Saturday, November 20, 2010

A follow up to hewing....

Today in the News:  Still a writing contest on.  Not that many participants.  If you want a rusty old axe head to restore, get writing.

Link of the Day: - yet another forum talking about all the things we should know about.  If you stop by, mention my name (wheelgun).  They'll have no clue who I am, but I really like their site.

A Follow up to hewing.....

Last weekend, my nephew L.J. and I attended a presentation on the axe and adz, more specifically, hewing logs.  I left with more questions than I had when I went.  Someone in the comment section added a bit more, but I thought I’d do more research. 

One of my favorite books is Back to Basics, a complete guide to traditional skills.  I have the third editions.  It’s a pretty good book.  It covers a lot of subjects in a little content.  If you want to start to know about a traditional subject, it is usually a good gateway.

So I looked for hewing.  Here’s what the book had to say;

“Squaring a log into a beam is easier if you use green freshly cut timber.  You can also save a lot of extra labor by hewing logs where they have fallen instead of hauling them to a separate site.  Before you begin, be sure to clear the area of all brush and low hanging branches that might interfere with your ax work.

Choose logs that are only slightly thicker than the beams you wish to hew.  Judge this dimension by measuring the small end of the log.  Place the log on wooden supports (notched half-sections of firewood logs will do) with any crown, or lengthwise curve facing up.  The two straightest edges of the log should face the sides.  Do not remove the bark;  its rough surface helps hold the ax to the mark and also diminishes your chances of striking a glancing blow with possibly dangerous results.  It is not always necessary to square off all four sides of a log.  Old-time carpenters often hewed only two sides and sometimes, as in the case of floor joists found in many old houses, they smoothed off only one. Rafters, in fact, were often completely round.”

It then shows the diagram, listed here in the pictures, with step by step directions.

“1.)  Scribe timber dimensions on log ends.  Cut notches for chalk line;  attach line and snap it to mark sides.
2.) Notch logs with utility ax.  Make vertical cuts at 4-in. intervals to depth of the chalk line marks.
3.) Hew sides with broadax.  Keep ax parallel to log and slice off waste by chopping along marks.
4.) Smooth hewn surface with adz if desired.  Straddle beam and chop with careful blows of even depth.”

So, a couple of lessons learned.  The old guy at the historical society told me there was no purpose to hewing.  There was, just not the side of the beams of the house.  Sills and whatnot probably needed to be hewn, as with other structural parts of houses.

If I were working closer to the ground, I would have been more comfortable (especially with a sharp axe)

If I had been on my knee with the broadax, like here in the picture, I also think I would’ve done better.

So was the old guy at the historical society wrong?  Not completely.  Is the book always right?  Hardly.  I think the real meat of the thing is to get out there, try it, fail and start over until you get it right.  Sometimes you can learn from a book or person, but sometimes, you learn best by getting your hands dirty.

Pax Donini Sit Semper Vobiscum,

Mike, Oscar, Hotel....out.


  1. Good review. I'll see if my library has Back to Basics. If not, I might just have to buy a copy!

  2. Back to asics = well worth the money. I've spent hours reading through it, then rereading it!

  3. Great info! I'm really happy to see that people are taking an interest in these kinds of traditional skills.