Smoothing wood with a card scraper

Card scraper and pocket knife

When working with wood that you intend to sit on or handle in any way it is useful to be able to smooth it. Smooth wood minimizes splinters and makes it feel softer to the touch. There are a variety of ways to do so. A good scraper can go a long way towards smooth and soft to the touch wood. A pocket knife can do similar work but it is hard on the blade. A scraper is preferable.

A scraper is really nothing more than a piece of steel wedged between two pieces of wood. I have seen some with two pieces of wood loosely riveted together. A simple wedge holds the steel in place. Others, like mine, are simply glued into place. The wedged variety works better as it allows one to remove or change the position of the blade.

Dry goods stores have begun to offer scrapers with larger handles that work well. I prefer a card scraper as they are smaller and more comfortable for me to use. Honestly, until recently I could not have told you what a scraper was used for. Often at a stop on campaign I would take a hatchet and brace or bow drill to make a three legged stool or three. When wearing good britches a man need not really worry about a sliver in the tail end. When trying to make a nicer replacement chair for the delicate backside of a lady a smooth sliver free seating arrangement is advisable.

After review that smooth seat was a requirement. So I tried to smooth it to the ladies approval with a plane. That did not pass muster and I proceeded on to use the scraper. In short order my Mrs. Mina was happy with the result.

I have since taken to using a scraper on most of my creations. It works well.

Tools of war

Many who frequent my business know I appreciate the fighting man. Occasionally, a tool of the fighting man will come my way. In this case a man coming back from the Dakota Territory handed me a small bundle in exchange for a couple nights of sleep in a real bed and a few tankards of beer.

The tools of war for the Lakota and their allies are quite useful despite their appearance of obsolescence. I have heard men call the smoothbore musket I was first trained with an obsolete weapon of their grandfathers not worth the weight of wood and steel. I tend to disagree. It is only obsolete if it fails to kill.

The Lakota and other warriors of the plains nations have used such weapons for generations. They are more than just weapons though, they are also effective tools. The kind of tools that can make the difference between life and death.

Fine blades

A fine blade is a good thing to have. Recently a traveling blacksmith stopped at the inn for a few nights rest. I purchased three blades from him. Why? I cannot say, I certainly had no need for them. But once in a while a man has a need for something he does not truly need.

I have always had an appreciation for fine steel. All of his blades were of very good steel and fine craftsmanship. In this case one was from an old saw blade, another a used file and the third… the third was absolutely beautiful. I have seen fine blades from the Continent, Africa, Asia and here in the United States. I have only rarely seen layered or Damascus steel, outside of North Africa or Turkey. It is a rare thing to see here and it caught my eye.

The man had perhaps a dozen blades of Damascus to choose from and I chose the smallest. A fine bone handled blade for my Mrs. Mina to use about the kitchen or perhaps to carry. Knowing the woman as I do I suspect it will sit unused on a shelf but she at least claims it is a pretty blade.

The blade made from a saw blade is likely intended as a pruning knife. A young man down the road is planning to join the army next year. A soldier needs a good solid pocket knife and I suspect this on will work well enough for his needs. A knife without a point is less likely to get him in trouble while in the barracks.

The third blade is made from a used file with a handle made of bone. It is a rather effective dagger. The kind of blade I really have no use for. But there is a young lady living not to far from here who is rather fetching. A good knife in the hands of a pretty lady who has an idea how to use it can dissuade those of ill intent.

A fine blade is priceless. There are numerous quality blades in my inn and tavern. All who work and live here carry one. A knife is useful every day and one that is sharp is far better than a dull one.

Plumb Bob Level

A simple plumb bob and a board with a line scored down the middle and a space cut in for the plumb bob to hang was what was used prior to the spirit level. Simple, reliable and effective but not as easy to store or carry. Also not so good at finding level except in the vertical such as for walls and such.

I am a simple man; I like simple. While I am slow to adapt to new things I can recognize when new things work better than the old. I made this when we first started to build the business after the war. It took me only a short time and I quickly put it to use building the stone foundations.

If it works why not use it. But there is a beauty to these new levels. I like the way they look and the simplicity in form and function is beautiful.

