Tools used by the pioneers to tame the wilderness

Doug Williams
Public Domain
Public Domain

Setting out for the borderland in the 19th century was very different than moving today. You were not moving to a home that’s infrastructure was fully developed, it is easy for you to get your hands on the essentials of day to day living from service providers. The pioneers who constructed the West had to be self supporting, and that meant taking all they needed with them.

We frequently have a mental image of pioneers loading their wagons with gunpowder and food before venturing out into the fresh lands of the West, and that image isn’t exactly incorrect; they indeed carried these necessities, in the largest quantities they could.

Actually it was a smart choice for settlers to pack their wagons to capacity, and occasionally beyond that. It was not rare to come across wagons propped up barrels or crates on the side of the road, during the time the owner was repairing a split axle or broken wheel.

Pioneers did not just bring with them what they needed. They also had to transport tools to repair things they required, immediately upon supplies running out, they had to make more. Even the heaviest loaded wagon could transport enough to support a family traveling for a few months. If the pioneers were serious about creating a new life in the west they were required to be genuinely self-sufficient and the key was to take the correct tools with them.

If you enjoy being self-sufficient around the house the chances are your tools massively outnumber the tools of pioneers, but yours will be more technical, and aimed at maintaining or fixing modern appliances. Frontiersmen had different priorities. They did not just desire to repair things; they had to be capable of making things as well, so the tools they transported with them were vital.

The tools pioneers carried with them had to be able to harvest natural resources, and be able to turn them into raw materials to create a home. The food transported in the wagon would last only a matter of weeks, at most half a year, and during the time it was normally possible to buy more from traders, the value of the wagon freight made was too costly for most people. In any case, for many settlers, the point of traveling to the west is to farm their own land, and you cannot accomplish that without tools.

Pioneers had to craft and sew their own clothes; they would purchase bolts of cloth and then make them. Though that was not the only sewing that had to be done, the west was for the most part powered by horses, and they need tack. They would eventually wear out or break, and the pioneers needed to be able to replace or fix it. That went for just about all of their belongings.

Occasionally there was no choice but to pay the increased cost at the closest general store, but wherever they could, pioneers would replace or fix things themselves. Their tools had to be capable of fixing or handling a broad range of projects, and they did not have the kind of technology that we have. They had no power tools, just simple hand operated tools. Those tools though so simple could do outstanding things when utilized the right way, and if society had to break down, they would do just as great a job for you. Let take a look at the tools that created the West in more detail.

The Basics


A knife is the most basic, necessary survival tool. Pioneers took knives everywhere they went; usually a simple hunting knife was located on their belt, and perhaps also a folding pen knife. These particular knives would be utilized for dressing game, the main source of fresh meat in the early years moving to the west, as well as for wood carving, and many other daily projects. More knives would grace the kitchen; they had a wide range of sizes. Pioneers did not need six different styles of a small paring knife, but they did needed large cleavers and butcher knives.


The first tools men created were stone hammers. Just a hard fragment of rock formed to have a comfy grip at one end, and a prominent surface at the others, these instruments were the launch pad for 2.5 million years for technological advancement. With a hammer you could rapidly fix objects jointly with nails. You can form metal. Add several wedges and split rocks and logs. Without a hammer, numerous jobs the pioneers were required to do would have been more difficult and taken a lot longer. Many more would not have been achievable at all.

A frontier toolkit definitely would have consisted of various hammers, ranging from a regular claw hammer to heavier ones utilized for metalwork or crushing rocks, and in all probability a sledgehammer for when real power was required.


Little bits of wood can be shaped and cut with a knife. Logs can be divided with a wedge and hammer. Though to cut large pieces with precision, you required a saw. Without a saw, you will battle to create anything finer than a crude shack, and you will not be able to make the innovative tools that are required to take life’s chores from a daily grind to something more comfortable.

