Day Two: Montpelier Log Cabin Workshop 2/18/14

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My crew of new friends got to bed early last night.  After a long first day of sawing, chopping and hewing pine logs as long as 21 feet, they deserve much rest.  Carol Richardson is a Restoration Specialist at Monticello, the home of President Thomas Jefferson, about 30 miles from here.

“My hand was cramping up from hewing with the broad axe.  It was a new experience for me.”  To “hew” is to shape, cut or chop wood with an axe.

Carol says helping to reconstruct the slave cabin at Montpelier is good practice for an upcoming project at Monticello.  In April, Monticello will re-build two or three slave dwellings.

Carpenter Langley Freeauf stands near a recently hewed log.  The James and Dolly Madison mansion is in the background.

Carpenter Langley Freeauf stands near a recently hewed log. The James and Dolly Madison mansion is in the background.

Joseph McGill admits it was hard for him to make a fist for a while after his chopping.  Joseph is founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, based in Charleston, South Carolina.  He has visited and slept in 50 slave cabins, but he has never helped reconstruct one.

“I’m excited.  I see potential here for opportunity to do similar projects at sites across the country.”  

Joseph’s goal is to bring attention to the plight of extant slave dwellings and the need to preserve these historical sites.

Terry James snapped this shot of me de-barking my first log.

Terry James snapped this shot of me de-barking my first log.

My back is a little sore, I’ll admit.  I spent my share of time de-barking a big pine with a drawknife.  That’s a first!  But it was rewarding.  Matthew Reeves, the archaeologist heading the Montpelier Log Cabin Workshop, said the cabin was probably originally built by 3 to 4 slaves that were skilled carpenters. There are about 16 of us working on this one cabin, which doesn’t include four professionals who are instructing us at all times.

Yes, I am enjoying this work.  But I have also shed tears.  Eric Larsen, an Archaeologist from Arlington, Virginia and I chatted about the emotion that is going into each whack with an axe and every measurement to make sure the walls of this log cabin are exactly seven inches thick.  We just want to get it right!

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One thought on “Day Two: Montpelier Log Cabin Workshop 2/18/14

  1. Tom MacDonald

    Could they not have given you a barking spud instead of a draw knife to bark the log? If you are going to hew the logs square, why has the team chosen to bark the logs at all? if you are using a smut string instead of a modern chalk line barking would be needed. But using a drawknife seems akin to using hedge clippers to mow your lawn. Yes, it will work, but it is not the way the tool was meant to be used.

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