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Re: historic hewing questionnaire [Re: northern hewer] #32783 02/06/15 03:02 AM
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northern hewer Offline OP
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hello everyone tonight

Hi Don

I can always count on you to come up with an outstanding different view on many subjects, I am sure many looking in appreciate your take on many different aspects of life in years gone by --in your neck of the woods--

As far as handles are concerned, I agree Ash is right up there, around here hickory is right up there, never heard of birch or elm being used at least around here, as you know I like wild cherry, it seems to have a personality all its own,

It really blows me away that some would prefer elm for a broad axe handle, it is especially important that an offset handle holds it exact offset, a feature that you truly need to strike accurately

I will admit elm is a strong wood but strength isn't all that a handle needs

There may be types of elm that is genetically superior to the North American type, and I am thinking here if another wood that contains superior qualities depending on where it has grown, you can really see a difference in Northern white pine and Southern yellow pine which grows in a longer and warmer climate

Birch around here at least is the preferred wood for bending, and is fairly strong --the local bushes contain many examples of white birch that still show the weight of the ice storm about 8 years ago now--they are still bent right over touching the ground, and will regrow in this bent posture--hardly any broke--trees 6 or 8 inches in diameter bent right down--they are starting to turn upwards at their tips

Another good bending wood is black ash--the native people used this tree for baskets and other purposes--

Ash is a great fire wood and regrows quickly

Just yesterday I cut down a dead elm about 16 inches on the butt and I counted 25 growth rings--it has been dead for about 3 years now, so it would have a few more rings if it wasn't for the Dutch elm disease that about 30 years ago took most of the mature trees--being a very hardy type of tree it is trying to re establish itself, but it is a slow process, only examples in obscure locations seem to be spared


While I am on the subject of large trees, at one time elm was in that class, during the clean up in this area prior to the flooding of the St Lawrence Seaway project the largest tree in this area stood west of Cornwall Ontario along the old canal bank, and had to be cut down unfortunately-- it was 6 feet on the butt and was a landmark in that area--a slice of that tree was preserved at Upper Canada Village--at one time I knew its age but cannot recall that detail now--I expect between 2 and 3 hundred years--we had on our farm when I was a young lad a elm tree that was 4 feet in diameter which was cut down to produce 3 by 6 joists for our dairy barn--that one tree produced all the joist for the hay loft

enjoy

NH

Re: historic hewing questionnaire [Re: northern hewer] #32785 02/06/15 08:14 AM
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Cecile en Don Wa Offline
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Well Richard I think your stories and recollections and knowledge are great and I just can't help myself from jumping on that bandwagon. Thanks for putting on such a great show here.

The farmer who lived at this house, being also the village carpenter at the same time, took advantage of the elm kill-off when Dutch elm disease - so called, by the way, because the cause of the sickness was first identified by people in Holland, the name having nothing to do with the origins or cause of the disease - took root in this area. He used lot of elm wood in the interior paneling of the barn and other stuff like this cabinet and by the way it is all badly bug infested.
Luckily a variety resistant to Dutch Elm Disease is now proven and there is a great effort going on in the area to re-establish the elm population which prior to the kill-off was a defining characteristic of the landscape here.

As for its use as handle wood, a steamed or pressure bent piece may well have the tendency to be unreliable, I don't know but I don't see that bending the wood to form the off-set was ever much in use in Europe. The off-set comes largely through the way the broadaxe head typical for this area is composed with a skewed forged socket, the handle more or less an extension with maybe a slight natural curve of its own. A handle on these axes with a wild crook or bend always strikes me as most unhandy and more difficult to control than necessary.

Re: historic hewing questionnaire [Re: northern hewer] #32788 02/07/15 02:44 AM
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northern hewer Offline OP
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hello everyone tonight

Hi Don and others

thanks for the compliment Don--I enjoy reminiscing to those that want to listen--I did lots of that when I was growing up--no TV then--mostly just work, chores, studying and getting to school which was the responsibility of parents then, the local gov't only providing the building and teacher--which by the way handled all 8 grades in a one room building

Back to handles---

your broad axe head forged as you described would accept a fairly straight handle, due to the eye's angle to the cutting edge, I guess the movement to a broad axe head that was placed in the centre of the blade's cutting edge with the eye parallel with that cutting edge had some advantages such as being able to reverse the handle for right or left handed people a real selling point and must have appealed to the a majority of the hewers of that time

I hope that a mental picture of such a blade would readily visualize the need for a handle with an abrupt curve as it exited the head, this would allow room for the hewer's hands along the log as he hewed

Hung correctly this offset handle still contained many good points and when the axe and handle is grasped and slowly raised with one hand directly behind the head and the other near its end, the axe head's flat surface should hang straight down and be accurate as it is being used--however once that you have used your axe for quite a period of time getting used to a new one is very difficult and a real calamity

enjoy

NH

Re: historic hewing questionnaire [Re: northern hewer] #32790 02/08/15 10:39 AM
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D Wagstaff Offline
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And it could also be mentioned that the curve on those broadaxe handles is often compound, sweeping out for clearance, and arching up so the edge gets that much more exposure.

