Home » Is It Easier To Split Wet Or Dry Wood: The Real Answer

Is It Easier To Split Wet Or Dry Wood: The Real Answer

Honestly, splitting wood is never easy.  Especially, if you are splitting firewood without the benefit of a hydraulic splitter.  However, like any tough job, there is always a way to make it easier.  

There are a couple schools of thought on the topic of splitting wood.  Some believe cut logs are easiest to split when wet or green.  While others firmly believe that seasoned, dry log rounds are much easier to split.  So, which is it?  The fact of the matter is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Normally, dry firewood is much easier to split with a maul or axe compared to wood that is fresh cut and still green.  Primarily because dry wood fibers are more brittle.  Yet it largely depends on the species.  Hardwoods, like oak, typically split easiest when wet and softwoods, like fir or pine, break apart better when seasoned for a bit.  

But that is just the simplified answer.  The full answer is far more informative and more likely to help make your splitting chores easier.  After all, splitting is just one part of all the work that goes into stashing away firewood.  Continue reading to get the whole truth.

Why dry wood is easier to split

Not everyone agrees that dry wood is easier to split, and in some cases, they are not wrong.  But to keep things simple, let’s look at the general rule and ignore the exceptions.  

Firewood contains fibers that run the length of the log.  It’s these fibers that hold the cellular structure together.  Green wood that is still packed with moisture has a very cohesive fiber structure that binds everything tightly together.  However, as wood dries these fibers pull apart and become brittle.

When looking at the ends of a dry log, you’ll surely notice all the cracks.  These are called wood checks.  A splitting maul swung into the checked end of a log easily drives into a crack and breaks apart the log.  Without the moisture to absorb the blow, all that energy blasts apart the dry, brittle wood fibers.

Moisture itself also plays a major role in adding to the difficulty of splitting wet wood.  This is even more so in coniferous tree logs.  The water and sap actually acts as a drag on the head of a splitting maul.  Not only does moisture cushion the force of your axe blow, it also tends to bind up the axe head. 

The exceptions come into play when splitting certain hardwoods.  Most notably, red oak.  As oak drys, the wood fibers contract and actually bind tighter.  As a result, even the heaviest mauls bounce off a dry oak log.  

Another exception to this rule is knotty wood.  Wet or dry gnarly wood is nearly impossible to split by hand.  The same is true for woods like madrone and elm.  These woods tend to invoke cringes from my fellow hand splitters.  Some firewood is better split with hydraulic power.

Why splitting wet wood is actually less work

After I just spent an entire section explaining why it’s easier to split dry wood, you’re probably wondering why I think splitting wet wood ends up being less work.

It’s simple really.  Just ask yourself this question.  How many separate times do you want to deal with a single stack of firewood?

Unfortunately, most people who wait to split their wood until it’s dry overlook all the extra handling time and work just to save a little effort on the splitting.  Look at it this way.  

First you fell the tree, then you cut it up.  You can either split it right then or you can stack the rounds and let it dry for months.  If you opt for drying the logs first, you then have to unstack it later, split it, then stack it a second time.  That is a ton of extra work.  It is far better and so much easier just to cut, split and stack the wood in one go.  

So overall, dry wood might split apart easier but it’s almost always more efficient and less work to split wood as soon as you cut it while it is still green.  Obviously, you can’t always help it and some wood splitting has to wait.

Are all wood species easier to split if dry

We kind of touched on this already.  Not all species of wood have the same fiber structure and therefore, have unique splitting habits.  Even trees of the same species grown in different regions split with varying difficulty.  Ask someone in one part of the country when they prefer to split a pile of maple rounds and their answer is bound to be different than someone on the opposite side of the country.

Even so, there is a general consensus as to which kinds of wood is easiest to split green versus dry.  Not everyone will see eye to eye on this but most will find it agreeable.  I’ll make it easy and summarize below.

Wood species easiest to split when dry/seasoned

  • Alder
  • Cedar
  • Cherry
  • Fir
  • Hickory
  • Pine
  • Spruce
  • Sycamore

Wood species easiest to split when wet/green

  • Oak
  • Locust
  • Apple
  • Birch
  • Cottonwood

Wood species that split the same wet or dry

  • Ash
  • Maple
  • Walnut

Wood species that never split easily

  • Elm
  • Gum
  • Madrone

Again, this is not a hard and fast rule.  Plenty of you might disagree with the list as it stands now.  Just bear in mind that splitting green wood is less work overall regardless of the species.  Even if the wood does split easier when dry.

Should you split logs before seasoning

Aside from being less work, splitting firewood that is still green is the fastest way to thoroughly dry it out.  It is therefore advisable that you split your wood prior to seasoning in order to reduce the drying time.  

