I split some stock today to make the stiles for some joined stools I am building lately. These finish out at 2″ square, so I started with stuff a bit larger than that. This blank I am splitting is 2 feet long, and will yield about 6-8 stiles. In the photo, I used a wedge to knock off the juvenile wood at the heart of the tree. This wood is usually too twisted and fibrous to be useful. Once that’s split off, the following splits go easier and cleaner. The next step is to use a froe and club to further split out the stock. In most cases, I split the stock evenly in halves, this time I cheated it over a bit, because there were five stiles spread across the outermost section of the bolt. With a short piece of straight-grained timber like this, sometimes it works to split an odd number of pieces. It’s a gamble. Today I won. Sometimes the log wins.
The hewing is quick work, aimed at removing the bulk of excess stock. I use a broad stance, with my right foot well behind me, and holding the stock in the middle or even the foreward portion of the chopping block. This way, any errant blow of the hatchet has a chance at hitting the stump, or at worst, missing my leg. Notice that I have choked up on the handle as well. I’m not removing too much stock, so very heavy blows are not called for.
I first plane two adjacent faces straight and true, and square to each other. I use two planes, a “fore” plane, by some called a scrub plane – and a jointer to finish the surface.
After the first two faces are planed, then I mark the thickness and width of the stock, and hew away the excess before planing the next two faces. Here are some details of the hewing process; the first step is called “scoring” the stock. I have made a mark, in this case with a marking gauge, sometimes with a chalkline. The stock is held at an angle, and beginning towards the bottom, I chop into the stock to a depth just above the marked line. These are light cuts, intended to break the fibers of the oak. The next step is to hew them away, preparing the stock for planing. For this step, the stock is shifted a bit, making it more vertical than before. The hatchet is swung and/or dropped to chop away the scored segments of oak.
So there is a good deal of back & forth; the sequence is splitting, hewing, planing, then marking the finished size, more hewing & more planing. It takes longer to describe than to do it, thankfully. I position the hewing stump, or “hacking stock” as one seventeenth-century record calls it, right beside my bench, and the hatchet hangs on the wall right beside that. So I can shift easily between planing at the bench and hewing at the stump…after photographing making one stile, I timed one without pictures and it was a little over 10 minutes from the riven stock to the finished planed stile. Not too bad…