Dirt Cheap Froe





Introduction: Dirt Cheap Froe

About: I dabble a bit in just about everything, electronics, gardening, metalworking, backpacking, photography; but my real passion is in wood working. I have recently started a new job(actually a fellowship) as a...

A froe is a very useful tool, and very simple tool. It is used to rive wood, which is basically splitting wood, but with a froe it is possible to rive boards, shingles, rough out bucket and barrel staves. You can also use a froe to safely split kindling. I have been wanting a froe to call my own for years, but I've balked at the $60 price for cheaper ones, also I knew I could make my own, maybe you can to!

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Steel, I've got a few lawnmower blades lying around,

A way to heat the metal, I used my Dirt Cheap Forge and it served me decently

A hammer, a ball peen, cross peen, or small sledge hammer, don't use a carpenter's hammer, they aren't made for this

an anvil, I used a section of railroad track, if I'd had a horn to help with the bend my froe would be a lot better

something to make a handle out of, I recommend hickory or ash, I used a hickory sledge handle off cut I had.

files or a grinder, I used an angle grinder

borax if you are forge welding

steel rod, corresponding drill bit , hacksaw, ball peen hammer, oil, and drill or drill press if riveting.

quench bucket

I had to use a blowtorch because I ran out of fuel for my forge, sad days.

something to shape the wood, I used a plane, a drawknife or spokeshave, or lathe would work too.

sandpaper, various grits up to 220

boiled linseed oil, or your prefered tool handle finish.

Step 2: Forging

I was unable to get any good pictures of my forging, so I drew you a picture!

Remember to wear natural fiber clothes and leather boots or shoes when forging, I didn't need tongs because the piece was long.

The first step is making sure your metal is flat, I was using a lawnmower blade so I had to flatten a U shaped middle section, and flatten the twist of the blade ends. this part is easy, the only reason I'm using an 8 pound hammer is because I really like it.

I took a shortcut as I was forging, I flattened half the body, quenched that half and then flattened the other end, the main problem with this is that by quenching it I may have introduced micro fractures into the steel.

The next step is creating the eye, my eye turned out misshapen because A. I ran out of charcoal and B. I don't have a horn. If I hadn't run short on fuel I could have redone the bend and it would have been about right.

The trick with the eye, is you need to leave material to either rivet or forgeweld, so as you bend it around you need to make the extra flat section lay down on top of the main body.

Now, at this point I ran out of charcoal but I'll explain the process of a forge weld in case you want to try it. First, forge welds are not magic, you can do it! With the metal as close together as you can get it, touching is best, bring the steel in that area up to a red heat, then sprinkle borax on and in the joint. it'll foam up and melt a bit and work it's way into the joint, the closer the two pieces are the better, this step is called fluxing. After fluxing, put the steel back in the fire and heat it to white hot, if you start getting sparks you've gone too far and are actually burning off the metal. As soon as it hits white hot, pull it out and start tapping the joint, not too hard, start in the middle and work your way to the edges, that way all the slag and oxides are pushed out. this will create a lot of sparks and hot stuff flying around.

after that, quench it, pull it out, if there is a visible seam, re-apply the borax and try again.

after the forge weld you may need to clean up the eye, use the horn of the anvil, light taps, and a red heat to get the desired shape. the shape of my eye is NOT a good example.

Step 3: Rivetting

If, like me, you had some difficulty with the forge weld, rivets are an option. But forge welding is just about the perfect joint, the two pieces of metal are as one. My rivets will eventually fail, time will tell how long.

Anyway, I used 3/8" steel rod to make my rivets, and therefor I used a 3/8" drill bit. But! I'd quenched the froe and the metal is HARD, I took my trusty blow torch and heated up the area where I was going to drill the holes to a light cherry color, checking by turning off the lights. While I waited for the blade to cool, I took the steel rod, the only part I actually paid for, and heated about and inch and a half of it to a cherry red. I suspect it was cold rolled, and by annealing it I am making it less likely to crack and easier to cut.

I then waited a bit, the blade was still hot, but the rod was cool enough to cut, so I used my file to start two cuts, then cut off two pieces about half an inch long each.

By the time I was done cutting the rivets, I could handle the blade so I clamped it to a sacrificial drilling board and drilled two holes, making sure to keep them oiled to pull of the heat so I wouldn't ruin my drill bit. with the first hole drilled I used a piece of rod to make sure it fit, and then drilled the second hole.