The Spirit Level

I’m told that about 1840 or so the spirit level came about.  It is more reliable and more sturdy than the plumb bob square or level that I was accustomed to.  I bought the pair pictured above after we had built my business.  But they saw much use in building both the local church and the little school e built from an abandoned barn across the road.

I am a slow learner in these new things.  I was slow to appreciate the rifle, slow to understand the metallic cartridge and slow to understand new and more efficient tools such as the spirit level.  But I have come to fully appreciate them, though it took some time.

My first two levels were a JW Andrews made about made sometime in the 1840’s and a DM Lyon made a few years later.  I like brass and wood especially if that wood has a pleasant grain or a nice shine to it.  These levels were well used when I purchased them on a trip to Saint Paul.  The price was good and I thought I might be able to use them.

When I arrived to home I applied several coats of oil and saw the wood come to life.  They are not only functional they are of an exceptionally smooth wood that is quite pleasant to the touch.  My Mina is less impressed with them than I but she does appreciate the color I think.  I caught her using the shorter of the two to prop open a window last summer.

There is something oddly calming to me about tools.  I do not understand why but I can sit and work at my shave horse fashioning a stool or simple chair and when done I feel rather comfortable and content.  I have built something; while I known my construction is rather amateurish and crude it is my own.  There is a bit of pride in knowing that I have built something.  As a soldier I helped build many a road and did work on stone walls and buildings.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much of that knowledge has stayed with me.  How much I have been able to remember and use again has been useful to both myself and this growing village.

Oddly, if some more of these new spirit levels were to come my way I do not believe I would be likely to complain.  They display well on the shelf behind the bar.  having tools that I might sell in the future is an investment of sorts that seems a wise decision.


Mrs. Mina attends church at every opportunity and she will always take Little Miss Freedom with her.  Other children attend as well.  The local minister has no issue with Mrs.  Mina; she has been careful to find a church that has no issue with her.  That is something I fail to understand, I know that the Jesus was of Jerusalem and the only way he might have been a blond hair blue eyed child would be if his father had been a Roman soldier.

I have known a few Italians over the years, few of them were blond with blue eyes.  The men I have known from that part of the world have all been dark eyed and dark haired.  So I do not pretend to understand the prejudice of man in regards to religion.  I thought religion was to help the soul regardless of the color of skin a person wears.

I have known good men of white, red and black skin I have also known very bad men of each of those shades.  I say to judge a man by who he is not by his color.  Color doesn’t make or break a man.

Many of these ministers and men who claim to be men of God are not worthy to grace my table and I would not welcome them to my tavern.  I have known others who were good men that cared more for their flock than their pocket book.

Every local church I have known has raised coin to build a fancy church.  I have never pretended to understand that, why tear down the tree to build the church?  Would it not be simpler to just worship under the tree and use the coin to help people who might need it?  A good man of God travels to where he is needed instead of making people come to him.  But who am I to judge?  I do not give my coin to any church, the only person I trust with my money is Mina.  She wisely does not trust me with hers as she knows my fondness for cognac.

All of that said I will never begrudge a man or woman their religion.  It is a powerful thing that can keep a man warm when cold or stave off hunger or loneliness a bit. The ten commandments as I learned them as a child are not bad rules to live by.  There is wisdom in the bible but as I see it there is wisdom elsewhere as well.  God created this world, man has built the things that have corrupted it.

As a veteran of wars on three continents I can say that I have seen precious little of god in the actions of man but more than a little of the devil.  All I can hope is that every generation is a little better than the one before but I am cynical and learned long ago that trusting people over much is a mistake.

Beautiful wood and steel

I have always loved the feel of smooth wood or cold steel under my hand.  A finely crafted handle of a knife or the stock of a rifle has always had a calming effect upon me.  The knowledge that a skilled artisan dedicated real time working on something I hold in my hand has always made me content to be alive.

