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The Differences Between Hand Hewn and Rough Sawn Beams

by Jake Park 

Before mass-produced lumber and steel were common, schools, homes, warehouses, and other buildings used large timbers for structural support. From America’s old-growth deciduous and coniferous forests, these timbers have lived previous lives and are extremely durable. Bearing the unmistakable character of their previous purposes, these beams can be used for aesthetic and structural applications.

If you’re searching for ceiling beams or you need a mantelpiece for a home or a business, few beams have the authentic, rustic feel of hand-hewn or rough-sawn reclaimed timbers. Our beams capture the look and feel of an old-world home, which stands in stark contrast to the processed, cookie-cutter look of today’s buildings. Read on to learn more about the differences between hand-hewn and rough-sawn beams.

What is Hand-Hewing?

When a log is hewn, it is transformed from its natural round shape into a timber with roughly flat sides. Timbers can be two- or four-sided hand-hewn. Before lumberyards and sawmills were common, old-world craftsmen used adzes, broad axes, skill, and effort to turn felled logs into timbers.

This time-consuming and laborious process left unmistakable marks on these beams, which add authenticity and character to the product. Because these beams were hand-crafted from locally available wood, their species and dimensions may vary.

When selecting beams for commercial and residential construction, there’s much to consider. Hand-hewn beams are one of today’s most popular choices on the reclaimed lumber market. Hand-hewing is almost a lost art, and these old wooden beams speak to the simplicity and beauty of hand-crafted products. Hand-hewn beams from Modern Timber Craft will add timeless appeal to any room.

A hand-hewn timber displays unmistakable marks that come when the log’s rounded edges are removed by hand. These marks only occur in timbers hewn with hand axes, and not those hewn by machines. With each log’s unique qualities, hand-hewing provides a customized, tailored fit.

There are numerous types of reclaimed wood beams. Those pulled from barns are a great source of antique lumber; they’re quite plentiful, and they’ve stood the test of time. Their rustic appearance is very popular, and the wood’s flaws are accentuated rather than concealed. Hand-hewn beams are usually made of softer woods, as they’re easier to cut with smaller axes and other hand tools.

Only a few craftsmen still hand-hew lumber, and for legitimate reasons. Hand-hewing is a lengthy and difficult process, and sawmills can get the job done much quicker. Additionally, hand-hewn timbers used in structures must sometimes be re-hewn to fit snugly against other wood pieces.

Thankfully, there’s an incalculable amount of old lumber in this country, and it can be reclaimed at a percentage of the cost of hand-hewing virgin timber. Using recycled wood carries numerous environmental benefits, which justify the cost of tearing down old houses and barns. The aesthetics of a hand-hewn beam will always keep it in style.

Rough-Sawn Wooden Beams

A rough-sawn beam may be made of fir or longleaf yellow pine, and it’s different from a hand-hewn beam in that mechanical tools are used to square the sides. Most are reclaimed structural components from old warehouses and factories. Because of their previous roles, reclaimed rough-sawn beams aren’t smoothed or finished when processed through a sawmill. Because of the lack of processing, rough-sawn beams are best for exposed-beam ceilings and other structural uses.

Though they can be found at certain lumberyards, it’s much easier to find rough-sawn beams here at Modern Timber Craft. Many of our customers prefer rough-sawn beams because of the following advantages.

  • Rough-sawn wood can be used in a range of woodworking and building applications.
  • The surface of a rough-sawn beam has a rustic appearance because it’s not milled like the wood found in lumberyards and home improvement stores.
  • Exotic woods are more widely available as rough-sawn pieces.

Reclaimed rough-sawn beams carry minimal environmental impact because they’re recycled and not made of virgin timber. Many of our customers buy rough-sawn wood from us because we prefer to source our products from the local area. With rough-sawn wood, you can give a room a rustic look while supporting local craftsmen.

A re-sawn beam is a rough-sawn beam that’s received a minor facelift. They’re freshly cut from reclaimed timber, and these beams are highly customizable. Re-sawn beams may have circle sawed, hand-scraped, or wire-brushed finishes, depending on the project’s requirements.

sawn beam

Tips for Choosing the Right Reclaimed Wood

As hand-hewn and rough-sawn reclaimed timbers are becoming more popular, opportunists are attempting to profit from the trend by selling low-quality wood. Here are a few tips to choose the right pieces for your next project.

  • Find wood that’s tight and dry. A piece that’s degraded or soggy will be tough to work with, and it won’t last long once installed.
  • Consider the project’s aesthetics. When working with reclaimed wood, it’s important to have a goal in mind. Hand-hewn beams lend a rustic appearance, while rough-sawn timbers are a bit more refined and can be stained to match any décor.
  • Buy from a reputable company. Though it’s possible to find reclaimed wood in the classifieds or on Craigslist, it’s better to go with a trusted supplier. We specialize in working with recycled and upcycled wood, so you’re more likely to get the quality you deserve.
  • Think of paint safety. When using old wood that’s been painted, it’s important to consider that the paint may contain lead. With hand-hewn beams, that’s less of a concern, but rough-sawn pieces are more likely to have been painted in their previous lives.

Whether you’re looking for rough-sawn or hand-hewn wood, we can help you find the right pieces for your next project.

Conclusion

Though rough-sawn and hand-hewn timbers are different in many ways, their similarities are numerous as well. As with other construction and renovation projects, your choice will depend on factors such as budget and aesthetic preference. With help from the reclaimed wood experts at Modern Timber Craft, it’s possible to turn a few pieces of recycled wood into something truly beautiful and unique.

Jake Park
I am a timber expert and serial woodworker dedicated to helping you get educated about the finest woods and materials in the world. Join in my journey on the Modern Timber Craft blog.

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