Priorities

“A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

“The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

“The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’

“The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed..

“‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things; your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions. If everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else—-the small stuff.

“‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life.

“If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.

“Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn.

“Take care of the golf balls first—-the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

“One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.”

An older story but a good lesson to remember.

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Prepping Bow Staves

After you have carefully selected the tree, cut it down, and (hopefully) had time to age the wood it is time to prep the bow staves. 

Prepping bow staves is a fair amount of work but made easier with the right tools and a little experience.  The examples below aged for nearly seven years in a dark, dry barn.  These are nearly all hickory and therefore, are generally easy to split if the grain is respected.  I use an old froe, mallet, and hammer for most of my splitting and only resort to steel wedges or power tools in rare, generally green cases.  As most of the staves that I cut personally are 6’6″ – 7′ long, this is the time when they are sawed to a rough length; generally 65 – 70″.  They are left long initially to account for any splitting of the ends that occurs during the drying process that will interfere with the finished bow.

Splitting hickory.

These staves were massive and can generally be made into two or three bows in the end;  two from the outer portion and one from the inner.  This isn’t always true for some older hickories as the heartwood “sets” and becomes dark and brittle.  Taken in a deep valley, this tree was large enough and fast growing so doesn’t seem to be a problem.  It is difficult to tell from the photo above but this is an extremely large piece of wood.  It was weighed a few days after felling at 79.5 lbs.  It was weighed again, just prior to splitting, almost seven years later at 48 lbs.  That is nearly 30 lbs (5 gallons) of water that evaporated.

A clean break with the froe.

The above photo shows the froe in use, prying the two halves apart without much effort.  Once started with a mallet in the end, it is just a matter of prying and moving down the staff.

I was doing these rather quickly and didn’t even move to my work shed for the process as they would be loaded up almost immediately.

The staves can now be safely de-barked and are generally ready to be roughed out, a relatively easy task on hickory, but not so with Osage orange (photo below).  Osage needs to be shaved down to a single layer within the wood.  In this case about a half inch inside the bark to find a suitable growth ring.

Osage orange, showing the contrast between the new and old growth.

One of the troubles with Osage orange wood is the transitional new growth on the outer (back) of the stave, visible as the white rings.  This wood is not useful for bow making and needs to be cleanly removed down to a single growth ring.  In the case above, several old growth rings will be removed as well as they are inconsistent and pinch out on the right side of this stave.  It is generally wise to choose one of the thicker rings to serve as the back as it is under a lot of tension during the draw.

New bow blanks stand next to a full-size stave as they are roughed out.

This is about half the useful bow staves made in a single run with a “whole” stave on the right to show how they begin.  This one weighed about 80 lbs green but only about 50 lbs dry.

On to layout and the next steps.

Making a Self-Bow

A pictorial step-by-step of the bow-making process. 

This quick look isn’t intended to replace the one-on-one learning of a real teacher or to cover all aspects of the art that come from years of practice.  Expect both success and failure and don’t let either one dominate your learning.  Education is a process, not an instance.

splitting stave

Felled stave that has aged a couple years in the dark and relative dryness of the barn.

Splitting the seasoned Osage orange (Bois d’Arc) stave is shown above.  Not visible here are short hickory wedges that are jammed into the growing crack to keep the stave from snapping shut.  With some woods the staves will simply pop apart but it seems that, more often than not, the splitter must overcome the tenacity of the fibrous wood.  Power sawing is definitely a possibility but requires more tools, more energy, and does not show the irregularities as well.  Splitting puts you in touch with the soul of the wood.

 

split open

Laid open, it is time to examine for undiscovered twists, knots, and other irregularities.

 

Splitting can be a tough process. As can be seen in the photo above, I use an axe, froe, and hammer.  I’m awful when it comes t remembering to stop and take photographs.  After cleaning up and heading to the next phase, I had to re-stage this photo and forgot to put the wedges back in.

de-barking

Stripping down to reveal the beauty underneath.

Some species of white woods debark quite easily and the bow can be made directly from the outer growth rings.  Not so with Osage orange. The whiter new wood is visible in the stave above as the outer rings are worked down to a single thick growth ring.  This process is easiest with a sharp draw knife working downward.  Your weight can be used to pull through the bark.  Gravity is your friend.

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Revealing the different look, color, and texture of the growth rings.

Above is a close-up of working down to a single growth ring. With Osage, there is a white, porous, vesicular layer between hard wood rings. This is just visible here as the white wood.  It should be worked down to a single, dark and dense layer; preferably a thick, slow-growth year ring.

 

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Sighting down the clean stave.

Not perfectly straight, but then it would hardly be Osage otherwise.  I can work with this. It’s time to imagine a perfectly straight line down the back of the bow.  This will be your starting point when laying it out.

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Another look at growth rings revealed.

The growth rings are quite visible in this low, raking light. The smooth area nearest the viewer is down to the desired ring.  This will be the “back” of the bow, meaning the side facing away from the shooter.  Crossing the rings could cause the limb to “lift” and crack as the rings are stressed and pulled apart.

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Shaping and thinning.

This is nearing its final shape. This is a different stave from the one shown above but gets the point across.  I’ve documented the next part of the process elsewhere but will recap soon.

If you want to make a bow, dive in, don’t be afraid.  Get a piece of wood and go to it.

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A Workbench from Pompeii

Daedalus and Pasiphae discussing the pantomime cow. Wall mural from Pompeii, 1st century A.D.

The art and artifacts from Pompeii have been much on my mind since the major new excavations have been published the past couple years.  I was looking at this wall mural and noticed the very Roman workbench in the lower left, complete with bench dogs while the young carpenter whacks away with hammer and chisel.

Detail from Daedalus and Pasiphae.