Whatever that piece of quality might be;  A rifle, knife, tool or even the railing of a set of stairs.  A local blacksmith made a set of hand rail for the stairwells in the Inn by simply twisting a piece of bar stock.  A neighbor found a straight tree limb and simply removed the bark.  It was rough and unpleasant to look upon until he started working at smoothing that tree limb.  By the time he was finished it was soft and smooth to the touch.  When he added a few coats of oil it took on a sheen that was pleasing to the eye and to touch.  He had taken something from nature and put his mark upon it by finding the beauty within.

Wood has a grain, a feel to it that is lacking in steel.  Steel has an inherent strength.  Brass, bone, horn and even stone can be made almost as beautiful as a woman.  It has been said that a good rifle or good blade is like a good woman: strong, deadly and ready to speak with authority should the need arise.  That is true.  A good rifle or blade has all the curves in all the right places just like a beautiful woman.  But a beautiful woman will always be more pleasant to look upon.

I have never been overly skilled at much past killing and surviving.  I appreciate those who can make things pleasing to both the eye and touch.  That they use nothing more than the sweat of their brow and a bit of imagination always impresses me.  All across this country I see pride in things made by a poor mans hands.  Men who put their heart into anything make things that will last.  No one else might appreciate his work but the artisan does.  That pride is evident in the quality of his work for all to see.

Tools, why do I have so many?

I was recently asked why I own so many tools.  I sell them to those who need them and I generally like them.  I have spent the majority of my life dirt poor.  My coin went to purchase cognac and little else.  My Mrs. Mina earned and saved much coin during the war.  Enough that we were able to easily purchase the homestead my Inn stands upon.  A few months of hard labor built a barn and three story building used as a tavern, Inn and rooming house.  We are at the junction of two roads that service the area and my failure to grossly water down the drinks I serve and the superb food the lovely Mrs. Mina serves has made us a fairly popular stop.

My attitude towards those I view as worthy has also garnered us much repeat business.  I am an honest sort of scum and have been accused of being an honorable sort of thief.  I do not steal from those who cannot afford the loss.  I do not and have never harmed a woman or child.  The neighbors say I have a reputation of being kind to children and those in need.  Every once in while my good nature is rewarded with a simple thank you.

A year or so after we got the Inn going a young family moved onto a homestead just up the road.  A lovely wife and husband with two very fetching young girls.  Their first winter was a hard one and in the spring they decided they would not suffer such a winter again.  The two girls traded their cleaning skills for a pair of axes and a couple of good wood saws.  I will admit I took a shine to the two girls.  They were pretty and eager to help Mina and I in cleaning the place so that they might pay for the tools they traded for.

The younger of the two also had a real interest in learning to shoot with the idea that she might bring food to the table.  I sold her a nice squirrel rifle and she asked me to teach her how to use it.  She proved to be a rare fine shot taking many a squirrel in the eye at fifty paces with it.  She is in fact a far better shot than I.

Now a year ago the two girls chose to allow young men to court them.  As their father has been away at the lumber camps I took it upon myself to give the young men that chose to court them the “talk” usually reserved for that of a father to a perspective son in law.  I made it very clear to the young suitors that should any harm befall these young ladies that I would be quite put out.  I promised that any discomfort inflicted upon those girls would be returned to them ten fold.   After all a happy wife leads to a longer life.

At the dual wedding I gave a nice cash gift to help them get set and Mina provided a nicely set blanket for each.  I was surprised to receive a gift from them as well.  The youngest gave me an ivory folding rule and the oldest a small horned plane.  I have only rarely received gifts of thanks in my life and these are indeed precious ones.  They shall hold a place of honor in my tool chest.


An interesting bayonet

Any soldier will tell you that equipment gets damaged or broken in the field.  In some cases the soldier will be charged for the broken or lost piece of equipment.  In some cases the soldier, or someone else, will keep that piece of broken equipment.  On occasion the soldier will find a good use for that broken piece of Army property.

This rather vicious knife started life as a bayonet for an M1842 musket.  Through some trick of fate it was broken.  An industrious smith with access to a saw and a grinding wheel cut away the socket and ground down part of the blade to create the tang.  A little more work with a draw knife and some scrap wood created a usable handle and viola a knife was reborn from a damaged bayonet.

