How to make framing pegs
I thought it might be quite interesting to put together a guide to making framing pegs. I make most of the pegs myself, but on occasion buy them as it’s quite a time consuming and tedious task. So maybe you are a student or someone looking to make a few extra pennies; I’d be quite happy to supply the timber if you’d like to give it a shot yourself?
The full description of ‘proper’ oak framing pegs is as follows; Cleft, Hand drawn tapered oak pegs. Anyone using machined round dowels is wrong!
The Clefting process
To start you will need some good quality, straight grained, heartwood green oak in approx 250mm lengths. The pieces I use are literally off-cuts from beam ends, here is a 200mm square piece.
The next stage is to break down the timber into ‘blanks’ of approximately 20 – 25mm square. These will eventually be hand drawn down to 19mm or ¾”. The two tools needed here are a froe and a large wooden mallet. The froe I use is hand made from a Morris Minor leaf spring, though I’m sure a fancy one from somewhere like https://www.classichandtools.com/ will do just fine!
The froe blade should be placed on the centre of the timber and given a good whack! I’ve found it’s best to target the heart of the timber. If you go to the edge, it is likely the timber will split out towards the edge, giving you a useless piece of timber.
Ensure that any repeat hits are accurate and you apply a downwards pressure on the froe handle to avoid the blade jumping.
This process will need to be repeated, dividing down the sections in ever decreasing sizes.
Once the top of the froe blade goes below the top of the timber, obviously you will not be able to hit it! This is why they have a handle, use this to twist the blade, breaking any fibres locking the timber together.
And repeat. Here’s a random piece of info; the head of this mallet is made from Jarrah. It’s the only timber not yet to break, plus it’s really heavy.
Note the slight bulge in the right hand section of this final slab. This is a hidden knot, hence taking a little twisting to get to split. Any pieces with knots or sloping grain are firewood.
The ideal sections of timber should ‘pop’ apart with a single blow.
The next stage is to turn the slabs round 90° and repeat the process. Remember to start in the middle to maximise yield from each piece. You measure and mark the end grain to start with.
Use the froe to reasonably accurately divide the remaining pieces into square sections. They don’t want to be too big as this just means more work later on.
Simple maths means you should be able to get 64 of these blanks from an 200mm (8″) square timber. Realistically it’s more like half that amount, this depends on how clean the timber grain is.
The Hand drawn process
For this you will need a shaving horse and a draw knife. I’ve made a couple of horses, and would recommend doing so. They need to suit your height and need to be comfortable. The shaving horse is an essential tool, it allows you to clamp the timber using your feet, whilst holding the draw knife in both hands.
The first stage is to take the rough blanks and create a square peg, with faces 90° to one another. This is not a parallel peg, but tapered. I generally go by eye, but one end needs to be in the region of 20mm across the end, whilst the other more like 15mm.
Clamp the blank near one end and using the flat side of the draw knife take just the smallest slither of each face. Each side needs to be straight, so rotate and trim the blank until the desired size is obtained. This will take some time to perfect, so expect multiple rejects!
The following peg has a slight kink from the natural grain. This needs to be trimmed, so the faces are flat.
As you become more experienced, you will be able to take more away with each pull. Spin the peg around and clamp on the cleaned up faces to finish the other end.
This process makes the most excellent kindling!
When you have a nice square tapered peg, it’s now time to make it octagonal. That’s right, octagonal, not round. It is important that there are eight nice sharp corners. These effectively ‘bite’ into the timber as they are driven in.
Place the peg at 45° in the clamp and carefully peel a small amount off each of the corners. It is very easy to take too much off, so take it easy. After a few hundred pegs you’ll get the idea!
The goal is to create an eight sided tapered peg, with equal width faces. But that’s virtually impossible, so don’t get too upset if they are not perfect.
The final stage is to create a point on the thin end, this is essential so that it picks up the ‘draw’ on the off-set peg hole in the tenons. Clamp the peg tight and use the draw knife at a steeper angle, it will need a quick action as you will be cutting across the grain.
Initially it will be very useful to have a timber with a hole drilled at the target size. The pegs can be offered up to ensure you are consistent. I have a hole in the tapered block of the shaving horse.
The final product.
It’s a shame 90% of the peg will be hidden within the joint!