Wednesday, September 30, 2009

All Yoked Up - Ox Team at the Farm

Ox team Jigs and Buckwheat were calves born here on the farm. Farm staff Historic Interpreter Marieanne Coursen has trained and worked with them since they were young. Oxen are trained and used differently than horses. Oxen wear a wooden yoke over the shoulders that harness their massive strength. The pair were put in the first training yoke when 6 months old. They now perform jobs like hauling in our maple sap for sugaring and pulling the cart.
Oxen are trained to work by their drover, who combines voice commands with taps from a switch. Patience and determination are good traits in an ox drover. While less volatile than horses, oxen need constant guidance and direction through voice and body language. There are no reins on an ox team, and your little switch is more suited to getting their attention that forcing compliance. Oxen work for you because you are the head of the team. They either want to please you or resign themselves to the truth that you won’t stop pestering until they do the job at hand.
Watching an ox team back a cart into a barn is a good lesson in perseverance. The oxen know what you want to do, but don’t really like backing into a space they cannot see. Even though they may do the job every day, they know there could be something lurking in there! The drover’s command and presence has to overcome their resistance, and they let the teamster be their eyes as they back the cart into the stall.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Blacksmithing Book Review: Edwin Tunis - Colonial Craftsman

Few books provide a more approachable or more attractive presentation of traditional American Craftsmen than Edwin Tunis’ Colonial Craftsman. Written in 1965, this classic has been republished in a large, soft cover format. The hundreds of beautiful drawings and line illustrations throughout the book are the feature that makes the book a stand out.If you have ever wondered about the tradesmen who made shoes, bound books, or worked metal prior to the Industrial Revolution this book can provide illumination. The tools, the buildings, and workers at work are all presented in the illustrations. The text provides discussion of the social, economic, and cultural roles of each line of work. Many obscure trades and methods are presented as well.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Like Shoes on an Ox!

The Farmers’ Museum has more draft power than just our horse Zeb. There are also Jigs and Buckwheat, the Devon Shorthorn Working Steers. Oxen were a much more common source of draft power in the 1840s than in the present. Oxen are strong, readily available on the farm, and able to thrive on feed a horse wouldn’t eat. Today, they have a reputation for being slow. While it is true that they don’t have the gallop of a horse, oxen have good speed while pulling heavy loads like plows and logs.

Most people know that horses wear shoes to protect their hooves from wear and to improve traction. Many don’t know that oxen can be shod as well. Oxen have a split hoof, and can wear two shoes on each foot. Thus a fully shod ox wears 8 shoes. We have a couple of forged ox shoes at the blacksmith shop. For a look at how ox shoes were traditionally forged in Northern Europe try viewing this 1923 film: “Nail and Ox shoe Smith”. It is almost ten minutes long, and requires a high speed connection to stream the video. (It is embedded below, but you can also follow the link)

The first two minutes show a rural smith in Sweden making nails. The rest of the film documents two smiths forging first nails, then ox shoes. They make both a normal ox shoe and a winter shoe called an “Ice Nail”. The winter shoes have an iron spike on the bottom for traction. This black and white film seems to be part of an effort to document rural and disappearing trades. The smith and striker work very smoothly and fast. You can tell they have made hundreds of these shoes by the way they handle their tools.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Making handles with a spokeshave and froe

Blacksmiths are one of the few tradespeople that are able to make most of their own tools. The blacksmiths in the Fields' Shop have a tradition of making their hammers. Once you have made the hammer head, where do you get the handle? From the woodpile, of course!

Any ash wood found in the woodpile is set aside for making tool handles. Billets are split out of the firewood using a froe. Then the wood is shaped while sitting at the shaving horse. That is a traditional workbench used to hold pieces of wood while it is shaped to make wagon spokes, or in this case, hammer handles.
The billet of wood is first shaped using a drawknife. The tool is pulled toward you and shaves large slices of wood away. Next a spokeshave is used to take finer shavings of wood off the billet. The handle eye, neck, and body are shaped and smoothed. Finished handles are set aside for use, while the wood shavings produced are saved to start our daily fire.

Thanks to volunteer Michela Lachance for demonstrating the process!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why do horses need shoes?

