What’s a broad ax?

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A broadaxe is a heavy, broad-bladed ax used for squaring wood. It requires skill and strength, which are becoming rare due to mechanized logging. The ax has two sides, one flat and one blunt, and was used to create hewn beams and railroad ties. It can also be used for making octagonal beams and floorboards.

A broadaxe is an ax with an extremely broad blade and a very heavy head. This design is intended for use in squaring woods. Using a broadaxe requires great skill and physical strength, and the necessary skills are becoming rare, due to the proliferation of mechanized logging equipment that does the same job. Wide planks can still sometimes be purchased from lumber supply companies and hardware stores.

A typical broadaxe has two distinct sides. On one side, the ax blade is flat, making it easy to create a smooth edge. On the other hand, the blade is blunt, allowing the user to wedge it into the wood. When squaring wood, the flat side faces the side of the wood, while the beveled side faces the scrap edge, allowing the user to create a smooth edge with just one stroke. As wide axes have two distinct sides, there are right and left handed versions with handles to match.

The most classic use of a broad ax was for creating hewn beams such as those used to brace houses and make railroad ties. Once a tree was felled, a light ax was used to lightly incise the timber in a straight line, making a mark for a broad ax to follow. The user stood on the log to wield the broad ax and brought it down with powerful blows that were designed to split the timber along the line, creating a square edge. Once an edge was created, the log could be flipped to start on the next edge.

If you ever walk into a structure that was built in the era when logging was done by hand, you’ll likely be able to see the blows of a broad ax on the rafters. Someone proficient with a broadaxe and in peak physical condition could churn out scores of lumber a day, ensuring that the production line was not clogged with lumber waiting to be processed.

In addition to being used to make square beams, a broad ax can also be used to make octagonal beams, such as those classically used as masts for ships. An experienced user could also use a broad ax to make floorboards. Some logging contests still include a large ax split for loggers to show off their skills with this classic logging tool.

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