One of the more fascinating things about blacksmithing is the process of making tools. In this respect, it is a fairly sustainable craft. Take a bit of steel, an anvil and hammer and you can make the tools to well…make more tools.
The froe is a perfect example of this useful cycle in action. First, the blade is forged and then the blade is used to make the handle that the froe will eventually attach to.
What is a froe, you might ask? They’re not readily available in most woodworking tool supply stores, but the froe is an amazingly useful tool. The froe is used mainly to split lengths of wood along the grain; similar to an axe, but with less blunt force and more care. Where the axe uses more of a blasting action, whacking a log apart haphazardly, the froe’s long blade allows more control and with straight grain wood like hickory, you can make a beautiful, useable board. The blade is wedged into the wood, then using a mallet, the blade is driven through the log by hitting the protruding side opposite the handle.
The popularity of the froe has been lost and replaced with more complicated electric power tools, and the availability of mill cut lumber. If you want a froe to add to your collection of traditional woodworking tools, you might consider making one yourself. The following is the process in which my husband, Zach makes a Froe.
First, he heats a 3/8 x 2 X 18 inch bar stock in the forge. He is using mild steel, recycled A36, which refers the amount of carbon in the steel.
He upsets the end , working the steel back on itself and rounding the corners.
Then he begins to make the loop where the handle will fit by bending it over the anvil.
Here he has taken the steel from the forge and cooled the end. This helps him control where the steel will move. The cooled steel will keep it's shape while hammering, and the hot steel will curve.
Here he finishes forming the handle hole by tightening it up on itself.
Next, he drills the hold for the rivet.
The rivet is 3/8 inch round stock, cut about 1 1/2 inches long. It is heated and placed in the hole.
Then the head of the rivet is formed with a ball peen hammer.
Next, he counter-curves the blade over the horn of the anvil, so when the sharp side is tapered the material has somewhere to go and straightens itself.
Then the blade edge is formed by tapering the steel on each side, and sharpened on the grinding wheel.
Now the Froe blade is formed.
Zach uses the blade in a "non-traditional" sense (without the handle) to cut the wood for the handle.
Zach widdles the rough shape of the handle.
Then smooths the wood with his antique spokeshave plane.
Personally I love the froe and use it often. Not in table making or elegant carpentry, but on a functional level. We have a wood burning furnace and while Zach usually keeps the wood pile stacked for me, I occasionally have to spit some wood. While I can use an axe, (and I say the word “use” in the lightest of senses.) I wouldn’t say that my skill is.. exceptional. And in swinging a heavy weighted blade with all my might directed at a teetering log standing on end,…well let’s just say I probably have more to worry about than freezing to death, if you know what I mean.
So I use the fro. I simply hold it on the log in question and whack it with a smaller log until the blade slices through. It’s much easier, and safer for me because I have more control.
For more information about getting started blacksmithing, please visit our farm blog atIron Oak Farm.