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Axes: Tools of the Timber Framing Trade

By Gabel Holder
Holder Brothers Timber Frames

Axes are the subject of this article on tools of the trade - where I choose one tool or family of tools that we use in our timber framing work and talk a little about it. I am excited to write about this in particular, as I have a real soft spot for axes (as you can see).

Axes come in all shapes and sizes, from small 1-1/2 pound hatchets to large broadaxes with a 14" edge. While we don't use every one of the axes pictured, we do use many of them regularly in our work of building and restoring traditional timber frames. While we also use a few modern tools, the foundation of our craftsmanship is our skill with the tools that were traditionally used to make timber frames. These traditional tools still work just as well today as they did when Master Hugh Herland built Westminster Hall, provided the carpenter has the training and skill to efficiently and accurately put them to use.

As for axes, we reach for some of these when we're cutting timber frames to rough out joinery such as housings, reductions, or tenons. You can remove a lot of wood in a hurry with a sharp axe if you know what you're doing. Hand axes and hatchets are often used for various trimming tasks, such as pointing pegs. We use some of the larger axes when we're working on a job that calls for hand hewn timbers. For that process, a felling axe is used to score the logs (removing the bulk of the waste wood) and then a broad axe is used to "take it to the line", smoothing the timber and creating the distinctive pattern of a (correctly) hand-hewn timber. That texture cannot be duplicated by modern techniques - if you want it to look right, you have to do it the right way.

In the photo, clockwise from top left, is an American Jersey pattern felling axe, goosewing broad axe from Austria, 12" American broad axe, Gransfors Bruks broad axe, Gransfors carving axe, Gransfors mortise axe, American broad hatchet, small American broad hatchet, competition throwing axe, bearded axe based on ancient Scandinavian pattern, Gransfors forest axe, American Hudson Bay axe, and an American half wedge felling axe.

These are some of our favorite tools to use here at Holder Brothers Timber Frames.

Holder Brothers Timber Frames designs, builds, and repairs all types of timber frame structures throughout the Southeast. From their shop in Monroe, Georgia, they have built timber frames in medieval, colonial, 19th century, and contemporary styles.

Visit Highland's Gransfors Bruks Axes Department

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