Friday, June 20, 2014

Riving Beech For Wooden Planes

So, I am reluctant to admit that I haven't had success riving beech. Why am I reluctant? I really can't say why. I guess I love the idea and frankly the crazy efficiency of riving wood. To those that haven't tried it then it is just mind blowing how quickly you can go form log to working wood. Add to that the way perfectly straight grain wood works has no comparison. You'll wonder why you have been wasting your time with all the sawn stuff. Anyways I love riven wood, OBVIOUSLY. But unfortunately I have not been so fortunate with the beech that I have produced planes from.

Let me explain with a photo. I think it says it all.

I really wish I could find the picture of me trying to split the log this came from. It was like 40" in diameter and had about 10 wedges in it when I gave up and went to rent the biggest chain saw I could get my hands on with a 24" blade. 

If you look closely the fibers follow all the contours. The wood really had that much curl. The distance between the curls is about 7-1/2". That is the biggest curl I have ever seen. 

Anyways, I know that there must be some American beech out there somewhere that is good riving wood. I have yet to find it. It appears the European stuff is much more cooperative from what I read. Until I find some that cooperates with my wedges and froe then I will have to stick with my saw. I still follow the fibers as straight as I can. 

There has been one advantage that seems clear to me and that is the billets that come out of this wood are practically indestructible. I have put some real pressure on thin mortise walls just to test them. They are so tough and that applies to the wedges as well. 

Let me know your experience if you have light to shed on the subject.


  1. Ummmm.... That's a nice plane. Which side is the sole?

  2. Hi Caleb,
    How long are the pieces you are trying to split? I was curious if you had tried cutting the log into like 2-foot sections and riving those.

    1. Well the shortest section I tried riving was 12" or so. The first section was cut down to 4' and went down from there.

  3. Hey Caleb, have you talked with Bill Anderson? I'm not sure if he's rived the stuff, but I saw piles of American beech drying outside in his woods. We made nice planes with it. But he might be able to shed some light. Let me know if you have trouble getting in contact with him. I'll be filming another DVD with him next week. He found a good source for European beech recently.

    1. Joshua,

      Thanks for the suggestion. Before I buy another log I will make sure and do that.

  4. Hey Caleb,

    Try smaller diameter logs. The curl is always more pronounced at the outer edges of the boards. That should mean that as the tree ages, it curls more. I use beech about 12" - 15" in diameter for planes. Rives well, especially if it grew in the woods, so its tall and straight. The hardest thing for me is finding beech that does not have worm damage or blister rot.


    1. Jason,

      I really appreciate your insight. That is really fascinating. I didn't realize the larger the trees got the more the curl exaggerated.

      I unfortunately don't get much beech to choose from. I special request a mill to bring in a log then I have to pretty much take it or they are not going to do it again. Beech is not in high demand so I can't leave a mill hanging if they stick there neck out for me.

      As far as worm damage or blister I have not seen any of that in the beech I've gotten. Could be regional?

    2. Only ring porous hardwoods (oak, ash, etc) like to be split radially. Ring diffuse (like elm, gum, and I believe beech) will fight like heck. Don't rive radially (like slicing a pie) try riving tangentially (like... well, I don't know what like.) Just don't try to split down the middle. Split off to the side. Pretend you are splitting into 1/3's

      I used to win bets splitting sweet gum firewood when the challenger only had experience splitting oak. ;)

    3. Interesting insight. I did notice it splits tangentially just fine. I would try your method but unfortunately it wouldn't likely yield me much usable wood since I need it to be quartered. It appears that the method used with the European beech doesn't work so as well on the American stuff or at least from my experience so far.

      I have found that diffuse porous woods like hard maple split radial just fine. If the American beech split like that stuff then I would be doing just fine.