When an ax just won't cut it

The old adage "wood warms you twice" reminds us that a little ax-swinging exercise is a good thing. But homeowners looking to cut high heating costs by burning wood could wind up with weary arms.

Good news: A handful of firms make scaled-down splitters you can park by the woodpile - from $200 foot-pump models to $1,500 gas-powered ones. We tested the $450, 4-ton DR Wood Splitter from DR Power Equipment of Vergennes, Vt. (4-ton refers to the pressure it exerts). Another $200 buys a 6-ton version designed to bust logs up to 16 in. in diameter (the 4-ton handles 12-in. logs). Both splitters can handle lengths up to 20 inches. They use electric power, so they're quiet, fume-free, and garage-friendly.

The DR wins high marks for ease of use - straight from the box - and safety. Two hands are needed; a button is depressed with one while the other wields the lever. At 105 lbs., it can be lifted at one end and rolled by an adult. Our unit pushed through 10-in. maple and small cedar logs like a knife through cake, retracting with the lever's release. We were sorry to run out of wood.

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