If you’re going to be splitting a lot of wood for burning throughout the winter or year, you’ll be much happier doing it if you have an axe suited for the task. Splitting axes and mauls are made for the task of splitting wood, whether it’s cured, dry rounds of wood for firewood or green, freshly-felled logs. Their profiles are wider and cheeks – fatter, their axeheads are generally heavier than those of regular axes, and the polls – the back end of the axehead – are often hardened, meant for use as a hammer to drive in splitting wedges. Splitting axes and mauls won’t make good felling axes, but they’ll tear apart wood when it’s on the ground better than any other type of axe.
The issue with general-purpose and especially felling axes is that their profiles are often too narrow (put another way – their cheeks are too thin), and their axeheads too light, to really deliver the force needed to split apart a large log or round of wood. Axes with narrow profiles also tend to get stuck (pinched) in wood more, leading to frustration when you have to pull the edge out of the log you’re splitting for the fifth time.
This is an in-depth guide to the best splitting axes (and some mauls) that you can get for the money on the market today. They’re not ranked in any special order, but I tried to find a balance between the cheaper (but still good) axes and the more expensive premium splitting axes and mauls. Read on to find out all about ‘em!
First up on the list is the Fiskars X25 28-inch splitting axe. This is a great tool and lives up to the reputation Fiskars have for making well-designed and tough-as-hell tools and selling them for a fair price. How is that? Well, the Fiskars X25 has a composite material handle that’ll take much more use and abuse than wooden handles will. Its axehead starts with a very sharp and quite thin edge but then widens dramatically towards the handle. This means that it’ll bite in well into the wood, but immediately after that it’ll force the wood fibers apart as if it were a maul. This, along with the low-friction coating on the axehead, means that it will practically never get stuck in the wood as other axes might, a real boon if you’re splitting lots of wood at a time or throughout the season.
The only potential drawbacks to this axe are that it might not be large enough if you’re a tall person or plan on splitting dense hardwoods. In that case, you might want something that can have more oomph in each swing – such as the X25’s bigger brother, the X27 (which we’ll be taking a look at next). Also, the handle is molded around the axehead, and if the handle does break, it’ll be much harder to replace than a wooden handle (and at this price point, not really worth it). All in all, the X25 is a splitting axe very well suited to splitting small to medium-sized pieces of wood such as you might get in a typical cord of unsplit firewood, very sturdy and well-designed, and comes at a great price for the performance you’ll be getting.
The Fiskars X27 36-inch splitting axe is the bigger brother of the X25. It’s ideal for taller people as well as those planning to use it to split medium to large-sized logs and rounds of wood. It weighs 5.85 pounds in total, and is the largest of the splitting axes that Fiskars offer. It is identical to the X25 in all ways except for the length of the handle. Remember that if you get an axe too long for your arms, it’ll be harder to handle and increase the likelihood of an overstrike (which is bad for the axe and can be bad for you, too, if it rebounds on you). This is known as “lagging behind the line of the arms.” It doesn’t mean you won’t be able to split wood with it, however, please be confident of your ability to handle and swing an almost 6-pound axe. If you’re not going to be doing really heavy-duty splitting and you’re not sure of your strength, then consider going for something smaller, such as a 28- or 31-inch axe. The two main drawbacks of the X27 are it being potentially too large and long for your needs (don’t get it if you’re planning on splitting 8-inch logs for firewood, it’ll be overkill) as well as the handle not being replaceable if it does break (which it shouldn’t, considering how durable everyone reports it to be). In general, though, the Fiskars X27 super splitting axe is an excellent choice for heavy-duty splitting of large pieces of wood, especially dense hardwoods. And at the price point it’s at, it’s certainly one of the most affordable splitting axes out there.
Estwing is a classic made-in-USA brand of tools that are made for heavy-duty work and which are known for being virtually indestructible. Their axes are forged from a single piece of American steel at their factory in Rockford, Illinois. The Estwing Camper’s axe, at 26 inches, is smaller than many axes on this list but makes up for it with its durability and weight. This is both a strength and a weakness – but more of a strength as long as you know what you’re going to be working with. One the one hand, you’ll never have to worry about overstrikes shattering the handle. Indeed, you’ll never have to worry about replacing the handle at all. On the other hand, it does make it much heavier than other similar-sized axes with wooden handles. Steel also conducts shocks and vibrations very well, but that’s why this axe has a patented shock-absorbing and reducing grip. It is more of an all-around general camping axe than a proper splitting axe, but you can reprofile the edge to make it duller and better for splitting (instead of cutting and potentially getting stuck in the wood), and I included it in this list because sometimes you just need something that you’re sure won’t break on you.
