EQUIPMENT REVIEW
by Dave Boyt
THE
LOG SPLITTER
The self-propelled Powersplit double vertical splitter
turns a mountain of firewood logs into a 14-foot wall
of split firewood. With log lifters, two work
stations, and a 25-foot conveyor, this splitter has been
the backbone of Jon's business for 16 years.
hat would you put on a wish list for a
hydraulic log splitter? Plenty of muscle (for
both the splitter and you) would probably top the list.
But what about the firewood handling? Log lifters and
conveyors on high-end splitters save a lot of labor. It
would avoid a lot of lifting if you did not have to put
logs back on the splitter for multiple splits. And an
easy way to keep the splitter positioned near the wood
pile so you don’t need to carry heavy chunks to the
splitter would spare a lot of effort, so why not add
“self-propelled” to the wish list? Many production
yards purchase a couple of splitters to keep the firewood flowing. So how about a double splitter that lets
two operators work the same machine side-by-side?
Back in 1990, a Canadian firewood producer with
welding skills and an inventive mind asked himself
these questions and fabricated a prototype of a unique
splitter to solve these problems. The machine features
a vertical splitter with the splitting table at a comfortable 27 inches off the ground so that the operator can
hold the firewood log together for multiple splits. A
hydraulic motor (powered by the splitter) drives the
rear axle, so moving the splitter is so quick and con-
4 • Sawmill & Woodlot
venient that there is no reason for the operator to be
beyond easy reach of the next log. The log lifter and
conveyor take care of most of the wood handling, and
a pair of side-by-side splitters powered by the same
motor allows two people to work together.
Powersplit, based in Laval, Quebec, now manufactures these splitters. According to U.S. sales manager
Louis Lapointe, Powersplit has improved and expanded on the basic design. “The machine has been
beefed up some since then,” he explained. They have
also added a 50-pound flywheel to the crankshaft,
which provides kinetic energy when the splitter is
going through a particularly tough piece of wood. “It
boosts the effective power from 20 hp to about 26
hp,” he explained.
From Theory to Practice
All of this sounds good in theory, but how does it work
in practice? According to John Pogue of River Valley
Garden Supply in Gurnee, Illinois, Powersplit got it
right. In 1989, fresh out of high school, John started a
firewood business using a horizontal/vertical splitter.
When he saw a Powersplit at another local firewood
producer, he knew that was what he needed. “A guy
up here near me had one and was making tremendous
piles of wood,” John recalled. “So, I went over there
one day and I saw what he was using, but he wouldn’t
tell me who built the splitter or where he got it. I
looked it up until I found it.”
John bought Powersplit’s top-of-the-line model with
a dual log lifter, 25-foot conveyor, and canopy. After 15
years, the machine is still the backbone of his business. With three employees (one is a bookkeeper), his
business produces around 2,000 face cords (about 670
full cords of 16-inch firewood) a year. Even though the
machine is designed for two operators, John says that
he usually only has one person on the machine at a
time. “If I put two guys on it full time, I wouldn’t be
able to sell all the wood I make,” he laughed.
Size, Shape, and Species
Most of the logs John deals with come from local tree
services, so he needed a machine that would work
with a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and species.
According to John, the splitter handles the big logs
with no problem. “The reason I got this splitter in the
first place was because of all the elms that were dying
from Dutch elm disease,” he explained. “Elm is tough
to split, and we were getting logs 30 inches to 40 inches in diameter. Now we’re getting a lot of ash, and it is
a lot easier to split,” he noted. Even though the log
lifter has a 5,000-pound capacity, John splits the
biggest pieces in half with a chain saw so he and his
employees can get them onto the lifter.
Once the log is on the work table, John says the
machine goes right through it. He says it is easiest to
chunk off the edges of the big logs “sort of like peeling an onion.” One person splits it into manageablesize pieces, which he slides over to the operator on the
other side, who splits them into firewood-size pieces.
“It will muscle its way through pretty much anything,”
he concluded.
