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Converting trees into usable firewood can be a laborious process. First the tree must be brought down safely, then the branches are trimmed away with a chainsaw for mulching. The remaining tree trunk is then sliced into manageable segments for splitting into quarters. Traditionally, this involved using a heavy tool called a maul, which looks like a sledgehammer combined with a hatchet. Each section of log was placed on a stand and the woodsman would drive the hatchet end of the maul through the center. The halved pieces would then be split into quarters and eventually stacked for seasoning, the aging process which allows wood to dry for a year before burning.
A log splitter is a heavy duty piece of equipment which eliminates the need for a maul and hours of backbreaking labor. A log splitter consists of a hydraulic or electrical rod and piston assembly, often rated by the tons of pressure it can generate. The higher the pressure rating, the stronger the splitter. Most models for home use have a rating around 10 tons or so, but professional models may exert 25 tons of pressure or more. There are also manual splitters, which use mechanical leverage to force logs through a sharpened blade assembly.
A log splitter may be powered by a gasoline or diesel engine, making it useful for remote logging work. The entire log splitter is often wheeled out to the location and finished logs are tossed into a waiting truck or wagon. There are also wood splitter models promoted as suitable for all seasons. This type of splitter is usually powered by electricity, making it ideal for indoor use during inclement weather.
No matter what the power source, a log splitter basically uses a piston to drive the log through a stationary blade. Some models have additional pieces which prevent the split logs from falling to the ground. This allows the operator to reposition the logs quickly for a second pass on the splitter.
Although a good log splitter can save the operator hours of labor with a maul, it is not possible to make it 100% safe. Only trained adults should operate a splitter, since anything caught between the log and the splitting blade will receive at least 10 tons of pressure. The behavior of each log cannot be predicted, so a safety zone should be established around the splitter. Helpers can pick up the individual pieces of firewood, but should not stand near the splitter while it is in operation.