start at the beginning

The stock for most of my work is riven, or split, from a freshly-cut, or “green” log, usually oak. To get wide panels used in joinery, a large diameter log is best – I like them at least 2 feet in diameter. Here, the split is begun by driving two steel wedges into the end of the log. 

wedges splitting white oak
wedges splitting white oak

Once the split is open enough, a large wooden wedge is driven into the split – this really does much of the work of opening up the log.

driving a wooden wedge
driving a wooden wedge


 After splitting the log in half, one half is again split into quarters, then eights & so on. These are then worked into boards in the shop. This radial splitting results in the width of the board being along the medullary rays of the log. This gives a board that is very stable, there is minimal shrinkage across the width of these boards.
eighths and sixteenths of white oak
eighths and sixteenths of white oak
Wider stuff is split the thinnest, and used for panels or parts for carved boxes. These splits are done with a froe & club. The froe is wedge-shaped, but not sharpened. Once it’s embedded in the stock the handle is twisted to advance the split.
I hold larger stock in a “brake” – in this case, a wooden tripod. The brake serves two functions; it traps the workpiece at a convenient height to work from, and also allows me to exert pressure this way or that to manipulate the split if need be. If the split is going astray, I flip the stock in the brake, and apply downward pressure to the heavier half.  This will often bring the split back on track – when you have a good quality log, and things are going well.
using froe to split panel stock
using froe to split panel stock
So these are the first steps I take to get the stock into workable sections that I then take into the shop to work with a hatchet and various planes. I try to only work one quarter of a big log at a time. This leaves the remaining stock in as large a section as possible, which helps keep it from drying too fast.
riving brake
riving brake

4 thoughts on “start at the beginning

  1. Peter, really appreciate all the information you have put out so far, it is all excellent. It’s like taking an on-line graduate course in 17th Joinery!

  2. Peter
    Thanks for letting me know about your blog. I love the smell of freshly split oak which I don’t often get. I was cleaving some Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) recently – it’s very similar and almost more powerful than the oak.
    I believe you don’t have much Chestnut left in the States due to some disease or other – is that right?

  3. Robin

    The chestnut in America (Castanea dentata) was devastated by a blight, in the early 20th century. Most woodworkers today who use chestnut here are working with reclaimed timber – boards usually salvaged from barn siding, etc. For me, I have rarely, but occasionally, seen chestnut having been used in 17th century New England furniture, usually as a secondary wood. I’m told it was good for riving, its structure seems similar to ash. Lightweight like that. Very good decay resistance as well.

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