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Comparing Woodsplitters

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Guest Post by Adaptive Curmudgeon, March 2010

Tractor Pulling a Wood Splitter

Anything from an ATV to a Jetta will tow a splitter but don’t expect to pull one far by hand. My 69 year old tractor does a fine job. In this picture the woodsplitter is positioned vertically. I only use this feature for large blocks which are heavy to lift.

Anything from an ATV to a Jetta will tow a splitter but don’t expect to pull one far by hand. My 69 year old tractor does a fine job. In this picture the woodsplitter is positioned vertically. I only use this feature for large blocks which are heavy to lift.[/caption]

Heating with wood can be as high or low tech as you choose.  I favor technology to save labor.  Others use brawn to save cash.  Which approach is right?  It depends on you. Why am I mentioning this?  Because the way you split your firewood will place you soundly on one end of the spectrum or the other.  You’ll have to choose: woodsplitter or maul.

Mauls:
Mauls
are cheap.  They’re basically specialized axes found in a dizzying array of shapes, weights, and sizes.  All of them work.  Actually they don’t work at all…you do! Split enough wood and you’ll become tough as nails or die trying.  It may be rewarding but it’s brutally hard work.

Woodsplitters:
Woodsplitters are expensive.  They’re basically a hydraulic ram powered by an engine.  Neither the engine nor the hydraulics are cheap.  On the other hand, woodsplitters are awesome at what they do.  You’ll never apply the fruits of the industrial revolution in a more satisfying manner!  Every time I crunch a block of oak I’m thankful I’m not flailing away with a piece of metal on a stick.  If you’re dedicated to using a maul you’re entitled to laugh at my laziness as you flex the rock hard abs you must have.  I’ll get my satisfaction as I effortlessly split cord after cord without needing Ibuprofen the next morning.

Simplicity Doesn’t Mean Cheap.
Woodsplitters really are as simple as they look and a good one should last indefinitely.  Unfortunately you wont find a cheap and/or used one unless it’s made of junk or terrifically worn out.  This is your clue that people who buy them keep them.  You can build one yourself but the components cost enough that you wont save much.  Even splitters driven by your tractor’s PTO aren’t the great deal you’d expect.

The Competition:
I searched vigorously before narrowing my search to six models; Northstar (22 and 30 ton), MTD (25 ton), Ariens (27 and 30 ton), and Troy-Bilt (27 ton).  It’s not an exclusive list but these six were “tough enough” for my tastes.  They started at $1,300 for the MTD and went to $2,000 for the Ariens.  Prices change often and some models (especially the MTD) fade in and out of availability.  Most were powered by Honda or Robin (Subaru) gas engines.  The same manufacturer will market several types (“qualities”) of engine so not all Hondas or Subarus are identical!  The MTD sported a Briggs and Stratton which seemed more primitive.

Northstar comes disassembled at Northern ToolHome Depot (which carries MTD and Ariens) had “options” regarding assembly.  With all due respect I’ve got doubts about letting monkeys from a box store assemble anything that expensive.  Troy-Bilt is pre-assembled and I towed mine home.  Surprisingly Troy-Bilt will ship directly to you.

Among my “finalists”, only minor traits separated models.  I agonized over details but all of them would serve you well.

My research indicated that the MTD’s engines might be more failure prone and the Northstar might be a minor hassle during assembly.  Ariens and Troy-Bilt cost slightly more for proportionately better components.  My preference for Hondas and glowing reports of the Honda GCV engine steered me toward the Troy-Bilt.   I paid about $1,600 and practically hyperventilated.  I briefly reconsidered a $20 maul.

Was It Worth It?
Yes.

How Much Do I Like It?
I buried my maul in a swamp.  I will never split wood by hand again!

How Well Does It Work?
Suppose I played chess against Kasparov.  I know how the knight moves and he was a grand master.  He would demolish me so effortlessly that my inevitable collapse would be a work of art.  This is what my woodsplitter does to oak.

