The Zen of Hewing a Froe Club
‘No time to do it right, but time to do it over.’ – Daniel O’Hagan
by Peter Follansbee
I hear my mother’s voice every time I walk past those small hickory saplings I saved months ago: “Procrastination is the thief of time.”
I’m not one of those woodworkers who makes many of his own tools – many woodworkers get a lot of satisfaction from toolmaking. They are able to tailor the tools’ shape and function to their own particular purpose. I have never been inclined toward toolmaking, and with few exceptions, have stayed out of it. Simple things like scratch stocks for shaping mouldings are easy enough; I can handle them.
As a green woodworker, though, I am often thrust into toolmaking by necessity. The froe is a tool used to split apart fresh wood into usable “billets” – sections that are then either hewn, shaved, turned or otherwise fashioned into various forms. But the froe needs persuasion to work its way into the log – this comes in the form of a wooden club, variously called a maul, mallet, club, “beetle” (erroneously in that case) and more. I call it a club.
It is too often made on the spot, from green wood, destined to be replaced sooner rather than later. “No time to do it right, but time to do it over,” I hear Daniel O’Hagan saying to me across the years. Many times, I’ve been guilty as charged. When my “good” froe club finally broke apart from decades of repeated bashing of iron and steel, I had no suitable hardwood from which to make a replacement. With great shame, I often fashion one on the spot from whatever hardwood is on hand. Most recently that was cherry, which is not particularly hard or heavy – it was what I had at that moment.
From the December 2017 issue, #236