The New Lie-Nielsen Froe Designed by Drew Langsner

Joiners, green-woodworkers, chairmakers, et al: Your “where-can-I-get-a-good-froe” problems are solved.

Some people like old tools, some like new tools. Some use both. For years, I have used old blacksmith-made froes. It requires some good luck to find old examples that aren’t massive and heavy. The froe really is a finesse tool, not a brute-force tool. That’s a deceptive concept for something that you hit with a large wooden club.

Many years ago, Drew Langsner needed a number of froes for his students at his green woodworking school, Country Workshops. Getting frustrated trying to line up a bunch of antique froes that would all work about the same, Drew set about to make a new froe. Having split and rived stock for decades, Drew analyzed what really happens with the leverage forces when using a froe. He then designed a tool that looks a little funny at first, but it works like a charm. There is a reason for its appearance.

Drew has studied exactly what happens when you twist the froe blade in the split, and based on his research, he developed a froe with a smaller blade than many antique examples. And this is really a situation in which bigger is not really better. His froe has a blade that is even in thickness, (not wedge-shaped) has convex bevels and is narrower from top to bottom than many old froes. In addition, the eye is not tapered like most, but cylindrical. This allows a tight-fitting turned handle, now fastened in place with a washer and lag bolt. Jennie Alexander adopted this froe as soon as Drew began making them, and never used another.

After years of making these froes himself, Drew has teamed up with the folks at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks and now the Langsner froe is in production in Maine. What you get is a tool that is designed by a world-class master of riving, and produced by a company known for its attention to detail and high standards of production. The larger froe show in the video is $85. The small basketmakers’ froe is $75. The tools should be available on the lie-nielsen.com website soon. Or call them to order one.

I’ve been using one for 2-1/2 months now, and I am a convert. Because of its relatively thin blade, this froe enters the stock with a minimum of force. Thus you can begin levering sooner, before the tool has really split the stock way ahead of itself. The smaller blade also helps in this regard, putting you in control of the split more readily. It is also very lightweight, another plus. Don’t worry that it doesn’t look old-timey, this froe is ready to make halves of halves of halves… .

Here’s the horse’s mouth: Drew’s text in the CW website  http://countryworkshops.org/rivingtools.html

And a “froe story” in the CW newsletter: http://www.countryworkshops.org/newsletter34/

— Peter Follansbee, one of the authors of “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree.

About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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20 Responses to The New Lie-Nielsen Froe Designed by Drew Langsner

  1. pfollansbee says:

    Drew is selling these froes also at http://www.countryworkshops.org
    Oaks beware! PF

  2. Lie-Nielsen link in 5th paragraph is broken.

  3. I am delighted that the Langsner froe is geting around. The idea of driving a lagbolt into end grain and subjecting both to repeated severe twisting forces is difficult to accept. It works. The tool stays together, its blade firmly in place. I love the simplicity of the traditional two piece froe but I commend this improvemnt. Here is a traditional tool that has beem improved upon. I understand that Drew and Tom have incorporated but another improvement! To the first person that comments here upon the new simple but nifty change and what the advantage is, I will, if they want, ask Tom to ship them a brand new model at my expense. Please state the size you want. No box tops please! Sorry, I will be the sole Judge of this contest. I’ll keep my 20 year old model. It works just fine.
    Jennie Alexander

    • The end of the blade is square, giving you more striking surface! Most of the old ones are angled at the end.

    • Tim Henriksen says:

      I’ll go with the squared end blade. I’m no expert with a froe, I tried to get PF to rive and split my wood during my green wood working experience in his class hoping for the best boards possible. But, it seems to me a squared blade eases a two handed technique of twisting the tool in the split. I would think this design might be stronger and allow you to strike both sides of the blade in the split. If all else fails, a square blade might also allow you to knock it out of the split if you have a proprnsity to wedge the device like I seem to.

      Enjoyed the post and enjoying the thread. Thanks to you two once more.

    • Ken Schnabel says:

      I think it is the stepped flat washer that was changed. The stepped washer will keep the bolted end of the handle more secure radially, helping when levering.

    • Pete says:

      Jennie, is the design change the flared handle near the froe’s eye? This would increase the handle strength where it’s most likely to break and also allow the lag screw to squeeze the eye against the shoulder of the flare.

  4. Rob Young says:

    Jennie –

    Doubtful this is what you are looking for but from a production standpoint, it does interest me. Looking at the picture in the newsletter linked in the blog article, at the four froes (say that four times fast!) the included blade shape and size of the ferule changes. The ferule change is discussed in the blog post but not the change in the blade shape.

    If the blade is made by grinding instead of forging, one could start with and keep square stock along the striking edge and the outboard edge that one might want to grab and twist during the splitting phase. A nicely dressed edge there looks easier on the hands than the angled edge that will happen when you draw out the metal. Drawing out the metal means you are displacing it so it simply moves further outboard. A ground edge then re-hardened and tempered could be better controlled in its shape.