A great tool kit required at least two saws; a large bow saw for trimming and felling trees, and a little hand saw for skillful work.  Other styles were as well available, but with just these two a handy pioneer could pull off just about all tasks.


An ax mixes the piercing edge of a knife with a hammer’s cognition to convey accumulated force, and if you need to cut things in a hurry, it’s difficult to beat. Pioneers utilized axes to harvest lumber, clear land for splitting firewood and farming. A hatchet is also a superb tool for abrasive forming of wood, and if you are creating a log cabin, it’s unstoppable for getting the job done.


Almost all of us think a shovel or spade is for yard work. To the pioneers, it was one of the most useful items they owned. A spade was needed to create new homes.  At the minimum, you would have dug holes for the support posts for a log cabin, but numerous pioneers did not live in log cabins. When there was a shortage of suitable timber, it was much more common to create a sod house, and that means cutting thousands of blocks of turf. A spade was a necessary tool for that.

After a pioneer family had created a home, the next thing they had to establish was a vegetable patch, to start supplementing the nutrients they had brought with them. Once again, a spade was required to prepare the ground. Eventually, just about every home had a cellar in which to store food, and structuring that took a lot of excavation.


Long-term strength on the frontier meant, for most people, beginning a farm. That would provide them with sustenance, and give them excess to sell. Obviously, flourishing crops on an abundant scale needed several more specialized tools. A hoe and a spade would do just fine for a tiny plot of vegetables, but they are not useful for preparing the whole field.

The Pioneers took some farming equipment with them, and with their other tools, they could create the rest when they come through at their new home.


If you desire a great crop you want to loosen and turn over the top layers of soil, to bring out the nutrients and administer them evenly. A little plot can be worked with a spade, but a plow will cover larger areas much more rapidly and easily. Plows were initially drawn by hand, and then subsequently by animals, and had already been utilized for thousands of years, but by the time the pioneers went out West the common horse-drawn wedge plow with a cast iron blade would turn over the pure land and reveal the rich soil. In 1837 John Deere created a steel plow blade that was both stronger and lighter, but countless pioneers could not afford these. Then there was the problem with bulk, and weight. An entire plow was a large, heavy item that was not easy to put in a wagon already jam-packed with different supplies. Numerous people just gathered up the blades along with them, and reinforced the frame from localized timber when they commenced farming their new land. Later, as the locals started to manufacture goods, a blacksmith could create iron blades to substitute the worn-out ones.


A plow is really good at turning over the soil, but it normally leaves many large lumps. This makes planting challenging, so a plowed field would then be worked all over with a harrow to break up the clods and provide a smoother surface. Modern-day harrows are rather sophisticated, but pioneers utilized plain, but still effective ones. A basic harrow is merely a heavy wooden frame with banks of spikes on the bottom to be protracted over the tract by a horse. Pioneers would normally transport the iron spikes with them, and then structure the framework themselves.


The Fertile ground does not just produce crops; it also attracts weeds. Plants that evolved to win the need for space in a grassland or forest can rapidly take over a piece of land as simple as a harrowed, plowed field. Without current, exclusive weed killers, pioneers had to spend a period of time manually weeding their fields. As an alternative to removing them one at a time, a hoe was utilized. Its long handle and a steel blade, assisted in chopping the foliage away from the roots without having to bend down.

A skilled user could clear weeds at adjacent to natural walking pace. Without a hoe, it’s just about impossible to weed a large field effectively.

In addition to weeding a hoe can help form the soil, slice shallow trenches, or restore a harrow for little plots. It’s a very skilled tool and necessary for anyone farming without modern machines.