At his feet lies his bow drill and what may be a small adze of some sort.  I have no idea what he’s working on here but it might be germane to the larger legend of Queen Pasiphae of Greek myth (here meeting with Daedalus the artificer who is constructing special hobby cow for her to ride in for special activities).

Of course, I wish there were more details of the carpenter but this looks very much like one of my benches or one of a million others built since Pompeii was buried; a heavy plank, four friction-fitted legs, and placed at a comfortable sitting height.  Standing all day is for suckers.

If you don’t know this story it is a Roman interpretation of a Greek literal interpretation of a Minoan myth about the daughter of the Sun and Ocean who became queen of Minos and did some very weird things.  I suggest you look for it elsewhere in order to keep this page PG-13.

The Stonebridge Folding Lantern

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Unfolded, ready for use.

The Stonebridge Lantern; a classic, lightweight, packable candle lantern that was very popular once upon a time in the U.S.  The Stonebridge is an ingenious piece of design work as it folds almost perfectly flat for travel; like origami in tin.  Weighing in at only 11 ounces (.31 kilos) without a candle it’s a camp luxury without much sacrifice to weight.  The downside, it only delivers one candle-power of light, assuming a very clean and clear window.  I’ll be honest, we like this stuff just because it’s clever sometimes; and who doesn’t need a bit light on a dark night?

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Rear view, showing hole for wall mounting.

The body is held together by rivets and hinge pins and the windows are comprised of clear mica.  There is a handy hole punched in the back, reinforced with a grommet, so that the lantern can be hung on a nail against a wall.

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Folded for travel or storage.

What kept this little piece of genius from vanishing into the obscurity of time was the continued enthusiasm around classic wilderness gear expounded on by Horace Kephart and other classic campers throughout the century.  Before I owned this one, it obviously saw years of hard service either in the wilds or, as often happens, as a kid’s toy.  A couple reset rivets and a little cleaning went a long way to make this lantern great again.

I have to admit, I don’t really need this gizmo in the wilderness, but I like it enough to pack it along when I can.  If nothing else, it keeps a candle lit in nearly all weather and provides a little warm, cheery light on a dismal night.

Click for full sized image. Maybe a tinsmith out there can make use of this.

Click for full-sized image. Maybe an ambitious tinsmith out there can make use of these plans.

I am considering replacing the mica windows on my lantern as they have been a bit abused over the years.  From scanning around the web it seems that mica is fairly cheap and easy to find for crafters.  If it seems feasible, I’ll try to document the process to help others who may need to undertake this.

Garret Wade Tool Company sells a copy of the lantern.  Click the image below for the link.

GWS

Replica sold at Garrett Wade. Click image for lnk.

Happy trails…

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Cowboys, Photography, and Poetry

Photographer and working cowboy Erwin E. Smith gets some coffee from the chuck wagon on the LS Ranch, Texas, 1907.  Click the link for more of Smith’s photos.

Erwin E. Smith and His Mount Overlooking the Country from a High Point on the JA Ranch, Texas, 1908.

“My ceiling the sky, my carpet the grass, my music the lowing of herds as they pass;
my books are the brooks, my sermons the stones, my parson’s a wolf on a pulpit of bones.”

— Allen McCanless (cowboy poet), 1885

Erwin E. Smith (1886-1947)
Photographer Erwin E. Smith riding a “sunfisher” and he is not pulling leather, Bonham, Texas
1908
Gelatin silver print
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest of Mary Alice Pettis
P1986.42.135

Summertime Update

 I have been trying to write this post for a month now…  Even small posts can take too much time.

Anyone who knows me well is probably aware that sometimes my attention span is like that of a goldfish. Since more or less recovering from surgery I have been in a frenzy to catch up on the many things I’ve wanted to do these many months.  I did accomplish a few small leather working projects, messed around with watercolors, did some good reading, and took some actual paid work (yes, an actual job) to cover the ever-present bills.

Watercolor miniature in the works.

I’ve now been released back into the wild by the surgeon and the physical therapist and declared healthy enough to begin working out and to go about my normal activities. With so many things to do I have little interest or time to spend in front of a computer screen and I loathe it more than usual.  I am very happy that I have been encouraged to re-integrate real exercise back into my daily routine.  Just because we get older, doesn’t mean we need to let ourselves go.  I am as guilty of this myself.

We learn to be lazy, but we don’t have to be.

I have taken much inspiration by the work of my fellow artisans and the projects they post online, without the stupidity you find in regular social media.  I am sometimes shamed by my own lack of productivity but still thrilled that so many people I know have grown their talents to such heights.

Pressing onward.

Springtime

Although this blog isn’t really focused on our daily activities, I thought I’d share a few photos.  We had time for a beautiful day out this weekend in the eastern Ozarks.  Many plants were in bloom, the insects were moving and ticks had their presence as well.

It was also an opportunity to get out the new pack and see how it felt under load.  It was fairly heavy as it contained mostly water and food but was certainly comfortable enough for a day in the woods.

Kyly the wonder dog was back in her element sniffing out creatures and diving into every possible body of water or mud she could find.  Spring was here in full force.

The only minor disappointment was the complete lack of edible mushrooms in the area.  It wasn’t for lack of looking; we just didn’t find any.

We didn’t spot any snakes either but the area is just warming up now.  I suspect they were out but not moving much yet.

A very cold tributary to Pickle Creek provided hours of fun.

A leisurely walk in the woods without any destination is one of the finest things I can think of in life.  I hope you get a chance to get out and have saunter as well.  To get in the spirit, I find it’s good to re-read Henry David Thoreau’s Essay on Walking from time to time.

You can read it HERE:  https://paleotool.com/philosophy/walking-an-essay/