  5. rwyoung says:

    The newsletter mentions a change in the washer that accompanies the lag bolt, securing (wedge!) the handle. “2-step black washer”. I take this to be perhaps a shouldered or cone shaped washer positioned so that it acts to lock the lag in place. It would be in compression between the bottom of the bolt head and the handle so as small changes due to moisture occur in the handle, it continues to pull a bit on the bolt and keep its threads locked. Stopping the lag from backing out. Similar to the way a lock washer works with machine screws.

  6. sdpermar says:

    Going at this with a direct approach it seems anything to make the handle fit more firmly to the froe blade would be very beneficial and if the nifty 2 step washer has any taper it could create a wedging affect to marginally expand the end of the wooden handle. This could close any diametrical tolerance between the turned wooden end and the blade collar. Now the collar would be positively located from both ends, the handle shoulder on one and the expanded end of the handle. Any other use of the washer to locate the blade would seem to apply more side loading on the lag bolt which I’m thinking could tend to loosen it over time. One other thought is if the steps in the washer are intended to create compliance like a belleville washer as to reduce impact to the lag bolt during driving of the blade, seems less beneficial then the first idea.

    • sdpermar says:

      Second guessing myself here the washer acting like a wedge could be accomplished with a single taper step. Since it’s a 2 step wash the first step forms a shoulder for the collar and the second acts like a dowel pin that would fit into a hole in the wooden handle concentric with the lag bolt. Now the collar is positively laterally located on the lag bolt end. No chance for the handle to loosen if the wood shrinks inside the collar.

  7. I am new to woodworking, let alone green woodworking and using a froe. I would hazard a guess the additional advantage of the design is the square blade end. This brings greater area when striking the froe and allows for more control when splitting. Whether I am right or wrong I look forward to the answer.

  8. John Cashman says:

    We’ve really come a long way from the day I spent scouring the junk yard looking for just the right auto leaf spring, with the eye intact, that I could transform into a usable froe. The Lie Nielsen looks more elegant by far. Plus, it looks to be a lot more practical for a zombie attack.

  9. David Pickett says:

    Interesting musical accompaniment to the video. First time I’ve heard ‘Scotland the Brave’ played on a banjo. Think it sound better on the bagpipes, but that may just be because that’s how I’m used to hearing it. Grand tune though, nonetheless.

  10. djmueller says:

    I have a question on process. Why do you first cleave from the end grain approximately 8 inches, and then “lever” the remaining length to split the boards? I would think the separation would be cleaner if the froe were struck through to the end. This question from a not yet non-green wood worker.

    • rwyoung says:

      Switching to a more controlled “levering” action helps to steer the split should things begin to go awry. If you watch the video, I believe Peter is working to orient the thicker half of the piece down in the frame so he can lever off the thinner piece. Also, it seems to me that if you wanted to strike the froe all the way down, it would need to be a lot longer so you can get a good hit with the maul. More metal, more money, more weight, etc. More may not always be good.

    • pfollansbee says:

      Nope – the froe is a leverage tool. Not a wedge-tool…so that’s how it works. You drive it with the club to get the split started, then put the club down. It’s a finesse tool. It goes hand-in-hand with particular species of wood that will rive along their fibers easily. Ring-porous woods like oak, ash, hickory and some softwoods. I have used it with Atlantic white cedar and seen riven pine. Requires dead-straight grain. No knots. It’s true that you can direct the split some by leaning more this way than that; but even when the split is running perfectly true, it’s still the levering that does the trick.

  11. Ken Schnabel
    You are correct and first! The inverted two step washer is the new improvement to the froe. The ferule end of the froe handle and the lag bolt are subjected to powerful twisting forces. This simple change further protects both the the ferule end of the handle and the lag bolt. I wonder if Chris could put up an exploded view of the two step washer in place. If you would like the latest model of the Langsner froe send your size request and shipping address to Tom Lie-Nielsen and myself. If you have the froe you can apply the purchase price towards any other item in the Lie-Neilsen Catalog. Tom, the check is in the mail! I don’t quite know why but the Langsner froe has always fascinated me. I suppose because It is a new and substantially improvesd version of a crucial traditiional green woodworking tool.
    Jennie
    alexander@greenwoodworking.com

    • Ken Schnabel says:

      Thank you very much. I have not worked with a froe as of yet, and look forward to trying it out. All of my green wood working to date has been related to turning. I sent an email to you and Lie-Nielsen providing my address. Since I will most likely not be making baskets, I will go with the 12″ model. Maybe I will make a joint stool. Of course, that would mean I would need to buy your book.

      Thanks again.
      Ken

  12. Above are a number of perceptive comments sbout various improvements to the traditional froe.They were all there by the time Drew showed the froe to Tom Lie-Nielsen. The addition of the stepped wasker under the lag bolt is the latest improvement.I understand that Tom could not find a stepped washer so he made or had one made. Thank all of you for your decriptions of earlier improvements. They emphasize how nifty the Lndsner Froe really is.
    Jennie

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