Hewing is shaping a log with an ax or an adz. The primary tools are the single-bit ax and the hewing or broad ax. The single-bit ax is used for scoring, a process of chopping cuts perpendicular to the length of the log down to a chalk line marked on the log. This line marks the edge where you want the flat, hewn surface.
Follow the scoring process with broad ax hewing. An adz is sometimes used for the final dressing of the hewn log. Hewing can convert a round log from the woods into a square timber or a partially squared timber called a cant. Hewing doesn’t work well on dry logs, so hew green, freshly cut logs. Here is a summary of the steps to follow:
Remove the bark from the log using a drawknife (Figure 95), bark spud (Figure 96), or possibly your single-bit ax. Place the log crossways on two other short sections of log that have a V-notch chopped in them to cradle the log. The log to be hewn should be placed in these V-notched cross sections, called yokes, at a height that is comfortable to hew. The position should be about knee high or a little bit higher.
Place wood chips, a wood slab, or an old board on the ground underneath the log to keep the broad ax from digging into dirt and rocks. Clamp the log to the yokes with log dogs, big iron staples driven into both the yoke and the log at both ends (Figure 97). This keeps the log from moving from its proper position.
Figure 95–Removing bark from a green log
with a drawknife.
Figure 97–Use a log dog to secure the log to the yoke.
Using a level or a plumb bob (Figure 98), scribe a vertical line on the small end of the log to mark the depth to which you want to hew. Then, to make sure the log is large enough, measure out the final end dimensions of the cant or beam you wish to create. Scribe this layout on the small end of the log first, because it is more difficult to fit it there than on the large end of the log.
Figure 98–Lay out the dimensions of the beam
on the small end on the log.
Now move to the large or butt end of the log and repeat the process of scribing the end dimensions of the beam or cant.
Snap a chalk line from the upper corner of the layout on one end to the corresponding corner on the other end (Figure 99). It is easier to do if you first cut a notch in the log with your pocket knife immediately above the scribed vertical line. Drive a nail into the vertical line just deep enough to hold one end of the chalk line. Run the chalk line up through the notch and along the length of the log (Figure 100). Then, holding the line tightly at the other end, snap the line by raising it straight up and letting it go.
Figure 99–The chalk line will mark the top
side of the hewn surface.
Figure 100–Here’s a way to secure one end of the
chalk line while you move to the other end.
Next, score the log. To start scoring with your single-bit ax, stand on top of the log. Chop to the depth of the chalk line in the center, or for a large-diameter log, take chops high, low, and in the middle. Do not burst (clear) the chips. Each of these swings is done with the forehand swing only. This process is called slash scoring. It is the most common method of scoring. The slashes are placed 3 to 4 inches apart down the length of the log.
On a large log, scoring is easier using a method called “juggling” (Figure 101). In juggling, you score the log by chopping a series of shallow V-notches to the depth of the chalk line. To do this, stand on top of the log and cut with both the forehand swing and the backhand swing. Then, still working from the top of the log with your single-bit ax, chop parallel to the log with the grain to split off the chips between the V-notches (spaced 10 to 12 inches apart, Figure 102).
Figure 101–In the scoring technique called juggling, you
cut a shallow V-notch down to the depth of the chalk line.
Slash scoring is a different technique that doesn’t
involve cutting a V-notch.
Figure 102–Finish the juggling process by removing
excess wood between V-notches with a single-bit ax.
Hewing with the broad ax is the next step (Figure 103). In a right-handed swing, your left hand should be on the end of the broad ax handle, with your right hand holding the handle near the ax head. Standing on the ground, spread your legs apart so they are out of harm’s way, and swing straight down toward the ground. Follow the chalk line, breaking the remaining wood between the scoring slashes, or between the V-notches left from juggling.
After scoring and hewing the first side of the log, move the log dogs one at time so the log does not shift off plumb. The opposite side of the log is then freed up but is still held in a plumb position. Repeat the scoring and hewing process on the opposite side of the log. At this point the log is flat on two sides. Generally only two sides of the log were hewn in cabin building, the exterior and the interior walls. If you want to hew all four sides, you will need to rotate the log 90° and repeat the process on the remaining two sides.
Figure 103–Hew down the chalk line, removing
the excess wood after scoring.
Use an adz to give a more finished appearance to the hewn log. The traditional method of using the adz is to roll the log 90° so the hewn side is face up. Stand on top of the hewn face and cut directly toward your toes. As you might imagine, this can be a dangerous operation for someone who is unskilled. The adz needs to be razor sharp to cut well. The utmost concentration is needed to swing the adz with enough power for it to do its job but not enough to slice your toes (Figure 104). On small logs, you sometimes can straddle the log and swing the adz between your legs (Figure 105).
Figure 104–Adz work requires the utmost
concentration to avoid cutting your feet.
Figure 105–You may be able to straddle the log
when using an adz (drawing by Frederic H. Kock).