While some "pre-industrial" crafts continue to be practiced in 21st-century Kentucky, many of these listed below (e.g., Riving, Rope-Making, and Tie-Hacking) are what the Heritage Craft Association in Great Britain would term "endangered heritage crafts."

Slave labor was used to a large extent in the manufacture of hemp. A visitor at a Lexington hemp factory in 1830 claimed to be surprised at the “skill” demonstrated by the 60-100 “stout” and “healthy” bondsmen who performed the company’s spinning and weaving. The constantly increasing utilization of slave labor in manufacturing left no doubt as to its growing profitability.
Slaves were responsible for taking hemp crops from the field to market. On average, a single enslaved person could reportedly cultivate 17 acres and process 700 pounds of hemp fiber per season. Additionally, slaves were often hired for a time to the ropewalk that were processing last year’s crop. If a slave holder had more labor than was necessary, which was often the case during the hemp growing season, he always had the option of hiring out the slaves to neighboring farmers or factories.
Many antebellum farmers stated that the cultivation of hemp was the most profitable use of slave labor. Almost all hemp farms or factories relied heavily on the use of slave labor and extortion for their profits.

This fascinating 9-minute video—though obviously documenting the handmade rope-making process in a Spanish-speaking country, NOT in Kentucky—shows how early workers in Kentucky probably made hemp ropes with simple tools in an outdoor setting.

  • Tool-Handle Making

  • Tie-Hacking (use of a broadaxe to create squared-timbers or railroad ties; article by Roby Cogswell)