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100 Years Ago

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Pioneer Tools

The basic tools required by every pioneer were a gun, ammunition, powder, fish hooks and line, traps, an ax, a spade and a hoe. With these tools, he and his neighbors could build, hunt, plant crops and gather food.   Just as someone is taught the proper handling of firearms today, the early American child soon learned how to handle an axe and keep it ready for use. It was also important to know how not to handle an axe, with the first lesson, to lay the blade to the wall or sink it deep into a soft log for safety’s sake.

It cannot be overstated that the axe was the pioneer’s most important tool. A man could walk into the forest with nothing but his axe, yet fashion snares to catch game, fell trees and fit them into a cabin. He could even clear brush for growing a garden and by holding an axe blade in his palm, he could use the sharp blade in the manner of a knife and whittle with it. Axe heads could be removed and the cracked or broken handle replaced as often as necessary. Curved axe handles were not invented until the 1840s, before that, they were straight.

According to a Ft. Loramie pioneer, the "necessary tools to build the cabins and furnishings were: the broad ax to cut the timber, the adze to trim and smooth the logs, the auger to drill the holes, the mallet to pound the wooden pegs into the auger holes, and the frow to make the shingles for the roof."

A farmer used an adze to cut measuring notches in wood while a broad axe was used to chip away at the log to make it square. The broad axe’s handle was short and the blade razor sharp.  An auger is a large tool for boring holes in wood or ice. Some of the larger instruments were used to bore holes in the earth. Bark roofs were easier to make in a hurry, as shingle material had to be dried for a year or more before splitting. Shingles were ‘rived’ with a frow, which is a cleaving tool that has a heavy blade, set at right angles to the handle. It was struck on top with a ‘maul’ or heavy club. This job used to be known as ‘grandfather’s favorite pastime" for it was a man’s chore that could be done while sitting down. One of the few items that was not regularly ‘hand-made’ in the early days was powder and shot for a rifle. They were brought from Dayton, Ohio, which in turn was supplied by Cincinnati.

'Pioneer' segment written in October, 1997 by Sherrie Casad-Lodge


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