Friday, June 26, 2015

Family History Friday #16 - Pioneer Carpentry

     Our fifth biannual cousin camp will take place the last week in July.  We're  doing a family history theme this year and focusing on the lifestyles of some of our hardy pioneer ancestors.  One of the activities we are planning is pioneer carpentry.  My inspiration for this particular activity stemmed from a probate record I found pertaining to my fourth great grandfather, John Crihfield.  He died in 1851 in Lauderdale County, Tennessee, which borders on the Mississippi River.  Included in the probate record is a report of the estate sale which provides an exhaustive list of John Crihfield's personal property. This gives us a pretty good view of how the Crihfield family lived.  He appeared to have been a fairly prosperous farmer as he owned a fair amount of cattle and hogs. His son-in-law, (my third great grandfather) James H Heiskill, purchased a number of items at the estate sale. He purchased half of a canoe along with catfish hooks and lines. I'm assuming he probably already owned the other half of the canoe. It seems likely that he and his father-in-law were running trot lines on the Mississippi River to catch catfish.  James Heiskill also purchased some carpentry tools, specifically a hatchet and a drawknife. Other carpentry tools sold at the estate sale included two frows (also spelled froe), a hand saw,  2 pairs of compasses, 1 axe, 2 augers, chisels, a gimlet, and several whet stones for sharpening tools.

     Our pioneer ancestors used tools such as are listed above to build their homes and make all kinds of furniture and other useful items.  It was a lot easier to carry all of the carpentry tools in a wagon than it would have been to carry a load of furniture. Clearing land in a new location always provided a good supply of wood.

     If words such as froe or drawknife were featured in a modern day trivia test, I suspect that most people wouldn't have any idea what they were. Some people might figure out that an auger bit is used for drilling holes. Most people outside of the south also would have no clue as to what a trot line is. The autocorrect feature of my computer keeps trying to change froe to fore, but it seems ok with drawknife and trot line.  For the education of the small handful of friends and relatives who read my blog, I'm going to include a few photos and brief explanations as to the use of these tools.

    Let's start with the froe.  This is a tool used to split wood.  It was commonly used to make shingles. It consists of a long heavy blade attached to a handle. The blade is driven into the wood to be split with a heavy mallet.  The handle of the froe is then used to apply leverage to force the wood to split as well as to provide some control of the direction of the split.  I watched a really interesting show on Netflicks a year or so back. It was called "Happy People, a Year in the Taiga".  It told about the lives of fur trappers living on  the Yenisey River in Siberia. My favorite part of the show was watching this trapper manufacture a pair of cross country skis from a tree. He used a froe to split a small diameter log into two boards.  He then shaped the boards into skis primarily using a drawknife.

    Drawknives are used to shave off wood. Heavy duty drawknives can be used to remove the bark from a log.  Smaller drawknives can be used to shape wood to make things such as chair or table legs, or the skis mentioned above.  Drawknives were often used in conjunction with a shave horse, a type of workbench which also functions as a clamp to hold the wood being shaped with the drawknife.  The woodworker would sit on one end of the shave horse and push against a foot brace in order to hold his work piece firmly in place.  I'm planning to build a shave horse to use at our cousin camp.

The drawknife is at the bottom of the photo

    An auger bit is a primitive drill.  It consists of a long drill bit and a handle which fits down over the top of the drill bit.  As the handle is rotated, the bit drills into the wood.
Auger bit with handle

   I found the medium size drawknife, the auger bit, and the two hand planes on craigslist.  The froe was a gift from a good friend, Duncan Biddle. I also bought a pair of smaller drawknives at a local hardware store a larger drawknife from Grizzly Tools.

     So, you're all probably wondering what we are going to do with all of these wonderful old tools.  My plan is to saw down a Red Alder tree,  cut it into sections of appropriate length, and split those sections of trunk with mauls and wedges or possibly with the froe into two equal halves. We will drill holes for legs and shape those legs using the shave horse and drawknives. Then we will pound the legs into our benches using a heavy mallet. Last of all welwill use the jack plane to smooth out the surface of the bench. It sounds like a wonderfully fun time to me. I'm hoping the older grandkids will enjoy it as well. I can only imagine the consternation of the parents as they try to fit their child's camp project into the car at the end of cousin camp.


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