Tools Used In Colonial America  

In colonial times, every utility item had to be made by hand. Craftsmen made furniture, tools, wheels, utensils, glass and more. Master craftspeople owned shops in which they sold their products for money or used the barter system of trade. Craftspeople did not learn their trades by going to school.

Instead, as youngsters between the ages of 10 to 15, they learned their craft by being apprentices to master craftspeople. As apprentices, they served their masters for 4 to 7 years and thus learnt the secrets of a trade. At the end of their contract, apprentices had to produce a finished product called a ‘master-piece’. It was named so because the product was judged by their master.  If the product passed the master's inspection, the apprentice passed his apprenticeship and became a journeyman. Journeymen traveled to nearby villages, making and repairing goods until they could save enough money to open their own shop. 

The colonists used tools for constructing their fortifications and houses. The earliest archaeological records are devoid of similar agricultural tools. The reason for this could be that the colonists did not intend to survive on the crops that they grew. They believed that trade with the Indians would suffice their food needs. Many tools were used in colonial times such as the scuppets, axes, funnels, compasses, files, augers, gimlets, braces, chisels, gouges, drawknives, hammers, saws, squares and bevels. Each tool had its own specified usage. 

The most ancient tools used were the chisels and gouges. They helped to shape wood. In fact, chisels and gouges shaped parts and cut joints with more accuracy than even axes or adzes. They made cuts that were unfeasible to make with saws, planes, spoke shaves or drawknives during colonial times. Bench chisels were used for relatively light, general-purpose work, such as paring away small amounts of wood or cutting out dovetails. Their handles were mounted on a pin, or tang, that projected from the rear of the blade. The scuppet was an entrenching tool, used to build the defensive structures. Axes were of two kinds, the felling axe and the broad axe. Axes and hatchets for felling timber and designing it into useful pieces of wood were of extreme importance to the first colonists. The felling axe had a long narrow blade and was used to chop down trees and cut off limbs; while the broad axe had a broad flaring blade, which was more suitable for hewing. Iron funnels have also been located, which may have been part of a food mill, used for the purpose of grinding grains.  

During the 18th century, compasses and calipers were frequently used to measure and fit work.  Compasses may have been used by carpenters to inscribe circles, arcs and for geometrical calculations. More importantly, compasses and calipers were the standard tools for transferring a dimension from a pattern or work piece to another location. Two kinds of files were used. The half round file was used for smoothing and the triangular or three-square file was traditionally used by carpenters to sharpen saw teeth. Augers, gimlets and braces were again tools used by woodworkers to drill holes in wood products. The size of holes varied from tiny mounts to four or five inch holes bored through logs to make pumps and water pipes.

Drawknives were used for quick shaping and trimming of flat products like shingles. During those times, toolmakers produced many types of hammers suitable for different jobs. Planes were chisel-like blades mounted in stocks or bodies that held the worker’s table at the correct angle. The most complicated tool in terms of manufacturing was the saw as it had to be sharp and stiff and yet have flexibility and a smooth surface. Squares and bevels were tools used by artisans to lay out and check the accuracy of angles other than 90 degrees. Woodworkers also designed squares and bevels specially to work in awkward locations or to speed up work.

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Tools Used In Colonial America




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