The Froe – An Overlooked But Useful Prepper Tool

Today we present another article in our non-fiction writing contest –Brian F

froeA froe you ask? What is a froe? Have you ever seen wood shingles? A froe is a archaic and ancient tool to split wood to a fairly regular thickness. For a few years now I’ve been looking for one at the local swap meets, flea markets, antique shops, and even on line. Oddly enough they seem to be out of demand, or unwanted. Perhaps it’s just the masses don’t know what they are. At online auctions I see them in Europe regularly, and the purchase plus shipping prices are enough to cause cardiac arrest!

What is the impoverished homesteader to do? Well, you make one for your self! I spent hours studying pictures and thinking of what I had to use. After some research I decided that a good cast off mower blade would work fine. Guess what? I have a stack of old cast mower blades! Surprised? So begins the examination of what I have verses what I want and how I will use it.

I wanted a knife froe, to use to split limbs into blanks for carving wood spoons. Also it would I think split bigger limbs to use in my small wood burning stove. The primary problem with mower blades is the bend or curve at the cutting edge. It’s just will not work as it is so, we must modify the blade to suit our needs. Notice I use words like we, and our. I have found a lot of readers will build along with the projects and make tools and appliances for them selves.

As an added benefit a knife froe could in a pinch be used as a short sword! I’ll let your mind wander there for a bit.

The mower blades are harden at the factory. Which means they have to be soften or annealed. This is done by heating them to a dull red color in a fire, typically a fire in a furnace or forge. Oh you don’t have a forge? No sweat, I’ll cover that in a few minutes. There are naysayers that will tell us that mower blades won’t work. But here in South Central Mo, folks regularly mow rocks with their mowers. I’m serious, they’ll lower the decks to scalp the ground and chew up the blades, break belts and spindles ect. This was not a spur of the moment idea, I done research, ask questions, sent emails. I was certain of this working successfully before I ever started it.

So with blade in hand and a very hot fire, just place the end you want to use as a froe in the coals. Leave it till the paint if any has burned off and the metal is a dull red. Wearing heavy gloves, take the blade from the fire and lay it on an anvil, or heavy piece of flat metal. Use your biggest hammer and beat it till the color has faded or the section you want to use is flat. It may take a few times to heat and hammer to achieve what you want. Let the steel air cool till you can comfortably hold the blade. Next step is to file or grind the cutting edge on the blade.

I have a bench mounted grinder, I used it to put about five inches of beveled edge on the blade. Once you are happy with this step, we can move on to rehardening the blade. Back to the furnace, stoke up the fire place the end in the hottest part of the coals, on the beveled edge, wait till the metal is almost a wheat yellow color, remove (wearing heavy safety gloves) and quickly quench. I quenched mine in the pile of snow from where I had shoveled the walkway. I left it sit till it was cool to the touch. I went back the the bench grinder and polished the edge.

Here is the moment we are waiting for, time to split some blanks! I had some willow and maple rounds in the shop. I sat down with the willow first and popped out several spoon blanks, next I turned to the maple. In a few minutes I had blanks split and stacked.

I don’t have a forge, but I have spent a lifetime it seems using what I do have, in this case, it is the Aquatherm force draft wood burning furnace that came with the house we recently purchased. The firewood on these days was some really hot burning oak. I placed the steel in watched it, when I though it was ready I removed it and hammered. So far I have made the froe and a couple of knife blades. So I think it works well.

If you have no way of forging, we can make one, really it is so easy. I made my first one about 25 years ago from a Dave Gingerly book about how to build a blast furnace. You will need some clay, sand, a metal container like a 2-3gallon pail, and some way to force air into the fire. I have used a blow dryer, an auto heater fan motor, and my favorite, a small shop vac. The clay and sand has to be mixed and wetted. You will need a three inch layer in the bottom, and about three inches around the sides.

In my first one I had to make a sleeve to hold the mix in place till it had air dried. You may have to do the same. Be sure to leave a hole for the force draft in the side about four inches from the bottom. Go ahead and place a pipe in when applying the mix to the sides. Let it throughly air dry. Then build a fire in the forge, once burning well turn the air on let it burn the fuel completely. Then let it cool. This hardens or rather cures the mix for the bottom and liner.

