Hand Hewn Look for New Cabinetry

Achieving an old-fashioned look with antique and contemporary tools. May 10, 2005

I am a cabinet builder in Colorado and have a client requesting cabinets with a hand hewn look. We distress cabinets everyday, but nothing quite like that. Any recommendations on techniques and tools?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
Do you mean hand hewn or hand planed? If it was something going into a barn or a log cabin, it is probably hand hewn. This would be accomplished with an adze, which is a sideways hatchet. Your lumber would have to be high moisture content, and you would use your adze to shape the wood into boards. The hewn boards were usually done for the posts and beams in a frame for a house.

A hand planed look is accomplished by running a smoothing plane over your flat stock. I do this all the time when I have reproduction work to do. I would suggest using a wood such as pine or poplar or maybe basswood - something that is relatively soft - for your stock. You run the plane with the grain of the wood and it takes off a thin ribbon of wood 1-2" wide, about the thickness of paper. This leaves the shape of the honed blade in the wood. When it is painted, it is very distinctive. It is hard work and you must have your planes sharp - very sharp if you use a harder wood such as poplar.

We do this a lot with hand planes that have a curved blade and also a 4" electric Makita planer with modified curved knives done by our local sharpening guys.

Hewn look is the chipped by an adze or broad axe look. A throwback to pioneer days when planers weren't around and was the only way to make a dimensioned beam.

We "skipped" an electric hand planer over the stiles, rails, and top to give the desk a textured look. Also a few whacks with a chain was a nice touch. Clients loved it!

Festool makes a portable planer and sells special wavy cutterheads for doing exactly this. Pricey, but maybe worth it if you will be doing this a lot.

A $25 Stanley spokeshave with a very slight curve ground into the blade and set for a shallow cut works well for that look. Use slightly overlapping passes until you've covered the surface, then lightly run an orbital sander with 150 grit over it. With a sharp blade and a little practice, it's surprisingly fast.

Another vote for a hand power planer like a Makita or Bosch. By repeatedly placing the nose of the planer on the work, then lowering the cutting head into it, you can achieve a hand hewn look fairly rapidly.

We still hand hew beams here at our shop. For smaller pieces we use a scorp, a tool we also use to scoop out chair seats. It works real well to give the hand hewed look to work.