Skip Navigation

 

Vocabulary

anvil • a heavy block of iron or steel with a flat top, and often a rounded “horn,” on which hot metals are shaped by hammering. A stake (or spike) anvil is a smaller, lighter-weight anvil that was easier for pioneers to transport. The stake end could be driven into a large tree stump to stabilize the anvil.

barn loom (sometimes called a barn-frame loom) • a device used to weave cloth. In the barn type, the frame is made of posts and beams, much like old timber-framed barns. It is held together with removable wooden pegs, allowing it to be taken apart and stored when not in use. Threads called “warp” threads are threaded through and attached to the loom mechanism. As the loom is worked, the weaver slides a shuttle attached to “weft” threads across and through the warp threads to weave the piece of fabric.

barter • another word for “trade.” On the frontier, money was often not available, so settlers would trade with one another for the things they needed. For example, a hunter might pay the blacksmith for fixing his broken tomahawk blade by trading him a bear or elk hide.

beater • the part of a barn loom that separates the warp threads, keeping them evenly spaced and untangled. The weaver uses the beater to pack each newly woven weft thread tightly into the fabric.

bellows • a device used by a blacksmith to blow air into the fire being used to heat metal. This primitive air pump blew more oxygen into the fire, making it burn much hotter. Early bellows were made of a “bag” of leather attached to two flat wooden paddles that were connected at one end by a hinge. When the paddles were pressed together, they would squeeze air out of the leather bag through a nozzle close to the base of the fire. A blacksmith’s bellows was usually very large and was fastened in a wooden frame with a handle that allowed the blacksmith to squeeze the bellows by pumping the handle, much as you might use the handle of a bicycle pump.

betty lamp (from the German word besser, meaning “better”) • a source of light for early settlers. Made of pottery or a metal such as tin, it contained oil or tallow (animal fat) as fuel. The wick could have been a reed, a piece of string, or a piece of rag. These lamps were often hung from a metal or wooden stand.

blockhouse • a strongly built two-story building located at the corner of a fort. The second story is wider than the one beneath, causing it to jut out over the fort walls and making it easier to watch for enemies and fire weapons. The blockhouse has windows with heavy wooden shutters and loopholes for firing weapons. Blockhouses were sometimes built as stand-alone fortifications for small villages of settlers called stations.

candle mold • a series of metal tubes attached to a frame. A wick was placed in each tube, and melted tallow or another kind of wax was then poured into the tubes to make candles. Because air bubbles often became trapped in the molds, candles made in this way were considered inferior to “dipped” candles.

charcloth • cloth that has been specially prepared by heating it to a high temperature without air so that it can easily be lit with just a spark. A common part of a pioneer’s firestarter kit, the charcloth was used to catch and hold sparks produced by a flint striker and flint. Once lit, the charcloth was put in a “nest” of tinder and was breathed on to help it catch fire.

Cumberland Gap • a major break in the Appalachian mountain chain carved by wind and water. Large game animals used the gap as a migratory route for centuries. Native Americans followed their trail, creating the “Warrior’s Path.” In 1750, Dr. Thomas Walker, a surveyor for the Loyal Land Company, became the first European to explore, describe, and document the route to the gap. He named it in honor of William, Duke of Cumberland, brother of King George II. In 1775, Daniel Boone was commissioned by the Transylvania Company to blaze a road through the gap. Boone’s Trace then evolved into the Wilderness Road. The discovery and use of Cumberland Gap released a flood of settlers into the lands of America’s interior.

drawknife • a carpenter’s tool consisting of a thick bar of steel that is beveled and sharpened on one edge like the cutting edge of a chisel or plane. The blade has a wooden handle on either end, attached at right angles. The carpenter grasps the handles with the blade facing him and pulls it along a piece of wood toward his body. This action will shave or plane a long strip off the piece of wood. The amount of wood removed in a stroke depends on the angle at which the knife is held and the force applied. This tool is very useful for removing bark and quickly shaping a piece to use in making furniture or tools.

flax • a plant with blue flowers and tough, fibrous stems. Settlers used the fibers to make linen cloth.

flint • a naturally fine-grained form of the mineral quartz. This very hard rock produces sharp, glass-like edges when fractured, and early Native Americans used it to make very sharp arrowheads, knives, and other cutting tools. When flint is struck hard with a piece of steel, it also produces sparks. Pioneers used it for starting fires and igniting (lighting) the powder in early guns.

flintlock rifle • a type of gun in which a piece of shaped flint is securely clamped to the “hammer” or “lock.” A steel “pan” located beneath and slightly in front of the lock holds some of the black powder loaded into the gun. When the gun is fired, the hammer falls, causing the flint to strike the steel pan. The resulting sparks ignite the gunpowder, which discharges the weapon. The flintlock rifles used by pioneers such as Daniel Boone were expertly crafted and were considered some of the most accurate weapons of the time.

flint striker • a piece of steel used for starting fires, often shaped in a curve to fit the hand. As the name indicates, it was used by striking it sharply against a piece of flint to produce a shower of sparks.

fire kit • a water-resistant container, often made of tin, used to carry the tools and materials necessary to start a fire. The usual contents (see definitions) were a steel flint striker, a piece of flint, fragments of charcloth (sometimes known simply as char), and a handful of tinder.

fort (from the Latin word fortis, meaning “strong”) • a structure such as a wall or a combination of strong buildings and walls built for defensive purposes. Forts Boonesborough and Harrod both had tall, strong log walls surrounding them to protect the settlers from attack by French and Native American war parties who didn’t want the settlers on their land. Words with similar meanings include fortress and fortification.

