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Hand hewing beams  RSS feed

Posts: 697
Location: Mount Shasta, CA Zone 8a Mediterranean climate
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It's been slow going and I still have a few more to finish before I can start building but I figured I might as well start a thread to document my amateur attempt at hand hewing some beams to make a replacement wall for our leaking mobile.  Yes, this will be the most over-built wall ever seen in a mobile home but my plan is to replace one long side wall a year then do the end walls and roof.

It's a 50' wall so I'm making 6 upright timbers 7.5"x7.5"x10' and then 3 plate timbers 7.5"x12"x20' which will be scarf-jointed together.  The upright timbers are hewn from incense cedar and the plates are being hewn from douglas fir.

The first step was to get the logs on the ground and cut to length.  I'll admit that for this I did use my chainsaw but when I have the luxury of a little more time I do want to do even this part with hand tools.

Once on the ground I used a level and a square template I cut on my miter saw to lay out the ends of the beam.  Basically you put the template on the end of the log, make sure that the top is level and then trace the template.  As long as you're careful not to move the log between tracing one end and the other you'll be able to use these squares you've traced to layout a nice square timber.  If you're templates weren't traced exactly level with each other you'll end up with a twisted timber.  

Once I had the ends traced I use the level as a straight edge to extend the top line all the way across the end of the log.  Where this line meets the outside edge of the log is the point I use to place the chalk line to mark how deep I make the depth cuts to.  I run the chalk line between the two matching points from both ends of the log and then snap the line then do the same thing on the opposite side.  Once this is done I now have two mostly parallel lines on the top of the log that guide how deep I make the depth cuts.  Using those lines as a guide I use the double bit axe to chop depth cuts roughly every foot.

Once the depth cuts are made along the entire length of the top of the log I rotate the log 90 degrees so that instead of chopping down on the top of the log I'm now cutting along the right side of the log (I cut with the log on my left side).  Now I use the same ax to remove all the material between the depth cuts leaving me with a roughly squared off side of a timber.  At first I tried using and adze to give me a better finish but I realized that I preferred to do that with the axe as well.

Once I had all the uprights roughed out I loaded them on my truck and hauled them next to the house where I set up a spot to do the final hewing with the new Wetterlings broad-axe I got.
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On side done, another side notched
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All the tools used
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First beam roughed out
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6 roughed out beams
Posts: 47
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Very nice job.   I've only done a small amount of hand-hewing in my time and it taught me a great respect for those who have done it.

I'd love to see how your project progresses.
Posts: 458
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9-10, 60" rain/yr,
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Well f'ing done.
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I did about the same thing for my home.

I did not use a template, but used a compass set to the heart of the tree so that my beam was centered around the growth rings. Then I squared up the beam from that with a level and square.

The other thing I did different was use my chainsaw to make kerfs every 8 inches down the length of the beam to the chalk lines. I found 8 inches was just about right for the next step, knocking off the slabs.

I did not have a broad axe and was not about to pay $315 for one, so I just used my pole axe. Putting it up to the line, I just smacked it with a small short handled hammer and went down the line. After I was done with that I cleaned it up with a plane. It still has a nice mix of axe marks so a person can tell they are hand hewn.

It went faster then I thought, about 4 hours per 12 foot beam.

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