While many people love the convenience of their log splitter, not everyone has the money or space for one. And yet, those of us with fireplaces know that the best way to get firewood is to buy large rounds. So what do you do if you don’t have a log splitter?
You get a splitting axe, of course!
Some may find the physical aspects of using a splitting axe to be intimidating, but as long as you have a quality axe and a little time, you can easily break apart your firewood into much more manageable sizes. It takes very little space to store, and they’re inexpensive when compared to powered log splitters. Today, I’m going to go over the best of the best in terms of splitting axes to help you decide which is the best for you.
- Best Splitting Axe: Fiskars X27 Super Splitting Axe
- Best High-End Splitting Axe: Helko Vario 2000 Heavy Log Splitter
- Best Splitting Maul: Fiskars Iso Core 8lb Maul
- Best Short-Handled Camp Axe/Maul: Estwing E3-FF4 Fireside Friend
Other Good Choices:
- Husqvarna 30″ Wooden Splitting Axe
- True Temper Sledge Eye Wood Super-Splitter Maul
- Gerber 36″ Power Splitting Axe
- Mintcraft PRO 34004 Wood Splitting Maul
- Velvicut 24″ 2lb Hudson Bay Camp Axe
What Is A Splitting Axe?
A splitting axe is designed to split apart the fibers in wood, unlike other types of axes that are meant for cutting through things. There are a few types of axes that fall into this category, some of which have mallet heads on the other side of the cutting blade.
Types Of Axes
The most basic type of splitting axe is, in fact, referred to as a splitting axe. Its head has a wider, wedge-shaped blade that is designed to cause the wood to split more easily. It’s not meant to cut, and would not be as useful for chopping live wood like tree branches, but to split down larger seasoned logs, it is ideal. It is the lighter-weight choice in axes for splitting firewood, and the reduced weight helps lower fatigue while using it.
Another variety of splitting axe is called a splitting maul. Mauls are much more weighty implements, generally weighing between 8-10 pounds. Often, they feature a longer handle and a blunt mallet-style head on the opposite side of the blade. These typically are not kept as sharp, as the extra weight and leverage provided by the longer handle assists with splitting the wood.
When people think of axes, most commonly the type of axe that they picture in their mind’s eye is a felling axe. Felling axes are meant for chopping down trees, removing branches, or other chopping purposes, as their blades are kept extremely sharp so that they cut through wood fibers easily. While these have been used for splitting firewood, they aren’t meant for that. It’s actually harder to use a felling axe to split firewood than it would be to use a splitting axe or a maul.
If you’re going camping or backpacking, you might not want a long and heavy axe with you. In that case, using a hatchet or camp axe is probably your best bet. A hatchet is a one-handed axe with a shorter handle. It’s much lighter-weight, which is important for backpacking. The biggest drawback of a hatchet is that you don’t strike with as much force, so it can take much longer to use. If you’re going to be chopping firewood for your fireplace, this isn’t what you want. If it’s just a few logs for a campfire, it’ll do.
What To Look For In Your Splitting Axe
While one wouldn’t think of an axe as being something with features, most modern log splitting axes in fact have a wide variety of things to take into consideration. Here, we’ll compare the splitting axe vs maul and determine which might be best for your use, as well as look at some of the many other aspects of a quality axe.
Handle Length & Material
Axe handles vary quite widely. Some are longer and are intended for taller users or to provide more splitting force. Others are shorter and more compact. While there are still a number of axes which feature wooden handles, materials like fiberglass or metal are also available. Fiberglass and metal don’t splinter like wooden handles can over time (and with misuse), but they are also harder to replace.
Style and Versatility of Axe Head
As I mentioned before, splitting axes tend to have a wedge-shaped head that forces the wood apart as it bites into it, whereas mauls tend to pair that wedge-shaped tooth with a mallet back side. If you want a multi-purpose tool, a maul is a better choice, but it is much heavier overall.