I then took the froe off my bench, re-clamped it, and took it to my machinist vice because it has a small light duty anvil on the back. Using the round side of a ball peen hammer I started in the middle of the rod and worked my way around the rod to create a mushroom, this is called peening. I then repositioned the clamp so I could hammer on the other side and mushroomed that. Now that both sides were mushroomed I took off the clamp and started peening the rod some more until I had it drawn as tight as possible. I then did the same thing to the next rivet. After all that peening I used the flat side to flatten down the rivets a bit more.

I could have used smaller rivets, but the 3/8" just seemed right, also I hope to make a makers stamp out of some of the extra rod.

Step 4: Grind!

I may be wrong, but when I made a pocket knife I ground off all the extra rivet material, I'm hoping that by doing this I haven't inadvertently weakened the joint. I used my angle grinder to clean the rivets up, as you can probably tell from the pictures, once ground you can't even see where the rivets are, I think that looks pretty neat!

The edge of the blade is a bit wonky shaped, so I ground it down a little. I left a bit of the low end in place, I figure that it might give me more riving space, and if it doesn't work out, I can either grind the entire blade down, or I can cut it off.

Next I put a slight edge on the what is going to be the splitting surface. Froes are splitting tools, as such it doesn't need to actually be sharp, just sharp enough to get started in the endgrain of a log.

optional, make it shiny!

I used an abrasive flap disk on my angle grinder to polish up as much of the froe as I could, no real reason other than I think it looks nicer.

Step 5: Handle Time!

Because I messed up the eye of the froe, the handle was a bit difficult to fit. Idealy the the handle would have been round with a slight taper, the taper is so the blade is jamb fitted to the handle.

You can make your handle with a variety of tools, I chose to go with a hand plane because my spokeshave has never worked right due to poor manufacturing, but it was a gift and I plan to fix it some day.

I used the eye of the froe and a sharpy to layout my minimum dimensions, as I was working I would be sure to always stay above that line. I had a knot that caused havoc with my plane, I actually planned across the grain there.

After planing a while, I test fit the handle and it went on about 4 inches. not ideal. So I kept planing and test fitting as I went along. The plane was pulling some rather large chunks out of the wood due to the knot, but that's where a four in one file/rasp comes in handy. Running my four in one at an angle I was able to clean up almost all of the tear out, then I used the file side and cleaned up the gouges from the rasp.

I drilled a 3/8" hole in the handle so that I can hang the handle and blade up together and waste less space.

Then it was a series of grits 100, 150, 220 to get it silky smooth.

It was then a simple matter of applying the boiled linseed oil and letting it dry.

Be careful with the boiled linseed rags, they can spontaneously combust.

Step 6: Finished Product and Thoughts

While the finish was drying I made a wooden maul to hit the froe with, NEVER hit a froe with a metal object.

After I finished the maul I put the froe together and gave it a test, the results of which are pictured above. I have no idea what type of wood that is, it split decently, except for the knots in it.

The froe performed really well, the rivets held strong the whole time I was using it, and the leverage was great. also, flat-ish rived boards!

As I mentioned before, I would much rather have forge welded the froe, and have re-forged the eye to a better shape, but despite that I am incredibly happy with this product.

I do apologize for not having photos of the forging process, I simply didn't have means to get decent pictures while forging, I needed to strike while the iron was hot, and if you have ever wondered where that saying comes from, it does indeed originate in blacksmithing.

Happy Forging y'all, my next instructable will likely feature the froe as a tool involved. Unless y'all would like me to make and instructable for a froe maul, in which case I took some pictures of my process and I can get that up in a week or so.



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    I wonder what the Rockwell C scale hardness is now that you are finished making your cheap Froe.

    Do you know the hardness of the froe?

    It is thinner then the ones sold in stores.

    Looks like it works good to me.

    3 replies

    It is a bit thinner than one you might buy from a store, but it did cost nearly nothing but time to make.
    I don't have any idea as to the hardness, but due to the fact that it is driven with a wooden mallet into wood, the hardness isn't super critical, it has bent a bit from use, which isn't great, but it still functions. I like that it bent instead of breaking though.

    Not very hard if it bent, but it is thin too.
    I only ask to try to determined the type of metal stock it came from.
    I can not do a spark test on a laptop.
    I am not saying anything bad about your project, we learn by doing, safety should be the only limit when working with metal or wood.
    About the bent froe, maybe you could forge weld two blade together.
    Or weld them with a torch, a stick welder cost $200.00 or more , so that may be a ways down the road.
    Thanks for a quick reply.

