Have you been wondering what the difference is between a kinetic and a hydraulic log splitter?

Well, this is the article for you. We’re going to dive into kinetic vs hydraulic splitters and give you everything you need to know.

There are a lot of choices you need to consider for log splitters. Power, speed, gas, electric, vertical, horizontal, weight, mobility. These are just some of the factor you need to consider. It can get quite confusing if you let it, but don’t worry, we’re here to help.

One of the first and most fundamental decisions you need to make is kinetic or hydraulic. In this article, kinetic vs hydraulic log splitter – the differences compared, we’re going to examine the pros and cons of both types, look at their distinguishing features and help you decide which one is right for your needs.

We’ll tell you that nothing quite beats a hydraulic for the biggest and hardest woods, and describe how fast you can get through that log pile with your speedy kinetic splitter.

So, to answer all your questions about kinetic and hydraulic splitters, read on.

How do they work?

Before we get into the differences and benefits of each type, let’s look at how they both work.

Hydraulic

A hydraulic log splitter is a simple hydraulic device that uses pressure to push a cylinder. A gas engine or an electric motor (or good old-fashioned arm power in the case of a manual hydraulic log splitter) provides power to a hydraulic pump. The pump generates pressure through hydraulic oil. When you pull the levers on your splitter, you are opening a valve that allows the pressurized oil to push the hydraulic cylinder and split your log.

red hydraulic log splitter

Most hydraulic splitters have an automatic release which means when you let go of the levers the cylinder retracts to the start position. This is also an important safety feature. In the event of an emergency, you don’t want to be trying to find another lever to release the cylinder.

Kinetic

Where a hydraulic splitter uses hydraulic pressure, you guessed it, a kinetic log splitter uses kinetic energy.

Kinetic Logs Splitter

In a kinetic splitter, the gas engine or electric motor powers a flywheel system, rotating the wheel at high speed. When you engage the lever, you engage the flywheel onto a rack gear which is fired forward using the kinetic energy in the flywheels. The rack is spring loaded and automatically returns to the start position once it reaches its full extension.

Features and differences

Now we know how kinetic and hydraulic splitters function, its time to look at what each one offers.

Power

If you’re picking up your wood for free or helping a neighbor, then you might not get to choose what your wood looks like. This means it’s more likely to be knotty, big, and awkward. If that’s the case, or if you need to split hardwoods regularly, you need power.

logs
Hydraulic splitter is good for knotty, big, and awkward-sized hardwoods

And nothing beats a hydraulic log splitter for power. If your splitting large and knotty woods, then you need to consider a hydraulic splitter. They can easily be rated at 35 tons and above of force and will get through anything you present them with.

That said, because of the way they operate, kinetic splitters can still get through tough wood. In fact, kinetic splitters are not really rated in tons of force in the same way hydraulic ones are. Because the power is delivered in a short sharp blast, it’s not possible to give them a tonnage rating. Instead, manufacturers compare them to equivalent hydraulic units and use that to give them a tonnage.

But that short, sharp blast has its advantages, and one of them is that the explosive force means it can get through tougher logs than an equivalently rated hydraulic unit.

Speed

As well as power, speed is the other big differentiator with kinetic and hydraulic splitters.

A hydraulic splitter usually has a cycle time of 10-30 seconds. That is the time it takes to split one log and return to the ready position. A kinetic splitter comes in at 2-3 seconds per cycle. That’s a massive difference in speed.

Just to visualize that, say you’ve got 200 logs to split. With a hydraulic splitter that will take between 30 minutes and 1.5 hours to complete. (And that’s just in the splitting time, we’re not taking into account all the time you need to move logs around). With a kinetic log splitter, it would take 6-10 minutes. And let’s face it, if you’re buying a splitter it’s because you’ve got more than 200 logs to get through.

Now, the above example is useful to highlight the difference in speed, but in the real world that difference isn’t quite so large. One person working alone is going to need an average of at least 10 seconds per log. You’ve got to get the log, set it, split it, remove the split pieces and start again.

So, to get the full advantage of a kinetic splitter’s speed, you probably need two people, one setting and one operating. But the fact remains, you’re going to get through a lot more logs in a shorter time frame with a kinetic log splitter.

Maintenance

Both systems require maintenance. But a kinetic splitter requires less.

With a kinetic you have to keep the bearings clean so that the ram runs smoothly and returns correctly. Sap and dirt in the bearings will reduce the lifetime of your splitter. This is straightforward, and a simple round of spray solvent or compressed air regularly will keep the mechanism running optimally for years.

A hydraulic system needs more attention. As well as keeping it clean, you’ll need to keep an eye on the hydraulic fluid. You’ll need to check the fluid (annually is best) for contaminates, and you’ll need to drain and filter/replace the oil occasionally. You also need to keep an eye on the hoses, and may need to replace them if they get brittle and worn (but that should only be after many years of use).

Vertical/horizontal positions

A quick note about working positions. Because of the mechanisms involved, a kinetic splitter only comes with a horizontal option. This means a more comfortable working height, but it can also mean a lot of bending down and picking up heavy logs.

A lot of hydraulic splitters come with the ability to change from horizontal to vertical positions. This can be a big plus for the biggest logs that you can just roll into position if you’ve got a vertical working option.

Safety

Both hydraulic and kinetic splitters use sizeable forces and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Make sure you use proper safety gear and are competent to operate the machine.

But a hydraulic splitter is safer. It’s simply a question of speed. With more than ten seconds for a cycle, you’ve got time to get your fingers (and anything else) out of the way before you get in trouble. With a kinetic’s much faster cycle time, you don’t have any wiggle room if you realize something is where it shouldn’t be.

Also, if you’re working as a team to take advantage of a kinetic’s extra speed, you must be extra careful to communicate and the operator should always know where the others are.

Cost

The final consideration is cost. As a general rule, a kinetic splitter will be more expensive than its hydraulic equal.

Remember though, time is valuable. Although a hydraulic might be cheaper to buy, you might want to factor in the time saved with the increased speed and less maintenance of a kinetic.

Conclusion

So, there you have it, kinetic vs hydraulic log splitter – the differences explained.

If you’re going to split primarily big, knotty logs, you’re top choice is probably hydraulic. The extra power and the ability to run it vertically will be key considerations for you.

But if you’re not trying to split the biggest and knottiest, and you want to get through your logs as quickly as possible, you should definitely consider a kinetic splitter.

Whichever you choose, with the right operation and maintenance you’ll have a machine that will save you considerable time and effort for years to come. Remember, always stay safe and happy splitting!