Husqvarna is another highly-regarded name in the axe world. The company is owned by the same parent company (Hultafors Group) that owns and makes the Hults Bruk brand of axes. In fact, Hults Bruk manufacture Husqvarna axes, so you get the hundreds of years of Swedish axe-making experience and knowledge going into Husqvarna axes. Think of these axes as a more affordable, less “premium” line of Hults Bruk axes. The Husqvarna 30-inch splitting axe is made specifically for splitting wood and it excels at it. It is designed with a geometry that allows the edge to penetrate the wood, but then quickly expands to force it apart and split it with as little effort as possible. Replacement handles are available and the straight handle makes for the most efficient use of your strength and the force of your swing. It seems that a few years ago, in 2016 or so, there were problems with quality control and the axeheads breaking, but all the most recent reviews have been glowing and it seems the Husqvarna have addressed the issue that was causing the problem (which was the place where they stamped their brand name on the axehead). Since it is less expensive than Hults Bruk or Gransfors Bruks axes, the axe won’t come with as finely sharpened an edge or as polished a handle, but those are both easy things to solve yourself with a sharpening stone, some sandpaper, and some type of vegetable oil. It also comes with a fine leather sheath to protect it from moisture and the elements – a very welcome touch that not all axes have. All in all, it’s a great tool for splitting wood (but not felling, or as an all-round axe).
Gransfors Bruks axes are one of, if not the best axes that you can get on the open retail market today. Everything on their axes says “quality” – from the razor-sharp finish straight out of the box, to the grain orientation on the handle, the fit of the axehead, their ability to take and hold an edge, and their overall construction and durability. The Gransfors Bruks splitting axe (31 inches) is no different. This beast of a splitting axe, with a 3-½ pound axehead, comes with a steel collar on the handle just beneath the axehead. This protects the handle in case of overstrikes (missing your swing and hitting the piece of wood with the handle instead of the axe edge), the most common cause of handle breakage. The axehead has a concave wedge shape, perfect for forcing apart big rounds of wood and logs. The orientation of the grain on the American hickory handle is perfectly straight, as with all Gransfors axes, and in any case each axe comes with a 20-year manufacturer’s warranty, so if you do get one with a defect they’ll replace it quickly and free of charge. It’s a joy to handle and use, as the Swedish axemakers who make these tools by hand know how important that is, so it has flawless balance which makes all the difference in effort and ease of use. The head design also makes extraction of the axe from wood easy and smooth, which is often not the case with cheaper axes. The Gransfors Bruks splitting axe also comes with a very sturdy leather sheath (bolted, not sewn together), and an “axe book”, with everything you need to know about using and maintaining your axe.
Of course, all of this craftsmanship and premium features come with an appropriate price tag, but you’ll understand why it costs what it does when you use it. Even good inexpensive axes such as Fiskars don’t really stand up to a Gransfors – these glide through wood and leave you confused as to why you aren’t feeling more tired or bent out of shape. A real joy to split wood with. Highly recommended.
Council Tool have been making axes and other hand tools in the USA for over 100 years, and their classic Jersey pattern 36-incher is an all-American workhorse and a beautiful, well-crafted axe. Council Tool hold themselves to high and rigorous standards, which is why they ensure that the bit of the axe is hardened to Rc 48-55 at least 1¼ inches back from the cutting edge. The axehead is secured to the handle with a serrated aluminum wedge, which improves the grip and doesn’t change shape and size with humidity and temperature changes. It has what are called “phantom bevels” or hallows (the curves you see in the middle of the axehead) to reduce sticking in the wood, always important whether you’re splitting wood or felling trees. Speaking of, this is a good general-purpose axe, and will fell a tree as well as allow you to split wood. The bevel is neither too thin (which would make it more of a felling axe) nor too wide (which would allow it to excel at splitting at the cost of making cuts). This is good in situations where you’re doing several jobs – the Council Tool Jersey is so big and packs such a punch that you’ll be able to both fell a tree and split it up. Since it’s an American company, Council Tool also offers excellent and fast customer service, and will replace your axe in case of any manufacturer’s defects.
4 Great Splitting Mauls
In addition to splitting axes, mauls are even more suited – being especially designed – to splitting large and tough rounds of wood and logs. Whereas splitting axes still have somewhat of a sharp edge, the edges of mauls are blunt, the cheeks are wide, and the axeheads are the heaviest out there. They’re designed to force open the wood fibers, ripping them apart through sheer kinetic energy and geometry. You won’t cut anything down with these, but you will be able to split apart any logs or rounds of wood already on the ground. This is a selection of mauls that will cover every purpose – from massive 8-pounders to good all-rounders and smaller firewood splitters.
