Hand-Peeling and Hand-Hewing Logs

Hand tools and techniques for de-barking logs and squaring timbers. May 9, 2007

Does anyone have any experience with hand peeling or hewing logs? I have some pine that someone wants hand peeled or possibly hewed, and I am considering it. Should I let the logs dry before peeling/hewing? Does anyone have any idea as to how to charge? I assume dollar per board feet plus per hour for labor? Is there any special issues/advice that you could share?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor J:
I have peeled many pines of various species for my log cabins. The sooner you peel them, the easier it is. When you de-limb the logs, make sure you cut the limbs very close. That way when you are peeling, the tool will skip over the knot. As far as a tool, I've found that a 3' flat shovel works best with a draw shave as a backup.

From contributor F:
If you cut the trees in spring or early summer when the sap is up you'll have a much easier time.

From contributor S:
I have hewn logs in almost the exact manner as described in the link. Of course I cheated just a bit. Pop a line on the top center of the log from end to end. Using a bow saw, cut across the log about every foot for the desired width of the beam that you want (maybe a little wider to allow for bark and final trimming). Using an adz split off the sections between your cross cuts (I think that my tool was actually a sharpened "grub hoe" and it wasn't razor sharp, I was just splitting off chunks of log). Roll the log and repeat.

Here is the deal, this method leaves a split look to the beam, for that hewn look of blade burnished scoops you will need to cut the wood further with a sharp adz or draw knife. Try to cut from the fat end of the log toward the small end tapper so that the grain is running out at the end of the cut, this helps to keep the blade from digging deeper as you hew.

Depending on the end use and what exactly the customer wants the look to be, I would mill the beams on a conventional mill and then give them the surface treatment of being hewn by knocking off the corners and draw-kniving away any saw marks. My favorite tool for debarking was always a 4' crow bar. It is not sharp enough to dig into and get stuck in the wood and heavy enough to knock off stubborn bark

From contributor T:
I agree with Contributor F. Cutting in the spring is a good idea. Basket makers harvest in the spring for the same reason. You might consider a knock-off of Scott's cheating methods. Cutting the cant on the mill then finishing by hand. Make it slightly over-sized. This will eliminate the need to debark those surfaces and will establish the required reference lines. (But first make one completely by hand so you can refer to it later to see if you have the look right.) Leave the cant long enough that the ends can be finished with an ax. Then cut false scouring marks with an ax and finish with an adz and/or a slick. (A "slick" was often used in finishing rough-hewn logs).

From contributor K:
Peeling and hewing are different. With peeling you just remove the bark. A draw knife, sharp shooter shovel (post hole shovel, one that has a long nose), tile floor scraper, and a crow bar work well. Spuds also work but are more likely to dig in.

With hewing you are trying to flatten or square up the log by removing wood. Adz, broad axe along with a bow saw, buck saw, or cross cut saw are the tools often used and cleaned up with a spud or drawknife.

To keep from wasting wood in hewed timbers I over-saw the timber on the mill by 2 inches. Then with a skill saw I cut 1 inch deep kerfs about every foot and starting from the bottom of the log I use my adz or broad axe to chip off the face for the look. This allows me to recover lumber that would have been chipped away in the slabs on longer logs.

For peeling logs it is best if done in the spring and right after the log hits the ground. I can peel a 14" diameter log 20 feet long SYP in the spring every hour. In the winter it will take 1 1/2 hours and be more work. Also it is best to wash the logs after peeling to wash off the sugar so it will not turn black.

From contributor N:
When I peel them, I usually just walk alongside the log with the tip of my chain-saw just touching, and cutting through the bark down the log. I then start working a barking spud that I made from a tough plastic. It is just about 3 feet long and 1 x 1.5", and sharpened like a chisel with a long bevel. The reason I use plastic is because steel reacts to a lot of woods, and turns it black wherever it touches the cambium. Otherwise I like a flat nail-bar.

In the spring, it is not hard to get the bark off a log in one piece. On large logs, I sometimes end up getting in behind it with my feet, down in the space, levering against the trunk with one knee, and the bark with the other, and working out ahead with the tools. The larger the plate of bark that you are levering against the easier it is to me. If it breaks into small plates, I spend more time just trying to get a good start going.

From contributor A:
The quicker the better to hand-peel your logs but make sure you take the inner layer next to the wood not just the bark.