froe • a tool made of a fairly thick iron or steel blade, sharpened on one side, with a wooden handle attached at a right angle to the blade. It was used for splitting thick pieces of wood into thinner slabs and was especially useful for making wooden roof shingles known as “shakes.” The blade was laid at the end of a piece of log and was then driven into and through the wood with a maul. The handle was used as a lever to help split the piece of wood in two.

groundhog kiln • a primitive kiln (an oven used for “firing” pieces of pottery) made by burrowing into the side of a hill. The cave-like hole was then lined with stone or brick. A chimney allowed smoke to escape, and wood or charcoal was used as fuel. This type of kiln was probably used by the potters in both forts. It was called a groundhog kiln because a groundhog (or woodchuck) is a kind of mammal that burrows back into a hill to make its home.

hackle • a board with large metal spikes driven through it which looks like a very scary hairbrush. It was used to straighten and clean the fibers from the stalks of flax plants, which were then spun to make linen cloth.

hominy block • a kind of wooden mortar and pestle used to crack corn to create a coarse meal for making simple cornbread such as Johnny cakes. The block was made from a section of tree trunk with one end hollowed out. The corn was placed in the resulting “bowl.” The pestle, a heavy piece of wood, was attached with leather or rope to a long tree limb. The other end of the limb was anchored in the ground or a frame, turning it into a “spring” that made it easier to apply the force necessary to crack corn kernels.

inkwell • a small bottle used to hold ink to be used with a quill pen, a common writing instrument in Colonial times. It could be made of various materials, such as pottery or glass, and had a heavy bottom to make it stable. A potter at a fort probably would have made inkwells as well as other containers.

Johnny cake • a simple type of cornbread made from coarse cornmeal like that produced using a hominy block. Its main ingredients were cornmeal, water, salt, and butter or grease.

linsey woolsey • a rough fabric made of a mixture of linen and wool. This cloth was often worn by pioneers because of the ease of getting the raw materials and its strength and durability.

linen • originally, a cloth made from the flax plant, a fairly common crop in the colonies and on the frontier. The meaning of the word has since been expanded to include similar cloth made of cotton or cloth goods such as napkins or sheets made of such fabric.

loophole • a small window cut into a blockhouse or fort wall, just large enough to aim and shoot a musket or rifle through without exposing the shooter to enemy fire.

maul • a primitive hammer-like tool, similar to a mallet, used to strike a chisel or froe when working wood. It consists of a length of wood with a handle whittled into one end. Wood with a knot or burl and wood from the roots of trees were often used to make mauls because their tough grains prevent them from splitting when they are used to strike a metal tool.

puncheon • a log split in half. The flat side was usually planed or smoothed in some way to remove splinters. Puncheons were used instead of planks where no sawmill was available to make finished lumber. In Benjamin Van Cleve’s description of Fort Harrod, he said the doors and shutters of the cabins were made of puncheons, as were some of the floors.

reel or weasel • a yarn-measuring device consisting of a spoked wheel attached to gears. As the wheel is turned, the yarn winds onto it. The gears cause the reel to make a “pop” sound after the desired length of yarn is measured—a possible source of the nursery rhyme title “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

rush light • a primitive lighting device consisting of a metal clamp mounted on a stand. A dried plant stalk such as a reed, rush, or mullein was dipped in grease, tallow, or beeswax; clamped into place; and lit.

settlement • a community such as a village or town started by a group of people (known as settlers) who move far from home but keep ties with their state or country of origin. Harrodstown (later Harrodsburg) and Boonesborough were both 18th-century settlements in Kentucky which were protected by their respective forts.

shaving horse • a primitive foot vise or clamp that consists of a timber bench with a wooden lever and jaw assembly attached to one end. The woodworker straddles the bench, facing the lever assembly, and puts his/her foot against the bottom of the lever to provide the force to clamp a piece of wood into position. The operator can then easily hold the wood while using a drawknife or other tool to shape it.

shuttle • a tool used by a weaver to slide the weft thread between the warp threads on the loom. Shuttles are shaped with tapered ends, something like the hull of a boat, and polished so they will easily slide along the threads from one side of the loom to the other.

skein • a length of thread or yarn wound in a loose, long coil. A skein was often measured using a device called a reel or weasel.

swage block • a large, heavy block of steel used in blacksmithing. It has various sizes of holes in its face, used to hold the end of a piece of hot metal for bending or other shaping, and the sides are scalloped to help form shapes such as the curve of a wheel.

station • a small settlement of just a few cabins with a strongly built (fortified) blockhouse used for the protection of the settlers.

tallow • grease from animal fat. It was used for many purposes on the frontier, including candle making or lubricating machine parts such as wagon wheels.

three sisters • a term used to refer to the Native American habit of growing corn (maize), beans, and squash together. The stalks of corn provided the supports for the bean vines to grow on, while the squash vines grow on the ground around the corn and beans, smothering out weeds and holding in moisture.

tinder • a very flammable material, such as pine or cedar bark, used as part of a firestarter kit.

tomahawk • a small axe used by both Native Americans and European settlers for a variety of purposes: as a tool for chopping or whittling wood, as a metal striker used with flint to start a fire, or as a weapon for hand-to-hand combat or throwing. By the end of the 1600s, militia infantrymen began carrying them instead of swords.

tree nails • wooden pegs used instead of iron nails or spikes in pioneer construction. Iron nails were hard to come by on the frontier, and it was much easier to carve wooden pegs from the plentiful supply of timber available to the pioneers.

The Program
For Students
Teaching Tools
See Also