    A couple of years ago I read some various knife making forums looking for the answer to what sort of steel lawnmower blades are. basically, it's a decent edged tool steel. it does spark quite well
    I considered forge welding two lawnmower blades together, but I was making very small batch charcoal, and it would have taken a while to get enough fuel.
    eventually I'll get a stick welder, I enjoy welding, but I can't bring myself to spend the money on it, even though I know it will probably save me money.
    thanks for the questions and the suggestions.

    FYI - The wood that you split looks like some species walnut to me.

    I thought that the blade looked like a mower blade from the thumbnail. Great job!

    5 replies

    I finally identified the tree, I remembered I had a guide to North American Trees that let me look them up by leaves. anywho, turns out it's in the Legume family, it is known as "silk tree," "Mimosa-tree," and "powderpuff tree." The Latin name Albizia julbrissin Durazzini; it hails from between, and including, Iran and China.
    so, I guess since it was wild it was being invasive. . thought I'd rather have it than its cousins, honey locust, 8" hard, sharp, spines all over the trunk, worse than getting a puncture from a nail, my brother and I have removed most of those.

    Interesting. I've never heard of that tree. I'll have to read about it. Thanks for following up!

    I hear you on Honey Locust. I've taken down a few on my grandfather's property in Missouri and they were no fun to even get to the trunk. As a kid, I saved the spines to use as arrow heads for my stick bows.

    not a problem, the fact that I didn't know what it was bugged me. I'm seasoning some of the wood, I'll see what it looks like later this year, with as small as the boards are it ought to season quickly.
    I used honey locust spines for arrow heads too, I think I read an article that said the Confederate soldiers would use the spines to pin clothes back together, and maybe used them as needles too, it's been about a decade since I read that so I'm a bit fuzzy on the specifics.

    Thank you! I like to repurpose things if I can, we have a bunch of random stuff that just seems to show up in the yard and field so I replace lawnmower blades more often that I would like, I've probably got another 4 or 5 sitting in my scrap metal.

    We never got any nuts of that tree, and it had been growing for at least 15-20 years before I cut it down, it was in the way of replacing a fence. Between the bark and color of wood I don't think it's walnut, but I guess it could be some relative, it's sure pretty looking wood though.

    Looks just like Black Walnut to me. I have one in my backyard that is approx 12" in diameter that has thin, grey-ish bark. The bark isn't anything like a normal, deeply furrowed bark typical of walnut trees.

    A good description of the wood from Wood-Database.com:

    "Heartwood can range from a lighter pale brown to a dark chocolate brown with darker brown streaks. Color can sometimes have a grey, purple, or reddish cast. Sapwood is pale yellow-gray to nearly white. Figured grain patterns such as curl, crotch, and burl are also seen."

    Black Walnuts also don't bear fruits until they are about 20, so you probably cut it down before it started to produce. It also could have been undernourished where it was planted and that delayed fruiting?

    You did a good job! It turned out very nice. So did you try forge welding? or did you plan on useing rivets. I have used rivets a lot. be now I that I can do forge welding I stick with that. I If you ever make another one you should try getting a hold of some leaf springs, Very good steel and they are not too hard to work with. I can not wait to see what else you come up with. Awesome job!

    3 replies

    Thank you! The only reason I didn't forge weld it was because I ran out of fuel, I had the borax out and ready, but I can always forge weld it when I make or buy some more fuel. My goal was to make charcoal, a forge, and a froe for zero dollars, having to buy that rod put me over budget about 4 dollars. Haha, still, far cheaper than the store bought froes.

    Yes I see what you mean. I use coal it heats the steel up way faster, and burns hotter. Way cheaper! Buying a new froe is expensive!

    I'll have to play around with the charcoal a bit more, but my impression is that it heats about as quickly as coal, and the biggest plus, I didn't smell of coal after forging haha! the first forging I ever did I was supplied with some horrible sulfurous coal, huge streams of billowing yellow clouds and stink

    I got to make this.

    This looks really cool! I'm not really familiar with the Froe. How do you use it and what is the importance of the notch towards the end of the blade?

    1 reply

    The notch was so the lawnmower blade would loft grass clippings. Froes really shouldn't have notches in them. Now as for how you use a froe you hammer it into wood with a beetle, then rock it to and froe.