How to Make a Froe - a Green Woodworking Tool

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About: Professionally I have been a summer camp counselor, a Draftsman/designer, salesperson, bicycle mechanic, laminate flooring machine mechanic, teacher, and designer of the OP Loftbed. Personally I am a human...

I have always loved working with wood. Green woodworking, as the name implies, is working with wood that has recently been cut down or has fallen down. I had a few oak trees get blown over and thought I would make a few things with them. You might remember the Giant Gee Haw Whimmy Diddle: https://www.instructables.com/id/Giant-Gee-Haw-Whi...

I wanted a Froe which is a tool used to split green wood. You can use wedges and hammers, but a froe is more precise and can split wide thin pieces. Froes were used to make wood shingles, back in the day, and are sometimes called shingle froes.

It is a pretty basic tool. It is a blade attached to a handle at a right angle. The blade is struck with a wooden mallet or club and the handle is used to apply leverage to the blade and split the wood. Traditionally froes were forged in a blacksmith shop, but I decided to build a modern froe out of flat bar steel, a steel pipe, and a wooden handle.

Step 1: Be Careful

Safety is not the lack of risk, but the management of risks.

There are lots of things that could hurt you while making a froe; heat and light from welding and grinding, sharp edges that could cut you, loud noises that could damage your hearing, even gravity comes into play.

Be Careful.

Wear PPE

Ear plugs, safety glasses, gloves, welding mask, fire resistant clothing

Step 2: Materials

A simple tool like a froe only requires a few materials:

I used a 3/8" thick x 2" wide mild steel flat bar 36" long It cost about $20 and was enough to make two froes.

A 1-1/2" x 6" long black pipe nipple. I could have used pipe, but the pipe nipple was enough for two froes.

A 3/8" x 2" long lag bolt and a 3/8" fender washer and lock washer to go with the bolt.

The handle was made from a section of a freshly fallen white oak tree.

Step 3: Tools

This project did require a bunch of tools.

Some metal working tools: A vise, hacksaw, file, grinder and a welding machine. If you do not have access to a welding machine there may be someone local to you that would weld the pieces together for you relatively inexpensively.

Some general marking and measuring tools: Tape measure, combination square, and a sharpie.

And some woodworking tools: A saw, wedges, hammer, a carving ax, and a carving knife.

Step 4: Measure and Mark

Measure and mark your flat bar to guide you in grinding. I marked the middle of the edge to make sure my bevel was symmetrical. If your bevel is not in the middle, your froe might split crooked. I also measured and marked both sides to give me a guide mark for the angle of the bevel. I made one blade 18" long and another 24" long.

Step 5: Get You Nose to the Grindstone

There will be a lot of grinding. It may not look like much, but you will be grinding off a bunch of steel to make your blade sharp. Take your time and make sure you grind both sides symmetrically. A froe blade is only splitting, not carving, so it does not have to be heat treated. I also set up outside over grass to have fresh air and not have to clean up grinding dust from my shop.

Step 6: Cut to Length

I made one blade 18" long and another 24" long. Make sure your cut is a right angle to the blade.

Step 7: Measure and Cut Your Pipe

I used a 1-1/2" x 6" long pipe nipple, because it was cheaper than buying a piece of pipe. I cut off the threaded ends of the nipple and then cut the rest into two 3" long sections. (one for each of my two froes) I used a file to deburr the outsides and insides of the pipes.

Step 8: Prepare the Surfaces for Welding

I used a grinder to smooth and clean the two pieces, where they would be welded together.

Step 9: Weld

Using a welder, weld the blade to the pipe. Make sure the blade is centered and lined up with the pipe. MIG TIG or stick welding would work fine with mild steel. The froe is subject to lots of forces from impact to torque, so you want to make sure you have a strong joint between the pipe and the blade.

Step 10: Split the Wood for a Handle

You want your handle to be hardwood. I used oak. The handle should be about 1.5 times longer than the blade. I made the handle for my 18" long froe about 30" long.

Step 11: Rough Shape the Handle

Use a carving ax to get the split wood down to a rough cylindrical shape slightly larger than the pipe piece of the froe.

Step 12: Carve the Handle

Use a carving knife to smooth out the handle, keeping it slightly larger than the pipe piece of the froe.

Step 13: Cut and Carve the Tenon Joint on the Handle

Use the pipe piece of the froe as a gauge to mark for the tenon on the end of the handle. Use a saw to cut the shoulder of the tenon and then use a carving knife to carefully cut down to the shoulder. The finished tenon should fit snugly in the pipe piece of the froe. You could sand the handle, but I just carved it smooth and rounded off the handle end, for comfort.

Step 14: Fix the Handle to the Blade

Drill a hole slightly smaller than the lag bolt into the bottom of the handle. Then screw the lag bolt into the hole. The pressure of the lag bolt might be enough to hold the handle on, but I also used a fender and lock washer for added hold.

