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splitting with ChrisIf 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

Check Roy Underhill’s books and DVDs at

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Showing 8 comments
  • Howard Lobb

    I am a passionate wood worker who totally enjoys green woodworking and fine woodworking,,, they are one and the same. I have taken the tree from the bush riven out a shaving horse from Roy Underhills book. This opened up a world of pleasure I have enjoyed ever since. I started out using kiln dried wood as a child as I was lead to believe this was the only way, like so many wood workers believe. When I got my first book “The Woodwrights Shop” by Roy Underhill my eyes where opened to a whole new approach. Yes it took many hours to develop and hone my skills to be able to produce fine woodwork. I can now say with the confidence I am able to produce works that are of a very high standard on anyone’s scale. (it’s not bragging if it is true it is merely stating fact) I enjoy the process of producing,,,I get great pleasure from taking exactly what is readily available from a tree and producing exactly the piece required for a project as all wood comes from the tree. Experience comes from doing and the tree is a great place to start. It is far easier to be able to go directly to a tree and select the section you require then to search through piles of lumber for a specific grain pattern. Yes it takes time to learn to read a tree,yet it isn’t difficult. Reading a tree leads to understanding lumber. Doing anything for the first time is very much like being a child and the thing that is so great about children is their wonderment, enthusiasm, willingness to learn.This maybe the key to staying young,,, For contempt prior to investigation leads to ever lasting ignorance, a place I never want to be,,, I would rather cultivate a child like viewpoint of my world,,,

  • sabebirthstone

    hi Adam. looks like your interest in 18th-century style using period techniques and tools of wood working activities is awesome. hope you can also share it with us specially the actual hands-on in a class as i’m sure you will be a good mentor for those aspiring individual to be following in your footstep. cheers.

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  • tsstahl

    Where is the shave horse today?

  • rwageneck

    I recently bought a froe at homestead heritage and am looking for an oak that needs to become a stool, or a box. My 9 and 7 yr old sons want to help, but I honestly don’t know where to start in splitting the log and riving it. I have P Follansbee’s book, but wish I had a video or some blogs such as your to explain the process further. I’m sure there are many out there like myself who would like to teach our kids woodworking as we ourselves are learning. If you teach, we will apply it as best we can. It may not be perfect, but it beats watching them play Xbox

  • Jonas Jensen

    Getting children engaged in logging is always fun.
    I have had my two sons (7 and 10 ) cut down trees using a two person traditional crosscut saw. They were really proud afterwards. We only used it for firewood, so accuracy wasn’t essential.
    But I think that they would enjoy making a small stool by splitting a log and using a drawknife to round the legs. So maybe that could be a project for the summerholiday.

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