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Given we are in a non-life-threatening situation, splitting logs is often beneficial. However, I feel things get murkier in a survival situation. I have brainstormed about this for a while, here is the best I got:

Survival: Wood Splitting Pros

  • increase surface area exposed, especially useful if wood is scarce in the current environment
  • better burn since its drier
  • less smoke would not give away your position as easily as an unsplit, wetter round (assuming goal is evasion)

Survival: Wood Splitting Cons

  • a lot of effort for a questionable benefit, maybe the person is better off just sliding a large unsplit round into the fire little by little

  • potential for injury, (probably not a big risk factor, but it's another moving part nonetheless)

  • minimal smoke could be a disadvantage in terms of visibility to rescuers (assuming we want to be seen)

Question

Is it worth the effort to split logs in a survival situation? Ideally, I would like to have a clear-cut (excuse the pun) answer, but if it depends, maybe we can walk through some basic conditions. Also, let me know if my logic was on-par in my lists above; maybe there are other considerations I didn't think of.

Further Clarifications

  • Survival time-frame: uncertain
  • Is help coming?: uncertain
  • friendly/unfriendly territory: friendly, not evasion
  • other concerns: availability of wood, and other concerns will be optional. These may be important in some situations, but in the interest of simplicity I will allow the answerers to stipulate their own assumptions on things like this.
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TL:DR Other than what splitting is required for making kindling, there is little benefit to splitting wood in most short term survival situations.

Stealth

A several of the points in your question, are about stealth and remaining undiscovered. As ab2 say's 'Splitting logs takes energy" that energy is partially expressed as sound that travels long distances. There is no practical method for splitting wood stealthy.

Tools

Splitting wood requires a special splitting maul and or splitting wedges. While you can split fire wood with a hatchet or ax, it works about the same as driving a car with a flat tire, you can do it, but not for long nor very effectively. Green (freshly cut wood) is particularly difficult to split without the correct tools. The tools are heavy, you will not be carrying them long distances in a survival situation.

Skills

It takes practice to effectively split wood, you are probably going to need to split some wood to make kindling to get the fire going. In a survival situation you will have other priorities for your skill building time. Other than kindling, splitting larger wood while learning the skills can result in damage to the tools and injury to yourself, either of these are potentially fatal occurrences in a survival situation, big risks for little benefit.

Limited resources

A piece of wood will release the same heat energy when burning without regard to being split. Unsplit wood burns slower and longer, split wood burns faster and hotter. The act of splitting does not add or remove potential heat energy.

Why split wood?

Split wood burns easier and drys faster, than wood in the round. But dry time is measured in months, so has zero impact in a here and know survival situation. Once the fire is going, burning easier means the potential heat is released faster for a hotter fire.

Even if the pieces of wood aren’t too big, splitting them makes it easier for the wood to catch fire. The bark is actually fire retardant and the inside will burn more quickly. But, let’s be precise: wood itself does not burn. When the wood is heated to 450 degrees Celsius, it releases gases that burn. When all the gases are burned, what is left is Charcoal, which is actually flammable. You don’t have to cut the wood for it to burn, but cutting facilitates the burning process because the inner wood is exposed when the log is split, and it has more gas containing resin. Also, chopped logs burn better because they dry more thoroughly when they’re not fully wrapped in the bark. Source

Related

How much wood can the average person expect to chop in a day?

What is the energy difference between green and seasoned fire wood?

How to stash firewood without it getting wet?

  • I wanted to answer but decided mine would mostly overlap with your good answer here. However, there are some real examples I wanted to cite from the TV show Alone that I think would make your answer even better. Alone is one of the more realistic survival shows: no camera crews, no fake stuff or other BS, just real survival. Multiple contestants have complained about the wood processing task on the show, it seems to take up a large part of the day for some of them, and one contestant quit after she accidentally severed a nerve in her hand from a wood splitting accident. – Aaron Sep 10 '18 at 16:22
  • If you're unfamiliar with the show and would like help tracking down information more specific than my generic comment above to cite them properly, I can provide more details later. If you don't want to use them, I could post an answer that merely points out some of these actual use cases; I wouldn't bother with the rest since you've done a good job discussing it already. – Aaron Sep 10 '18 at 16:23
  • @Aaron, thank you. Multiple answers are good. In fact it is one of the areas a site is judged on for promotion I would encourage you to post an answer focusing on what is missing from mine. – James Jenkins Sep 10 '18 at 16:39
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    It is so weird how SE works. There are some resources that suggest it would prefer "One answer to rule them all", and even promotes taking information from all the other answers to make one answer that is all-encompassing... and there are other SE resources which suggest the opposite. Maybe it depends on the specific SE site. Anyway, I'll add a complimentary answer. – Aaron Sep 10 '18 at 17:00
  • A large rock (>50Kg), tossed from up high will easily break and split thinner deadfall logs and branches. As an added benefit there will be many smaller pieces that tear off for kindling and starter that can be dried individually. This brute force approach has served me well on multiple occasions and a small stack of wood for a large fire or a week of cooking fires can be made very quickly. – crasic Sep 10 '18 at 23:20
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Splitting logs takes energy and skill. If you are unskilled, a survival situation is a bad time to play around with an axe for a nonessential reason. If you don't have much food, and do not have anything to hunt with, and are a neophyte at making hunting implements (e.g., snares, traps), or are in a place without much game, then save your energy.

If you are skilled at log splitting and are a skilled hunter in an area with plentiful game, then I see no downside to splitting logs for a hotter fire. If you need a smoky fire for rescue, build a second fire.

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