Step 15: Video

As always, I made a video. It is a bit longish, but I think it might make some of the steps a bit clearer.

Thank you for watching. I hope you enjoy.

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    17 Discussions

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    davidqxo

    19 days ago

    What an interesting project, and I enjoy your clear, friendly style, with "Step 1. Be Careful" a great example of that. But then I get to "PPE". What? I guess Personal Protection Equipment, and then I wonder, with all the incredible hard and careful work that went into this project, why would a person stint on the time to fully express something, making others spend the time to decide what it means? Even if many people have seen it many times, they still spend a few milliseconds of uncertainty while they decode it. If re-using a long expression many times, then, yes, at first use do, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). Thank you for listening and for this nice, unusual project.

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    CHARLESCRANFORDdavidqxo

    Reply 17 days ago

    I have been working in factories too long. I sometimes take for granted that Everyone knows what PPE is. I even have a box in my shop marked PPE. Sometimes the "lingo" comes with being around environments. I haven't called a PFD a life vest in a couple of decades. Thank you for the complement and the forgivness of my use of abreviations.

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    jeanniel1CHARLESCRANFORD

    Reply 5 days ago

    I read your words of caution and thought it very succinctly expressed. I'm going to copy it and use it! Great tool and instructable. Thanks for sharing

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    efoster6

    Tip 14 days ago

    If you want to keep the cutting edge sharp for longer build it up with stainless steel weld then resharpen it, mild steel doesn't keep a very good edge or any hard facing weld but that will be harder to sharpen.

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    CHARLESCRANFORDefoster6

    Reply 13 days ago

    I have made an all stainless pocket froe. The Instructable is in the works. Making a stainless edge is a great Idea; I might have to try that. Being splitting tools, Froes don't need as sharp of an edge as cutting tools, but it would be nice having a stainless edge that would stay sharp longer. Thank you for the comment.

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    bcranford

    15 days ago on Step 15

    I tried to make this but I don't know . . . following instructions really froes me.

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    BigAndRed

    19 days ago

    Ive seen these tools in action and they could be useful.
    May I ask why after sharpening the blade with the angle grinder you use a hacksaw to cut the blade to length, you just need to change the angle grinder to a metal cutting disk and cut it off in a few seconds.
    I would leave sharpening the blade till the end of the build, less chance of cutting anything while doing the rest.

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    CHARLESCRANFORDBigAndRed

    Reply 17 days ago

    I didn't put a sharp edge on the blade until after it was on the handle. I accidentally left out that step. The reason I ground it to almost sharp first, is that I wanted to be able to clamp it in a vise and I knew I would be grinding a bunch of material off. There are many ways to cut metal and I wanted to show that you can do it with a hacksaw. I made a joke in the video, when I went to cut the pipe with the hack saw I said, "Who am I kidding?" before grabbing a saws all and cutting the rest. Thank you for the comment.

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    BigAndRedCHARLESCRANFORD

    Reply 17 days ago

    OK, I didnt watch the vid. I just thought if you have a power tool to do the job then use it.


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    gm280

    21 days ago

    Nice project and steps to built one. Wouldn't a longer piece of pipe help alleviate the stress on the wood at the pipe entrance? If you make the pipe loner, the stress applied on the wood at the point where it enters the pipe would be less. Just an idea. If you have any issues with the wood fracturing at that point, just make the pipe longer. Thumbs up!

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    CHARLESCRANFORDgm280

    Reply 20 days ago

    I thought of making the pipe really long. A lot of wood handle tools are designed the same. I don't know how many shovels, hammers, mattocks, I have broken the handle right at that joint. I am not sure, but I think it might stem from when the metal part of the tool was expensive and it would be better to have the handle break first and just replace the handle instead of having the metal part of the tool break. Sort of like a mechanical fuse. That is just a guess though. Thank you for the complement and comment. I do have an all metal version that I made for the pocket sized contest. I will post it soon.

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    gm280CHARLESCRANFORD

    Reply 19 days ago

    I understand that breaking the wood handle is preferred over the metal. But the further you get from the pivotal point, that being the actual blade, the less torque stress is applied to the area. So a longer metal pipe would mean less torque on the wood, even at the joint of metal and wood. It's just physics. Kind of like using a pipe extension over a breaker bar to gain more torque at the nut or bolt you are trying to break loose. While the extra pipe over the breaker bar increases the torque applied to the bolt/nut, the pipe never breaks because it sees way less torque. Even a twice as long metal pipe on your project will reduce the breakage of the wood. Hope that makes sense.

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    audreyobscura

    22 days ago

    I had never heard of this kind of tool, it looks like it works great! Well done!

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    CHARLESCRANFORDaudreyobscura

    Reply 20 days ago

    Thank you. I made a cool pocket version to enter in the pocket sized contest. It actually turned out kind of steampunk looking. I just have to edit some photos and make the instructable.