Pros: Easily splits huge logs into firewood.
Cons: Uses a lot of gas and the engine is loud.
Review of the Swisher 34 Ton Log Splitter (February 12, 2007)
Having recently purchased an outdoor wood burning furnace/boiler, I decided that there are certain tools I am going to need to have on hand in order to keep it operable. The most obvious tools are chainsaws, axe, maul, sledge hammer, fire poker, log racks, cart for hauling wood. Other big ticket items were also necessary: My tractors loader (or a wagon pulled by a small tractor), pickup truck, and a powerful log splitter. I had already rented one previously and found it to be fairly easy to use and very useful (please see my review of the MTD log splitter). I decided to buy one to have on hand for those times when I come across huge chunks of wood that need to be split.
Having had several awful experiences purchasing inferior equipment made over seas, specifically in China, I decided I would no longer purchase equipment made there. If it does not say Made in America or Wisconsin or some other US locale, I dont want it. My first choice was the MTD unit made by Troybilt but I was told right up front that this unit was made in China and assembled in the US. When visiting Lowes one day, I ran into the Swisher Log splitters they had sitting outside near the front entrance. Stamped on the beam was the sticker: Made in America. I couldnt be more pleased!
I learned that Swisher was an American entrepreneur who made his start when he was a young man. He devised an automatic self propelled lawnmower. He would start the mower and attached a rope to the handle. The other end of the rope would be attached to a tree trunk in the center of his yard. The lawnmower would be placed in gear to move on its own, winding up to the tree. Ingenious! He has since moved on to other landscaping equipment. The company hosts a large varied line of products.
I did some basic research and checked out the Swisher web site before making the purchase. I found they have product manuals that you can download for free right on the web site. So, I printed one out and read thru it. Not much there, but it seemed basically simple enough to operate very much similar to the MTD model I had rented. So, I called Lowes and asked them to get one ready for me. To my surprise, Lowes actually carried two models: 1) a 27 ton unit and 2) a 34 ton unit. When I asked the price, the sales guy told me the difference was only $100, but he did not have the 34 ton unit in the store.
I went down to the store to place an order for the 34 ton unit. I wanted to crush through the big 36 lots I happened to be getting without any snags. They had the log splitter in another store and it was only a matter of transporting it over to my local store. I asked why such a small difference in price? The sales guy told me it was due to the time of season and they were clearing out their current stock. So the price was only $1,500.
When I went back to the web site, the list price was nearly twice that price. What a bargain! A week later, when I went to pick up the unit, the sales person informed me that I needed to add some hydraulic fluid for the pump. Eh? I looked at the Troybilt units on the floor next to mine and they all had signs stating hydraulic fluid already included. Why didnt they add it to the Swisher units? Oh well Lowes also hit me with a $20 assembly charge (they apparently put the wheels on the machines).
I decided to call the Swisher Company to make some basic inquiries. I actually spoke to a real person that was VERY knowledgeable about the unit. He told me that it is true the units are shipped without any fluids to save on transport costs. The savings are passed along to the consumers. He also told me they recommend using transmission fluid in place of regular hydraulic oil, since it is lighter weight oil. So I stopped by Walmart and bought 4 one gallon bottles of transmission oil (cost about $28). I also checked the engine oil and it looked fine so I just bought fresh gas.
There was one other thing I learned while speaking with the customer service representative. The hydraulic pump was made in China!!! However, all of the other parts were made in the US and assembled in Tennessee. Oh boy. I told the guy that this was deceptive since it had a sticker Made in USA on the unit. He confessed there was little that he could do.
Towing the unit was no big deal same as with the rental. Slipped right onto my 2 ball hitch. I did not need a special license to tow it home, nor the lights, or anything else. Nevertheless, I took the back roads through the farms to get it home, keeping my speed under 45 mph. No problems towing at all.
I released the unit from my tow hitch and pulled it into the area I wanted to use it in. It was heavier than I expected to pull it, but I managed. The unit can be setup in either a horizontal position (like a table format) or vertical. I immediately set it up in the vertical. I dont think I will ever use the horizontal setup.
