Thoughts On Re-Discovering Lost Skills

Learning about traditional skills has always been an interest of mine. When I was a kid there were a couple of years my family had an annual pass to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. I loved watching the blacksmith and glass blowers. Also when I see an old homestead/farm we speculate what the purpose/use was for the out buildings. They weren’t built to store junk like we do today.

However we run the risk when doing research of not finding what in the research world are called “primary source materials”, these are items that directly record something, not someone else’s research and findings. For example when I post something that I have direct experience on, that post can be a primary source. That is one of the goals I have for this site is to either learn by doing and reporting that or get someone with direct knowledge to share their information. However when a post just contains information gathered from other places it is a secondary source of information and should be subject to scrutiny.

In regards to re-discovering lost skills I feel the goal should be to learn how to do something in our time. While it may be interesting to figure out exactly how it was done in the past as that may lead to insights on what will work best for you, I also don’t feel we should just do things the “old way” as if being old automatically makes it better. Granted there is likely a very good reason was done a particular way for hundreds if not thousands of years, but that may not be the best way now. In times past people were always trying to improve on what they were doing. Feel free to ignore what I just said if you just want to do things a particular way or you feel it adds a desirable look or feel to the item you are producing. However know that you are choosing it that for a reason.

One area I’m struggling with right now is a smoke house. I have enough room that I would like to build a dedicated smoke house. However I am finding conflicting information, some claim that the meat was stored in these houses even after it was smoked and others say that isn’t true. I haven’t been able to find much primary source material online, the Foxfire Book 3 is supposed to have a section on building a smoke house, but I haven’t found a copy yet to see if it also tells how to use one. Also I cannot find any information if there is a minimum size to make it usable, i.e. does building one the size of a phone booth not work because there isn’t enough mass to hold the temperature steady. Further while I have found some write-ups on people building them, it is more for BBQ rather than producing meat that will keep at room temperature.

In conclusion don’t get too hung up on trying to replicate exactly how things were done in times past, however also question how those of today interpret how and why things were done in the past if they have not replicated it themselves. Further when you do learn something that you had to do a lot of digging research on, please share with the rest of us. I am willing to post it here on Save Our Skills if you do not have a web site of your own.

Green Woodworking – Skill Wanted

So much of what I’ve learned and been taught about woodworking (and I’m far from an expert) all deals with kiln dried wood that has already been planed to a standard thickness and finished on 4 sides. This have been used to create fine (and not so fine) furniture for centuries and now is something you pay a fair bit for. In all fairness if you are going to build something that has the potential to last for generations the initial cost of the wood is not really an issue when viewed with the lens of time.

However many of us need to build more temporary items who’s use will be measured in years at most rather than decades or maybe will be in a location that is not conducive to long life. Or maybe we just want to spend less on the materials when we are learning woodworking, because the equipments at had really caught our eye, and we wanted to save some money for them. Further many of us have woods on our property and therefore have a supply of wood, just not the milled/kiln dried stuff that you see had the lumber yard or woodworking store. You could invest in a small sawmill or even get an attachment for your chainsaw, but you still have the drying time. There are traditional methods of working with green wood that takes advantage of how wood shrinks as it dries to make joint that lock up and will last for centuries. This type of work involved a lot of splitting of wood to get blanks rather than milling into boards. Further green wood is usually easier to cut than dry wood, something important when you do not have power tools. In my mind learning how to work with green would could be an advantage for those little things you need to build around your homestead, anything from handles to seating to roosts for your chickens.

I do have a couple of draw knifes that I got from who knows where, but I have never got any real use out of them. I think the missing piece is the shaving horse that I do not have and need to build. Interesting set of plans at Popular Woodworking that only requires one 10′ 2×10. However it does require a compound angle and I do not have a compound miter saw or band saw. I’ll have to look at the plans for a way to build with a table saw. Of course the old timers just built one out of what they had in the forest, so maybe I’ll try that.

Next Steps – build a shaving horse and learn the green woodworking joints

Crafting using a draw knife and shaving horse


Check out a bench made from two logs and a chainsaw. No nails, glue or pegs, the joints will tighten up as the wood dries