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Finger-Splittin' Good

Finger-Splittin' Good

Pennsylvania Army National Guard State Safety Office


In September of 2017, I learned a tough lesson about how overconfidence can lead to complacency and, ultimately, injury. I have a seasonal campsite in the mountains of Pennsylvania where I spend just about every weekend from the end of March until early November. As you can imagine, there are lots of campfires that happen throughout the season. With that comes the task of log splitting, which just so happens to be my favorite chore. In fact, my best friend, Ronni, and I often use our 27-ton hydraulic wedge-type splitter to turn big logs into little logs for many of the other campers in the area.

We’d made an arrangement with the campground manager. We agreed to help clear the trees that had fallen during a bad storm the previous summer if we got to keep the wood. What a great deal this was for us, as we would surely be stocked with firewood for some time.

Ronni and I have a pretty systematic way of going about things when it comes to cutting, splitting and stacking wood, and this day was no different. We donned all the required personal protective equipment (PPE), including hearing protection, long pants, boots, gloves, eye protection and face shields. Together, we spent most of the morning using the chainsaw. When the time came to split and stack the wood, I operated the splitter and Ronni did the stacking.

I have learned through experience that larger pieces of wood are controlled by gravity and have a tendency to fall off the splitter in two different directions after they’re cut. On many occasions, I have been hit in the shin by a log that has fallen in my direction. Depending on the size of the log, this can be very painful. After experiencing this a few times, I learned to place my hand on top of the wood to help control the direction of the falling log. While this practice helped eliminate injuries from falling logs, it also placed my hand closer to the point of operation.

Things were going smoothly until my right ring finger got caught between the log and the splitter’s cast iron back plate. The sudden force of 27 tons of hydraulic pressure on my finger was excruciating! My first instinct was to pull my hand out of the way, but this may have actually caused more harm than good, as the flesh on the tip of my finger, to include the nail, was completely ripped off.

A trip to the emergency room determined the bone at the tip of my finger was crushed to pieces and there was nothing doctors could do to repair the damage. Time would heal the wounds, but there was no guarantee that the nail would grow back. Ouch! Six months later, my finger had pretty much come full circle. Fortunately, the nail grew back and the finger was pretty close to being completely healed.

Things could have definitely been much worse that day, and it’s important that I and others learn from this experience. The risk management process could have prevented this mishap. While I did almost everything correctly, including wearing the proper PPE, I failed to ensure my hands were in a safe location. That lapse in judgment led to a pretty gruesome injury.

According to MTD, an outdoor power equipment manufacturer, when using a log splitter, it's important to review the owner's manual to ensure you are operating the machine safely and efficiently. The company offers the following safety tips:

  • Prepare your logs. Logs should be cut with square ends prior to splitting. To square your logs, cut through about halfway. Then, roll the log over, line up your saw with the first cut, and cut through. If it's a large log, you can mark it with a chalk line before cutting to ensure you're cutting along the same plane.
  • Follow procedure when loading a log. When loading a log, always place your hands on the sides of the log, not on the ends, and never use your foot to stabilize a log. Failure to do so may result in crushed or amputated fingers, toes, hands or feet.
  • Use only your hands to operate the controls. Attempting to operate outdoor power equipment with anything other than your hands, such as feet or elbows, significantly reduces your control and increases the possibility of injury.
  • Split one log at a time. Never attempt to split more than one log at a time unless the ram has been fully extended and a second log is needed to complete the separation of the first log.
  • Know how to properly cut logs that aren't square using a log splitter. For logs which are shaped oddly and cannot be cut square, place the least square end and the longest portion of the log toward the beam and wedge, and the more square end toward the end plate.
  • Stabilize logs before splitting them vertically. When splitting in the vertical position, stabilize the log before moving the control. Split as follows:
  1. Place log on the end plate and turn until it leans against the beam and is stable.
  2. When splitting extra-large or uneven logs, the log must be stabilized with wooden ships or split wood between the log and end plate or ground.
  3. Avoid stabilizing a log with your hands.
  • Keep fingers clear when using a log splitter. Always keep fingers away from any cracks that open in the log while splitting. They can quickly close and pinch or amputate your fingers.


  • 25 October 2020
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 665
  • Comments: 0