Newbie question -- how to approach this beast?

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New Member
Nov 10, 2022
Boston MA
We just had a 50 foot sugar maple felled on our property. In spite of never having split wood before I am comfortable and have had success with splitting the smaller and medium-sized logs (even those with nasty knots) but the base of the tree has me somewhat concerned (see photo). What is the best approach to splitting these large chunks by hand? N.B. all I currently have is a old steel maul and an 8 lb. sledge hammer (replacement hickory handle is on the way).

Get a few wedges and put that sledge to work. Get different types, if possible. You'll find you like 1 style over another. And the multiple wedges because you'll get 1 stuck, then need tge others to get it out, lol.
Fiskars 8# maul is what I swing 80% of the time. I have an x27, x17, a 4 pound Kelly works and a nice 36” double bit. If it’s tough it get the maul. It’s heavy but effective. I don’t use wedges. If the maul won’t split it it needed cut with a chainsaw.
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Not sure the juice is worth the squeeze on those pieces. You'll spend a *lot* of time splitting and end up with a half dozen pieces...
Not sure the juice is worth the squeeze on those pieces. You'll spend a *lot* of time splitting and end up with a half dozen pieces...
Two swings = one split most of the time for me. Not time spent standing the log back up. I think if it can be split by hand bigger splits faster.
Sure looks like a silver maple to me, the ring spacing is quite wide for a sugar maple. The other name for Sugar Maple is "Rock Maple" or "Hard Maple". Both names are indicative that hand splitting may be the equivalent of the old movies of convicts breaking rocks ;). Silver maple is usually far easier to split. You may be able to rent a splitter which is cheap compared to the copay for hernia surgery (used to split by hand and got to do the hernia route).

The key thing with splitting in general is everyone wants to split right down the middle. The rings on a tree are acting like rings keeping the wood in compression around the core. Trying to split across those rings take a lot of work. Some folks just "noodle" the rounds in half with a chainsaw breaking the tension in the rings. The alternative is just try to split slabs off the sides. Once you have worked your way around the central core, the rest usually goes easy.
I also had a very large sugar maple come down last winter. I spent some time cutting my way through the branches and hand splitting until I got the to trunk. I appreciate the advice on the approach and will be hoping to get back out this weekend to chip away at them.
We took down a large Oak at my mother in laws house in July. If you lie the round down and hit it about 2 inches from the edge it should split. You probably need to give it 5 or 6 whacks in succession. Once you get a Crack all the way through, you can work your way around taking off pieces. Getting that initial crack is the key, once it exists there is room for the next piece to split off to.
Looks more like the red maples I cut around here than sugar. Reds often get the very irregularly shaped trunks, have larger rings, and similar spalting (darker wood spots).

Red maple is great firewood. It's not as dense as oak but that can be useful, I like to mix it with my oak/cherry when I want a shorter hotter fire and use it when it's slightly warmer out. Only downside is it produces a lot of ash.

I split tons of it by hand every year. Just work around the edges with the maul. Wedges would work too but are extra work imo. Once I get smaller pieces I swap to an axe to save my bad shoulder. Anything I can't split after a bunch of whacks goes in the splitter pile for later.
put some wedges to it ...... i split all my wood by hand using an 8lb maul and wedges on the stuff thats 24 plus inches around or larger i usually just put a wedge to it unless im messing with poplar or pine
Forget that sledge and wedge. This one was pretty clean grain, but the principal is the same. 3 years ago I did the same thing with an oak that was over 3’ across the base. It just works.

The power company came through and dropped trees all up and down the road last year. I spent two afternoons busting pieces into manageable pieces and hauling them home.

Don’t go after the middle of anything you want to split more than once.

Used the monster maul here, but I generally go with a 6-8 pound maul on softer stuff.

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+1 on the Fiskars X27. Great axe.
+1 on the Fiskars Super Splitting maul. Great maul. I've had the axe for 10 years, got the maul this year, and most of the time I prefer the maul over the axe unless I'm doing single splits down the center and calling it good.

I've not tried the wedge method, but my friend who is an arborist swears it's faster than a maul. Personally I have no experience with it.
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