Fiskars make an 8-pound maul that will serve you well in splitting even the largest logs. It’s composite handle is 36 inches and, like other Fiskars axes, the handle is molded around the axehead. Furthermore it comes at a very accessible price, but you might want to consider getting something lighter and smaller if you’re not going to be splitting large, tough pieces of wood.
The Husqvarna 32-inch splitting maul is a great all-around choice. Made by hand in Sweden, the Husqvarna maul comes with a leather axehead cover to protect it from moisture and the elements. The axe itself weighs 5.5 lbs, so it’s on the lighter side for a maul, but what it lacks in weight it makes up for in splitting ability. An American hickory handle and tightly-fitted axehead makes for a well-balanced tool that, in the words of one user, is “night and day” between cheaper, more generic hardware-store mauls, especially mass-produced ones from countries such as Mexico and China. This one will serve you well.
The Performance Tool 6-pound splitting maul is slightly heavier than the Husqvarna the cheapest of the mauls mentioned here. It is, however, made in China, and is quite basic. It will do the job, however – no doubt about that. It’s just not a premium tool that you will be able to rely on for many years. However, with its durable fiberglass handle it’ll certainly take a beating and will make short work of most pieces of wood that you need to split, as long as they’re not too tough.
Estwing Fireside Friend Axe – 14″ Wood Splitting Maul with Forged Steel Construction & Shock Reduction Grip
The Estwing Fireside Friend 14-inch splitting maul is in a different class. It’s only 14 inches – hatchet-sized – and will work best when you need to split small logs that are neither too long nor too large in diameter for firewood. Its main benefit is that it is virtually indestructible with a single-piece forged steel construction, meaning axehead and handle are joined together permanently. Being steel, neither will break anytime soon. The upside of this is that you can tackle larger pieces of wood than its made for by hammering the maul through tougher and larger wood without fear that you might break the handle. Don’t use too heavy a hammer as there is a chance you can deform the axehead due to the poll not being hardened, but with a similar-sized hammer you should be just fine. There is also a shock reduction grip to reduce the impact on your arm and wrist which goes a long way to making the work more pleasant. Great for splitting wood for smaller fireplaces, grills, smaller outdoor campfires and so on. Estwing is a US-based company and all their tools are American-made, so both the quality control and customer service level is high. The Fireside Friend is a solid, quality tool for its purposes – I really do recommend it.
How to Choose a Splitting Axe
Splitting Axes vs Mauls – Which are Better for Splitting Wood?
People who don’t know the difference between an axe and a splitting maul can be forgiven. After all, not many people in the US and other modern countries spend their time on splitting wood and knowing the answer.
The simple answer is that splitting axes are great for splitting apart rounds of wood and smaller logs. If you have a pesky piece of hardwood that doesn’t want to split in one clean break, for example, you can also use the sharper edge of the splitting axe to cut into the edge of the wood, weaken the whole piece, and make it easier to split.
Mauls are essentially sledgehammers meant for splitting wood. They work best of large, hard pieces of wood. Their extra weight and blunt edges will simply break apart the wood from the force of the blow. But, they’re generally heavier than splitting axes and slightly harder to use, especially for smaller people and those not experienced with splitting wood.
How to Split Wood with an Axe
You split wood by preparing a splitting area (a classic approach is to use a level tree stump or larger piece of wood as a raised base, so that you don’t bury your axe or maul in the ground). Then you raise your axe over your head and, when bringing it down, drop your knees slightly and pull back with your hips (or, put another way, stick your butt out). This adds force to your swing and makes splitting easier, as you don’t bend your back so much. In fact, keeping as straight a back as possible is key to saving it from a lot of soreness or pain.
- Firewood and Dry Wood
Dry wood is easier to split, in general, than green wood. That’s because the drying process allows mini-cracks to open up, with the fibres holding the wood together weakening their hold.
- Green Wood and Timbers
Some people, though, like to split wood when it is freshly felled and still wet. That’s because it allows for the wood to dry faster. In some places, splitting wood when it is freshly felled is necessary to stop it from rotting while curing. Finally, some woods – such as oak – split better when green.
How to Use Splitting Wedges
Splitting wedges are especially useful when splitting large, long logs. Wedges should be forced into one end of the log, aiming for any cracks that might be visible (and avoiding knots as much as possible). Then, depending on how many you have (two is a good number to start with, because a single splitting wedge can easily get pinched and stuck in a log), you can work with your splitting tool to lengthen and expand the crack and place another wedge, or just use the opening created by the first wedge to use your axe or maul to split further down in as straight a line as possible.