How to hew beams, all day long

When I was a much younger man, I made extra money to help support my young family by “moonlighting” in flatwork concrete construction.  A big part of the work was breaking up and removing old concrete slabs.  On many projects I worked with man named Slim.  Slim was a tall, slender black man who was seventy years old.  He was gentlemanly, soft spoken and had been a laborer all of his life.  And, at seventy, he would continually outwork men who were half his age.

On one project, Slim and I had to break and remove some especially old and thick slabs.  I started breaking with the maul.  (For those of you not familiar with the term, a maul is a sixteen pound sledge hammer, not a tool for the faint of heart.)  I was swinging away with this thing like a man trying to ring the bell at the county fair or put a home-run over the center field wall.  After ten minutes (or less), I had to sit down and rest.  The cycle of equal amounts of work and rest continued for about an hour.  Finally Slim said to me, “son, you keep this up, I’m afraid you’re gonna drop dead.  Let the hammer do the work.”  “What do you mean, let the hammer do the work?”, I asked.  “That thing weighs plenty.  Just lift it up over your head and let it fall.  The weight alone will break that slab.  And, if you’re gonna work all day, pace yourself.”

Roald Renmaelmo recently told me that the Norsk Folkmuseum had just put some videos on Youtube that I would find interesting.  The first one I watched was two carpenters hewing beams.  It is all about “pace”.  Slim would smile in agreement.

The Folkmuseum has posted a number of videos that are well worth watching, if you’re interested in traditional craft.  And be sure to visit Roald’s blogs at or

Remember, you can run one mile or walk ten.


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2 Comments on “How to hew beams, all day long”

  1. Hi Dennis
    I do like this film a lot as it is from an area similar to where I live in northern Norway. The axes they use are familiar to me. The different regions of Norway do have different axe patterns.

    It seems to be shot at a building site as there is a Norwegian version of timber frame house in the background. This house is under construction. It is interesting to se this kind of building site on film.

    The way they use their axes show me that they are very familiar with this kind of work. Workers of today would hold the axe handles with a fixed grip that would be less effective.

    Regards Roald

  2. It continues to amuse me to watch those who have done very little manual labor in their lives try to do basic home-improvement chores such as digging-in new landscape plants. People think there that a task like digging a hole is something that anyone can do without any practice. First-hand observation says otherwise!

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