Making Wedges Part 3: Without a Band Saw

Not everybody who has to make wedges owns a band saw. In the third instalment we take a look at how to make them without power tools.

See the first and second instalments of the series here and here.

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Making wedges without a band saw is not any more difficult than with a band saw. In fact it might even be easier. Especially if you don’t own a band saw.

You will need a chisel and a block of wood that you clamp in your vise.

Making wedges with a chisel

Select a suitable piece of wedge-wood. I usually use oak, as this is abundant where I live, but you can also use hickory or ash if that is available to you. Make sure you use dry wood; you don’t want your wedges to shrink after installing them.

The final size of the wedge is approximately 1-1/2’’long, 5/8’’ wide, and 3/16’’ at the thick end. I start with a board of around 5/8’’ thick, sawed to the length of the wedge (1-1/2’’ to 2’’).

Making 1/4″ billets

Stand the board upright on top of your workbench (use a piece of scrap wood if you are afraid of damaging your workbench) and split the piece into 1/4’’ billets. These are your (slightly oversized) wedge blanks.

For shaping the wedges, you will need to make a simple block with a notch sawn out of it. You rest the wedge against this block when you shape it with a chisel.

It ain’t much, but it’s honest work

Secure your wood block in your vise and lay the wedge blank flat on it.

Use tapering cuts to make the wedge shape. I don’t use a mallet for this step. First, start a cut near the tip of the wedge (closest to the block). Then move slightly away from the tip and make another cut. The third stroke starts around the middle of the wedge and last stroke near the end of the wedge.

Make tapering cuts, starting near the point and work your way backwards to the end.

Turn the wedge over and make the same tapering cuts on the other side. It takes about two times on each side to make a wedge, depending on how much material you take off. Better to take it slowly if you’re a beginner.

I usually make a bunch of wedges rather than making just enough for one project. Even if you don’t make that many pieces of furniture, it is nice to have some extra wedges on hand.

Finished wedge

Re-using old wedges

Don’t throw these away!

After I trim the tenons on my chairs, I don’t throw the excess away. It is very easy to make another wedge out of them, providing they aren’t too short. This is another reason to make your wedges slightly longer to begin with — you might get two or three uses out of it.

Place the amputated-tenon-wedge on your block of wood and use a chisel and mallet to chop away the bits of tenon glued to the sides. They should come off easily. Mind your fingers as you do this step. I find it easiest to rest the back of my chisel against the wedge and tap it from above.

Remove the tenon material with a chisel

Re-shape the wedge as described above, using the wood block in your vise. This only takes a stroke or two, so you have a new set of wedges in no time.

Using scraps as wedge material

I often have pieces of oak leftover from chairmaking or other projects. This is perfect material for making wedges. Part of an old oak leg or stretcher can be an excellent source of wedges. I have also used old oak tool handles and offcuts from levelling chairs. Make sure the wood is in good condition, especially with older tool handles.

Old tool handles, parts of legs or stretchers, offcuts from chair levelling – these can all be turned into wedges.

Saw the wood across the grain into the length of your wedge (1-1/2″ – 2″) and shape it as described above.

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Making wedges with an axe

I made my first wedge when I had to handle an axe and needed a wedge. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing at the time so I grabbed an oak stick and shaped it into a point on one end with my single bevel hatchet.

Axing a wedge

Once you glue the wedge in place, you can saw off the excess and make it into a point again. Et voilà: Another wedge.

Finished wedge for axe heads.

This method is very useful if you need to make wedges that are significantly wider than the wedges you normally use for chairmaking. And they can be used for splitting logs if you make them big enough.

Some uses are:

Wedges for axes / adzes

Wedges for thick table legs

Wedges for yo momma’s a$$

Troubleshooting tips

The wedge tip has become too thin at the tip or the tip is bent over: Place the wedge flat on your block and use your chisel to remove the tip (across the grain). Shave the wedge again if too blunt.

-The wedge has curved grain: Curved grain is not a big problem in riven wedges. I have used wedges that had a crook in them without any issues.

-I am having a hard time shaving the wedges to their desired thickness: They come out too flat. It is a common mistake to take material away evenly over the whole wedge. Use tapered cuts starting from the tip of the wedge and only remove a little material at the butt end.

Have anything to add about making wedges? Let us know in the comments section!

-Rudy Everts


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