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hand-hewn beams

How to Tell the Difference Between Hand-Hewn Beams and Rough Sawn Beams

Timber posts and beams (including hand-hewn beams and rough sawn beams) have been used in construction since 2000 BC, and not only are they long-lasting, but they are beautiful. Many timber post and beam dwellings from Europe in the Middle Ages are still standing, as are 18th and 19th century North American structures

The solid wood structures of America’s settlers were built from trees that they had cut down in order to clear the land. Access to nearby mills was rare, so many settlers had to use the materials they had available to them. 

Without access to sawmills, the settlers hewed fallen logs by hand, using an adze which is a broad ax. The term ‘hand-adzed’ was used to describe the hand-hewn beam process to shape the logs into construction beams.

Initially, there was no other option for settlers than hand-hewing, but once steam-power was invented, rough sawn beams became more readily available and a much faster option to build dwellings. 

A testament to the strength and superior quality of hand-hewn beam construction is that many old barns and factories across North America are still standing.

The Difference Between Hand-Hewn Beams and Rough Sawn Beams

hand hewn beams

Before we look at the differences between hand-hewn beams and rough sawn beams, it is worth noting the similarities:

  • They are strong and offer great support
  • Both work well as mantels and exposed ceiling beams
  • Both can be resawn
  • The skins can be used for faux beams

While there are similarities in how the beams can be used, it’s the differences that really set them apart. The major difference, of course, is how they’ve been processed.

Rough Sawn Beams

Rough sawn beams are made from circular saws as opposed to axes, either by machine or hand. They have distinct saw marks, which give them a rustic and raw look.

These beams are typically made from fir or longleaf yellow pine and were neither smoothed nor finished after being processed, so they were mostly used in factories and warehouses. 

Hand-Hewn Beams

As hand-hewn beams were made from round logs that were squared by hand, the process leaves distinct marks where the broad ax removed the round edges. 

Each piece is different and still has the original marks from being hand-hewn. Softer woods were favored as they are easier to cut with small axes and then trim to the right size and shape using hand tools.

They have a distinctly rustic look where the final cuts of the rounded log were hand-planned by the adze. No two pieces are exactly alike, and it’s for this reason that hand-hewn beams are so widely sought after. 

Hand-Hewn Beams — How Do You Know the Real Deal?

Because there’s been such a rise in the popularity of reused beams, some unscrupulous dealers are selling knock-offs as the real thing. So how do you know you are being sold genuine hand-hewn beams?

1. Examine the Beam in Good Light

Examining hand-hewn beams in natural light can reveal many characteristics that can help determine their authenticity.

Genuine hand-hewn beams will have irregular marks on their surface that are indicative of being manually chiseled. These marks will be visible even after the beams have been sanded and finished.

The edges of the beams will also be rough and uneven, as opposed to machine-cut beams, which will have straight, clean edges. In addition, the wood grain on a hand-hewn beam will be more visible and pronounced due to the hand-carving process.

Rough sawn beams have a finer texture and a more smooth and blended finish.

By examining these key features under natural lighting conditions, it is possible to determine if a beam is truly hand-hewn and authentic.

2. Look for the Marks of an Adze

The adze is about 10,000 years old and was initially made from elk antlers. This versatile tool leaves marks on hand-hewn beams that are very distinct. 

Looking for the marks of an adze is a reliable way to determine if you are being sold genuine hand-hewn beams. These marks are usually curved or V-shaped, and they will be irregular and uneven.

The depth of the marks will also vary, indicating that the beam was shaped by hand rather than by machine. These marks are not uniform, and they will be different on each beam, which adds to the character and authenticity of the wood.

Additionally, the marks of an adze will be visible even after the beam has been sanded and finished, further indicating that the wood was shaped by hand. 

hand hewn beam

3. Test the Weight

Testing the weight of hand-hewn beams is another way to determine their authenticity.

A hand-hewn beam is always heavier than a rough sawn beam that a machine has cut because they are made from solid, dense wood.

The weight will depend on size and the type of wood a beam is made from, but in general, a hand-hewn beam will be noticeably heavier than a machine-cut beam of the same size. This is because hand-hewn beams are usually made from old-growth timber, which is denser and heavier than the fast-growing timber used for modern manufacturing.

Additionally, hand-hewn beams will have a more irregular shape and surface, which can also contribute to their weight.

By testing the weight of a beam, you can determine if it is likely to be hand-hewn and made from high-quality, solid wood. 

4. Check the Edge

Checking the edge of hand-hewn beams is a key method to determine their authenticity. Genuine hand-hewn beams will have rough and uneven edges that are indicative of being shaped by hand with a broad axe.

The edges will have a rustic, irregular quality that cannot be replicated by machine-cutting methods.

Additionally, the edges of hand-hewn beams will often show the marks of the broad axe used to shape them. These marks will be visible even after the beams have been sanded and finished, and they will be irregular and varied in depth.

By checking the edges of the beams, you can determine if they are likely to be hand-hewn and made from high-quality, solid wood.

Hand-hewn Beams–Timeless Beauty

Hand-hewn beams have made a comeback for very good reasons; they are beautiful, long-lasting, versatile, and highly individual. 

At Reliance Timber, we are passionate about fine-crafted timber, and we spend our lives sourcing and producing the finest timber beams available. We use high-quality timber sourced in North America, much of it local to North Carolina. 

We are the timber experts, and we have the perfect hand-hewn beams for your home. Contact us today at Reliance Timber.