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Artificer

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Scissors, not sure what was used for measuring.
Hi Joe,

Good point on the scissors. Rules, Squares and folding wood rulers, and even some cloth tape measures were also available, but normally confined to those in particular trades.

Frontiersmen didn't need measuring tools to build their cabins. At most a leather awl was used as a scribe to get parts close to where they needed to be fit.

To make clothing, a simple ball of twine would more than do to take measurements and marked w/a piece of burned wood charcoal from the fire.

Gus
 

Artificer

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Hi Joe,

Good point on the scissors. Rules, Squares and folding wood rulers, and even some cloth tape measures were also available, but normally confined to those in particular trades.

Frontiersmen didn't need measuring tools to build their cabins. At most a leather awl was used as a scribe to get parts close to where they needed to be fit.

To make clothing, a simple ball of twine would more than do to take measurements and marked w/a piece of burned wood charcoal from the fire.

Gus
A few other things I don't know about how the "average" guy built a log cabin on the early frontier.

Did they use the 3,4,5 rule (from the Pythagorean Theorem - though most would not have known that) to square the corners of the cabins? Maybe not as square corners were not absolutely needed and even a non-calibrated eyeball can get it close.

I imagine they used a plumb bob, even if only something heavy attached to a piece of twine? But again, maybe not as they could get it close by eyeball.

I'm not sure if they tried to get the bottom logs at least somewhat level?

Gus
 

Ajgall

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A few other things I don't know about how the "average" guy built a log cabin on the early frontier.

Did they use the 3,4,5 rule (from the Pythagorean Theorem - though most would not have known that) to square the corners of the cabins? Maybe not as square corners were not absolutely needed and even a non-calibrated eyeball can get it close.

I imagine they used a plumb bob, even if only something heavy attached to a piece of twine? But again, maybe not as they could get it close by eyeball.

I'm not sure if they tried to get the bottom logs at least somewhat level?

Gus
I can’t prove this but I imagine there was a lot of eyeballing. If you are building something entirely yourself from raw material you’re able to account for the variance.
 

Artificer

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I can’t prove this but I imagine there was a lot of eyeballing. If you are building something entirely yourself from raw material you’re able to account for the variance.
My Great Grandfather was a rough carpenter. He trained his son, my Grandfather in rough carpentry, but also had him trained in finish carpentry prior to WWI. (The idea was finish carpenters got to work INSIDE during cold winters and made more money than rough carpenters.)

In my early teens, I was helping Grandpa frame a second story window. He put a board up and asked me if it was level. Now he was up on the ladder and I was on the ground. So I backed off around 10 yards looked at the board and suggested he raise one edge a little bit until I thought it was level. THEN he pulled out a pocket level, checked it and said, "Well I'm glad to see you inherited a "carpenter's" eye. It's right on the level." (I had not known it was a test.)

Later on I asked Dad about it and he laughed and told me, "In his younger years, your Grandpa could look at a beam going the full length of a house and tell if it was even a tiny bit out of plumb level."

I never got that good, because I was not a carpenter, but it shows how good the eyes can be trained.

Gus
 

tenngun

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A man taking his family beyond the pale knew he could be in for a rough time. But it was never or at least very rare that it was a man and wife and a couple of kids in tow with an ox cart or mule braving the wild.
It was almost always a group of families, and they went building communities.
Did every one know 3-4-5? Probably not, However there was a good chance some one did in the group.
Log cabins for all their romance were temporary structures. Huts to house the family till a real home could be built.
A ‘real home’ might have log construction, but by then it was hewn logs and dove tailed corners. Shingles or clapboard on the outside, plastered on the inside
Most every community had a brick maker. And masons still traveled and built.
Near by me is the Log house of Nat Boone. And not far south the Wolf House in Arkansas. Daniel Boons last home was a fine stone house. All are fine houses.
The rough community of dirt floored one room cabins in the middle of a corn patch decorated with stumps was a short lived place. Within five to ten years it turned from rude and crude to ‘The shire’
 

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A few other things I don't know about how the "average" guy built a log cabin on the early frontier.

Did they use the 3,4,5 rule (from the Pythagorean Theorem - though most would not have known that) to square the corners of the cabins? Maybe not as square corners were not absolutely needed and even a non-calibrated eyeball can get it close.

I imagine they used a plumb bob, even if only something heavy attached to a piece of twine? But again, maybe not as they could get it close by eyeball.

I'm not sure if they tried to get the bottom logs at least somewhat level?

Gus
It just so happens that the chapter of, "Seed Time On The Cumberland," that I was reading last night talks a lot about this.
Sounds like there was a lot of use of people doing "specialty labor," i.e. carpenters who were experts at fitting corners and other technically challenging building tasks that also might be better done with tools the average farmer wouldn't spend the money for. This would be in the building of a frontier community or station.

Giblets and Augers are mentioned often. And it sounds like hand saws as well as the larger whip and crosscut saws were more available than we usually seem to think. Of course availability doesn't mean people bought them. The author gives comparative prices between saws and other tools.

I will try to provide some quotes, but they may take the form of screenshots.
 

