Two related questions about making a log-splitting block
April 24, 2013 7:53 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to make a concrete block to split firewood on, and have a question about making surface hardened concrete and about whether I should put an iron plate in.

I need to make an in situ concrete block to split firewood on. Customarily I would use a large smooth block of hardwood, but that piece of wood hasn't turned up so I'll make one from concrete.

My concrete block needs to be hard, not crumbly, and it seems to me that the factors for success there are:
1. correct quantities, 1:2:4 cement:sand:aggregate
2. not too much water
3. reinforcing bar
4. vibrating out bubbles
5. drying slowly and keeping damp

Any further advice or refinements appreciated...

Secondly, I have a cast iron BBQ plate kicking around. Should I set that in the top? Hardness problem solved. But would it make the wood and splitter bounce and vibrate, and rust?

PS yes I realise that the correct answer is to buy a hydraulic splitter, but they're ridiculously expensive.
posted by wilful to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty sure that the first time your ax, splitter or awl hits the hard concrete and/or cast iron, the resulting reverberation will be very uncomfortable for your hands and you will flatten your wood splitting tool. Take a sledge hammer and slam it down on concrete and you will see what I mean.

You don't really need to have hardwood, just find a large trunk from the local wood supplier. Most folks, me included, just use the ground to set the wood on. Or you can get some sand and use that to set your wood on if the ends are uneven.
posted by jabo at 8:10 PM on April 24, 2013

We just use one of the larger pieces of the log that has been sawed as a splitting block. Guess it depends on the size of the tree you're working with. At the end you just split that and instead of a storage issue you have warmth.
posted by uncaken at 8:12 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just get this axe. And don't use it on concrete because chips in the axe.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:19 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could you describe how you're splitting this wood? It sounds like you're doing something that (1) needs a very rigid support, (2) will never overshoot a cutting edge into the support, and (3) can handle large enough volumes that buying a hydraulic splitter would be a reasonable alternative. I can't think of anything that satisfies all three criteria.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:19 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Concrete is a horrible choice for this project. It'll dull your axe and it'll chip and possibly crack from the impacts of the axe. The cast iron plate, if it's malleable, with help with the latter but it won't help much with the former. If it isn't malleable it's going to break into smaller pieces. Either way if you cast it into the block and there is any significant keying of the plate you shouldn't have a problem with vibration. It'll probably surface rust a bit but an occasional coat of mineral oil will mitigate the rust.

If it was me and I couldn't get a sufficiently large round off the logs I was splitting I'd get half a dozen 2x4s, cut them to 16" lengths and then nail/bolt/screw them together end grain up to make a "tree" stump of any arbitrary size I wanted.

Another thing I've seen done when only smallish rounds were available is to take the largest one and screw a couple short lengths of 2x4 perpendicular to the log at the bottom to hold the log upright. You can also take a 3' or so length of log and bury it half in the ground with 16" or so sticking up to steady the smaller piece.
posted by Mitheral at 8:21 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

You are going to absolutely munt your axe or splitter with this set-up. I have *never* heard of anyone splitting on a concrete surface, let alone reinforced with a steel plate. I cut and split literally tonnes of firewood a year and I have always just used a large log round to do it on. I'm semi-local to you. If you can be bothered, memail me and let me know what size log you want, I can probably go and cut you something and you can come and pick it up. Waaay less bother and much more sensible than the concrete block.
posted by tim_in_oz at 8:22 PM on April 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

jabo: "Or you can get some sand"

Sand will tear up your splitter, as well.

Concrete is the second-to-worst thing to make a splitting block out of. The worst being metal. The best splitting block is the piece of the tree nearest the base; once you're done with everything else split that.

In lieu of that - if you really want a splitting block at a centralized location (and I understand; really I do!) - get something unsplittable - Elm. Get a two-foot or 30-inch section and bury it six inches. Take a couple old straps and cinch them around the circumference of the block. Get that fucker soaked so it deadens the follow-through.

By the way, the splitter you want is a Fiskars. Don't screw around with a giant triangle of metal or a 12-pound sledge and wedges. I'm not that big a guy, and I can knock through 36+ diameter oak, even 18" sections, if my big Fiskars splitting axe is sharp.

(on preview, elsietheeel beat me to that last point)
posted by notsnot at 8:22 PM on April 24, 2013

While we're on the subject, some folks get a big log round, say 60cm/24" and then take a car tyre and nail it onto the block. You take the wood to be split, pop it inside the tyre and split away. The rubber cuff stops the pieces falling off the block so you spend less time picking up wood and putting it back onto the block to split it further. That and a Fiskars (yep, thirding that suggestion) will let you split most wood faster than a hydraulic splitter.
posted by tim_in_oz at 8:27 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

(as a side note, if you get good rounds - ash, oak - and either let them dry a year or get 'em still alive - John Henry can still beat the steam drill. My three-man team (me with ax, two guys setting up) beat a three-man team of uncles with a hydraulic unit to a face-cord of "calf-sized pieces". Handily.)
posted by notsnot at 8:27 PM on April 24, 2013

You really, really don't want your axe head to be hitting something as solid as concrete, let alone cast iron. High-speed chips of flying concrete are no fun, if you're using an iron or steel plate, it's going to chew up your axe head something awful. The greater danger is cold weather; if you've ever used an axe in the middle of winter and had the axe head shatter into a thousand pieces from going cold short and hitting a hard knot, you'll know how shit-your-pants scary that is. And your concrete or steel plate is going to be even harder than that.

The secondary reason for using a block of wood is when your axe clears the split piece, it bites nicely into the wood block, stopping its motion. If you use your concrete (or worse, metal) block, there's a very real chance that the axe could skip off the hard surface and find your leg.

Use a piece of hardwood, even use a few railroad ties or something strapped together. But make sure it's wood.
posted by xedrik at 8:28 PM on April 24, 2013

On reflection, you're all correct, concrete is a bad idea. I have to find that big bit of durable species wood.

Those of you recommending elm, oak etc, please do remember that we don't all live in north america (and don't have below zero temperatures).

My splitter is fine, thanks. I've had it for 25 years.
posted by wilful at 8:50 PM on April 24, 2013

Call your local tree trimmers/removers: they will have rounds that will either be split for firewood or, more often, go to a mulching yard.
posted by holgate at 9:05 PM on April 24, 2013

My splitting block is the crotch of a red elm, though I see that you're not in elm country. I don't know much about the wood species common in Australia, but look for something that's got a reputation for being difficult to split. Until you find the grail, a decent-sized round of almost anything will work. Unless you tend to miss your mark a lot, the axe/maul will have been slowed enough by its impact with the wood you're intending to split that it's unlikely to do much damage to even a less-than-robust block.
posted by jon1270 at 3:35 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

We have just always used a big log with a flat top and bottom that we didn't split. Once that wears out/starts to rot we just cut it up on a new log and move on. It's never really mattered what species of hardwood we used, just something big and heavy.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:56 AM on April 25, 2013

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