only took me 50 something years but now I know what a froe is AND what you can do with one! Just in case you’re not smarter than me, this is what Wikipedia has to say about them…..
A froe (or frow) is a tool for cleaving wood by splitting it along the grain. It is an L-shaped tool, used by hammering one edge of its blade into the end of a piece of wood in the direction of the grain, then twisting the blade in the wood by rotating the haft (handle). A froe uses the haft as a lever to multiply the force upon the blade, allowing wood to be torn apart with remarkably little force applied to the haft. By twisting one way or the other the direction of the split may be guided.
Froes are used in combination with wooden mallets to split timber, to make planks, wooden shingles, or kindling; they are safer and more accurate to use than hatchets because the blade is not swung.
The origin of the word “froe” is not clear, and some references find it spelled “frow.” One possibility of its roots can be found in the Old English word “fro,” which meant “away,” which was the direction you hammered the “froe” to split the wood.
Froes are similar in general form to axes, in that a froe is an L-shaped assembly of a blade head (typically steel) set at a right angle to a handle called a haft (traditionally wood). A froe can be thought of as an axe which is sharpened along the top of a long, narrow, rectangular head, instead of (as the axe is) at the end of a broad curved head. Some froes are made of a single piece of metal with no perpendicular haft. Instead, the handle is the unbeveled end of the blade which extends directly from the blade. These froes must be hammered through the entire piece of wood, as their lack of vertical haft makes it extremely difficult to lever the wood apart. A given froe can split a piece of wood no wider in its narrowest dimension than the length of the froe’s blade; that is, when you place the froe, it must cross the surface of the wood completely.
A froe is also unlike an axe or maul in that the froe can be placed exactly where the user would like the split to begin. With the exception of users with absolute expert aim, axes and mauls cannot. This technique can be used with enough precision that regularity of measurements can be kept when cutting shingles, ground stakes, or even small rails or planks.
Hitting the narrow blade of a froe constantly soon damages a mallet, and so the traditional implement used to hit it is a froe club. This is simply a short length of a thin log, still with the bark on it, with one end reduced with a drawknife to convenient diameter for a handle. It is rotated slightly in the hand with each blow, so as to even the wear, and although it soon wears out, a new one can easily be made.
I learned this when I was volunteering at the Log House Museum this week and Sarah,our Museum Manager, was telling a visiting group of high schoolers about West Seattle’s first settlers. Apparently they forgot to bring a froe with them so they built a cabin with walls but no roof because they didn’t have a froe to cut shingles with. Of course the kids all liked the part of the story where one of the young men building the cabin sets off for Olympia to get a froe but the other 17 year old settler can’t wait for him to get back and starts to cut shingles with an axe…….that slips and cuts through his leg and he loses an inordinate amount of blood AND gets blood poisoning to boot! All the best stories have gory bits, right?! Anyway, as well as learning more West Seattle history I learned what a froe was…and as I type that I can hear my father tutting and wondering just how I can have lived this long and NOT known. Obviously I’ve never built anything that needed a shingled roof 😉