Top 5 Worst Wood To Split [Hardest Woods By Hand]

What is the worst wood to split?

Well, keeping reading because that’s exactly what I’ll be going over in this post..

Almost every survey of difficult woods to split for firewood will have elm close to the top of the list. What makes a wood easy or difficult to split and then secondly how does the wood rate as a source of heat?

1. Elm

There is the suggestion that because of the twisted and interlocking nature of its grain structure Elm trees can survive a lighting-strike. Consider this carefully when you brace yourself, maul raised above your head and you are poised to deliver a shattering blow to an elm log. 

Making furniture with elmwood demands power tools and yet it has been used for centuries for items that required high degrees of durability. One of its redeeming woodworking qualities is that it does not split. 

Elm does however burn well and produces a fair amount of heat, not much smoke, and doesn’t spark. One of the ways around having to split elm is to cut the logs a little short of the opening size of your stove and fit the whole log into the stove.

This can only be done with logs with a diameter less than the opening of the stove. 

Factors that play a role in getting species onto the list of problematic splitters are distinctly area sensitive. To add a further complication trees themselves are sometimes easy or difficult to split.

Willows for example can split without any problem or can be a nightmare. It just depends on the tree. The performance of willow as firewood is disappointing as it burns amazingly fast, pops and sparks, and gives off an odor some find offensive.

2. Sweetgum

Another top ranker on the difficult to split list is Sweetgum. During the drying process, the wood warps and the fibers are interwoven which makes it exceedingly difficult to split.

3. Cottonwood 

Cottonwood also features on the difficult to split list when it is still green. So, it is best to wait for it to season as burning it green is going to produce an unpleasant odor.

Beech also rates as a difficult wood to split but does redeem itself a little by producing excellent coals with a high amount of heat together with a pleasant odor and minimal spark.

4. Black locust

Black locust, up there with hickory in strength and stiffness and is resistant to rotting. The difficulties in splitting it are more than made up for by the high amount of heat it produces when burnt.

5. Sycamore

Sycamore trees also fall into the difficult to split category, but your efforts will be rewarded by a fire that will produce a fair amount of heat with few sparks and a pleasant odour with little smoke.

The satisfaction of sitting next to a warm and inviting fire on a cold winter’s night is the motivation for dealing with the vagaries of interlocking and twisted logs which make the process problematic. Being aware of the species best avoided will save you hours of frustration. 


The worst wood to split is elm. It’s a hardwood that tends to have a lot of knots, making it incredibly difficult to split. But it makes up for it as it burns well. Other woods that are difficult to split are cottonwood, black locust, and sycamore.