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Making and Using a Maul and Wedges

November 3, 2011

If you have followed through on making the tools in the last five posts, you now have a good basic Stone Age tool kit. To review; we have made flake knives, a hand axe, scrapers, a stone hand saw, and gathered grinding stones and a burnishing bone. You can use these simple tools to make many camp items, or you can use the simple tools to make more complex tools.

A couple of tools that would be very helpful to us are a maul and some wedges. These can be used for splitting materials to make things like a good bow or the hearth board for a fire making set.

A maul is the primitive equivalent of a hammer. It is really more like a club. If you can find a good solid hardwood stick that is about a foot and a half long and about as thick as your wrist, you can use it for a maul; but I think that you will find that most of the dead hardwood that you find is pretty rotten already. The alternative is use you hand axe to cut down a small tree, and then you can shape your own maul out of it. If you take this route you can make the striking end of the maul bigger and the handle end smaller. With a maul like this you can apply more force. If I was going to cut down a tree to make a maul, I would look for a good, straight hickory that is about three inches in diameter. This way you could make a maul from the bottom portion of the tree, and use the left-over to make a good bow. Pictured below: a hickory maul made with the hand axe.

Wedges are used for splitting wood with the grain of the material being split. To use a wedge you tap it into the end of a piece of wood and then hammer on the wedge with your maul. As the split opens up you can use more wedges to keep the split running on down the wood. This technique works well with straight grained woods like oak, hickory, cedar, or bois d’arc. It does not work well on woods with a twisted grain. Elm makes a good bow, but it is the devil to split.

Wedges can be made of wood. If you are going to make wooden wedges I recommend dogwood. Shape the wedges from green dogwood and let them dry. Dry dogwood wedges are almost as hard as iron. Pictured below: Dogwood wedges made with the hand axe.

Once you have a good maul and three or four wedges, you can go to work making a bow. Pictured below: Series of pictures showing how to split out a cedar (juniperus virgiana) bow stave with the maul and wedges. Start a small crease with the hand axe and maul (don’t hit hard or you will shatter the hand axe) then dive in a wedge and hop scotch the wedges down the log until it is split in half.

From → Tools, Primitive

One Comment
  1. I rarely use a wedge simply for the fact that I only have 2 or 3 and if I bury them all, I’m in trouble. I’ll normally do what you mentioned and use the maul as the wedge and pound it in with a sledge. That way I can use the handle to get it out if I can’t split the log.

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