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What is Hewing?

By H.R. Childress
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hewing is the process of forming a log into straight-edged timber. The term generally refers to performing the process using only hand tools, such as different types of axes. In modern construction, power tools are sometimes used to give the appearance of hand hewn logs.

Possibly the most well-known example of hewing is in the construction of log cabins, barns, and other buildings. On the United States frontier and in other places where tools for planing board lumber from logs were not readily available, hewing was a common method for creating one or more flat sides on a log. Hewn flat surfaces on logs provided a tighter fit for construction. In modern times, hewn timber is valued for its rustic appearance and hand-tooled quality.

Hewn lumber is created from a felled tree, or from a log cut from a felled tree. Often the first step is debarking the log, but a log may also be hewn with the bark still on. The log is placed on stabilizing stands called iron dogs or log cribs.

Next, the log is marked with a pencil or chalk line to show where it should be cut. The lines serve as a guide for scoring, the process of removing excess wood from the log before hewing. Scoring is often done using a power saw or planer, but to produce truly hand hewn lumber, it is done with an ax. It is typically done using a felling ax, the type of single-bladed ax often used to chop firewood. The person scoring the log uses the ax to chop the log every few inches (about 7 cm), removing large chunks of wood while being careful not to chop beyond the marked line.

The actual hewing is often performed using a broad ax, an ax with a slightly curved blade larger than that of the felling ax. Felling axes or adzes are also sometimes used to hew timber. The blade of whichever tool is used to hew should be very sharp for both accuracy and efficiency.

A person hewing the log holds the ax with one hand close to the ax head and the other further down the handle. Short, controlled swings of the ax are used to remove wood a little at a time along the marked lines. The angle of the ax is important to removing the correct amount of wood. A skillfully hand-hewn log will have a level, but still slightly textured surface.

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