The broad axe spoke, withouten miss,

He said the plane my brother is.

We two shall cleanse and make full plain,

That no man shall us gainsay.

— Debate of the Carpenter's Tools, 1500

Splitting removes 95 percent of the wood. The broad axe does the rest. Despite its size, the broad axe is the finishing tool, brother of the plane, used for slicing off the last quarter inch or so of wood when hewing a flat surface. From the early nineteenth century onward, the American broad axe blade has usually been beveled only on the side away from the timber, allowing the flat side of the blade to sweep down across the grain. The handle curves out away from the flat side, allowing your hands to keep clear of the timber surface.

Symmetrically headed but single-beveled axes can take the helve in either end of the eye and become right- or left-handed (determined by the forward hand that guides the stroke). Continental broad axes have elongated eyes forged for a lifetime of either right- or left-handed work.

Tool marks show that earlier American work was undertaken with double-beveled broad axes. Here, the bevel against the timber requires the axe to cant away from the line of the swing. This keeps the handle (and your hands) clear of the wood in either right- or left-handed work. Thoreau worked this way at Walden Pond: "So I went on for some days cutting and hewing timbers, also studs and rafters, all with my narrow axe."

The narrow axe still has work to do in any case, preparing the way for the broad axe. Standing on the log, swing down and make a line of vertical cuts, scoring across the grain, just up to the chalk line. Spaced three inches apart all the way down the length of the timber, these vertical score lines will break the power of the grain to draw the broad axe deeper than it should go. Any split that starts can go only three inches before it meets a score line. The grain is on a tightening leash.

Broad axes, timbers, and temperaments are too different for much more specific direction. You'll have more clearance for your knuckles if you work forward, moving from finished into unfinished areas. Apart from that, just work down across the grain with a sharp axe and don't hit your foot. Hewers of timbers that will be exposed in a fine building will work more carefully than those whose timbers will be hidden or be seen only by vermin, architectural historians, and the like.

Finally, I have always four-squared timbers by hewing down one side of a timber, then hewing the opposite face, then turning the log and finishing off the other two faces. Others, I have observed, see logic to hewing one face, turning that face to the top, then hewing the next two sides and then the bottom. Should you see someone hewing in a way that seems strange to you, think twice about correcting him. Anyone willing to hew timbers on a hot day is pretty much entitled to proceed in his own damn way.

This page intentionally left blank

Was this article helpful?

0 0
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.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment