273. The Wedge. Figure 105 represents a well formed iron wedge, and a is the head, b is one of the sides, and d is one of the edges, and e is the entering edge. A wedge will not rebound as readily when the corners, at the entering edge, are made flush, or square, like the figure, as it will when the corners are rounded off very much, like the edge of an old ax, the corners of which are well ground off. Sharp corners of an iron wedge make it stick when entering.
274. Figure 106 is a very ill shapen wedge but very like the iron wedges which many laborers use, and exactly like the wooden wedges which are often made with the false impression that they will be more effective of such a form than if they were like figure 105. But wooden wedges of such a form cannot possibly be as effective, for any purpose, as if they were like figure 105; because, small wedges of such an ill form will be crushed at the entering point before they are half driven in, and if large wedges are made of such a form, it requires a greater number of blows to drive one in far enough to open a log two inches.
275. Every author whose writings I have consulted on the subject of the wedge, has simply spoke of it in philosophical or theoretical terms, and the most important considerations which affect, directly or remotely, many of the operations of the farm, and which are all-important for the beginner to understand, have been entirely overlooked or rejected, and what has been penned in reference to the wedge, if put into practice, according to the strict letter of the various writers, will, in practice, lead the beginner into most egregious errors.
The wedge has always been considered as a double inclined plane, and its efficiency has been spoken of as being in proportion to the acuteness and length of its sides. Theoretically speaking, this is all correct, but in practice, no principle in philosophy proves to be more erroneous than this. Theory would tell the farmer to make his wedges, in order to be most effective, when impelled by a given force, sixteen or twenty, or more feet in length. But practice instructs us that there is a certain length for a wedge, and thickness for the head, which is much more effective, when impelled by a given force, than if it were longer or shorter.
Every man who has split much timber, knows too well that a wedge of the proper length and thickness can be driven into a log with less force than one of the same thickness which is twice as long, to say nothing of a short and blunt wedge. Now this is what the beginner wants to know; he needs something tangible, some instruction in making wedges that will render his labor as light and effective as possible.
Suppose, for instance, an iron wedge is two inches square at the head, and its sides of a true taper to the edge, and twelve or more feet long. Theory would instruct us that a wedge of such dimensions could be driven with less force than one about ten inches long, of a true taper to the edge, with the head of the size already mentioned.
But, in practice, we find that such a long wedge would be utterly useless, because it would not possess sufficient strength to resist the force of heavy blows, without being crushed or doubled up in places, and it would be very liable to twist and turn wherever the grain of the timber run, and more than all else besides, it would require three times as many blows to drive it up to the head, that it would require to drive a wedge of the proper dimensions, and the friction would be so incalculably great, in such a long wedge, that it is not at all probable that the force exerted by one man with a beetle would be sufficient to drive such a wedge clear to the head, even were it sufficiently strong to bear driving.
And even if such long wedges were most effective, they would be most inconvenient and unwieldly tools. As the friction in driving wedges is usually so intense, the idea of an intelligent laborer always is, to have the most economical and convenient amount of surface in the sides of the wedge, which will prove most effective under a given number of blows. This leads us to speak of
The Most Convenient and Effective Dimensions of Wedges
276. Iron wedges for splitting timber should always be so thick and strong that they will not bend nor twist even when driven into the toughest knots and gnarls. The size which has been found in practice to be the most convenient and effective for ordinary purposes, is about ten inches long, two and a half inches wide, and about two inches in thickness at the head, and of a true taper to the entering edge, which should not be brought entirely to a feather edge, but the entering edge should be left about a sixteenth of an inch thick when it is tempered, and then ground off to a sharp edge like the edge of an ax. The entering edge of iron wedges should be made of steel, and tempered about as hard as for cold chisels. Iron wedges may be smaller than this, or larger, if desired ; but it is just as well when a man has two wedges of the size just mentioned, to have gluts, as large iron wedges are rather costly and are no better for following in a check made by iron wedges than a good glut.