Brokennock

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From "Seed Time on The Cumberland,"
In speaking of putting in window and door shutters,
"Thus, the small gimlet and the larger auger were among the pioneer's most necessary tools, and it is not surprising to find the same Davidson County merchant who in 1787 was selling glass, also stocked with a gross of gimlets."
Glass seems to have been far more available than I would have thought too,
"Carpenters when used were called in to frame door and window openings with thick hewn facings kept in place partly by their skillful fit, but chiefly by pegs—one large peg, sometimes several inches long, for each log abutting on the facing. Even the first windows in the Freeland or Buchanan homes or those of Robertson's would have had a few small panes of glass. Glass was relatively plentiful, not by this date overly expensive, and many settlers could have brought a few of the small panes by pack horse. At least one Nashville merchant was stocking glass by 1787,54 and the earliest visitors say nothing of oiled paper or shaved skins. Up the river in Pulaski County, a region more remote and with little wealth compared to Middle Tennessee, glass was so plentiful that by 1801 John James, a country storekeeper, had more than a hundred panes in stock, and for how many years before this we do not know. Forty panes brought fourteen shillings or less than five cents each.55 Glass was for most something that, if not had at once, was still for the future. I know of one log house, said to be more than a hundred years old, in which the people just never “got around to glass” until 1944."
This also touches on the use of carpenters I mentioned in my last reply.
As does this, which also compares some tool prices,
"Much of the notching was done with ax and hatchet, but many men had chisels both for working in wood and metal. There is the question, too, of how much of even the very early building was done by the owner and his slaves. There was at least one carpenter in young Davidson County, Tennessee, of 1784, and his business so flourishing he took in that year an apprentice boy,52 and from then on carpenters and cabinetmakers are quite often mentioned. House walls went up, with door, window, and chimney openings sawed out as needed. Handsaws, though little used compared to axes, were owned by most firstcomers.53 John Donelson had both a crosscut and the longer and heavier whipsaw, designed for sawing planks. As such saws went up and down the user had either to build a saw pit or a scaffold onto which the logs could be skidded. Next to blacksmith tools, the whipsaw was the most expensive, one bringing $31 in 1794. Other varieties of saws were more plentiful and much cheaper; the handsaw selling usually for more than the felling ax, but less than the broadax, or between three and four dollars."

I'll post more soon.

I think that one thing we forget (or ignore) similar to our willful disregard that this time period was very much a consumer/trade society, is that settlers were not always, or even often, alone. Whole families or groups of families went to Kentucky and Tennessee together. Sure, a few "rugged individuals," explored, tested, failed, returned, and "opened it up," but even they usually at least started out in small groups.
 

shorthair

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A few other things I don't know about how the "average" guy built a log cabin on the early frontier.

Did they use the 3,4,5 rule (from the Pythagorean Theorem - though most would not have known that) to square the corners of the cabins? Maybe not as square corners were not absolutely needed and even a non-calibrated eyeball can get it close.

I imagine they used a plumb bob, even if only something heavy attached to a piece of twine? But again, maybe not as they could get it close by eyeball.

I'm not sure if they tried to get the bottom logs at least somewhat level?

Gus
The good old Mark one eyeball was used for rough building for a long time and still works today.
 

Loyalist Dave

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A few other things I don't know about how the "average" guy built a log cabin on the early frontier.

Did they use the 3,4,5 rule (from the Pythagorean Theorem - though most would not have known that) to square the corners of the cabins? Maybe not as square corners were not absolutely needed and even a non-calibrated eyeball can get it close.

I imagine they used a plumb bob, even if only something heavy attached to a piece of twine? But again, maybe not as they could get it close by eyeball.

I'm not sure if they tried to get the bottom logs at least somewhat level?

Gus
REMEMBER folks that even the indentured servant was not working in a vacuum. They had seen building techniques throughout their lives, and likely participated in them while serving their time. They would be much better prepared than would an 18 year old today, who was handed a bow saw, a felling axe, a chisel and a mallet, and a file, and was told "Build yourself a 10 x 12 cabin". ;)

Also remember that their first "dirt floor cabin" was likely not their lifelong home as a freed-man. It was the basic shelter as they transitioned from subsistence farmer to having enough surplus to trade or buy additional tools. Eventually that first cabin would be supplanted by a much more sophisticated structure. The first cabin might then be converted to other use, or pulled down and incorporated into the next cabin, or..., left behind and the new, better structure would be erected on the new homestead, but this time the builder would have a larger variety of tools.

LD
 

Red Owl

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I always debate what type of tools would a pioneer traveling across the Cumberland gap carried with them. What tools what be your must have items setting up a homestead, excluding firelock, and related items of course. I would bring:
Double bit felling axe
Small axe or hawk
Grub hoe (no handle just the hoe)
Frame saw
1 1/2” Scotch eye auger
Socket chisel
Large file

What am I missing?
Not sure but maybe add a broadax, adz, froe. I think there was another tool, the name escapes me, you drove in a split stake (into a round hole) to get pegs the same diameter as the hand turned auger.
 

smoothshooter

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Can’t say for eighteenth century but in 1859 a army captain wrote a book on the western trials. It was a guid to water, restocking, and general equipment.and he recommends blocks and tackle and plenty of line.
He had twenty years experience in the west from before the Mexican American war.
Not uncommon for officers to stay a captain or lower for almost their whole career in absence of war
Anyway, he didn’t give a date for when he went west, just ‘over twenty years’. So the book was written cr 58, maybe as early as ‘57. And that takes his experience back to mountian man times, and before the opening of the Oregon trail, gold rush Ect
Unfortunately I lost the book, and can’t tell you the name or the author
This is of course eighty years since the settlement of of the trans Appalachia.
His name was Captain Marcy.
 

Eterry

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Maybe I missed it, but a Georgia -Stock farming plow. It was mostly wood, except the point. You got where you were going then whittled the beam, handles from wood. This isn't exactly what Dad would call a Georgia Stock, but kinda close.

Screenshot_20210822-222538_Gallery.jpg
 

Eterry

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My book on blacksmithing says scissors were rare until late 1800 when the invention of some machine... dont recall which, made them more common.
Apparently, you had to be some kind of 'Smith to make a pair.
 
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