"After breakfast Pa hitched up Pet and Patty, and taking his ax he went to get timber for the door. Laura helped wash the dishes and make the beds, but that day Mary minded the baby. Laura helped Pa make the door. Mary watched, but Laura handed him his tools."
After his encounter with the wolves and having them surround the cabin that night, Pa decides it is time to build a door. He hasn't done it yet because he is out of nails, but there are other ways of door-building than just using nails. Laura gets to help him because there is lots to do to make a door from scratch.
First, Pa takes the saw and saws the logs to the right length to make a door. Then he saws two shorter lengths for the cross-pieces. After all the pieces are the proper size, Pa takes the ax, splits the logs into slabs, and smooths the rough wood nicely.
He lays the long boards on the ground with the short boards across them, then takes his auger and bores holes through the cross pieces and into the door slabs. He drives wooden pegs into the holes and the door is held together.
He makes the hinges out of three straps of leather fastened to the door with pegs, and to the strong door-frame with more pegs. He makes the door latch out of a long, smooth stick that can be moved up and down by pulling a string if you are outside and by using your hands if you are inside. If you wanted to keep someone out, you could pull the string back through the door and there was no way for them to get in.
It is a very good, strong door.
The next day Pa goes hunting because they are out of meat, but the day after that Laura and Pa make the door for the barn. It is made just like the first door, except with no latch because Pet and Patty don't know how to use one. Instead, Pa drills holes through the door and barn wall and fastens a stout chain with a strong lock. No one can get into the stable and no one can get into the house.
"Now we're all snug," Pa says.
I don't know about you, but after this latest project I'm starting to get a little suspicious about the accuracy of some of Laura's recollections. Like Pa building a door start-to-finish in one day---I mean, I could see a week or so, but one day? I'm not so sure....
Our chapter begins with Pa suddenly getting religion when it comes to solid doors. I'm sure Ma had felt the yearnin' for quite some time, but nothing like a pack of giant wolves around your wiffle-ball house to inspire a man to bump security to the top of the to-do list.
And to be fair, I can totally understand Pa's side of things. He didn't have any nails left, so it was easy to put off door building until he had a chance to get to town for the proper equipment. But sometimes life demands we forge ahead without the ideal setup, and in true pioneer spirit, Pa met the challenge with skill and flair.
As hard as it is to believe in this age of instant assembly, a great deal of the world's lasting creations were made under very primitive circumstances. It was, and still is, possible to build many things without using nails in the process. I decided to carry on this noble pioneer tradition by making something using nail-less construction. Of course, I'm not crazy, so I wasn't about to start out with something hard like a door---making a little footstool was a big enough challenge for a beginner such as myself.
I didn't worry about having the right tools for the job. See, I have a very special father. He has taken for his personal life motto the phrases, "What if?" and "You never know...." He's never met a tool he didn't like, and once he gets his hands on them, they're prisoners for life. Evidently, somewhere in his past, he decided that "What if?" would probably involve building a log cabin from scratch someday, so all I had to do was borrow from his knowledge and store of equipment.
I began with my wood in its most virgin state---well, not quite virgin---the tree had fallen down last winter and part of it was already cut into short sections. I selected a log I judged to be the right size and began the process of splitting it to make a board.
First one side of the log split off, and then the other. I was left with a thick, rough wood plank just the right size for a cute little footstool. That was the first day.
The next day I began my work of smoothing the board. The rough work was done at first with an ax, but I whined my way out of that as soon as possible. This may surprise you, but I'm not actually that skilled with an ax....still. My arms were killing me, too. No need for Pioneer90X---you burned your calories in honest labor back in those days!
After my shrill keening convinced my dad that the board was smooth enough to move on to the next step, he got out his sculptor's adze for me to use in the smoothing process. A full size adze is like an ax on a hoe handle and used standing over your work, but this one was for handwork use. It helped smooth the ridges in the board and take out the largest splinters, but even with that, you'd still need protective padding before you'd dare sit on it.
When my arms couldn't take it anymore, I took a break by sawing the legs off of branches from my parents' woodpile. It still used my arm muscles, but at least they were different ones! That was the second day.
These are the tools I used in creation of my footstool. Of course, the ax, sledgehammer, and wedge were used in cutting the board out. The other tools are (from the top down): a saw, a draw knife (R), a brace-and-bit (L), a plane, calipers, a ruler, and (L) a pocket knife.
Everything was now in readiness for the detailed hand-working. The labor moved into my dad's man-cave--his heated Garage o' Wonder. I clamped the board to a sawhorse and smoothed it still further using a plane and then the draw knife. The draw knife is pretty cool...you lay it almost flat to the board and then pull it towards you, shaving off little whorls of wood as you go.
The board was ready; now to prepare the legs. I clamped each stick by turn to the sawhorse and used the draw knife to trim the bark from one end and to smooth out any bulges that would get in the way of placing the legs properly. Then I sawed a little slit in each end to fit the wedges in when it was time to assemble things. This was the third day.
On the fourth day all my labor got to come together into a finished project...at last! First I used the calipers to measure the circumference of the ends of the legs. I needed to know what size of bit to use to drill each hole, since the legs weren't all one size. Then I used the brace and bit to drill holes in the seat of the footstool, another great opportunity for growing my upper body strength.
After the holes were drilled, it was time to install the legs. To help keep the legs nice and snug in their holes, I was using a wedge construction. It is done by cutting a slit in the end of each leg, then placing a wedge into the tip. When you hammer the leg down into the hole, the wedge is driven in the rest of the way in and spreads the wood so that it fits very tightly inside its socket. Sadly, this meant I had to cut out wedges. This may surprise you, but I am not actually that good at cutting wedges. They were more like chunks. Hey, square is the new taper! At my dad's insistence, I kept at it until I had 4 passable wedges, which I then trimmed to fit the depth of the hole and width of the slit.
Good! Now I was finally ready to put this thing together! Just in case the perfection of my craftsmanship might be a little bit lacking, I slathered the legs with glue before I pounded them into their holes. And no, I didn't make the glue from scratch. I felt I'd achieved quite enough authenticity for one project.
Voila! Pioneer perfection using no nails. But half a bottle of Gorilla Glue. Does that still count?
So what did I learn this time around? Well, for one thing, I learned when doing wood work it is best to spread your legs wide. You end up with an awful lot of very sharp things swinging towards some very sensitive areas.
I also learned a little about how much the value of things have changed. In pioneer days a little girl or boy would have been delighted to receive this little footstool as a gift. They would know that it represented hours of hard labor poured out simply out of love for them and they probably would remember receiving it all of their lives. If I gave it to a kid today, they'd look at it for a second and ask, "Where's the cord?"
In our culture today, if something breaks or wears out, we throw it away without another thought, in full confidence that an anonymous foreign worker in a far-away sweatshop will make us another one. Through this project, I've discovered how much pride and sense of accomplishment we've lost in that system. My footstool is seriously flawed, and until I get the legs trimmed evenly, rocks back and forth like a rocking chair. But I am prouder of it than almost anything else I've ever made. I took a raw piece of wood and wrested a (semi)functional piece of furniture out of it. That is really cool! Much neater than going to the store and getting a mass-produced one that would last a week before breaking.