Froe-zen In Time
In the 1940s an elderly man named John White told my friend Rockland, who was just a boy, that when he grew older and saw the new millennium to remember that he knew a man who talked to men who lived in the 1700s. It’s those stories that make history more visceral.
So much of our history was written in the mid 1800s that it’s hard to comprehend what it must have been like. In the 1860s the civil war left the United States in turmoil. In Canada, we were relieved that the US decided not to attack the British sovereign nation to the north. The Prime Minister Sir John A MacDonald was determined to draw a line across the 49th parallel and define Canada from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
In that decade, the Royal Engineers of Canada were sent to survey the land of the 49th on the west coast. John White was one of these men. He was given land for his services. His job description was to survey, report and not interfere with the local Aboriginal Peoples. This froe belonged to him. He cleared his own land and built his house with it – most likely the cedar shakes for his roof, among other things. The froe was passed on to Rockland after “Old Man White” died. Recently it was given to me. Rockland knew I had a very specific reason for wanting this froe as a luthier. To build a guitar or violin requires harvesting billets cut “on the quarter”. By splitting a log with a froe one attains a perfectly quartered piece of wood as it is natural for the wood to split perpendicular down the grain. I received the 5lb steel blade in unused and rusted condition. Through the course of an entire day I wore my elbows out sanding, grinding and sharpening the blade to a razor’s edge. Now it is restored to it’s former glory as a tool that defined how things were made – and continues to define how I choose to work with wood. Mr. White, if you’re up there watching over my shoulder, thanks for the froe. I’ll take good care of it.