started trying to split it I knew how come he said I could  have all I wanted. Splitting it with and ax or splitting maul was out of the question.

I had two splitting wedges and that stuff was so hard to split and so twisted. That I could start a wedge and you had better be listening and watching. I learned the wedge changed sound when it was about to come after you. That stuff was so bad I have stuck one wedge and had to start the other to finish splitting that one piece. The worst was sometimes you would get almost thru it and the next swing the  wedge would come flying back at you, before it would give up and split in two. You had to be quick on your feet, dogging a wedge that it popped back at you. It burnt well green or dry but it was the worst to split I have ever seen, Twisted grain and gnarly as you can imagine! I got to where i would save some of the big ones and bank them in the coals. They  would burn all night!! Kept me from having to split them that way!!:D

Edited by C Craft

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14 hours ago, Gary Mulkey said:

Brian,

If you're  planning on splitting this one by hand I  have two  suggestions:  one--cut the tree into sections and then wait for it  to  freeze  this winter before splitting  and  two--get yourself a couple of splitting wedges to use  along with your maul.  Much easier!

 

14 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:

What Gary said.  Frozen oak splits oh-so-effortlessly, but you will need some wedges to break down the big rounds.  The second (or third) is to help retrieve the one you got stuck too deep to keep hammering on.  I grew up heating with wood and I enjoy a little splitting, but there's a reason I heat with oil...

 

Thanks everybody.  I'm ahead of you on the wedges.  A few years ago I split up some old piss-elm, and it was not uncommon that I would have 3 wedges buried in the wood hoping that the 4th one would free them.  God awful stuff to split.

Gary & Alan, I've heard the freezing thing before, but never tried it.  Does the wood need to be frozen while you are splitting it, or just have to have been frozen at one point?

Nobody has talked about specific mauls yet.  With the number of "Axe heads" that hang out on this forum, I'm going to take that as a sign that comparing my $20 hardware store maul to a $200 Gransfors Bruk is not quite like comparing a VW Beetle to a Ferrari. 

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2 hours ago, Brian Dougherty said:

 

 

 

Gary & Alan, I've heard the freezing thing before, but never tried it.  Does the wood need to be frozen while you are splitting it, or just have to have been frozen at one point?

 

While you split it.

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Wood lore is interesting stuff.  Here in the West we have Red Cedar, when it's wet, a small child could split it, it's why they used to make shakes for roofs and siding.  Dry is just about as good. Alder splits like dream, when it's green, let it dry and it becomes fibrous and twisty.  Each wood needs a specific technique and tool kit.

Or, you just go full Borg on them https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=automated+wood+splitter&&view=detail&mid=BB396184CA1DA16C2B75BB396184CA1DA16C2B75&&FORM=VDRVRV

 

Geoff

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Wonder if they make those big enough to handle real trees?  Like the 54" poplar in my back yard?  :lol:

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As far as mauls / axes go, I found one a few years ago that is more wedge shaped as opposed to the fat, chisel-to-concave shape of many of the cheap wood mauls. But it's not one of those big triangle monstrosities that you see. It's probably a little lighter than the big cheap mauls, but it doesn't wear you out over a long day of splitting.

It came with a yellow fiberglass handle, but I had to replace it with wood after a couple rough seasons.

 

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4 hours ago, Geoff Keyes said:

Wood lore is interesting stuff.  Here in the West we have Red Cedar, when it's wet, a small child could split it, it's why they used to make shakes for roofs and siding.  Dry is just about as good. Alder splits like dream, when it's green, let it dry and it becomes fibrous and twisty.  Each wood needs a specific technique and tool kit.

Or, you just go full Borg on them https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=automated+wood+splitter&&view=detail&mid=BB396184CA1DA16C2B75BB396184CA1DA16C2B75&&FORM=VDRVRV

 

Geoff

I could go full tilt on the properties of alder. It has a number of unique traits in woodworking not to mention alder is the choice for chips or fire if you are smoking or cooking salmon.:D

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5 hours ago, Geoff Keyes said:

 

Edited by Vern Wimmer
See below

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Just now, Vern Wimmer said:

Hey, somehow I double-pumped this thing

OOOOOPS.

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4 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:

Wonder if they make those big enough to handle real trees?  Like the 54" poplar in my back yard?  :lol:

Back in Humboldt co. where I grew up 54" at the butt was a little tree......;)

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13 hours ago, Clifford Brewer said:

Back in Humboldt co. where I grew up 54" at the butt was a little tree......;)

Yeah, I've been there (and Sequoia/Kings Canyon).  Those are some big trees!

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My $.02 as a former tree guy who also enjoys splitting with hand tools: I find wooden handles are much more comfortable to use than fiberglass for doing a lot of splitting. If you can't split something with a 6-pound maul, get the wedges and a sledge instead. My favorite splitting mauls have a squarish cross section at the poll-- they seem to get stuck less, but they can be hard to find. Usually you just see the messy octagonal types, which will work but suck a bit.
I generally avoid Fiskars-brand anything that isn't scissors, but I might be prejudiced by their incredibly strange aesthetic for tools.

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