Wulf's Webden

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Driving a Wedge

Language is often grounded in the pragmatic experience of our forebears. Phrases that sound like cliched metaphor and simile, such as “being on tenterhooks” draw on working practices from the past – in this case stretching new woollen fabric on a ‘tenter’ frame by means of the tenter hooks. The language is still used in its original meaning in some settings today although it could be said that the common interpretation of being a tense, fearful, apprehensive feeling rather misses the point of the original process, which was to allow the creation of a good and usable piece of material.

The phrase I was dwelling on today was “driving a wedge”. We recently had some tree surgery done on a few of the old limes at St Clement’s and some of the wood has been left for our use. However, many of the pieces are 10-12 inches or greater across and too long to easily split directly. There had been discussion of hiring a chainsaw but I decided to take some of my wood butchery tools down to the work party this afternoon and see what kind of progress I could make.

Normally I prefer to work on narrower sections. As the size goes up, the amount of effort required to cut through them seems to increase exponentially. Typically I rotate the log round so the saw blade doesn’t travel too deep – this increases the effort as the sides of the cut grip the blade – but it is surprisingly hard to perfectly rotate a log and so you end up with some double cutting as the line wanders off true. Partway through yet another thick log, I noticed that the blade was so far through that the back of the blade remained submerged in the cut throughout the whole draw. I had a metal wedge and heavy hammer with me so decided to drive it into the top to hold the two sides apart. It worked very well and not only did it make cutting easier, by loosening the log’s grip, but I could continue to drive the wedge in further. Not only did this mean I ended up with a single bisection but it held the remaining wood fibres under tension rendering them even easier to separate with the saw and the log popped neatly apart.

A novel technique? Probably not, since driving a wedge is well established in the language. I’ve seen the technique on videos about tree felling but not so much on hand sawing. Mid-blog research suggests the process is used but more often seen on videos about chainsaws. Videos about using wedges focus more on splitting logs, assuming that they have already been chopped down to size. Oh, and chopping logs down to size is known as log bucking.

So, today has been an education as well as a workout and next time I want to use a phrase built around the use of wedges I’ll have a whole set of experience to root it in reality.

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