cleaving a big oak with hand tools

Some may have seen that we have started a new blog on the Heritage Crafts Association site and that many of the posts there are copies of ones from here. I have been blogging increasingly about HCA work over the last year and we felt it would look more professional now to have those HCA and general craft posts on a dedicated site without posts on my own work mixed in. Most of the time the two blogs will be duplicates but here you will find an odd post about my own woodwork and over there I may occasionaly do a specific HCA post that doesn’t fit here.

Yesterday I cleft up a large oak to use for building a fence leading to a bridge which is my major project over the next month. This oak was felled in Sheffield’s Eccleshall woods for a building project but it soon became clear that there was a lot of hidden nails in it. After excavating 6 or more it was decided the sawmill could not take the risk, perfect for me to try with my hand tools then. Fellow blogger Peter Follansbee in the States does this sort of work but it is rare for me to get access to a tree of this quality. Here I am strating the first split with metal wedges.

Then with my axe I carve some long thin dry oak wedges and pound them in with the sledge hammer.

The split starts to open up.

And one last swing of the sledge and with lots of creaking it finally falls apart. They look small in the picture but these slabs are 12 feet long and probably weigh close to half a ton each.

 The first split can be hard but the next ones are easier.

Then the quarters are split down to eighths.

 The fibrous nature of the oak can be seen here and the lovely medulary rays that show well on cleft wood.

It was hard work so I had no problem keeping warm in the wintry weather.

Eights went down to sixteenths then each sixteenth was split into three fencing rails.

 Here’s the last split.

It was a very hard days work but a joy to be able to make good use of this gorgeous material where the power tools had failed.

4 Responses to cleaving a big oak with hand tools

  1. Mikkel Frederiksen February 11, 2010 at 9:06 pm #

    I split an ash log last summer. And I must say that I found it to be really revarding work. As you say It feels great to do the work with your own two hands, rather than using some big machine. And there is really nothing to compete with that nice crackling sound, when the wood slowly splits apart 🙂

  2. Coresect February 11, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    Good work on that log, looks like it was hard work indeed (and I can help but think at how many nice knife scales you'd get out of just a little piece of it – yeah, I'm from the British Blades forum!). What made me stop for a moment was that I grew up playing in Eccleshall Park and woods. I'm a thousand-odd miles away now, but it took me back.

  3. Le Loup February 12, 2010 at 1:32 am #

    good post.Hard work, but very pleasing. I built a split rail dog leg fence with mine.Le Loup.

  4. James Wilkes February 18, 2010 at 3:20 pm #

    Lovely demonstration of how hand tools are sometimes better than power tools. Nails and fencing staples in logs are such a pain. I like the idea of making wooden wedges too. Nice one, Robin.