I added the hydraulic oil per the directions and added some gas to the 12.5 hp Briggs and Stratton engine. I set the choke position and adjusted the throttle to the start position. This unit also includes a cold start lever that disengages the hydraulic pump from the engine for easier starts in cold temperatures. I set this lever, but noticed that the lever had a lot of play in it.
One thing I did not realize until I actually picked up the unit at the store was that this unit has automatic key start ignition! No pull chord needed! Yeah!!! However, it does have a pull chord as an alternate choice. So, I turned the key and she started right up. Vrooooommm!!! I put a log into position and pulled the lever. The splitter moved down about an inch, but that was it. What the heck?
I added more hydraulic oil, checked to make sure the lever was properly engaged, and even tried forcing the wedge down. Nothing. The wedge did not budge. It was getting dark out, so I went inside and looked over the directions again. I kept in mind the cold start lever was very loose. So, the next morning, I checked underneath and noticed that drive belt was missing! Ugh! I called the Swisher customer service and explained what happened. He spent a bit of time looking for the belt number (it wasnt printed in the catalog), but when he found it, he promised to quickly ship one to me. Sure enough, the belt came in the very next day via express mail.
It was a piece of cake putting the belt on. I did not need any tools, nor did I have to jack up the unit. I simply kneeled down and slipped the belt over the pulleys I started the machine up, and tried the lever. It split the log with no problem at all! Crack!!! I pulled the lever up, and the wedge went right up. What a pleasant experience! I went through about a dozen splits on oak, pine and maple. Then I lugged over one of the big pieces of locust. This wood was a bit green and I could see water ooze out a bit when the wedge sunk down. The machine struggled a bit to split the wood and then the unit began to tip over. I pulled the lever up and re positioned the log for an easier split. This time, there was no problem. However, the wood was very stringy and noticeably more difficult to split than the other logs.
One thing that was a bit upsetting. The machine ran out of gas after only about 25 splits! With gas prices at $2.25 per gallon, the machine is a bit expensive to operate. As I recall with the other machine, I went the whole day on one tank of gas and only refilled the tank at the end of the day to return the machine as it was provided to me. Also, the machine is extremely loud when the engine is on. Louder than any other gas engine Ive operated before. I had to wear ear protection to avoid getting a headache. The noise did scare my young children away.
I have since used the machine dozens of times. I noticed that the cold start lever really does not make much of a difference as the machine starts up every time regardless of which position I set it in (even when temperatures are well below freezing). The tipping issued occurred several other times on tough, knotty wood. I have since dug a ditch to set the tires in to keep it from rolling and that seems to have resolved the problem. In the summer, I plan to set a concrete pad up to permanently fix the machine to the ground. This will also keep neighbors from wanting to borrow it, although I do not have a problem with people using it if they want to bring their firewood to my house! :0)
The technical specifications on paper seem very impressive. The wedge has 34 tons of pressure delivered from the hydraulic piston. The engine is a 12.5 HP Briggs and Straton. It has a battery start ignition. I later learned this is a special feature that is uniquely added to the Lowes models). It is built on a heavy duty steel I beam. It has eight inch wheels for easy towing (however, mud guards are not included and would have been a big benefit). The machine itself is solidly built on thick gauge steel (where needed). It has some impressive looking strong welds to hold the metal together.
All in all, I am very satisfied with my log splitter and given the same choices, I would still have opted for the Swisher unit over any others I have seen or tried. It would be interesting to compare this unit with the Troybilt I rented side-by-side on a piece of wood from the same tree. I am not sure that the slight increase in tons of pressure makes that much difference. I also realize that the diameter of the log does not really make much difference either. I have cracked logs well over 30 inches in diameter effortlessly, although the manufacturer rates the machine as capable of splitting logs up to 24 inches. Time will only tell how well the machine stands up, although conversations with some woodsmen say these units will last forever, provided you keep maintained. I would highly recommend this unit. Buy it at Lowes to get the electric start I believe Swisher makes them that way specifically for Lowes. Also, buy it in the winter for off-season savings. Thanks for reading my review! Have a nice day!