Hewing to a Line

When you use your tools regularly, you begin to acquire a sense of what works best. Through trial and error, one tool proves more effective than another; one way of doing an operation is demonstrably quicker or easier. It’s sometimes better to deeply scribe that line with a knife than to try to use a saw to establish the shoulder, etc. One such operation is ripping a piece of stock to width. As we work on the dovetailed boxes for the M&T Boxed Sets, there are several pieces (the bottom and the back) that must be ripped down just a bit to their final dimensions. Only a small amount of stock must be removed; in the case of the bottom, it’s about half an inch. I’ve tried just planing that extra off with a fore plane (takes too long), tried ripping it off with a saw (a little faster), but for this operation I’ve gravitated towards that most useful of bench tools: the hatchet.


Once the line is scribed, I take it to the stump. Starting at the bottom of the piece, I hew as close to the line as I can get – with some practice, you can get tight to the line very quickly. I then move up the board, hewing towards the bottom where I’ve already removed a chunk.

This is hatched is double-beveled, a versatile edge geometry for hewing straight lines as well as curves (you might recognize it as the  cover model for Issue Four – it now lives under the bench). Once I’m a bit beyond halfway, I flip the board and finish. This takes longer to explain than to do – it’s literally about 10 or 15 seconds at the stump.


After that, a few passes with a coarsely set plane brings that hewn edge smoothly down to the line. Now the piece is ready for fitting.

I don’t think there is a faster method for trimming a small board to width, but other applications would necessitate a different approach. It would be a waste to hew inches off a board, when ripping would leave that extra piece intact to be used for something else. But this is a good trick to have in the arsenal, and it always feels good to swing a hatchet in the shop.