The initial mechanical reapers were created by the Romans, but the engineering was lost for ages after the Empire crashed. It came to light once more in England in 1814, and close to the 1830’s, there were at most two US organizations devising horse-drawn mechanical reapers. Most pioneers could not afford a mechanical reaper, so they gathered their crops the old-fashioned way, using the scythe. A scythe lets you cut standing crops quite quickly and easily, and can be used for clearing weeds, cutting hay and broad control of vegetation. A specialized type known as the cradle scythe casts long “fingers” to the grip, which hook the cut stalks so they can be easily well-stacked or laid out, but for broad work about a small farm an old-fashioned scythe is more flexible. A sickle is a compact choice that’s easy to transport, but its shortened handle means you have to bend or squat to cut, and that way is slower and exhausting to use.


Once the grain has been harvested, you need some way to separate the actual grains from the husks. Performing this task by hand is far too drawn-out, so the old fashioned style was to utilize a flail. This is merely two sticks adjacent by a short chain; the produced grain was heaped up, and then repeatedly hit with the flail in expectation of the husks falling away. A distinctive flail used for threshing wheat bears a handle just about five feet long and more or less over an inch thick, linked by a chain to an intermediate stick close to three feet long.

Grain separating with a flail is a very labor demanding job, but pioneer families utilized flails successfully to process their wheat crops, and were still in use by several farmers in the early 20th century. Threshing machines did exist, but were out of range for just about any early settlers in the West.



An anvil is a vast, dense, gawky molded lump of steel. It’s one of the most challenging things you could possibly make up one’s mind to take on a long journey West on rough tracks. However, numerous pioneer wagons had an anvil on display, and normally slung beneath the chassis, amid the axles, so its monumental weight did not tip over the wagon.

With a forge and an anvil, you could fix or make a complete compass of metal objects. The fragments of a broken tool can be heated up then beaten together, continuing the procedure until they are welded into a solid piece once again. Metal bars can be formed into anything from knives, scythe blades, and horseshoes. The conic horn of an anvil provides a good smith form metal into complex curves. 


A forge must have a way to wield air through with the burning charcoal. As long as you have got that it is not difficult to create a forge, you realistically need a hallow pit bordered with fireproof material, commonly brick. Modern-day forges normally utilize an electrical blower to make a draft, and few older ones utilized water wheels, or a steady treadmill rotate a fan, but most pioneers counted on hand-pumped bellows. This is a simple device, two flat boards with handles, joint to a spout at one end, with a one-way structure in one of the leather skirts and boards connecting the two. Moving the handles separated draws in air through with the valve; forcing them jointly again shuts the valve then gusts a stream of air out the nozzle. A pioneer smith would put his metal workpiece in the forge and pump the bellows to increase the temperature. It’s simple, but effective.


If you’re operating with heated metal, you require a way to control it. Even a dense leather glove won’t defend against red-hot irons for extended periods of time, so some pioneers who planned on doing any blacksmithing would take at matter one set of iron tongs. They were utilized to motion metal in and out of the forge, and to clench it in the spot on the anvil during the period it was being worked. Blacksmith’s tongs are dense and robust, as well as complex, and normally they are just two iron bars, hinged and drilled with a single bolt, or large rivet, and arched into jaws at the end. Iron conducts heat, but the grips are long adequately that they can be harmlessly grasped in a gloved hand.


Metalworking requires a hammer, but the structured claw hammer in your toolkit is not right for the job, and the high temperature from the work fragment will slowly deaden its striking face, too. For smithing a heavier hammer is needed, and if the job is extremely large, possibly even a sledgehammer. Any serious metalwork task needs specialized hammers, and pioneers who took an anvil with them to the west would have carried a few.


There are few metal lines of work that don’t require a forge, but least of those need a file as an alternative. With a great file, metal could be ground down or reformed. A damaged knife can be reworked into a smaller one, or the sharpness on a battered plowshare brushed up. Forged pieces can be filed up till they fit in good order collectively. Just about all pioneers would have taken a set of files in various shapes and sizes, half round, round or flat.



