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How to Hew Wood to Create 17th Century Style Shelving

My aim with DIY projects around the home is to look for innovative space-saving ideas and save costs on materials by recycling.

Wooden shelves hewed in 17th century style

Wooden shelves hewed in 17th century style

Step By Step Guide To Hewing Wooden Shelves

Normally hewing is associated with wielding an axe at a wooden beam, particularly oak, to create that rough-cut effect associated with the days before suitable saws were available to neatly cut wooden beams; a rustic effect which is gaining popularity in modern designs.

However, I wanted to create the same effect on new shelving to match our existing shelves and built in cupboard I couldn't find anything on the web for hewing on this smaller scale; obviously wielding an axe on the leading edge of wooden shelving to create the effect would be to destructive to the wood.

I needed a more gentle approach to creating the hewn effect, and after some thought (over a cup of coffee) and some experimentation I came up with my own method of creating the desired hewn effect which was simple, quick and effective; as demonstrated in this article.

Hewing Wooden Shelves with a Jig Saw

A short DIY How to Video Guide I made for this article which demonstrates how easy it is to use an electric jig saw to quickly and effectively hew wooden pine floorboards to create that 17th century style for shelving. The rest of this article gives a full detailed step by step guide, with illustrative photos, for hewing wood to create that hewn look in shelving.

Choosing the Right Tools for the Job

And If You Don't Have Wood Carving Tools

Wood Sculptures and Carpenters would have suitable tools for carving a hewn effect in shelving, but if like me you only have tools commonly used for DIY woodwork around the home rather than specialised sculpture or carpentry tools then the choice is limited.

I experimented with various tools to hand, including a chisel but found these to be cumbersome and unreliable; the chisel in particular wanting to follow the grain of the wood and tending to cut too deep, risking splitting the wood. However, I found the electric jig saw just ideal in that on full speed it would go where you guided it smoothly and effortlessly.

Safety First

The one thing that was drummed into me at school and college was 'Safety First' at all times; good sound advice.

Therefore, when using tools (especially power tools) be conscious of what you are doing, and be careful at all times.

When hewing wood, always use a sturdy workbench, wear suitable protective clothing, be aware of where the power cable is at all times and always make the cut away from you.

Using a jigsaw in this way is not the way it is designed to be used so, as with using any tool (especially electric tools), safety should be you first consideration at all times e.g. ensure the power cable is behind you so limit the risk of it being cut by the jigsaw's blade, that you are aware of where the cable is at all times so there is minimal risk of tripping over it, always cut away from you and wear full protective clothing, particularly goggles and face mask.

Using Suitable Wood for Hewing

Reclaimed or New Floorboards

This technique, devised to work with real wood, will not work on chipboard, contiboard (laminated chipboard), laminated boards or plywood but may work with MDF.

The wood where this is particularly effective is floorboards being used for shelves; an ideal wood to use for shelving because at 21mm thick (just under one inch) it has the strength to make good sturdy shelves and floorboards come in a variety of widths suitable for shelving.

You could use reclaimed floorboards from a reclamation yard, which may work out cheaper, but you may need to check for hidden nails and will almost certainly spend additional preparation time sanding them down smooth and flat.

My preference is to buy new from a builders merchant, timber yard or DIY store; at about 1 foot (30 cm) prices are fairly uniform (although delivery costs can vary wildly). And at this price building your own bookcase or DVD/CD shelf unit can be built for little expense; with the added satisfaction of 'I did this' on completion.

Using an Electric Jigsaw to Create a Hewn Effect

The steps required for hewing wooden floorboards, for use as shelves (putting safety first) are as follows:-

  1. Cut the wood to the required length.
  2. Firmly clamp it to the edge of your workbench, ensuring it protrudes over the workbench by a few inches.
  3. Position yourself comfortably at one end of the wood, holding the jigsaw upside down in your hand with the jigsaw base runner resting on the underside of the wood and the blade pointing towards the wood (but not touching it) tilted at an angle between 30 degrees and 45 degrees; see photos below.
  4. Ensuring the power cable is safely behind you and that you are not going to trip over it turn the jigsaw on (full speed); tilt the blade into the wood and making sweeping wavy motions move the jigsaw along the edge of the wood cutting chunks out as you proceed, changing the angle and depth of the cut as you go.
  5. Once one side is done turn the wood over and repeat the process on the other side.
  6. Once both sides are hewn quickly sand the hewn edges first with rough sandpaper, gradually working down to fine sandpaper until you achieve your desired finish to the hewn rustic effect.

The Finished Shelving

Adjustable shelves and shelf unit made with a jig saw to create a hewn effect on pine floorboards (as the raw material); then finished with wood stain and polished with beeswax.

Hewn bookcase for DVDs and CDs

Hewn bookcase for DVDs and CDs

DIY vs Pay to Have the Work Done for You

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Arthur Russ

Your views on DIY Shelving

Arthur Russ (author) from England on June 15, 2017:

Thank you all for all your comments, which is greatly appreciated.

Nnadi bonaventure Chima from Johanesburg on May 21, 2013:

Nice crafty lens , thanks for sharing

Rosyel Sawali from Manila Philippines on March 23, 2013:

Wow! Now that's one skill I should learn. ^_^

ismeedee on February 23, 2013:

Excellent lens for woodworking enthusiasts! That could be me but I lack equipment, money and space, sadly!

anonymous on November 05, 2012:

Well thought out, and presented. Anyone wanting the same effect should be able to create it after reading this lens. Great job.

BestRatedStuff on November 04, 2012:

Very impressed, what a well done project. Found the instructions very clear.

Seth from California on November 03, 2012:

Great work on both the shelves and the lens. Amazingly thorough.

anonymous on October 02, 2012:

Wow, really nice work. I like it!