Home » Which Should You Buy: Splitting Axe vs. Maul

Which Should You Buy: Splitting Axe vs. Maul

If you are familiar with gathering firewood then you most certainly have done your fair share of splitting.  Splitting up rounds from a cut tree into manageable pieces is an important step.  Having the right tool for the job is the difference between back breaking work or just some good exercise.

Unless you have some sort of log splitter, chances are you’ll need a splitting axe or maul.  Unfortunately, many people don’t know which tool is best for them.  In all honesty, you probably should have both.  It’s a tough dilemma for those who want to decide on one versus the other.  Hence the question, should you buy a splitting axe or a maul?  And what is the difference?  Here’s the quick answer.

A splitting axe is lighter than a maul and can be used much longer without fatigue.  However, a maul is capable of splitting larger rounds with less effort than an axe.  For those splitting a lot of knotted or tight grained wood, a maul is usually a wiser choice.  For everyone else, a splitting axe is more comfortable to use.  

Like most situations, the short answer hardly scratches the surface.  So keep reading to find out which you should buy for your firewood splitting needs.

Splitting Axe vs. Maul: What’s the difference

In their most basic form, a splitting axe and maul are both designed to split wood along the length of the wood fibers.  Yet, there are a few key differences that make one tool a better choice depending on the task.  So, let’s take a look at the three primary features that differentiate a splitting axe from a maul.


The formula for splitting wood is pretty straight forward.  Take a wedge shaped piece of metal and apply enough force to drive it between the wood fibers at the end of a log.  The amount of force required to accomplish this largely relies on weight.  

In terms of weight, a splitting axe is simply the lighter version of a splitting maul.  In most cases, a splitting axe weighs anywhere from 3-6 pounds and a maul has more heft to it at 6-12 pounds.  

When it comes to splitting power, think of it this way.  It takes less force to lift a splitting axe above your head than it does a heavier maul.  However, you must apply more downward speed with a splitting axe to deliver the same amount of force as a slower moving maul.  The importance of this point will become more apparent later.

Head design

The head of any axe or maul is a critical component to how it functions.  The cutting edge on both a splitting axe and maul have a wide wedge shape perfect for ripping apart wood fibers.  However, a maul has a much larger head reminiscent of a sledgehammer on the butt with a thick wedge shape at the other end.  This not only makes it a great multi-use tool for around the farm, it is also necessary to add more weight. 

In addition, the cutting edge on a splitting axe is kept a bit sharper than it is on a maul.  With less weight to power it through a log, you need a finer edge to keep it from bouncing off.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not a razor sharp edge.  Just a honed edge that allows the bevel to cut into the wood.  A splitting maul, on the other hand, is not sharp at all but it shouldn’t be mushroomed out or flattened on the cutting edge either.


Another key difference between a splitting axe and a maul is the variability in handle length.  Splitting axes have a much larger range of handle sizes which speaks volumes toward their versatility.  For around camp, there are compact splitting axes with 24 inch handles or you can size up to full length handles for serious wood splitting.  Mauls, on the other hand, typically have 33-36 inch long handles.  This gives you a longer swing with more force and slightly more control. 

Handle materials of splitting axes and mauls are similar.  You can choose from hickory wood handles or tough fiberglass handles.  Grip styles vary and are entirely personal preference.  Ideally, you need a handle with good grip even in wet conditions so you never have the axe slip from your hands.

Splitting axe

I would argue that everyone should have a splitting axe around the house.  Nevertheless, if you aren’t sure a splitting axe fits the bill, let’s dig a little deeper and see what makes a splitting axe a better, or worse, choice for splitting firewood.


Lifting a 10 pound chunk of steel over your head all day is not for everyone.  Even so, the wood splitting has to get done which leads us to the most obvious advantage of a splitting axe.  It’s much lighter than a splitting maul.  Since they are typically 4 or 5 pounds, you can split quite a bit more wood without the fatigue.  Assuming, of course, your firewood is relatively free of knots and splits easily.  

While not intended for chopping across wood grain fibers like a traditional axe, a splitting axe is indeed quite versatile.  They can wack limbs off a fallen tree or turn dry cedar into kindling.  You would be hard pressed to do that with a maul.  You can get even more versatility from your splitting axe depending on the head size and handle length.  Consider them your jack of all trades whereas a maul is more limited.

Arguably, a splitting axe’s biggest advantage is in the precision of the split.  Because you are not wrestling with a huge chunk of steel on the down swing, you have significantly more control over placement.  You also won’t experience as much fatigue so you’ll get the most from every swing. 


Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where an advantage is also a disadvantage in some situations.  Since a splitting axe is smaller and lighter than a maul, you just can’t get the same amount of force behind your swings.  That means lightweight splitting axes are out gunned by heavily knotted or tight grained woods.  

It’s a double edged sword that depends on your needs to decide if you’ll be helped or hindered by it.  Certainly, I would rather swing a 4 pound axe all day but not if I only make one split for every 3 swings.  I also hate when a splitting axe buries itself in a log, requiring a fair amount of effort to free it.  

In addition, to make up for the smaller head, you’ll likely swing harder and faster to increase the force on tougher pieces of wood.  This leads to less accurate strikes and more fatigue.  A heavy maul is more likely to save some energy and make quicker work on gnarly wood.

Who should get one

In all likelihood, most average homeowners with a moderate amount of firewood to split could get by with a splitting axe of some kind.  Everyone’s situation is different so take a look at the following list of reasons why you might prefer a splitting axe over a maul.

  • Anyone splitting moderate amounts of smaller logs with few knots
  • Those needing a versatile tool for home or camping firewood needs
  • Smaller individuals that find heavy mauls difficult to use
  • Anyone struggling to get accurate strikes with a maul

Still not convinced a splitting axe is the best tool for you?  Now take a look at why some firewood experts prefer a maul.

Splitting maul

Any serious firewood guru is going to tell you that nothing beats a maul for splitting wood.  If you’re going to be stockpiling enough wood for winter then you should consider having a maul in your arsenal of tools.


When it comes to raw splitting power, a heavy maul is tough to beat.  All that mass lifted high above your head translates into some serious energy that can split just about any log.  Only the most knotted and stubborn wood won’t succumb to a 10 pound maul.  Even an 8 pound maul will rip through most rounds in one swing with skilled hands.  Factor in a long straight handle and you’ll get the most from every swing.

If you do finally meet your match on a particularly tough piece of wood, a maul can then be used to pound a splitting wedge through it.  Simply turn the maul over and use the sledgehammer end to drive in the wedge.  That sledgehammer design is also useful for other jobs around your property as well.  You can use the butt end of a splitting maul head just as you would use any sledgehammer.

An additional advantage of a maul over a splitting axe is it’s durability.  The thick cutting edge can handle loads of abuse.  Have a miss hit?  No problem.  Bust through a log and stick the head into the ground?  Big deal.  Mauls have hardened steel heads that resist chipping and even when they are dull, they hardly slow down.  Splitting axes start to suffer when hard use rounds off the cutting edge.


There are a few disadvantages to be aware of that may make a splitting maul a poor choice for you.  

First off, a maul is heavy and cumbersome to swing which typically translates to low accuracy and severe fatigue.  Smaller people tend to tire more easily when using a maul and it takes time to develop the right technique to split wood efficiently with an 8 to 12 pound maul.  

For beginners, a maul might not be the best tool to start with.  In fact, it can actually be dangerous for inexperienced individuals to wildly swing a maul.  Miss hits can cause serious injury.  Sure, miss hits happen with splitting axes too but the lighter weight axe is easier to control.  

There is also the issue of limited versatility.  A maul is not suitable for any firewood chores other than splitting wood.  De-limbing or splitting small chunks of wood is better suited for a splitting axe. 

Who should get one

From time to time, we all need a bit more muscle to get the job done and a maul is there to help you out.  Think a maul is the better choice for you?  I would probably agree if you fit into any of the following situations.

  • You have enough strength to manage a heavy maul for a long duration
  • The wood you split is full of knots or you need to use splitting wedges
  • For those who split several cords by hand every year
  • Anyone looking for a splitting tool and sledgehammer combo

Everyone else can get away with a lightweight splitting axe in most other situations.  

Cost comparison

Most of us are always concerned with the cost comparisons of any tool we buy.  Splitting axes and mauls are no exception.  In terms of price, there is actually very little cost difference between splitting axes and mauls. 

Depending on quality and brand, you can expect to pay between $30 and $120 for a splitting axe or maul.  On average, a maul will be slightly more expensive due to the larger quantity of high grade steel used in the head.  Handle material and length also factors into the overall cost of both tools. 

Parting words

Choosing between a splitting axe or a maul is a personal choice that depends greatly on your specific situation.  However, instead of trying to choose one or the other, you may benefit from having both.  That way, you can tackle any wood splitting chore that comes your way.