Tools: Axes, hatchet, dogs, bark spud, dividers, adze, chisels, slick, pod auger, drawknives and a froe.
Axes: Came in many forms and can be used for different tasks; felling, cutting to length and hewing. The English Broad Ax is narrow at the throat, saving on precious steel, flaring gracefully to a curved edge. The hewing ax is a heavy traditional tool, with one side of the blade flat, and can be used to turn a (round) tree trunk into a (square) beam. The American hewing axe, with one side flat like a chisel, came later.
Hatchets: The regular hatchetwas the most common carpenter’s tool. One side was used as a hammer and the other used to swiftly dress wood to rough size. Being aware of exactly how fine a piece of wood needs to be in order for it to work is taken for granted today when sized and finished lumber is readily available. A hatchet is simply a small ax for chopping cross-grain..
Dogs: Dogs were used to hold the log in position after raising each end up off of the ground with "bunks". One end of the dog is driven into the log and the other end into the bunk to secure the log from rolling. Shaped rather like a staple, dogs come in various sizes.
Bark spud: The bark spud was used to remove bark in large swaths; peeling it from the cambium, the sticky, moist layer under the bark. If the log was dragged the bark would be removed so that the dirt did not dull the finishing tools. The bark spud is not sharp, but blunt on the end, and also has a slight curve to work the bark free from the log.
Dividers: Used to measure and transpose dimensions, layout joinery, retain porportions.
Adze: An adze is the equivalent of an ax but with the cutting edge turned 90°. The head is made to separate easily from the handle so that it may be sharpened—filed and honed. Some heads have a "poll" at the back end like a spike; some have a wide, flat poll. There are many variations of this tool including a smaller one that is used single-handedly. The adze is used to remove smaller pieces—to "dress" and eliminate the tear-out from the hewing process. Used along the grain but at a slight angle: a shearing cut smoothes and further refines the surface and allows the most cutting out of each swing.
Chisels: Timber framing chisels are used with a wooden mallet to make mortises or can be used to carve by hand. Traditionally either 1 ½” or 2” in width, framing chisels are made to close tolerance to insure the sizes of the mortises are consistent; also used to measure the mortises’ depth. The back side is flat and either side can be used depending on how much material is to be removed and from where.
Slicks: come in many different sizes and are larger chisels used without hammering; pushing by hand.
Pod Auger: Was the early Tee or twist drill. Mortising machines, patented around 1830, eventually replaced tee drills and cut the time to make mortises by about a factor of 10. The machine is operated with two hands and, using gears, turns a horizontal rotary motion into a vertical one.
Drawknife: This knife was used primarily at the shave horse to make pegs—to taper and make them round or square; but also to bevel and therefore clean-up the edges of a timber, and size and "dress" shingles and clapboards. Drawknives came in many different sizes, shapes and hefts; straight and curved, sometimes with offset handles.
Shave Horse: (no photo) A bench to sit, with a foot-operated vise built into it; to work at using a draw knife or spokeshave.
Froe: Used to hand-split shingles or lath, directly from the log, worked only with the grain.
Tools always work better when they are sharp!
Alexander Knight House
Methods & Tools
Building the Alexander Knight House
The team building the Alexander Knight House will use traditional materials, tools, and techniques of First Period builders during construction. While modest, early homes like the Knight House rarely survived, the methods of creating them has.
Materials and Preparation
White Oak was the choice for New England builders as it was very strong, rot resistant, and familiar to them as a cousin of the English Brown Oak. White Oak retains its integrity today as it is unaffected by the fact it is not old growth—and it is historically correct. The best trees for hewing grew in the forest, without lower branches, eliminating knots. After the tree was felled it would be cut to length and hewn where it lay. With the aid of a string the carpenter would "hew to the line", slicing off the round part of the log, creating the timbers; sills, posts, girts, plates, and rafters. The white oak scantlings (floor joists and studs) along with white pine, used for flooring and siding, would be sash sawn at the local, water powered mill with a sash or up and down saw.
Knowledge and skill was required to cut the mortise and tenon English style joinery; chiseled and sawn into the timber, scribed, fitted and numbered. Mortises and tenons were typically 1½″in houses and 2″in larger houses and barns. The traditional housewright fully envisioned a frame before raising it. Having the pieces meet in the correct order was critical as the joinery locked the completed frame. Jowled posts, girts, and braces were fitted to form an end wall. Plates, studs, joists, principal rafters, and purlins could then be pegged in place to complete the frame. Hand shaved pegs (trunnels) held the mortise and tenon joints in place.
White Oak provided the timbers. Sills, posts, girts, braces, rafters and purlins, were hewn from freshly felled logs. The white oak scantlings (floor joists and studs) were sash sawn at the mill. Cut and fitted, the mortise and tenon, English style joinery was pinned together and held the frame erect. The raising required ingenuity, man power and rigging.
Roofing: Thatch materials were harvested from the local marshes. Cut with sickles, tied with twine into bundles to move; loosened for drying then tightened again to move up to the roof. Steep pitches provided more loft space, becoming stylistic as they were also necessary for thatched roofs. Hand split shingles, quartered from the log with a froe, also became common, with White Oak again the preferred species.
Siding: Heartwood Eastern White Pine; the decay prone sapwood removed. Horizontal boards, nailed to the frame, kept out the harsh New England weather. A steep bevel, cut for lapping purposes (to keep out rainwater), was scribed along the edges allowing the boards to fit tightly together.
Doors and Windows: Early houses had plank doors of clinch nailed, shiplapped, pine boards. An oilcloth or shutter might later be replaced by a window sash. Glass, a luxury, was imported and expensive.
Hardware: Suffolk thumb latches, hinges, and nails were imported from England as well as forged locally. The hardware used on the Knight House will be antique wrought iron "strap" hinges, thumb latches and forged nails.
Foundation: The hole was a shallow excavation with a deeper portion used as a root cellar. The walls were built of dry-laid local stone.
Chimneys: Either made of brick or “wattle and daub”; that is, woven sticks and clay which hardens with use. Fires were constantly burning providing heat for cooking, washing. The warmth from the fire did little to supply winter comfort.
Stones and files to sharpen and hone.
Alexander Knight House Team
- James D. Whidden ~ Housewright I
- Matthew J. M. Diana ~ Housewright II
- Mathew Cummings ~ Architect
- Richard Irons ~ Restoration Mason
- Susan S. Nelson ~ Architectural Historian
- Tim Chouinard ~ Arborist
- Cynda Warren Joyce ~ Visual Artist
Updated 6 September 2012