277. One very important consideration which has been and is entirely overlooked by laborers, is to have their iron wedges in the most proper order. The head should be a little convex, and the sharp corners smoothed off a little so that they will not cut the face of the beetle. The two edges and two sides should be hammered as true as is convenient, and then they should be ground off on the grindstone as smoothly and true as the blade of a saw. After the sides are ground smooth, if they were polished they would enter their whole length with less than half the number of blows which would be required to drive the same wedge unpolished and all battered up, as wedges usually are.
Laborers are not aware how much unnecessary hard pounding they perform when the entering edge is very dull, and the sides uneven and rough, and they will not believe that there is really but little difference after all in driving rough and smooth wedges, until they have some ocular proof of the fact. But let the beginner or any one else rest assured that it will abundantly remunerate him in saving hard labor to polish the sides of iron wedges, and to keep them smooth and the entering edge sharp.
278. Is it suggested that if well polished and sharp they will not stick as well as if left rough and uneven? I know, and any one can try the experiment, that a polished and sharp wedge will not recoil, when splitting green or frozen timber, half as often as a dull and rough wedge, and with sharp and well polished wedges a laborer would be able to split frozen timber when it would be impracticable to do anything with it if the wedges were dull and rough.
Iron wedges should never be driven with an instrument of iron, because it would soon batter and spread the heads and destroy their proper shape. When wedges are driven with an iron beetle, they soon become in shape like fig. 106, with the head spread so that the sides are not of a true taper. When it is almost impossible to make a wedge stick in green or frozen timber, by having the wedge quite warm, or by driving a little wedge made of dry wood into the check, and then drive the iron wedge into the dry wedge, it will usually stick. Some laborers will drive a little flat stone into the check where the wedge was started, and then drive the wedge into the stone in order to make it stick; but stone will usually make the sides of a wedge rough, so that it will drive hard.
279. Gluts are large wooden wedges, and are not to be driven into the solid timber like an iron wedge, but into the checks which have been formed by the iron wedges. They are usually made of round sticks of timber, with two sides flatted at about the same angle of iron wedges. A lot of sticks ought to be sawed of the proper length, and laid up under shelter in a safe place where they will be seasoned and ready for use when gluts are needed. None but the hardest and toughest timber should be used for gluts, and if made when the timber is green, they will check less, and it is not half the work to make them that it would be to make them after they are seasoned.
Laborers generally make no provision for gluts until they arrive at the woods or where they are to labor, and then they will make gluts of the limbs of a green tree, which are very poor things for such a purpose, and spend time enough to no good purpose to pay for half a dozen well made gluts. And, more than this, gluts made of green timber will seldom last one quarter as long as if seasoned, and they require many times twice as many blows to drive them as if they were seasoned.
And another thing of importance, it is not at all practicable to make a glut in a workmanlike manner with the ax only. I know that they are usually made with no other tool but the ax, and they are made of every imaginable shape and form, like fig. 100, or like 107, which shows an edge view of a glut which has been made with the ax alone. It will be discovered that the face sides, which should be true and smooth as the face of a plane, are very rough and hacked up, and not of a true taper, and will require more than twice as many blows to drive it as if it were true and smooth. He who wishes to appropriate all his strength, or the strength of his laborers, to the most effective purpose when splitting timber, will make his gluts at the work shop and have them well seasoned before they are used.
280. The most proper manner of making a glut, is to dress it off with an ax, as true and smoothly as practicable, leaving the entering edge never less than half an inch thick. In large gluts the entering edge should be three-fourths of an inch in thickness. Then, put it in the vise, and plane it off true and smooth, and round the corners of the head, and the corners of the entering edge with the drawing knife, as shown at fig. 108, which represents a view of the face side of a well made glut. If the entering edge of a glut is reduced in making it to a feather edge, it will be very liable to be split and shivered to splinters, when it happens to be driven on to, or among slivers.
It may seem too unnecessary to finish the face sides of a glut with a plane; but let two wedges be finished, one with a plane, as directed, and the other with an ax only, and a laborer of keen perception will quickly tell which will drive the easiest. If a glut is not smooth and true on the face sides, it will be far more liable to recoil, or “bound out,” when opening a log. Wedges of every description should be smooth and true.
S. Edwards Todd
Transactions of the N.Y. State Agricultural Society – 1859
– Jeff Burks