Splitting primitive boards
A while ago in UnReal World discussion forums there was a question about the method of splitting boards. Like, starting from a log, using only a hand-axe, how could one possibly end up having a load of boards in matter of hours? I promised to try that some day. And seems like it is today, so here we go;
About two weeks ago I was de-branching, trimming and piling storm-felled trees in a nearby forest owned by the family who run the milling company. They drove the logs to my place, using a tractor and a flatbed trailer. One of the trees was a biggish pine. And in Finnish forest a typical pine grows up having a tall trunk without branches, and then a fluffy upper end with a lot of curvy branches. I thought that the trunk would be good for splitting primitive boards - branches make it harder to split wood. Also, that particular pine looked like it won't be terribly crooked inside. I mean, as trees grow, they tend to make kind of a horizontal rotation, so that the inner structure of the timber isn't exactly straight lines upwards, but more like an interwoven spiralling lines.
Oh well. I set up all the equipment I thought I could need. One smallish hand-axe, one old axe-blade without a shaft, one modern splitting wedge made of metal. And two wooden wedges I quickly made. A tool we call vänkäri, which is designed to help turning and rotating heavy logs. And then a vesuri which looks like a mixture of a sickle, sabre and a hand-axe - a tool specially designed for de-branching and cutting small trees. I estimated that it would probably take me three or four hours to split the log, so I set up a tablet frame-lapse app to shoot a video 30* sped up. And started working at 10 am.
The process starts with splitting a log in two halves. First I examined the log head to see if there are any natural cracks. They indicate the position and direction how the log will be easiest to split. (This is the Tao of splitting timber. Always follow the natural structure of the material you are working with. Go with it, not against it.) I hit the log with the hand-axe, several times, until I heard it making a small crack. I went through the log, in an about straight line, just hitting a small cut. That is supposed to help to guide the direction the split will go. I turned the log around and hit the log to the opposite side, again until I heard it making a small crack. Then I took the blade without a shaft, carefully placed it on to the initial crack and started hammering it deeper into the log. The log started to crack more. And on I went, placing the next wedge further down the crack, and continuing onwards until the log was split. After I got it going it went into two halves surprisingly easily. There were some small dried-out branch knots inside the trunk, but otherwise the inner structure was nearly optimal - only a little bit of spiralling shape.
Next, about the same process to cut each half into two. Pretty soon I had the log in four pieces. The smallest of the pieces seemed like it won't make good boards - maybe I will be better for thinner pieces for weaving a basket or something. I used that smallest piece as a primitive workbench, and placed one of the quarters on top of it. First I wanted to get rid of the inner sector - that won't be good for boards anyway. After some work I got the inner part separated, finally giving me the raw materials for primitive boards. Now, theoretically speaking, there would be two ways to split this kind of raw quarter. Either crosswise the tree rings, or by the tree rings. I remember an old man telling me that the crosswise cut is better for making wooden bowls, barrels and such, but otherwise the by-ring split is preferred. So I went by the rings.
After some experimentation I found out that one good method of splitting is to first make the initial cut to make the quarter to crack, then hitting the next wedge to the left side of the crack, and then another wedge to the right side of the crack. That way the split goes onwards down the log, and you can kind of a walk the wedges on and on, until the crack spans the whole length of the log and so you have a primitive board separated from the quarter log. If there hadn't been those knots of dried out branches, it would've been possible to rip apart a board with bare hands, once the wedge-cut split was over half the length of the log. Well, but it was not a big problem to keep on using wedges for the whole length. Only one piece had a more crooked inner structure, producing boards resembling a helicopter blade. I'm not sure but I think if I store the boards in between sawn timber and secure them tightly, they will slowly dry to become straight. So I can probably straighten those spiral-shaped pieces too. I'm thinking to use these primitive boards to make a roof for a urw-style shelter. I want to build one next to the garden pond in the upper corner of my yard.
Hehe, I'd estimate that in UnReal World scale, my timbercraft and carpentry skills are around 30 - 40 %. I've once seen something like this being done, and I've once tried this with thinner splits, so basically for me, this is pretty much learning-by-doing. It was fifteen minutes past 11 am, and I had three quarters of the log split into boards, resulting in nine decent boards and one smaller one - and a lot of splinters good for firewood. The whole process went three times faster than I expected. So, maybe some other day I should try another log, using only a single hand-axe and wooden wedges. As, this time I was using a modern, heavy sledge-hammer which surely was a lot of help. But, without the modern hammer and a metal wedge, I think it would be wiser to go with a proper axe which has a longer shaft suitable for two-handed use. But that will be an another adventure!
I think my Finnish ancestors didn't use saws, as they were skilled with axes. So I've been bit kind of a cheating, using a chainsaw to trim the log, and having a neighbour transport the logs with a tractor. I mean, working with an axe only, it takes some time and a lot of skill to cut this thick trunk to a log, and the resulting log is so heavy that it isn't easy to move around. But, yeah, it is year 2017 and I'm combining modern technology with traditional skills =)
EDIT: Today I split an another log, and shot an another video. I started working with a two-handed axe, a wooden cudgel, and some wooden wedges. Alas, the cudgel didn't take the stress, but broke to pieces. Also, I had not secured the axe blade well enough, and it turned loose. Oh well - I wasn't careful enough with my preparations, so I had to revert back to the modern tools. But once I got the log split into smaller pieces - this time it was not quarters, but fifths - it became significantly easier. Splitting the actual boards went well, using only a small hand axe, a small wooden club and a pair of wooden wedges.