A Plane tool


A small plane of the ACW era +/- 20 years.


A wooden plane of the ACW era +/- 20 years.


A Swiss made plane marked 1797

A plane is a common tool in every tool chest used for a variety of tasks. Most common is to smooth a piece of wood or to contour the edges of a project. Many of the planes in the US are made by prison labor in Ohio or New York and are actually of rather good quality. Many an immigrant artisan brought tools with them from the continent and the fanciest one above came from Switzerland and is dated 1797 under the blade. It’s quality is beyond reproach. I also have spill plane and a smaller plane of norse manufacture. I’m not one to take a gift for granted and as I have paid for very few of the tools I own who am to complain?

Some of the tools I own came as payment for work or lodging while others fell into my tool chest from a poorly watched wagon. I have to admit I have actually paid for a few tools that I needed and was unable to acquire through other methods. There is something soothing about nice grain and color in wood and in a tool. I have seen some of these new cast iron tools and I question how robust they might be after being dropped on a hard surface. I suspect they might break. On a cold morning they might also be a bit uncomfortable in the hand. Time will determine if I am right or not; though I think I will always prefer the feel of wood in my hand over that of cast iron.

Starr Pistol

Starr pistol

Anyone who knows me understands I have no fondness for pistols. I believe them the toy of the dandy. I prefer a good knife. During the war I was the Regimental Armorer and on occasion was required to repair a damaged pistol. I was the Regimental Armorer for my own infantry regiment but there were occasions when cavalry would be garrisoned with us and a few officers carried pistols. I remember the Whitney Navy revolver as a well made and serviceable pistol. I felt the same about the Remington. While the French Lefaucheux was superbly built it lacked the machine made quality of most US made pistols. As various models of Colt revolvers were quite common I had my hands on a few of those as well as an officers Smith and Wesson. What you see on display is the Starr revolver, an excellent pistol well ahead of its time in that it was a double action pistol. The Starr was quite popular with the men who carried them. She was rugged, reliable and quite well made.

The majority of repairs I made to pistols involved cracked, broken or clogged nipples. I once was asked to repair a cracked frame on a Colt Navy whose owner had used it as a club; no armorer is that good. There were other minor issues better repaired by a professional gunsmith but only rarely was I unable to return a pistol to service. The Starr is memorable to me because of the distinctive frame and the fact that those that passed through my hands were all of excellent quality and the repairs I made were typically minimal.

After the war quite a few gunsmiths made a trade converting percussion pistols to fire the new cartridge. Most that I have seen converted such were Colt or Remington pistols though I have seen several Starr pistols converted to cartridge by simply modifying the cylinder.

See you on the road

BB Road home

Long before the war when I was with the Legion in the Crimea I gained a great respect for the Russian fighting man. We had several Russians join the Legion after the Crimea and I served with them in north Africa. One was fond of shouting “Yol Bolson” or something that sounded like that instead of saying good bye. He said it meant that we would meet again on the road sometime. The man was not the most literate or learned but he was a good soldier and we became friends. A Kabyle spear introduced him to the Angel of Death.

Before the war when trading with the Lakota I learned that they never said good bye; instead preferring to promise to see you again. I liked the Lakota; they were fighting men of the highest order. I have always appreciated and respected fighting men. They are a people that I respect and can understand to a degree.

After the war when I built my inn I would still take early morning walks, after a time my wife would join me on those walks. She called them my patrols as I insisted on carrying a loaded rifle. On occasion I would take game for the stew pot but as often as not I saw nothing but the trees and sign of animals. In reality my wife was more right than wrong when she called my morning walk my dawn patrol. A wise man is aware of his surroundings, by setting out well prior to dawn and surveying the roads I knew of trouble that might be coming down the road.

Those morning walks cleared my mind and prepared me for the day. Those morning walks never let me down, they prepared me for the day, calmed me and allowed me to appreciate the beauty of nature.

BB road home 2

M1817 Percussion conversion “Common Rifle”


One company of the 4th were issued the M1817 rifle early in the war. I don’t recall if they left Minnesota with them or not. They would be replaced by either the excellent M1841 in .58 or the M1855 rifle and later with the M1861 series arms. The M1817 was a short and handy rifle with good accuracy out to about 250 yards. The simple notched rear sight really wasn’t good for anything past that 250 yards. Like the M1841 the M1817 was reliable and effective; but unlike the M1841 I so admire the M1817 was hand made and thus not interchangeable with the resulting variety in quality.

Those that I handled were well built with good fit and finish and I could see why the men appreciated them. However the deep rifling designed for a patched round ball quickly fouled when using a standard .54 caliber bullet. That fouling was more difficult to get out as well due to the deep rifling necessary with a patched round ball.

I do not know if any were converted from flintlock to percussion by national armories or if they were all done by private contractors. The one I recall had an 1841 date on the lock and by all appearances had left the factory as a percussion arm.

One of the drawbacks I recall of the M1817 was the patch box; it seemed to become difficult to open and close with heavy use. While easily large enough for the required tools and a few patches it seemed to get out of order fairly easily. I was required to repair several because of this. While it was an easy repair job for me it was an annoyance to the man who carried one.

Like the original M1841 the M1817 was not originally designed for a bayonet though I do recall seeing a few that had been modified to take a sabre bayonet. Though to be honest I don’t remember if those were M1817 that had been issued to my regiment or some that I encountered in the hands of rebels.

Tools to build

Tools used to turn a log into a beam

It takes a skilled man with an axe, broad axe and adze to turn a round log into a square beam. Most who don’t know anything of the process fail to understand how much work it takes to make one good beam. First a man notches the log, ideally he will be able to raise it off the ground before he begins his work. He will mark it with a bit of chalk line or a strong score mark. Then he uses a felling axe to cut notches every foot or so ideally ending his notch a quarter or half inch of depth above the chalk line. The builder then moves on to using a broad axe to chop out the area between the notches. Some will use a saw to make the notches and then use an axe to break loose the pieces between the saw cuts. I don’t know if that is a faster method or not.

Then the adze comes into its own as the tool used to finish the log flat on one side. The process is then repeated for each side of the log that needs to be flat. Some only need to finish two sides others all four as it depends upon where the beam will be used in the structure. If needed he can use a plane to do any fine finish he might have missed.

How long does such a process take? A good skilled man can likely do the work in a few hours of hard work and make no mistake it is hard work. A man with soft hands will quickly find blisters on his left hand; a careless man will quickly gain awareness of where his feet and leg are placed in relation to a tool blade.

Over the years I have helped make roads, siege works and more than a few structures. Upon my arrival in Minnesota my hands had become soft from several long months of travel. It took a few weeks of work with an axe and splitting maul to toughen my hands back up again. The war softened my hands again, though to a lesser degree, and I again went to work toughening my hands before I began building my inn and stable. It was hard and exhausting work but in the end I could look at the work myself and a few friends had accomplished with real pride. Any man who works with his hands can look at his accomplishments with the knowledge that with good hard work and a will anything can be accomplished.



A “dinglestock” is a tool used to sharpen and maintain a scythe blade. The small avnvil is hammered into a fencepost or stump and the hammer used as needed to straighten the blade on a scythe. The hammer and anvil are rarely seen as a set today.

How do you sharpen a scythe in the field? If you want to spend a lot of time and effort you can use a whet or oil stone. But the fastest way is to use a Denglestock. This one has an iron loop through it so you can carry it and a hammer in one compact package. Wedge the small spike of the denglestock into a fence post or stump and use the hammer to straighten out bends and burs in the blade of the scythe by peening them out. Then back to the field with the scythe to keep cutting hay or grain.