Weight really matters. Since splitting firewood is a physical job, some people might find the extra weight of a maul to be a problem until they’re used to it. Lightweight splitting axes might be better for those who’re overwhelmed by an eight to ten pound maul.
If you care for your axe well, most of the time you’re not going to need replacement handles. But if you do, you should check prior to purchasing to make sure handles are going to be readily available. In addition, some contemporary axes are one-piece models where the axe head is permanently joined to the handle. While this prevents the head from coming off, it also means that if something dire happens to the head, you’ll need to replace the entire axe.
You want an axe that’s comfortable in the hand and that provides a secure grip. The last thing you want is for your sweaty hands to be sliding around on the axe handle, as that makes it dangerous.
Ease of Maintenance
Most axe care goes into maintaining the axe head at a functioning level. An axe which is easy to care for is ideal.
Availability of Care Goods
Some companies offer their own make of sheaths, covers, or sharpening utensils. If you want to maintain your splitting axe or splitting maul based on the company’s recommendations, it’s a good idea to ensure that their products are readily available in your area. However, often there are outside-manufactured sheaths or sharpeners that work just as effectively, so don’t feel as though you must only use the company’s products for care.
Splitting Axe Care
As I said above, the majority of your care is going to be maintaining your axe head. This generally involves cleaning it thoroughly after use to remove any pitch or other material that might be gunking up the metal surface, sharpening it (if needed), and perhaps oiling it to prevent rust. If you do opt to oil it, keep the oil off of the handle, as you don’t want any slippery residue building up on the gripping surface.
This video of splitting maul maintenance gives a good visual indication of how to handle most of the basic care of a maul, as well as how to sharpen it:
Your splitting axe will be similar to the maul maintenance, just with a different head shape. Neither style of axe is as sharp as an axe intended for cutting (such as a felling axe), so you don’t have to try for razor-sharp edges. The way these axes are used doesn’t call for it.
While you always need to gauge your tool for the jobs which lie ahead of you, here’s my best recommendations for a variety of different axes and mauls. These choices offer the highest-quality in manufacturing, the most sturdy handles, and the best heads available on the market today.
Best Splitting Axe
Fiskars X27 Super Splitting Axe
|Features||Comes with carry-and-hang sheath. Fiberglass handle. Limited lifetime warranty.|
Fiskars has built up a reputation for good quality tools, and this Fiskars axe is no exception. Their X series axes are designed to put the weight of the axe in the head rather than the handle, allowing for a clean shearing action while splitting. The axe handle is fiberglass and includes vibration-reducing technology. They have multiple handle lengths available, ranging from a short 17″ camp size all the way through a 36″ full length. Coming complete with a carry-and-hang sheath of sturdy plastic that locks onto the head, this splitting axe is likely to last you and your family for years to come.
Best High-End Splitting Axe
Helko Vario 2000 Heavy Log Splitter
|Weight||8.5 lbs total, 6.7 for the head|
|Features||Comes with vegetable-tanned leather sheath. Easy handle replacement..|
This splitting axe may be expensive, but what you get for the price is incredible. Unlike other axes, the head does not wrap around the hickory handle. Instead, a custom-built joining system provides quick and easy handle changes and head removal when it’s required. Solid German steel, the head itself is designed to power through both soft and hard woods with ease. It’s designed to have a 36″ handle, which means it may be easier for taller folks to use. All in all, a worthy choice, but definitely pricey.
Best Splitting Maul
Fiskars Iso Core 8lb Maul
|Weight||10.3 lbs total, 8 lb head|
|Features||Shock-reduction isocore handle. Does not come with a sheath. Limited lifetime warranty.|
Most people aren’t going to need this monster of a splitting maul unless they’re handling hardwood, but if you are splitting hardwood, this is the best splitting maul you could purchase. Its wide mallet side works well for driving in wedges into larger logs, and the blade side easily flakes off kindling or small logs for the fireplace with ease. It’s weighty, and the long handle allows for extra splitting force. You can get by with a lighter maul for softwood, but for overall use, this can’t be beat.
