The carpenter’s tools have been developed over many thousands of years. Tradition, climate and local woods have led these tools to vary from country to country. It used to be that the village blacksmith would make tools to order for the local carpenter, which naturally also produced major regional variations. By the early 20th century, Sweden had a wide variety of Broad Axes – axes that were used to create flat surfaces, for example hewing square beams from round logs.
The Broad Axes were generally supplied in four or five edge widths, always without a handle. Broad Axes and other axes were the carpenter’s most important tools when building a log house, although other tools such as the Draw Knife, Mortise Axe, Log Dog and Log Scribe were also in his toolbox.
There remains a wide variety of different log-building tools, all different in their weight, length and historical origins. A Broad Axe is described based on its design, the grinding on the edge and the angle of the handle in relation to the edge. Other key attributes are the length of the edge, the weight of the axe (now usually including the handle) and the length of the handle.
The log that is to be hewn is placed on two special stands to give the right working height. A wedge driven from the side locks the log in place. The right height of the stand is when you can sit astride it and have your feet flat on the ground. Your hands should be kept quite close to each other.
Your right hand should be kept nearest to the head of the axe. The thumb of your right hand should be kept up on the shoulder of the handle, and not around the handle, to avoid the risk of damaging your thumbnail.
Often the log twists in the drying process. If the log is twisted with checks (cracks) going downward from left to right, you have to hew away from you on the upper half of the log and towards you on the lower part. If the log is twisted in the opposite way, with checks going upward from left to right, you have to hew in the opposite direction. In so doing you avoid working in conflict with the structure of the wood.
1: Seasoning checks
2: Upper half of log
3: Lower half of log
How to hew a log
Move backwards while working so that you can always check the quality of the surface you have hewn. The log should be hewn as evenly as possible for best water repellency. Since flakes of wood must not create pockets for rainwater, the log is placed upside-down for hewing, compared to how it will later be placed in the house wall.
The seasoning checks are turned inwards if the inside is to be covered with panelling. Otherwise they are turned outwards to make the inside attractive and easy to clean.