Zeb was at the Fields' Blacksmith Shop recently to have his shoes pulled, his hooves trimmed, and the shoes reset. Why do horses need shoes at all? Some don’t. If a horse is working or pulling heavy loads on abrasive ground like our gravel roads then their hoof may be wearing faster than it grows. It that goes on long enough they will wear down their hoof wall and their hooves will hurt. Shoes protect their hooves from wear and the horse from lameness.

Why then does Zeb need to have his shoes removed and reset? Because his hooves have grown over the last 6 weeks. They do not get worn down because of his steel shoes. The hooves need to be trimmed to a proper length and angle. Here is Zeb getting his nails done!
Does getting the shoes nailed on hurt the horse? No. If it did he wouldn’t let us do it again and again. Here is Zeb and Dan our Farrier. They have been working together for twelve years. Zeb appears to be having fun, and is trying to pull out Danny’s shirt. Yuck, Horse slobber!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hinges, Pintles and Gudgeons

The Field blacksmith shop is making hardware for hayloft doors for the Morey Barn. Our shop has been reproducing hardware for the museum’s historic structures since 1946. The barn is near the blacksmith shop and houses the Children’s Barnyard. During the summer a small herd of sheep, goats, chickens, and Annabelle the calf live there and greet children.
This has been a fun project. The hinge starts as an 18 inch long bar of steel. The barrel or eye of the hinge strap is forged and rolled. A sizing pin is driven through the eye to make sure it is the proper size. This round hole that rides on the hinge pin is traditionally called the gudgeon.
Then the bar is drawn out at the hammer and anvil. That takes nearly an hour. The next step is to forge the pintle, which is the other half of the hinge. It has a spike that gets driven into the barn beam and a pin (the pintle) upon which the gudgeon rides. Most people call this a strap hinge, but it is more properly a pintle and gudgon strap hinge.
The doors and hinges that we are replacing have worn out from more than a century and a half of weather and wear. If my hinges last as long they won’t need to be replaced until the year 2159!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Harvest Festival!

Most agricultural communities in the 19th century had some form of Harvest Festival. This may have been celebrated as a County Fair, a barn dance, or even religious celebrations. We even have a National Harvest Festival in the form of Thanksgiving. For what else is a harvest festival than a giving of thanks for the harvest of food and crops that will keep you though the long winter’s nights?
The Farmers’ Museum continues this tradition with our own Harvest Festival.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Draft Power: Big Zeb and the wagon at the farm

Zeb the Percheron is our draft horse. He does a lot of work at the Museum. He pulls the plow in the field, cultivates the crops, and draws visitors around the Museum in our wagon. Zeb has been with us for more than 12 years. A gentle giant, he endures both hard work and the petting from hundreds of children.

Horses wear horseshoes for a number of reasons. Increased traction for work is one. Correcting equine orthopedic issues is another. Zeb gets his hooves trimmed and new shoes as he needs them every 6 weeks. Here is the Farrier setting a new shoe.
Throughout the summer Zeb is harnessed to pull the wagon from 11:30 until 1:30. He usually works 5 days a week, rain or shine. As we head into fall he will pull the plow to turn under the stubble from the summer crops. That will help prepare the soil for planting Winter Rye, which will be our first crop harvested next spring. The agricultural cycle of preparing the soil, planting, and harvesting will continue to turn with Zeb’s help.Throughout the summer Zeb pulls the wagon from 11:30 until 1:30. He usually works 5 days a week, rain or shine.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What is a froe? Tool making in the blacksmith's shop.

We have just completed a blacksmithing class at The Farmers’ Museum. This was a two day blacksmithing tutorial for two students. The diverse background of our students makes the classes a lot of fun. One of the projects we made in the class was a froe.
The froe is a simple tool that is struck with a mallet to split wood. Historically they were used to split shingles from a round of cedar trunk. In the Field's Blacksmith Shop we use one to split ash wood for hammer handles. One of my students builds and repairs musical instruments. He built a froe to split wood to make violin soundboards! Tool making is great strength within the blacksmith’s trade. We can build the tool to build just about anything. If we need nails, we make a nail header, if we need shingles, forge a froe, and if more timber is needed we forge an axe.
To use a froe you place the blade on top of the piece of wood you wish to split. Strike it sharply with a wooden mallet or maul. Twist the handle to control the direction of the split, and split the wood into two pieces. You might say you twist the handle to and froe!
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