It’s effortless to wash clothes when you have access to electricity, an internal water supply, and a modern-day washing machine. It is more work without them. Today we normally only hand wash smaller, delicate items. The pioneers hand washed everything, from dirty work apparel to bedding material, and it was a time-consuming job. One tool that helped them save a lot of time was the simple washboard. Now these normally have got a wooden frame with corrugated steel washing surfaces fitted into it; within the 19th century, they were literally boards, with rounded wooden pieces glued or nailed on to make the ribbed surface.

Washboards have vanished from nearly all homes, but that’s not for the reason that they do not work, a washing machine is just simpler and saves time. Washboards have genuine benefits, though. They use so much less water, and they are easier on the clothes, which was essential to pioneers; replacing battered out clothes was not easy. Even today, soldiers on long operations frequently use washboards to assist them keeping their uniforms fresh in isolated outposts with limited water supplies.

Spinning wheel

Westerns often focus on cattle ranching, but most of the livestock raised by the pioneers were sheep. These were a precious source of meat, but they were an even more significant source of wool, and when wool had been collected it was less expensive to spin it into fibers at the residence than to ship it back east then purchase manufactured clothing coming the different way. Poor families may have utilized a spindle and distaff, easy instruments for spinning by hand, but the spinning wheel was more popular. The textile industry had by then exchanged the spinning wheel with the jenny, commencing in northern England in the 1760s, but it remained a common and known tool. It could be easily used without much effort being made by anyone who was aware of how it worked and was moderately keen at woodwork. With a wheel, pioneer women could create yarn and thread from wool, cotton and possibly any kind of fiber, and save a fortune on pricey clothes.


We iron our apparel to make us seem more presentable. For the pioneers that did not concern them so much, except for special social events and coming together at church if there was one close. Ironing had some other uses, though. Parasites were more of a danger in the 19th century, particularly if you were outdoors a lot of the time and close to animals, and there were no insecticides to assist in getting rid of them. Ironing fabrics, and paying particular attention to the seams, would destroy any louse eggs or fleas that were hidden in them, assisting in avoiding infestations.

Electric irons were created in 1884 but stayed a luxury for ages more. The ones accessible to the pioneers were heavy components of cast iron, which was either to be heated up in a fire ahead of use or had an empty interior that could be loaded with burning charcoal. They were heavy and rough, but almost indestructible and very efficient.


Nearly all people have a package of needles about the house somewhere, for minor repairs and sewing on buttons. The pioneers carried needles with them, too, but they carried with them a variety of needles. They them for minor alterations, and many made their own clothes, so the standard sewing needles were necessary. They also relied on horses for travel and power, and that meant the condition of the leather gear required to get work out of a horse.

Stirrups, bridles, and saddles were required for riding, there was also all the harness’s required as well to pull a plow or wagon. Heavy saddle needles were required to fix leather or to create replacements for little items, like straps. Few people had the required skills to create a complete saddle on their own. Needles appear small and not very impressive, but life on the frontier definitely would have made things way more difficult.


Last but not least, there’s the trustworthy shotgun. Disregard what Hollywood depicts, the most ordinary gun in the West was a simplex double barrel 12gauge. It was a robust, comparatively cheap weapon that was suited to defending predators, could hunt a wide variety of things with the right ammunition, and outranged a handgun if a fight ever occurred. Hardly any pioneer families were without one. The frontier was not anywhere near as ferocious as fiction represents it, and in reality, it was relatively calmer than the US today. A good gun was an advisable investment.

Nowadays, when many of us have a display of power tools that can do a range of jobs rapidly and precisely, the instruments the pioneers relied on appeared crude. In several ways they were, but they were durable and effective. They did not break easily and could normally be fixed if anything did go wrong. They did not require electricity to be of use; at least they required a horse, and mostly manpower alone was sufficient. These easy tools are what created the improvement of the American West achievable. If society was to deteriorate tomorrow, modern-day versions of them, and the expertise to utilize them in good order, would make a monumental difference to your odds to stay alive.



fmssolution is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival