Arts & Mysteries: Give Me a Brake
by Peter Follansbee
Reach for a froe, and you should immediately think, “Give me a brake.” The brake can be a constructed workholding device, or just a couple of logs. Its function is to trap your workpiece in such a way that you can exert leverage on a section of a log as it’s splitting. The froe – used to split a piece when it’s in a brake – is a tool that requires some nuance to really get the most from it; the brake helps make that happen.
There are many kinds and configurations of brakes. The first one I learned is just a forked section of a tree, propped up with crossed timbers underneath.
Jam your billet into the fork with its other end on the ground, and drive the froe into the top end. As you twist the froe handle, you’re pulling against the thicker part of the split. Depending on many factors, you might need to flip your workpiece this way and that to get the thick side of the split on the bottom, or near, side.
In a pinch, I have improvised a brake with a log and a section of split oak; it’s a bit awkward, but it works. In both of these cases, the workpiece is pretty close to vertical.