I have been getting interested in green woodworking recently, beginning with spoon carving. Between trying to find the time to whittle some spoons, I have read through a few different related books, and I particularly enjoyed one by Mike Abbott – Going with the Grain: Making Chairs in the 21st Century, which had a really useful structure, starting off with making the tools you need to carry out the projects.
Splitting small wood accurately can be tricky and often needs something substantial with which to smack the axe. I’ve had trouble with this so far because the old mallet I have isn’t heavy enough. One of the first projects in the above book is a club maul. I was helping a friend recently with clearing some trees he’d cleared and got him to cut me off a chunk of an ash tree:
The basic idea is to take a length of wood around 18-24″ long and 4-6″ in diameter (probably, I don’t actually remember the details from the book, it was from the library and is now in my Amazon wishlist). You cut part of the way through the log, all the way around, and then split away from one end to leave a handle, finally shaping it.
I discovered that I had complicated things by selecting a rather oval log. If that was not the case, the first step is to mark a circle in the center of one end. I chose something to draw around that was around and inch and 3/4, but and inch and a half would probably be better.
If this were on a round log, you would then measure the distance from the outside of the marked circle to the edge of the log. I wasn’t sure how to get around this, but decided to start by marking out an oval-ish shape to begin with and marked points roughly the same distance from the bark all the way around and then joined up the dots.
Now the next step was to mark a line on my saw of the same distance. Note that here I marked it on the right-hand face of the saw and then realised that, since I am right-handed, when I used the saw I couldn’t see the line so re-marked it on the other side.
Then saw all the way around , part-way down the log, to the depth of the line. I didn’t measure how far along, just eyeballed it but would guess it was about 8″.
Now we begin to split away the parts we don’t want. Naturally, not having a maul to hit the axe with creates a bit of a catch-22 situation. Since this is ash, it mostly split quite easily, but I did encounter a few awkward sections.
Once I’d reduced it to the oval shape, I sawed a little more at the pointier ends by eye, as the handle was too big for me to grip.
I then split and hewed away the rest until it didn’t split away easily any more, leaving “whiskery” bits. These I trimmed off with a light sawing action.
I then began shaping the handle more carefully with the knife, beginning at the head end to make sure I’d shaped it back to remove all the saw-cuts from the handle.
Once this was done, I carefully trimmed off the smaller whiskers with a smaller-toothed saw.
Note in this picture that I messed up the positioning a little and exposed the pith.
I marked up the remaining roughed out handle to try to straighten it up a bit and then continued to shape it with the knife.
The end result, which I tested on a piece of oak, made the splitting pleasingly easy.