Last edited by D Wagstaff; 02/08/15 10:40 AM.
Re: historic hewing questionnaire [Re: northern hewer] #32791 02/09/15 03:06 AM
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northern hewer Offline OP
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hello everyone tonight

right on Don, couldn't have said it better myself, the handles do usually have a slight upwards curve, meaning of course as you mentioned, a nice contact angle for the cutting edge, and I might add letting you stand a little straighter to obtain that nice contact cutting angle

At UCV we have an extensive collection of hewing axes in storage some with handles and some without. Both types that were still attached exhibited both straight (no upward sweep) and some with a pronounced upward sweep

It seems to me that the straighter ones were replacements, but then not certain--just an educated guess--the nicely curved to me seemed of a better quality, and were hand done for sure--you can pick out the store bought ones, machines certainly have no feelings, and only deal with offsets and angles--even the size and cross section of the handles are manufactured from a pattern you can tell

I personally like the handle to take a gentle sweep out and gently upwards as it exits the eye of the axe--I like a small notch in the end of the handle for my little finger to snuggle into

Man can you sure get used to a custom made handle it is really scary if you break one you are really used to and have to create and hang one as a replacement--not a good feeling--trying to get that control back that seemed so easy with the old handle

only broke one in my career, trying to sever a large red pine knot, and made the mistake of coming down hard with the heel of the blade---not a good thing to have done should have known better--but as they say hind sight is better than fore sight

NH

Re: historic hewing questionnaire [Re: northern hewer] #32792 02/09/15 08:47 PM
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Cecile en Don Wa Offline
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It's good of you also to point out when it goes other than planned or than you might have wanted. There is also knowledge to be got from mistakes, and who makes none of those? I always like to think, if you are going 60 up to the knot when you get there you go 30 till your past.

Re: historic hewing questionnaire [Re: northern hewer] #32793 02/12/15 02:56 AM
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northern hewer Offline OP
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hello everyone tonight

well said Don, couldn't have said it better myself--should have taken that advice myself--I guess that I also gained some knowledge that I am trying to pass on to those that care to listen--slow down when you come to large knots--!!!!!

NH

Re: historic hewing questionnaire [Re: northern hewer] #32794 02/12/15 03:39 AM
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northern hewer Offline OP
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hello everyone tonight

Well the day has arrived I am going to try and explain and show the technique of hewing to a brand new candidate--he doesn't have any prior training--this is good--the old saying--"can't
learn an old dog new tricks"--well I like to think that I won't have to fight and correct old thinking processes--can start with a clean slate

I saved out a nice 12 foot ash log from the firewood pile--it is about 12 inches on the small end and fairly straight and relatively free of knots for demonstration purposes

I thought that a little tour through our old timber framed barn would be in order to impress on him the finish I am looking for on the finished surface. I will be pointing out a few other things like the tell tale marks of the rough hewing pass --(the notches placed about 16" apart as you start the hewing process)
You might ask what tell tale marks would you see, well the old timers would rough hew as close to the line as possible at times a little too close, leaving a bit of the notch visible in the finished surface--then you would see the finished scoring marks about 4" apart still visible after the final pass.

As we are standing there, I will point out a few facts like the barn frame needed roughly (6)-- 45' timbers of varying sizes along with (8)--36 foot timbers also of varying sizes, (6)--purlin posts, (12)--exterior and central posts, along with a network of timbers for the barn floor structure

I will also point out all the rafters, which need to have one flat side, each one roughly 24 feet long--and roughly (24) in total

This might get his attention to the fact concerning the amount of hewing required to prepare the timber prior to the carpentry (timber framing) that would start at this point

I will also point out that the 45 foot timbers especially would be quite large prior to hewing even though they look small in their finished state--24 to 30" on the large ends and 14 " on the small ends--just moving them to the hewing area would be a struggle for sure--hewing them another story----

Well now back to the teaching area hopefully with his mind set focused in the right direction

by the way all the timbers are a hard wood (white ash)

enjoy

NH

Re: historic hewing questionnaire [Re: northern hewer] #33067 08/02/15 01:41 AM
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northern hewer Offline OP
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hello everyone tonight

Been a while since I have been able to post but here I am again
I finished that training session and I feel proud that I could hand down something that really couldn't be found in a book--I mean hands on, conversation back and forth, being there to guide his hands, and many other points you take for granted

I just had an inquiry on hewing techniques from a lad in Ohio, maybe he will come on board and we will chat a bit about hewing, he needs some pointers and help with his technique

looking forward, and I am sure you all will jump in with your take

NH

Re: historic hewing questionnaire [Re: northern hewer] #33068 08/02/15 11:31 PM
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Dave Shepard Offline
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I haven't (faux) hewed in a couple of years, or done any real hewing in six. It might be time to hew a cruck frame.


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