Best Short-Handled Camp Axe/Maul
Estwing E3-FF4 Fireside Friend
|Type||Splitting Maul (camp splitter)|
|Features||Comes with shock-reduction grip and ballistic nylon sheath.|
The Estwing E3-FF4 Fireside Friend is a short camp splitting maul. Meant for use either at the hearth or on the trail, this compact device features an all-in-one design that permanently affixes head to handle, meaning that you won’t ever need to worry about the head flying off during use. While its short length makes it quite difficult to use with two hands, you probably won’t need more than one hand for most firewood splitting purposes. Since it’s got the maul head, it’s also perfect for pounding in tent stakes. It might not replace your all-time favorite splitting axe or splitting maul, but for small jobs, it’s perfect.
Other Good Choices
Husqvarna 30″ Wooden Splitting Axe
|Features||Comes with leather edge guard. 90 day warranty.|
This axe is a no-nonsense splitting axe. Its cast head is mounted on a wooden handle, and it seems to be a sturdy option in terms of splitting axes. Unlike many other makes of splitting axe, this has an almost diamond-center blade rather than a wide wedge head, which means that the force is centered down the middle of the axe head. If there’s any fault in the casting, it will make itself readily known because of the shape, generally within the warranty period. But there are no frills, nor anything fancy about this axe; it’s just a solid example of a splitter.
True Temper Sledge Eye Wood Super-Splitter Maul
|Weight||6.2 lbs overall, 4 lb head|
|Features||Fiberglass handle with polypropylene coating. No sheath/cover included. Limited lifetime warranty.|
While the name says “maul”, the reality is that this is a splitting axe with no real maul head. Having said that, this is a very solid choice for a splitting axe. The fiberglass handle is coated with a polypropylene exterior layer that is textured for a secure grip, and while it takes a bit more force on the downstroke than a heavier maul, it cleaves cleanly through. All in all, a good splitting axe for the money.
Gerber 36″ Power Splitting Axe
|Features||PTFE-coated blade, shock-absorbing composite handle. Very lightweight. No cover/sheath included.|
For people who have a much lighter weight capacity, the Gerber splitting axe is a godsend. While you need to strike with a bit more downward force, the length of the handle sends the weight directly to the head in the swing, and it will neatly sheer off good chunks of wood. However, this is best for soft woods. If you’re trying to get through a harder wood, this may not do the trick for you.
Mintcraft PRO 34004 Wood Splitting Maul
|Weight||6 lbs overall, 4.5 lb head|
|Features||Composite handle, interesting blade. Comes with a rubber edge protector.|
For me, what really makes this splitting axe is the interestingly-tapered wedge blade. It bites deeply into the wood and offers some leverage outward, but also leaves an indent which can help to guide the next cut. I would not call it a maul, as it’s neither heavy enough to qualify nor does it have the mallet edge, but as a splitting axe, this definitely will do its job. The composite handle is strong, and the manufacturing is quality.
Velvicut 24″ 2lb Hudson Bay Camp Axe
|Weight||2.85 lbs, 2 lb head|
|Features||Comes with sheath. All-American construction.|
While technically this isn’t a splitting axe or a splitting maul, the Hudson Bay style of axe has been a long favorite as a camp axe. Popular for over a hundred and fifty years, Hudson Bay axes are lightweight, sturdy, and popular. This American-made piece from Velvicut follows a grand tradition in its styling, and it’s quite effective for small-batch splitting in a camp environment. The flattened back of the head can be used as a mallet, although it’s not like a maul. All things considered, sometimes a style of tool survives because it’s effective, and this is a perfect example.
For me personally, if I were to pick for my own needs, I’d probably go with the heavier-weight tools — so I’d opt for the best splitting maul on my list, and possibly consider the best high-end splitting axe as a runner up. I like the added weight, and while it takes more force to swing both of those tools, the resulting split is solid and satisfying. I hope I’ve at least given you a selection to pick from!
Do you have a favorite splitting axe or splitting maul? What works the best for you? Tell me in the comments. I’d love to hear your experiences!