View Full Version : The Froe

03-30-2006, 09:34 AM
Leave it to Charles Heath to mention this over on the OC (sic).....a tool term that I hadn't heard of since the 60's in the back woods of Wisconsin. My Grandfather had one of these hanging up in his garage....and we inherited it (and a ton of other cool woodworking tools)..... anyway:



We used it to make kindling from dried logs......and even split logs.....we drove the froe into the end of the log with another log.....and then wrenched the log apart..... safe, quick, efficient.....

and I wonder how period it is for our use? I know that Poppas froe came from Shawano County Wisconsin (Cecil on the East end of the lake).....

Lot safer than letting Junior try to split the firewood with an axe....

Dull as a Froe (your axe needs sharpening!).....now that's a blast from the past. Thanks Charles!

RJ Samp

Curt-Heinrich Schmidt
03-30-2006, 01:51 PM

The tool used for splitting wood and for making wooden shingles arrived with Jamestown and Plymouth colonies.
It is also not uncommon to find 17th and 18th century axes with the polls crushed due to someone later using the axe head as a froe.

Off hand, I have never encountered a period reference to a soldier using a froe. Of course, if that is the only wood chopping tool one has, it can take the place of an axe for splitting logs or kindling- but would require a mallet or an improvised log as a hammer to whack it.

Curt-Heinrich Schmidt
Who used froes for a log cabin building project

03-30-2006, 04:07 PM
If a froe today is thought of primarily as a tool for splitting firewood, it shows how much knowledge of woodworking is lost. As Curt said, a froe was traditionally used for making shingles, or any situation where a precise split was required, such as in the days when splitting was more common than ripsawing, to get larger stock down into the final sizes for turning, finishing with a drawknife, planing to make a small board, etc.

A froe is for making a controlled, precise split, depending on which way you push on the handle and how much bending pressure you apply to the wood that's braced against the splitting fork (or whatever regional name you use for that forked log jig). A splitting fork goes with a froe like a shave horse goes with a drawknife, and allows the froe's handle to be used for maximum control of the split.

A froe as just a substitute for a wedge or a glut? Say it ain't so.

Hank Trent

03-30-2006, 11:40 PM
Hank.....no one has even mentioned the word in my 9 years of reenacting....and I haven't seen one at any ACW Period living history, reenactment, encampment, etc.

in these days of superb steel alloy block planers, joiner planers, dado jigs, and table saws the need for a froe as a means to come up with precise stock dimensions has gone done..... I'd agree with you that violins and cabinetry/joinery woodworking has slipped in the last few centuries. replaced by improved craftsmanship in metals, plastics, man made materials, and robotic / machine tools.

There is a froe hanging on a hook at Garfield Farms (an 1840's living history farm that's actually being worked)....but it hasn't moved since I first saw it 6 years ago.

My great grandfather's brother used a froe to fashion Wagon Wheel SPOKES...... then he'd rim the wheel in iron (a blacksmith and farmer). My great grandfather was a leather craftsman.....harness, shoes, traces, saddles, belts, luggage, machinery belts, et al.... he used a froe in a fire wood kindling creation capacity.

wouldn't be surprised if artillery wheel spokes were made using wood split with a froe.....

but have never read about it's use..... and haven't seen one used at an ACW reenactment....

04-06-2006, 11:32 PM
A great resource for basic information about old methods of woodworking is Eric Sloane's "A Reverence for Wood". I'm sorry I can't give you any more information that the author and title for this book, but my copy got lost in a move some time ago.

There were several froes for different uses. The most common was the one used for shingles, but as I said, there were different ones to meet different needs. 90% of a job is having the right tools. There were even very delicate ones used to split bamboo or other woods for fishing rods.

Regarding early wagon wheels/artillery carriage wheel spokes, they might have been roughed out using a froe, but there was there was another handy device called a "spoke shave" that was used like a draw plane to shape and finish them. An individual wheelwright or cartwright might have made their own spokes using the tools they had on hand, but military wheeled vehicle, by the time of the ACW, were pretty well standardized, as was the machinery for mass producing thousand of identical items was in place in the arsenals and armories. About the only place you might find a froe in a military setting in the field might be with the carriage markers tools in the artillery park, but I'm not even sure you'd find one there. Usually they were a home item with little application in the field by soldiers.

There were many different kinds of axes, for different applications; splitting axes, felling axes, both single bit and double bit, and several others. It's all really interesting to read about.

There used to be a show called "The Woodwright's Shop" (I think that was the name) from South Carolina Public Television. This fellow built furniture and other things, a la Norm, but with non-power tools.

Of course by the time of the ACW, there were still some treadle powered tools in use, but large manufactories made use of belt driven, steam powered machinery. A modern woodworker would not have felt too out of place. They were a lot more sophisticated than we give them credit for.


04-06-2006, 11:46 PM
If you saw this at Garfield Farms (St. Charles, Illinois?) there is a pretty good chance it would pre-date the Civil War IF it was originally at the farm when Mrs. Garfield was still living. The Garfield Farm I am referring to was associated with the 1840's more than the 1860's. The fear would be that it was possibly picked up later to add an "antiquey" look to the place. The Garfield farm house I am thinking of has a brick exterior, but I believe a shake-shingle roof. Some living history sites have a life of their own when trying to form a picture of what life was like based on popular ideals rather than documented history.

04-07-2006, 09:19 AM
I agree with Frank that spokes were surely typically finished with spoke shaves. A froe was the equivalent of a sawmill rip-saw, producing roughly dimensional stock that could then be planed or finished with a drawknife. It's quicker to split than to ripsaw by hand, but it's quicker yet to run the lumber through a steam or water sawmill and ship it to where it needs to be, if technology and transportation are up to it--and by the 1860s, in many cases they were.

For spokes, ax handles and other things that are under stress when in use, the advantage of roughing out the stock to about 2" x 2" or whatever with a froe rather than sawing it down to that size, was that the froe guaranteed the grain lines would run parallel with the stock, making the most of the wood's natural strength.

Obviously it's not that much of an advantage, since the world works (and worked in the 19th century) just fine with rip-sawn stock. But it's one of those things that people can point out to prove that the "old way" was superior.

I've not seen "The Woodwright's Shop," but the fellow who hosted it has a series of books with similar information which is good, except that often he doesn't clarify different eras or put things in context for a particular era, so for living history purposes, it's sometimes hard to tell whether what he's describing was old fashioned, typical, or the newest thing in the 1860s or any given era. Can't think of his name right now, but an Amazon or google search on Woodwright will surely bring it up.

Hank Trent

Curt-Heinrich Schmidt
04-07-2006, 01:13 PM

One of my favourite shows from Years Past...
Roy Underhill.

Yes, I would agree that "period" usually always had nothing to do with the show. IMHO, it combined everything and anything that might have been in a wood shop circa 1940 having come handed down through the generations but still be used on the next ridge over or up the next "holla."

Curt-Heinrich Schmidt

04-10-2006, 01:58 PM
In case anyone's interested...


04-10-2006, 07:55 PM
The Woodwright Shop -