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  Handwork in Wood by William Noyes, 1912



The most primitive as well as the simplest of all tools for the dividing of wood into parts, is the wedge. The wedge does not even cut the wood, but only crushes enough of it with its edge to allow its main body to split the wood apart.

As soon as the split has begun, the edge of the wedge serves no further purpose, but the sides bear against the split surfaces of the wood. The split runs ahead of the wedge as it is driven along until the piece is divided.

It was by means of the wedge that primitive people obtained slabs of wood, and the great change from primitive to civilized methods in manipulating wood consists in the substitution of cutting for splitting, of edge tools for the wedge.

The wedge follows the grain of the wood, but the edge tool can follow a line determined by the worker. The edge is a refinement and improvement upon the wedge and enables the worker to be somewhat independent of the natural grain of the wood.


 In general, it may be said that the function of all cutting tools is to separate one portion of material from another along a definite path.

All such tools act, first, by the keen edge dividing the material into two parts; second, by the wedge or the blade forcing these two portions apart. If a true continuous cut is to be made, both of these actions must occur together.

The edge must be sharp enough to enter between the small particles of material, cutting without bruising them, and the blade of the tool must constantly force apart the two portions in order that the cutting action of the edge may continue.

The action of an ax in splitting wood is not a true cut, for only the second process is taking place, Fig. 59. The split which opens in front of the cutting edge anticipates its cutting and therefore the surfaces of the opening are rough and torn.

When a knife or chisel is pressed into a piece of wood at right angles to the grain, and at some distance from the end of the wood, a continuous cutting action is prevented, because soon the blade cannot force apart the sides of the cut made by the advancing edge, and the knife is brought to rest.

In this case, it is practically only the first action which has taken place.

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