Who made it or when I do not know.  It came to my tavern one night tucked into the boot of a would be tough who felt one of my customers had wronged him somehow.  The young fool was determined to start a fight.  As the young tough had no intention of paying for a drink before he picked the fight I persuaded him that carrying such a tool in his boot might be dangerous.  After all, someone might get hurt.  As I was the man holding a rifle at the moment it was most likely to be him.  While I have no problem with an occasional fist thrown about in my tavern when a young fool brings a knife intending to start a fight he is taking it too far.  The man he was hoping to pick a fight with is a good hard working man but most importantly he is a paying customer.  When I am given the choice between a loyal paying customer and a foolish child who thinks himself a tough man there is no choice.  The paying customer is always right.

I kept the knife and the young mans boots as well as his trousers and jacket.  I am no savage, I allowed him to keep his hat and his drawers as it is several miles back to town from my place.  Contrary to the accusations he leveled afterwards I did not rob him.

When the sheriff arrived to speak to me of the incident I handed him the boys jacket and trousers.  I then showed him the knife and gave him a list of the men who had been in the tavern that night if he might wish to question men that might back my side of the story.  The sheriff knew me as an old soldier and trusted my word enough that I suffered no problems from the law.

I saw the fool the next time I went to town with my mule cart for supplies.  He hefted a hammer as to strike me and called me some rather rude names.  I said nothing and merely inserted my rifle into his stomach and brought it to full cock.  I rather suspect the muzzle of my M1841 jammed into his belly felt rather uncomfortable.

I walked him to the Sheriff’s office and let him have his say with the Sheriff.  I was some impressed that the Sheriff advised him that there was good work on the railroad off to the west.  In thanks to the Sheriff’s eloquence I gave the fool his jacket and trousers back.  Though I will admit that I kept his shoes and the hammer.  The hammer needed a better sort of home and the shoes were new.  Good footwear is not inexpensive.

A fine English made L Blanch shotgun.

An Englishman recently stopped at my inn with his hunting party.  He had a variety of very expensive rifles and shotguns.  The one that most caught my eye was a very light 13 gauge single barrel shotgun.  It was doubtless a bird gun, perhaps the fanciest firearm I have ever looked upon.  The balance and workmanship were as fine as any that have ever crossed my hands.

I am a simple man but I can appreciate beauty when I see it.  The scroll work was exquisite and the fit and finish finer than any I had held.  The balance was superb.  The light weight made the shotgun fit for only a light load and bird shot.  Should the game ever be interested shooting back I expect the user would be at a severe disadvantage.

The party stayed only one night.  They paid well for their food and board with more than a little coin sent towards drinks in my tavern.  While I was not overly impressed with the Englishman those he had hired to guide him were another matter entirely.

His butler had served with the Highlanders in the Crimea, another had served in India and three of the American guides were veterans of the Civil War.  They were also rather contemptuous of the natives they might encounter as they headed farther west.  Their party numbered just twenty men and four wagons with almost thirty good horses.  They did not understand how inviting those horses would be to any Lakota or Cheyenne war party they might encounter.  While five of the men had seen some real fighting none had ever dealt with anything like the Lakota or their Cheyenne allies.  The Civil War veterans were all veterans of the war in the east.  A war of lines of battle and artillery would not have prepared them for the style of warfare preferred by the Lakota.

The fools seemed to think that all Indians were the same and their experience with the Dakota they had encountered had prepared them.  They could not be more wrong.  The Dakota had been exposed to the white man and forced to become dependent upon him.  The Lakota and other plains tribes I had dealt with were fighting men par excellence.

The English fool was hoping to encounter a few hostiles.  He wanted to experience the thrill of fighting.  As they were planning to travel as far west as the Missouri and then on to the Rockies I expect a belly full of fighting to be in his future.  I would not place much coin on their survival.

The guides all insisted that the Indians had been pacified.  I expect their hair will decorate a lodge pole with a few months.  Those fine horses, rifles and shotguns will likely have new owners as well.  The very idea of a man heading onto the plains with servants instead of men who knew the land seemed odd.  The idea of hiring American guides who had never been west of the Minnesota river was foolhardy if not outright suicidal.