This of course depends on the time of year.  If you just cut up a fir tree in early spring and won’t need to burn it until the following winter, you can get away with letting it dry as rounds through summer.  It will dry out fine and you can split it after a few months when it succumbs more easily to a splitting maul.

However, if you instead just cut up a live tree at the end of summer, it’s unlikely to dry in time for winter without splitting it up first.  

With either scenario, you need to consider the pros and cons of splitting it now versus waiting.  In the end, split wood always dries more evenly and much faster.  

How do you make splitting wood easier

Like any challenging task, the right tools make all the difference in the world.  Dry or wet, you’ll never split a wood log with a tiny hatchet.  Invest in the right equipment to make things as easy as possible.

Tools to make hand splitting easier

Wet or dry, splitting firewood manually will make you sweat.  A key tool to reducing your efforts is a splitting maul.  Really it is nothing more than a large, tapered chunk of steel with a semi-sharp edge.  The splitting power comes from the weight of the head.  Mauls typically tip the scale at 8 to 12 pounds.  

However, before you go out and buy the heaviest maul you can find, remember that it’s a lot of work to lift a maul above your head over and over.  The ideal maul weight for you is whatever you can lift over your head without tiring and still split a log in one swing.

For most of us, an 8 pound maul is the perfect balance.  Smaller mauls are also a great option for smaller individuals or anyone splitting smaller logs.  Consider a 6 pound splitting axe for this situations.  A splitting axe, like the Fiskars X27, will actually give any larger maul a run for its money. 

In addition to a maul, a splitting wedge is essential.  I have yet to split a pile of rounds without encountering a gnarly, knotted chunk that just won’t split with a maul alone.  Enter the splitting wedge.  With a wedge, you can use the back end of a maul to drive the wedge deeper into the log until it splits. The Estwing Sure Split 5 pound steel wedge has never failed me and is a great option. 

Log splitters

Anyone splitting several cords of wood a year should probably consider investing in a log splitter.  I like the exercise of hand splitting wood just as much as the next guy but a log splitter turns an otherwise arduous task into a quick afternoon chore.

With hydraulic log splitters, the issue of splitting green versus seasoned wood becomes a moot point.  The ram driving the wedge into a log will rip apart wet or dry wood without a problem.  Depending on the power rating of course.

Wood splitters range in size from less than 10 tons all the way above 40 tons.  Deciding on which ton rating you need depends on the wood species you most often use as firewood.  Most hardwood logs over 12 inches in diameter require a minimum of 26 tons of splitting force.  You can get away with a 20 ton splitter for softwoods.  

Ideally, you don’t want to be operating at the maximum power rating of a log splitter. So, 26 ton splitters are my recommended minimum to keep from over working the machine.  For those of you dealing with tough, knot infested wood, go for a 34 ton splitter to make it as easy as possible.

Can you use a chainsaw to split logs

There are many ways to split wood and using a chainsaw is one of them.  In fact, here is a great video demonstrating how it is done. 

While splitting wood with a chainsaw is possible and a little easier on the back, it often takes longer and you loose a lot of burnable wood in the form of wood shavings.  Plus, you have to endure the whine of a chainsaw all day long to get the job done.  

In my opinion, the chainsaw is best left for bucking up trees into rounds.  The only time I use a chainsaw to help split is when a particularly nasty chunk of wood won’t yield to a maul.  I simply cut into the end of the log a few inches and then hit the cut line with my splitting maul or wedge.  That usually gives me just enough bite to bust apart stubborn logs.

Is splitting frozen wood easy

I’ve often heard that frozen wood splits remarkably well.  Obviously, this is more advantageous for wood that is still green and full of moisture.  It makes sense when you think about it.  Water expands when frozen so wood with moisture inside is already generating pressure from within which makes separating the fibers much easier.

Clearly, you need to live somewhere very cold to take advantage of this phenomena.  Even if you don’t, you can stick a piece of wood in the freezer for a few days and try it out for yourself.

Frozen wood generally splits quite easily compared to non-frozen logs.  It also does not seem to matter which species of wood you are splitting.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t live in frigid climates (or care to split wood in sub-zero temperatures) so splitting frozen wood is not the most practical way to make it easier.  


To sum it up, it may be easier to split dry wood in most cases but that doesn’t mean you won’t work harder.  In general, just split your wood when it is still green to spare yourself the extra work of handling the firewood more than once.  

Once you decide that now is the time to do all your splitting, take a look at my recent article comparing splitting axes versus mauls.  One of these will actually make splitting easier.  Find out which one it is!