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How do you hew timber with an adze?

How to hew timber with an adze?

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Image of a house with exposed wooden beams and posts Felled trees are often used to create beams in houses for a rustic or old-world effect.
Image to show how beams support floorboards Beams are also used to support floorboards in the upper floor of the house. For this reason, at least one of their sides has to be as flat and level as possible, so that the floorboards have an even surface to rest on.
Image of a log in the process of being squared Hewing is the name of the process where a felled tree is cut into a square shape for use as a beam. This process is also known as ‘squaring’.


Image of a carpenter removing the top layer of bark on a log using a froe Once a tree has been cut down, the top level of the bark needs to be removed. This can be done using a froe, which will shear off the top level of the bark relatively quickly. (See “Froes”).
Image of a froe, a tool used for shearing large chunks off wooden logs A froe is a tool that has a sharp blade at right angles to its handle. When used with a mallet, it can be used to shear off large chunks of wood from a beam or log.
Image of a lumberjack juggling the edge of a log as the start of the hewing process Bark can also be removed with an axe through a process called ‘juggling’, which involves cutting V-shaped nicks along the length of the tree.
Image showing how wedges can be adzed away from a beam that has had notches cut into it with an axe The resulting wedges can then be adzed away from the top of the beam.
Image of an axeman completing the debarking job by removing the wedges that result from juggling You can also use an axe to do the same job.
Wonkee Donkee explains why the hewing technique is called juggling
Image of a carpenter removing bark from a log with an adze It’s possible to use an adze for the whole process of clearing off the top level of the bark, but this would be a time consuming process. It’s quicker to use an adze once the bark has been removed to flatten out the surface of the beam.

Levelling and planing

Image of a food adze with a straight balde, the tool needed for squaring timber For this task, you’ll need a long-handled (foot) adze with a straight blade.
Image of a string line that has been attached to the recently hewn surface of a log to check whether or not it is level

Step 1 – Use string line

Using a ‘string line’ (a long piece of string attached to the midpoint of each end of the beam) allows you to check easily where the lumps and bumps in your piece of wood are.

Image to show how an uneven wood surface can displace a string line making it even more obvious to the naked eye that it's not level If part of your beam is sticking up, it will displace the string, making it easier to see than it would be if you were looking with no guidelines.
Image of a DIYer levelling off the lumps and bumps in a wooden beam

Step 2 – Level off

Adze over the raised areas on the beam.

You don’t need to worry too much about precision or a neat finish at this particular stage as you’re just trying to get the surface as close to flat and level as possible.

Image of a string line that has been frayed by an adze blade Make sure you slip your string line off to one side before you start adzing, or you’ll shave through it!
Image showing a DIYer planing down a wooden beam that has just been levelled with an adze

Step 3 – Smooth wood

Once you have a flat beam, you’re ready to smooth down the surface. This time, the idea is to shave the top part of the beam rather than tear chunks out of it.

Image of Wonkee Donkee using a guide on Wonkee Donkee Tools to find out how to plane wood with an adze Follow the steps in the guide: How to use an adze for planing and debarking wood to give your beam a smooth finish.
Image of a log that is having a second side debarked

Step 4 – Move on to next side

If you would like to square other sides of the beam, repeat this process, using your froe or axe to start with and then returning to your trusty adze!

Wonkee Donkee Tools