- Sports and Recreation
Top 3 Best Splitting Mauls
Choosing the Right Tool for the Job
I once took a girl on a camping date to a family reunion. We were all splitting wood and she wanted a go at it. I handed her a pair of safety glasses, an small camp axe, and the most green, gnarled, knotted log in the stack. She swung and swung, beating the log into submission, and yet it wouldn't crack. Admittedly, there's no chance I could've split that log given that axe.
After we all had a good chuckle at her expense, we came clean about our camp shenanigans and gave her an appropriate axe and a few straight grained wood rounds. She split those like she had been doing it her whole life.
To this day when we go camping she loves telling that story, and only barely started to forgive me for it.
Living through a number of Montana winters with a wood burning stove as our main heat source, I quickly learned that the right wood splitting tool for the job can make the difference between a quick afternoon's work and a grueling full-day workout.
Wood Splitting Axes vs Splitting Mauls
In essence, axes and mauls are both capable of splitting firewood, although they accomplish it with slightly different mechanisms.
Compared to mauls, splitting axes are lighter, have shorter handles, and have a more narrow bit angle. Most of the energy from a splitting axe comes from the velocity of the axe head on impact. These features allow the axes to maintain more energy as it strikes the wood, driving the axe head deeper.
- Lighter, causes less fatigue
- Can be used for some cross-grain chopping
- More likely to get stuck or wedged while splitting
- Ideal for smaller, well seasoned wood rounds
Splitting mauls are characterized by much larger, heavier heads, longer handles, and wider bit. The impact energy from a maul comes from the weight of the head as it falls and strikes the wood. Given the wider bit angle, a greater portion of the strike energy is transferred to the wood at the initial time of impact.
- Heavier, requires more energy to swing
- Cannot make chop cross grain
- Doubles as a sledgehammer (back of maul head), although some manufacturers will advise against this
- Much less likely to get stuck or wedged while splitting
- Less maintenance
- Easily splits any size round, seasoned or green
So which is the better tool for the job? Part of this is personal preference, much is driven by the type of wood. For easy-to-split, small, dry firewood rounds, an axe is typically sufficient. For larger, knottier, harder, or green firewood, a good heavy maul is going to make your life much easier.
How do you split most of your firewood?
How to Swing a Maul Correctly
Given that mauls are so much heavier than axes, you'll want to conserve as much energy per swing as possible. The swing energy from a maul comes from the head accelerating as it drops towards the log. The longer maul handle means the maul head can drop an even greater distance prior to impact.
As you lift the maul to prepare for an overhead swing, slide one hand up the handle of the maul, gripping it closer to the maul head. This will give you a greater mechanical advantage when lifting the maul. Once the maul is roughly overhead, raise the maul to full extension, sliding your forward hand away from the maul head, back towards your other hand. You will expend far less energy on the upswing with this method than if you leave both hands near the base.
On the downswing, don't actively swing downward, just let the maul head full towards the wood. All you need to worry about it directing the bit to the center of the round. In almost all cases, a good maul will easily split a wood round with its own weight. Forcibly swinging a maul will tire all but Paul Bunyan out very quickly.
How to Care for a Splitting Maul
Given their size and weight, mauls require less maintenance than axes to effectively split wood. With that said, if you're going to spend a chunk of money on a tool, you should plan on maintain and take care of it. It will last much longer if you do.
Periodically you will want to treat the maul head with oil to help prevent rust. Many of the best axe and maul heads are not made from stainless steel, so a coat of oil is required to preserve the steel. Most oils will work fine here, I typically use gun oil.
The sharpness of the maul head is not as important as it is with an axe, so regular sharpening is not typically required. You will however want to clean up any large divots your maul develops.
Many maul handles are made from fiberglass. If this is the case with yours, the handle will be relatively maintenance free.
If you select a maul with a wood handle, you'll want to plan on keeping the handle well oiled, as this will extend the lifetime and vitality of the wood. It also makes it look really nice.
Boiled linseed oil is regarded as one of the best options for axe handle maintenance.
The Best Splitting Mauls
Sometimes its hard to describe what makes a great splitting maul. One will glide right through a large round, where another will stick in the log with a hopeless "thud".
Whether its the steel, the weight, or the bit geometry, some mauls make undeniably quicker work of tougher wood.
Best Splitting Maul Under $50– Fiskars Iso Core 8lb
The Fiskars line of wood splitting tools are engineered for serious work. The fiber-reinforced polymer handle is much lighter than a traditional solid fiberglass handle, yet practically indestructible. Along with added with the over-swing protection, the maul can take countless missed strikes with no fear of causing any damage. I've watched someone drive the handle right into a log with a full swing without leaving so much as a scuff on the handle. This thing is unbelievably tough.
If you want your maul to double as a sledgehammer, this is your best option. I've even used this maul to break up concrete slabs (use the butt end!)– I wouldn't even consider that with any other mauls.
The Fiskers Iso Core is not the sharpest, lightest, or best looking maul you'll ever find, but it exceeds in its toughness, durability, and value. If you're the kinda guy that thinks tools are meant to be abused, if you've been known to occasionally leave tools out in the rain, or if you could care less about spending the time oiling and caring for a wood splitting tool, this is a great one to have around.
I've used this maul to split mostly softwoods in the Pacific Northwest– cedar, fir, pine etc, on rounds up to 22 inches or so. Even a resiny fresh log is no match for this beast. Given its size, it can be a little exhausting to swing for prolonged periods of time, so I wouldn't recommend it for large wood splitting projects unless you're in the mood for a workout as well. While its weight might be a bit of a deterrent for some, its splitting power is unrivaled by any other tools. This is my go-to maul for the most knot-riddled, spiral-grained, problem logs. Also, if you spend much time splitting frozen, wet, or particularly hard wood, this would be a great choice.
