If I could teach a class on period woodworking and really control the syllabus, I would start in the woods and teach beginning woodworking. And while I doubt I could fill woodworking classes like this with guys like us, this is exactly what I’m doing with my kids. They don’t have their own benches or hand planes. None of them can saw. Honestly, I don’t think they have the strength or coordination for that sort of work yet. And they needed some help splitting this oak log.
But here lies the foundations of all woodworking. And without sounding curmudgeonly or elite, I’ve run into more than a few woodworkers who need this class desperately. Period woodworkers and machine shop guys alike seem to misunderstand the basic principles of what wood is, how it grows, where it is strong and where it is weak, all despite the fact that all this information is written down. I think there’s something about the process of splitting logs for furniture that maybe we all just need to actually do to understand.
Splitting short logs for firewood can be instructive, but only to a point. Despite the fact that I’ve done more of that than I like, it’s a little too easy, and a little too random. The pieces just need to be smaller. When you have some intention associated with the wood you are splitting, everything changes. Length also makes a massive difference.
It’s possible some guys aren’t drawn to this sort of work because they don’t want to build anything rustic. Understood. I’ll argue in an upcoming article that some American Chippendale furniture had riven components. So riven stock doesn’t always wind up in something with “ye olde” in it’s name. But maybe this is something folks should do just for the education. It’s such a great experience. One of Roy’s books has great plans for a shave horse made from a single log. Almost every part of the log is used, so each split much be done carefully. I made a horse like this years ago. It was a great project.
– Adam Cherubini