Artist: Jim Carson
To read the first story in this series, click here.
The modern homestead is heavily dependent on electricity and gasoline – for everything from lawnmowers to tractors to chainsaws to electric drills.
But during a power outage, particularly a long-term one, we probably won’t have any of those modern conveniences.
Fortunately for us, we have to look no further than our country’s history to find ways of doing things without electricity. While those aren’t going to be as efficient as our modern methods, they will allow us to do many things which we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. From carpentry to food preservation, the methods of our ancestors, including the methods of the pioneers, could end up becoming commonplace once again.
Of course, that means that we need to have the necessary tools and equipment on hand — the same ones those pioneers used so many years ago. In fact, you may find that you’ll want to use some of these unique tools right now, even with all the lights still on.
1. Shoulder yoke
Pioneers had a variety of ways of carrying things. It wasn’t uncommon for a homestead to have more than one cart, a wagon and means for carrying things in hand. Amongst these was the shoulder yoke.
If you think of a yoke for oxen, you’ll be well on your way to understanding a shoulder yoke. The main difference is that a shoulder yoke is for carrying, not pulling. It’s also designed for human use, not the use of oxen. The yoke sits over the shoulders, with a cutout for the neck. Being wider than a person, buckets can be hung from both ends, allowing the user to carry two buckets and whatever is in them.
2. Hoof trimmers
For centuries, horses were one of the world’s most common means of motive power, second only to the feet.
But if you’re going to ride a horse, you’re going to have to take care of it. More than anything, that means shoeing the horse every four to six weeks. Even if you can’t shoe the horse (for lack of horseshoes), you’ll need to trim its hooves. That requires a trimmer. You should also have a horseshoeing rasp for trimming the hooves and a hoof pick for cleaning rocks, mud and anything else out of the horse’s hooves.
Horses tend to eat a lot. Of course, if your body was that big, you’d eat a lot, too. So if you’re going to have a horse, you’d better be ready to start cutting hay for it. For that matter, if you manage to get your hands on any livestock, from goats to elephants, you’d better have a way of cutting hay.
There have been a wide variety of sickle designs through the years, some smaller and some larger — each designed for its own particular use. At a minimum, you’ll need something that you can use to keep the grass under control, even if you aren’t feeding a milk cow in your backyard.
You might be able to fell a tree with an axe, but once it’s on the ground, you’ll need to cut it into manageable sections, regardless of whether you’re using it for building or for firewood. That means having some sort of saw to use. While there are many styles to pick from, the bucksaw was one of the best. The bow kept the blade under tension, allowing it to cut in both directions. About the only thing you can’t do with a bucksaw is to cut logs into boards.
5. Wood-splitting wedges
Cutting logs into boards is fine — if you’ve got a sawmill to cut them with. But most people didn’t own their own sawmill. For them, there were two options: use a two-man saw, with one man in a pit to cut the logs into boards, or use wedges to split the log into boards.
Wedges were actually much more efficient for this, although the boards wouldn’t be all that smooth. But to make a split-log floor or to create a half log for use as a bench, splitting was the preferred way for most. Wedges could also be used to split wood for the fire, especially in cases where the chunk of log was too big in diameter to split with a maul.
6. Log jack
The log jack was the lumberjack’s way of getting a handle on a log and move it around. It didn’t matter if they were moving it in the river or just trying to roll it, a log jack made the job a whole lot easier. While not in such common use today, if you’re planning on harvesting your own wood, especially for building, this is a very useful tool to have around.
When most people think of drilling holes into wood by hand, the first thing they think of is a brace and bit. That was a great system, and you would never find a carpenter without one in their kit. But the average person couldn’t afford to have a brace and bit around the homestead. Instead, they used gimlets (and no, I’m not talking about giblets in gravy).
A gimlet is a small hand-held and hand-powered drill. It has an oblong loop handle, with a drill bit sticking down from it, making a T with a fat-top beam. Only created in small sizes, these tools made putting holes in boards easy. While they were limited, they weren’t as limited as trying to burn a hole through a board with a hot ware (another method they used).
The adze is probably the first tool to grab when trying to move from the realm of logs to the realm of wood beams and boards. This is a cutting tool, used to square logs for homes, as well as making the beams used in building sailing ships. While the average person didn’t have one in their tool kit, you can be sure that any carpenter or boat builder worth their salt had one.
The adze consists of a slightly scooped blade, mounted at a right angle to the handle. It was swung in a down and back motion, chipping off wood to square logs. An experienced carpenter or boat builder could square and fit a dozen such logs in a day’s work.
While this may not be the first tool you add to your kit, having one allows you to make a squared log home, rather than a log cabin. The difference is impressive, as properly squared logs will make a much warmer home, need less chinking and last much longer.
9. Spokeshaves and draw knives
Speaking of shaping wood, there are times when it is necessary to shape wood much smaller than what you can do with an adze. Simple chair spindles, wheel axles and even a handle for an axe need to be shaped by something. In those cases, draw knives and spokeshaves were the tools of choice.
The two are often thought to be much alike, but in fact they are quite different. A draw knife is an open blade, with handles at 90 degrees to the blade. That allows the user to pull the knife toward them, shaving off layers of wood. How much is shaved off is controlled by the angle of the blade. It actually takes a bit of practice to gain the finesse necessary to work a draw knife well.
The difference between a draw knife and a spokeshave is the same difference between a chisel and a plane. The plane’s body controls the depth of the cut, while the carpenter has to control the depth of the chisel’s cut. Likewise, the spokeshave’s body allows for a controlled depth of cut. That makes it a much better tool for fine work, such as making wheel spokes that are round.
What pioneer tools would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the section below:
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