You do not have to use coal, charcoal from the store will work, but as I found, well dried hardwoods will get hot enough to work steel, melt aluminum, copper, and brass. Oh yes pot metal also if you are interested in casting metals. The only addition for this is a cap about 4 inches thick with a holed large enough for the “crucible” to just fit inside. My very first project was making a thermostat housing years ago.

I am not lucky enough to have my projects work on the first attempt. Not many folks are. You may have to try a few times before your project suits you. Just keep notes, actually it is best to keep a lab notebook, so next week you won’t have to ponder why it worked then and not now.

If you don’t have an anvil, a piece of railroad track will okay, actually that is what I use for the froe and knives. Any large heavy and flat metal or rather iron item would work. For a small surface a sledge hammer head is great, especially for small knife blades. So look around and think.

But back on topic, we have made a froe, a small forge, and can now make knife blades and melt non ferrous metals or maybe even glass for casting. To quote Dave Gingerly if you are a good alley picker you can do this with little or no cost! That is the best part I think, making useable tools and developing a skill with time being the only expense!

I’m am often asked why I do these projects, a commercially made tool would have 50 dollars and up plus shipping. By making my own I saved this money, I recycled and reuse a piece of material and gave it a new life. I think I may have prevented a bit of pollution! I can carve more spoons with less waste. So then I have more spoons to sell and trade. I see it has an ever winding ripple effect that benefits me and all my readers.

We can make a lot of things now, shingles, spoons, tools and handles. Your only limit is your imagination. Be safe and have fun.

Prizes For This Round (Ends December 21 2015) In Our Non Fiction Writing Contest Include…

  1. First place winner will receive –   A gift certificate for $150 off of  any bulk ammo at Lucky Gunner, three bottles of Fish Cillin – Ampicillin 250mg (100 Count) courtesy of Camping Survival, and a WonderMill Electric Grain Mill courtesy of  Chef Brad Revolution.
  2. Second Place Winner will receive – 30 Day Food Storage All-in-One Pail courtesy of Augason Farms.com.
  3. Third place winner will receive –  A copy of my book “31 Days to Survival” and a copy of “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat“.

Please read the rules that are listed below BEFORE emailing me your entry… my email address can be found here – please include “writing contest entry” in the subject line.

Comments

  1. Very good How To article. Have sent it to family and friends. Going into my prepping materials. Thank you.

  2. Well done! Thanks.

  3. PrepperDoc says:

    Very nice article on basic blacksmithing. After being fascinated by watching a skilled fellow at a fair, I did some reading on steels, carbon, quenching etc & made a knife. Results rquire a high carbon steel, but case-hardening (quench in oil) is another option that I tried. Learned more reading this article.

  4. brian what part of mo do u live in .I live in central mo an carve spoons to we mite get together some time an do some carving. loren

    • I’m a mile or two outside of Houston

      • You are down in ‘Weary Willie’ country Brian. I wen through there about 15 years ago. I saw an advert for Emmitt Kelly. Pretty country.

        • I’ve consider hosting a spoon Treen carving event, the parking lot of the VFW is available in good weather.

  5. I have never seen one of these tools befor, but very good informational article. I will have to look for one at a swap meet. Does anyone know the best way to secure the head of a tool on the handle. Example: I have a pick ax with a wooden handle, and the ax part has begun to slide up and down on the handle. Someone told me to just nail a couple of large nails into the head of the handle, but I’m thinking there is some kind of metal wedge you can get that would be a more snug fit. Am I on the right track with my thoughts here? Nails just don’t seem like the best method to me.

    • Jean; If you hammer nails into the handle on the side, you run the risk of splitting the handle. The wedge in the top of the handle generally needs to be replaced. Not a difficult job. You can probably find a good You Tube video with step by step instructions.

    • soaking the head in water will swell the wood up to where it will hold. It WILL dry out again in a few months though. If you could figure a way to soak it in oil it will last much longer. You can buy wedges at any hardware store.