Something worth considering would be pairing the Fiskers 8lb maul with the smaller Fiskers X27 Splitting Axe. The maul would make quick worth of larger rounds, with the smaller, lighter X27 axe easily handling half rounds, quarter rounds, and kindling production. The two would be a great wood splitting combination and run you less than $100 total, which is still half the price of a single higher end maul.
While it does have a lifetime warranty, mine shows no signs of giving up any time soon.
Best Bang for the Buck– Fiskars Iso Core 8lb Maul
A heavy hitting, rock-solid, wood splitting machine.
Most Versatile Splitting Maul– Helko Vario 2000
German crafted C50 high carbon steel maul head, Swiss crafted Grade A American hickory handle, American made real leather sheathe, Helko sourced the finest materials to put together one hell of a heavy hitting splitting maul.
The Helko Vario 2000 line of tools brings a fairly unique new feature to the table, interchangeable heads and handles. The maul head attaches to the handle with a patented socket head cap screw process. This maul is really just part of an entire axe system. The maul comes with a hickory handle and their heavy splitting head, however your options for customization are near limitless. If you prefer composite handles, done. If you want to swap out your heavy splitting head for a felling head, just as easy. If you want an axe for every occasion, but don't want to buy five entirely different axes, this is a remarkably affordable way to go.
Or, if you damage the maul head beyond repair or resharpening, you can simply install a new head and you're good as new.
For as easy as it is to swap out different weighted and sized heads, I'm very impressed by how solid and sturdy the maul feels when you're splitting. I've never had a head come loose, or any screws start to back out. The maul comes with lock washers for an added level of sturdiness, make sure you use them. Both the bolts and lock washers are standard sizes, you can easily find replacements at any hardware store for a couple bucks.
The only downside of this axe is that given the interchangeable head system, you absolutely cannot use this maul to drive a wedge, hammer on the back, or swing it like a sledgehammer. You will break the maul. The back plate is just too small. If this is something you intend to use your maul for, you'll want to consider other options. However, given that the back plate of the maul can be removed, I've been tempted to machine a custom steel back plate to allow me to hammer on the back of the maul. If you're the creative type, it would be an easy afternoon project. Along the same lines, if you wanted to add additional weight to the head of the axe, a couple steel plates and longer socket head bolts could easy be modified into the existing system.
The biggest benefit of the Vario 2000 is its versatility. If I'm felling a tree a long ways from the road, and anticipate the need to also debranch, then split in order to carry back to the truck, I will just grab the Vario and toss a couple different heads in a bucket and I'm set. Also, if I anticipate being without a vise or sharpening tools for a few days, I'll pack a spare sharpened head, meaning no down time trying to re-sharpen your axe in the field. Swapping head takes no more than two minutes, its remarkably quick.
Another nice benefit, sharpening the axe or maul head is way easier when you can remove the head entirely from the handle. All of a sudden you can fixture the head however you like in the vise without the handle getting in the way. I didn't realize how convenient this one until the first time I went to sharpen it.
Set yourself up with one handle, a felling head, a heavy splitting head for the large round, and lighter splitting head for the smaller rounds, and you've got an affordable complete axe system.
Top of the Line Craftsmanship and Versatility– Helko Vario 2000
Not just a top preforming maul, the Vario 2000 is an entire logging system. The last axe you'll ever need.
Best Lightweight Splitting Maul– Gränsfors Bruk Splitting Maul 450
Unleash your inner Viking! Handcrafted in Sweden since 1902, the Gränsfors Bruk 450 Splitting Maul is a real work of art. The beauty of this maul can't truly be appreciated until you hold it. Your friends will be drooling with envy when you unsheathe this bad boy at your next bonfire.
If you find that a smaller splitting axe just isn't quite cutting it, but don't care to throw around a heavy 8lb maul head, the Gränsfors Bruk 450 is an ideal compromise. A slightly lighter maul head, weighing in at 5.5lb, along with a shorter handle measuring at 31.5", make this a much more manageable tool for all day chopping.
The quality of the maul is apparent in every aspect, right down to the axe-smith's initials physically hammered into the head– a cool personal touch that reiterates how much pride they put in their tools. The bit of each maul is heat treated to increase hardness, then water annealed to allow the maul to take a finer edge. Of all the mauls I've used, the Gränsfors Bruk is the easiest to sharpen. I typically use a second-cut file to remove any chips or dings, then sharpening stones progressing to 50 grit. One time I was bored while camping and sharpened it enough to shave the side of my leg. It worked.
One small drawback, given the sharpness and more axe-shaped bit, if you don't split the log on the strike, I've found it sticks harder in the log than some wider bit mauls I've used.
Gränsfors Bruk axes are also crafted using more traditional methods, meaning lead-free annealing processes, wedge-set head attachment without added epoxies, and natural oils for handle finish, all in an effort to reduce environmental impact during production.
Since this maul is crafted using traditional materials, you'll want to make sure to keep both the maul head and handle oiled to protect and extend the lifetime of this maul. I use a gun oil on the axe head and over-swing collar as it seems to penetrate deeper and last longer. For the handle, boiled linseed oil is the way to go.
If you're looking for a slightly more manageable, back-friendly maul, with exceptional craftsmanship and a traditional look, this maul wins by a landslide. It rips through Northwest evergreen rounds with no issue, easily running through a full cord in less than 2 hours. For all day splitting projects, its my clear favorite
The Gränsfors Bruk is my overall top recommended splitting maul, and is the best choice for all but the largest and knottiest logs.
Best Power to Weight Ratio– Gränsfors Bruk 450
A razor sharp edge, exceptional splitting power, and heirloom quality, this maul is an absolute joy to swing.