Building for the future, today – combining the best of historical wisdom and modern technology.
In the previous entry, we discussed debarking spuds and drawknives. We’re going to continue discussing other ways to prepare your logs for the next step in log cabin building. This time we’re going to cover adzes and broadaxes. When you think of Appalachian style square hand hewn log cabins, chances are the logs or beams were dressed with an adz or broad axe.
Until fairly recently, adzes have been used for woodworking in many cultures around the world. Now power equipment does the majority of this work but there are a growing number of craftspeople that are rediscovering and embracing these traditional tools. They can be used for hewing logs for building (the focus here) and for other uses as diverse as carving chair seats and making totem poles.
Adzes come in a range of styles and handle lengths. The blades can be flat or curved and the handles can be as short as 8 inches up to 35 inches long. The adzes that have a curved blade are often called gutter adzes. It’s easy to remember that name if you think of a rain gutter and the shape of the adz needed to hollow out the inside of the gutter to catch the rain. Ship carpenter’s adzes have a flatter blade. When you are choosing an adz to hew a log or timber, think about how the cuts made by the various blade shapes will look on your wood. Most people will choose a flat or slightly curved adz for this job.
Short handled adzes are used with either one or two hands with the wood you're working on located between knee and waist height. Long handles are often used when straddling your work on the ground, or close to the ground. In effect, you swing the adz between your legs. Some builders consider an adz the finishing tool to the broad axe, others use it on its own.
Broad axes are similar in look to an axe with an extra wide blade. Handles are most often mid to full length and grasped with both hands. You generally work standing to one side of the log with the flat side of the broad axe to the wood. The log or beam can either be on the ground, or raised depending on how you're gripping the handle. You can use a full over the head swing or more of a short chopping motion. Broad axe handles can be angled to the left, right or centered. Just to make things confusing, even the blades can have a variety of sharpening profiles. If you think of cutting edge of a regular axe, it is angled, or sharpened, on both sides, making a sort of “V.” You can have that profile in your broad axe or have one side left flat and the other side sharpened. Take a look at a pair of scissors and you’ll see this style of sharpening. Depending on which side of the blade is sharpened, this is called scissor sharpened or reverse scissor sharpened. As you can see, you can have a wide range of combinations to best suit how you work — right angled handle with reverse scissor sharpened blade, etc. Probably the most versatile type for the beginner will be the centered handle with the double sharpened blade.
As with most tools, there is a range of quality levels and prices. The less expensive will be drop forged and the highest quality (and highest priced) will be hand forged. At Log Home Store we carry a wide range of these tools. It’s nice to know that there are still hand forged, high quality tools being made here in the US. For more pictures and information, click on adzes or broad axes. Using these hand tools in this truly authentic method of hewing and preparing your logs will give you a new appreciation of the log cabins of yesteryear.
Next time we’ll move from the traditional to the modern and see how a chainsaw attachment, your pressure washer, and a specialty planer can be used to peel and prep logs.