What Is The Best Feature?
The best feature is it’s simplicity.  Here is an analogy based on my modern SUV.  If I throw a feedbag in back and scoot from the barn to the chicken coop, the “gate open” warning blinks at me, then the seatbelt buzzer starts yelping, and then the doors lock.  When I get out the headlights stay on.  If I try to turn them off it overrides the switch position.  When I slow down or speed up it adjusts my radio volume.  The car is in charge and driving me nuts!  Who is the evil marketing gasbag who made my car into my nemesis?  What good comes from overriding radio controls?  When I leave the gate open I darned sure don’t need warnings that the gate is open!  I don’t want my car buzzing angrily about seatbelts when I drive to the mailbox!

The subtle cure is my woodsplitter.  It does exactly what it’s supposed to do and nothing else.  It doesn’t have cupholders to break, batteries to die, or elaborate electronics.  A machine unhindered by useless bells and whistles is delightful!

Some Details:
The engine is engineered elegance.  It doesn’t have a throttle because a simple machine like this doesn’t need one.  Pull the cord just a little and it’s running.  It’s smooth and competent.  No splitter uses much gas but I appreciate the fuel efficiency.  Vibration is mild (some cheap models shake horribly).  It’s quieter than most but no splitter is unobtrusive so I recommend hearing protection.

Any splitter worth owning can switch from vertical to horizontal operation and has tow wheels.  This one is no exception and both features work well.  I was initially disappointed with its plastic fenders (some woodsplitters have steel fenders and others have none).  Then I dropped a chunk of wood and the fender flexed instead of denting.  Brilliant!  I like the protective wrappings around the hydraulic hose and it has a small “ cradle” to hold wood while you’re working.   (Both are exclusive features.)

What Would I change?
Nothing.  The Northstar offers optional “Wedge Wings”.  I coveted them but have since decided they were more likely to be a hassle than an asset.  I initially obsessed over “cycle times” (the time needed to extend and retract the ram) but found that the Troy-Bilt (which is average in that measure) cycles as fast as I can work.  Thus faster cycling wouldn’t matter.  Is 27 tons enough force?  You betcha!  Would more force be better?  Maybe, but there might be drawbacks to a heavier unit.  In the end, I wouldn’t change a thing.

In short this is one of the most delightful pieces of equipment I’ve had the privilege to operate.  I heartily recommend the rock solid and disarmingly simple Troy-Bilt.  As Thoreau said; “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”  Of course Thoreau would use a maul so I’ll rephrase it as “simplify but use hydraulics.”

Adaptive Curmudgeon, March 2010

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Category: Sustainable Living

Comments (6)

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  1. [...] should be thrown into a volcano so Troy-Bilt can get back to making high quality machines like their superb wood splitter. Bottom line: This may be the best snowblower for the price, but it isn’t [...]

  2. Nikki says:

    I really enjoyed all the links. I think I’ll try the maul out first just so I can say I did it.

  3. Was that a pun Nikki? You like the links and want to try theM ALL out? If so, bravo – good one!

  4. We use 2 manual splitters. My husband used the maul, and he can split wood so quick it’s amazing. And he says it’s NOT hard work, you have to let the weight of the maul do all the work. He is a truck driver, has the big belly of a truck driver, quite OVERWEIGHT and he can split wood faster than I can with my little manual splitter that uses an 8 ton jack.

    Some day though we will have to get an electric log splitter. Guess when we are too old and tired doing it the manual way.

  5. eddie brown says:

    i got a serg master 20 ton woodsplitter tring to find work for it i’v put adds up and even sat by the road im thinking bad ivestment for 2’000 what else can i do

  6. Philip says:

    I loved my Troy Bilt 27 ton splitter w/honda 160, until today. It has the metal fenders, towing chains and towing lights. I was splitting wood and the pin that is welded to the cylinder split apart at the weld. The weld was poorly done as pin was being held together to the cylinder by 1/16″, you can tell by the new clean steel when it tore apart. I don’t know how this metal cylinder could not take the pressure of the pump. The hoses or seals should have failed during high pressure not the tough metal parts that 27 tons should handle. Very disappointed with Troy Bilt right now with the way this was built. I contacted Troy Bilt customer service and am awaiting a response as this is out of warranty but this is a part that should never fail this way in many, many years of service not 5. Anyone want to see pics of damaged cylinder? I also have video to put up on youtube but will wait to see if I get a happy response to my email I sent to Troy Bilt.

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