  6. Looking for a froe. Don’t forget a draw knife! They are another very useful tool to have, especially if you make your own tool handles or walking sticks.

  7. Oh wow. I haven’t seen these babies in a long time. Other than the one hanging on my kitchen wall that my grandfather made. Very cool tool.

  8. Back in the early sixties when I was 12 years old I helped my dad build a small potato storage shed, about 10 feet by 14 feet. We cut all the wood used in the shed from the forest that we had. We drug and hauled it to the shed site by hand. All the bark on the poles had to be removed with a drawknife, otherwise the shed would have rotted down in a year here in South Louisiana. The wood shingles were split from a large white oak tree but they were split at the site of the tree and then hauled to the shed in a wheelbarrow. He had a froe he inherited from his grandmother and he made the handle out of hickory. We split the shingles and used small headed nails to secure them to the roof lathing. The floor was made of pine straw piled up a couple feet thick. The potatoes were placed on top of the needles with powdered lime between the layers. Back then we almost always had plenty of vegetables grown in the garden. I can remember all the copperheads that would be found near the shed. I have an old froe that is worn out (not the same one we used) that is not useable but dimensions could be posted if anyone is interested.

    • What a great story Bennie. Gosh, we don’t hear enough of these. 🙂

      P.S> I could have done without the copperhead part. 🙂

      • Hi and thanks Izzy. I have many similar stories but now-a-days only a handful are interested. Sorry about the copperhead part but there were plenty and they really are beautiful. I would much rather walk upon a copperhead than a cottonmouth. I have accidentally walked upon and stood within 6 inches of a copperhead 3 to 4 feet long and they would just lay there. A cottonmouth is much more aggressive and will chase you away from his lair or stomping grounds. I have a grandson 8 and one 9 that I am trying to teach the “old ways” as their dad tells them. Thanks for appreciating the story.

        • Benny; Maybe we could talk M.D. into making a thread for the old stories. 🙂

          I remember being enthralled with the stories my great aunt told me when I was a teenager. She lived to be 108. So much information can be had from really old, old timers.

  9. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    I bought one from a Wade – Garrett catalog a couple of years ago, but as of yet haven’t used it. Thanks for the tips – tricks on how these work. The only thing I knew about it was to never use a steel maul for impact – wood was recommended so that metal to metal contact was eliminated.

    • That is correct sir about the use of a wood mallet or hammering bat. My dad made one out of Hickory. It was huge on the battering ram end. It was soaked in water for a day before using to add weight.

  10. A froe is used to make shakes. Shingles are cut with a saw. I’ve been cutting shingles for several years. Shakes are much thicker and look great on roofs of houses and sheds. Just thought I’d share this with you guys. It may be diffrent in other parts of the country. In Wisconsin thats what we call them. Excellent article.

  11. I have used a draw knife many times thru the years ,but a froe?!I thought a froe was a friend in high schools hairstyle!A interesting looking critter.I have recently gotten a free 2 and a half foot but 4″ sharpening wheel treadle powered,my friend recently got a huge free anvil that has a healthy ring,we see a home made forge in the future!

  12. timothy Sattelberg says:

    You can get froe’s broadaxe’s drawknive’s ect. On amazon

  13. If you want to buy a really good froe and mallet, go to:
    http://www.lehmans.com

  14. You guys got me beat on this one. The only things I have ever used on wood is a chainsaw,bow saw,axe,hatchet,machete or a rapid maul. Path clearing or firewood. How ever I have done some heat treating of various metal. The tool sounds pretty cool if you are making shingles.

  15. The most common use of a froe to the best of my knowledge is to make “shakes” for roofing materials.

    You can buy a U.S. made one at Lehman’s (Amish) for about $43 – if they’re currently out of stock, don’t worry, they’ll have more soon. I believe you can set them up to notify you when available.

    https://www.lehmans.com/p-686-lehmans-own-old-fashioned-froe.aspx?show=all

  16. I helped my later father-in-law split out tobacco sticks with a froe about 25 years ago. They are really good for splitting hickory to make handle blanks with.

  17. The last time I checked, a couple of years ago, new froes were available from Leman’s non-electric catalog.

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