Plumb Bob and Snapline

Even if you're not going to measure the timber precisely with a square and rule, you still want to be sure that the hewn faces are flat, not twisting or curving. Plumb bobs or winding sticks can take care of the twist; snaplines take care of the curve.

Winding sticks are just any two long, straight edges. You could use two framing squares or two yardstick-sized slats. With one set against the far end of the log, you can sight over one placed at the near end. Turning one or the other until they look aligned, you can be sure that lines traced from them onto the ends of the log define the same plane.

Winding sticks work most conveniently in a horizontal plane. With logs, there's enough walking back and forth and fooling around to align winding sticks to declare them a nuisance compared to a plumb bob. With a plumb bob, you can drop a vertical line down one end of the log, walk to the other end and make another line, and be assured that the lines are in perfect alignment.

Now, with the same method used by Odysseus when making his curious bedstead, snap a chalked string to connect the vertical lines on the ends of the log with another perfectly straight line. A washer on the end of the string allows you to anchor it on your scratch awl, but a quick cut with the axe into the corner of the log will catch a knot tied in the end just as well. Unwind the line, inking or chalking or rubbing with willow charcoal as you go.

Always lift the snapline in the same plane that you are defining. On a perfect cylinder or perfect plane surface, you could snap any way you want, but the irregularity in a tree will cause the line to waver. To define a vertical surface, lift the string vertically. Your first snap may be just a guide for your drawknife as you remove a strip of bark to get a clear line on the second snap. The snapline is still the best way to get accurate lines on a piece longer than your two-foot square. Timber the size of a workbench top can't be laid out without it.

Now all you have to do is remove all the wood on the outside of the line. Notching and splitting is the way. We know that the planes of weakness run down the length of a log, so, ideally, we could just swing with our axe and split all excess wood off the side with one blow. Even if we could get the split to run all the way to the other end of the log, we'd still be subject to any winding twist in the grain. We want the grain of the wood as our partner with us in determining the final shape—but only for about a foot or two. When the split reaches our cross-grain stopping cut—it's over. The waste piece falls away and we make the next split down to the next notch, and so on down the log. Hewing is systematic shaping with an axe—imposing culture on nature—with nature still as our half-partner in the process.

With a felling axe, stand on the log and swing down at the sides, notching just as if you were bucking the log, stopping at the chalk line, of course. You can probably sight down each notch and chop it plumb, but see that the log has not shifted out of plumb as you work.

You'll quickly learn to judge how much wood you can split away. Look ahead, though, for any upcoming knots in the sides. You won't be able to split off a chunk if a knot is pegging the wood to the tree. You need to notch directly in on big knots, adjusting your notch spacing accordingly. In a finished timber, this can make it look like the hewer had something against knots and was trying to chop them out.

German hewers often use a different method, notching with narrow axes, chopping vertically. The short-handled axe heads are perhaps eight inches long and two inches wide in the bit. Working as a team, two carpenters stand facing the elevated log and take quick turns chopping their side of the notch

Chop notches across the grain ... ... and then split off the chunks in between

with downward strikes across the grain. Instead of splitting the chunks off with a swing at the end grain, they sink the bits of their narrow axes into the side grain of the chunk, just outside the chalk line. Pulling sideways with the short axe handle makes its head work like a froe, splitting off the chunk.

Woodworking Tools and Installation Tips

Woodworking Tools and Installation Tips

There are a lot of things that either needs to be repaired, or put together when youre a homeowner. If youre a new homeowner, and have just gotten out of apartment style living, you might want to take this list with you to the hardware store. From remolding jobs to putting together furniture you can use these 5 power tools to get your stuff together. Dont forget too that youll need a few extra tools for other jobs around the house.

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