According to John, the splitting table keeps the
wood at a comfortable working height and makes it
possible for the operator to hold the block together to
make multiple splits by just sliding or turning the
block. When the block is in the right position for the
split, a tap on the foot switch activates the hydraulic
ram. This lets the operator hold the block in place
with both hands. Anyone working with John gets careful safety training. “I tell them to keep their hands on
the sides of the log to squeeze it together, but never
have your hand on top of the log,” he explained.
Taking the foot off the pedal retracts the ram, with a
total 5-second cycle time. With practice the operator
can control the speed of the ram.
The conveyor and self-propelled features are a
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huge boost to production. John uses a Bobcat to shove
the firewood blocks into a windrow. Since the same
engine that splits the wood also propels the splitter, it
is quick and easy to move the splitter down the row—
always within easy reach of the operator. He noted that
he gets double use from the conveyor, as it is also a
quick way to load the firewood onto trucks and trailers
for delivery or customer pickup.
John separates wood by
species, and kiln dries it for
local restaurants and picky
customers who want to barbecue with oak, hickory, cherry,
or apple wood.
John Pogue, owner of River Valley Garden Supply, and an
employee work side-by-side on the double vertical splitter. The comfortable work height and vertical splitter
make it easy to split the wood quickly and cleanly into
consistent-size pieces.
Maintenance has been simple. Aside from routine
engine and hydraulic maintenance, John replaces the
20-hp Honda engine and the hydraulic pump every
5,000 hours. “I’m on my fourth engine now,” he told
me. John says that the company has been great about
service, and a call to Powersplit always gets him in
touch with a real person. Most replacement parts are
locally available, but he says they are quick to send out
special parts the few times he has needed them.
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The Business
River Valley Garden Supply primarily sells to the residential market, mostly so people can have a decorative
fire in their fireplace. John says his firewood needs to
be consistent and attractive. Most of the wood he cuts
is 16 inches long, and roughly 4 inches square. “They
like small, clean pieces that are easy to carry in,” he
explained.
John is continually increasing the scope of his business. To ensure a steady supply of wood, he purchased
a grapple truck so that he can pick up wood on-site
from tree services. Even his firewood business is customer friendly. He separates wood by species and kiln
dries it for local restaurants and picky customers who
want to barbecue with oak, hickory, cherry, or apple
wood. He even has a covered warehouse so that customers can pick up their firewood without going out in
the rain or snow. River Valley Garden Supply also sells
mulch and compost—a good compliment to the firewood business, especially in the summer when firewood sales drop off. What’s next? With the size of logs
he converts to firewood, a sawmill would be a natural.
When asked about that, he replied, “I think about it
every day.”
And what of the firewood business where John first
saw the Powersplit? Jim Carlino of Ingleside, Illinois, is
still in business, now on his fourth Powersplit. Jim
bought the first one 20 years ago—the third one to be
sold in the U.S. “I had such a variety of wood—cottonwood, oak, elm, and ash anywhere from 12 inches to 4
feet in diameter— a processor wouldn’t work.
Jim says he likes the fact that the machine lets two
operators work together, each controlling one side. “It’s
a lot safer than one person holding the wood and a second on the controls,” he explained. The self-propelled
feature and conveyor are particularly helpful in keeping the handling to a minimum. The operators move
the splitter down the row as they work, and the conveyor makes firewood piles about 14 feet high.
Like John, Jim recognizes that firewood production
is tough on equipment. Even though the splitter handles the big logs with no problems, he tosses aside
pieces that would stress the machine. “You could just
muscle through knots and crotches,” he says, “but I
throw out all the big crotches. I don’t care what
machine you have, some pieces will just tear up the
machine, and it just isn’t worth it.” Even though he
says he is impressed with the design and construction
of the splitter, he buys a new one every four years—
always the same model Powersplit. “It is easy to sell
the used machines,” he added. I
Dave Boyt has a BS degree in Forest Management and
an MS in Wood Technology. He manages a tree farm
(2006 Missouri Tree Farm of the Year), and operates a
band saw sawmill.
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