Squaring timber

imageOne of the best things about re-enactment is that you get to meet likeminded people. People who work in different crafts and techniques, but all with a strong sense of history and translating it for people today.


One of our neighbors last weekend was Jaap Hogendoorn, of “Springlevend Verleden”, a woodworker with a lot of knowledge about old tools and techniques. At the Bosch event he was squaring wooden beams, using a variety of axes (no adzes), a piece of string, some nails and a lot of muscle power.


In a way the axe is the chainsaw of pre-WWII woodworkers. It’s one of the earliest tools humans invented, and we find varieties in stone, bone, bronze and iron throughout our history. Despite the image of being a rather unsophisticated tools, the design of the axe has been refined through the ages. Many specialized varieties exist. There have been many replicas of axes found at archaeological excavations.

Squaring timber is an old technique, used throughout our history, and has only recently become obsolete because of the invention of power tools and sawmills. Despite being very labor intensive, there is a lot to say in favor of squaring by hand. For one the grain of the wood is followed and preserved, rather than cut through.

Although it looks like there is a lot of brute force involved, the work is rather subtile. And while muscle power (endurance is certainly and advantage), it is much more dependable on technique than force. When you just whack away at a piece of wood, the only thing you will wear out are your tools and your own muscles. The wood doesn’t care. But when you learn to “read” the piece you’re working on, it’s easier to deliver just the right amount of energy through your tools. You stop fighting the material and start to shape it while listening to what it has to tell you.

This may sound strange, and most craftspeople aren’t aware of it. It’s something that comes natural after a while. But it’s something I have observed in craftspeople of any type: goldsmiths who feel whether a piece is smooth, bakers who feel that the dough has risen enough, metalworkers hearing that a chisel needs sharpeing, welders who smell whether their settings are right, potters who just know the right clay. Sounds, smells, taste, feel, all your senses are involved while working a craft. And it’s also one of the hardest things to explain, you’ve just got to DO it in order to understand…




This entry was posted in History, Re-enactment, Think different, Thoughts, Tools, Uncategorized, Woodworking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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