Early Style Camping Gear

Some of my camping gear mostly inspired by the period from 1745-1812, prior to major industrialization.

Some of my real-life camping gear mostly inspired by the period from 1745-1812, prior to major industrialization.

Starting in the upper left and moving more-or-less clockwise: small tomahawk, portmanteau, stoneware jug, braided buckskin cord, patch knife, buckskin bag for brass sundial compass, wool bonnet (tam o’shanter), trade bead necklace, small gourd for salt, pewter beer mug (could possibly hold water too), canteen gourd, Knife River flint blades, needle case and bone needles, strike-a-light and char-cloth box, wooden bowl and spoon, buckskin bag, bone handled eating knife, waterproofed leather bag, bark tanned belt pouch, buckskin neck bag containing spare fire kit, net shuttle holding hemp line, sewing kit in buckskin bag, wooden needle case with needles, argillite pipe with buckskin bag, fine hemp line, extra blanket pin, belt, pampooties (ghillie shoes), bamboo container containing larger bone awls and other bone tools, in the center, shoulder bag.

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How to make a ‘medieval style’ possible pouch; more traveler’s gear

Here is a great little instruction set on how to make a European Medieval-style belt bag. You see these in paintings and illustrations on just about every traveler. Not only will you come out with a nice bag but it is a fine and simple introduction into leather working and sewing. All makers need to start somewhere and this might be the right project.

Wild Tuscany Bushcraft

Old style bushcraft: a medieval possible pouch Old style bushcraft: a medieval possible pouch

During the Middle Age was common carrying small items like coins, keys, inside pouches or purses attached to the belt.
There are many archaeological and iconographical documents, you can search for your favorite patterns, but there is a model that in my opinion, is one of the best for a bushcrafter.

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Making Containers via Primitive Process Pottery

I wanted to re-blog this excellent post about functional pottery construction from “Survival Sherpa”. I’m no great pottery maker but appreciate the craft for sure. Have a look.

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Survival Sherpa

by Todd Walker

Making Containers from Primitive Process Pottery - www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Coffee drinkers like myself usually have a favorite mug or cup. My all-time favorite “tankard” developed a crack and DRG trashed it. A sad day indeed!

My sob story may seem petty, but there’s nothing trivial about not having a way to “contain” stuff. Think of all the ways you use containers daily. Then imagine all your modern containers being gone… poof, no more. Welcome to the Stone Age!

Here’s what else disappears with your containers. Your ability to…

  • Cook stuff without skewering it on a stick
  • Collect, disinfect, transport, and drink water
  • Raise plants and livestock
  • Store food without stuffing it in an animal stomach
  • Dispose of waste
  • Personal hygiene
  • Ferment food and drink
  • Make medicinals
  • Gather food
  • Keep stuff clean
  • Organize stuff
  • etc., etc., etc….

This is why containers are king! 

After attending a local two-day primitive pottery class, my respect and appreciation for the humble container grew…

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Magnetic Compass, a Gimme from an Iron-Rich Earth

Compasses

Starting as a field scientist in the heady days when men were men and GPS was not available to common civilians, I learned my way around a compass pretty well.  I thought I knew something coming out of Boy Scouts but putting those skills to the test mile after mile in order to locate a distant waypoint or build a map by hand honed those skills and etched them indelibly on my brain.  Friendly competition arose amongst colleagues testing our pace and compass work over miles of rough ground in the eastern woodlands.  The West is easy in comparison with open forests, plains, and grand vistas for taking long sightings.  To this day, I generally prefer a pocket compass to a GPS and if I could choose only one, it would be one of these wireless beauties.Compasses2A surveyor’s sighting compass can just about perform miracles in the right hands and my trusty Brunton Pocket Transit, after all these years, still finds it’s way into my field bag for big jobs.  Get a compass, learn to really use it.  Keep it handy, and you may never be truly lost.

Edwardian Camp Equipment

This is a re-post from an earlier entry.  Say what you will about British imperial policy of the 19th and 20th centuries.  They certainly worked out minimalist travel with a fair amount of style and comfort on a very personal level.  These old catalogs give some great ideas for camp living.

From The Army and Navy Co-operative Society Store, London 1907

1907-11907-21907-31907-41907-61907-71907-51907-91907-101907-11There are some excellent items here that should give some inspiration for fabricating some classic and classy gear.  From an era before the activity of “camping” was fully segregated from “regular living”.

Much more of this to come…

Ancient Dutch Ovens and the Ceramic Hibachi

“A good meal ought to begin with hunger.” French Proverb.

All animals need to eat.  All the time.  As humans, we eat every day if we are lucky.  An average Westerner will have about 275,000 meals in a lifetime, not including snacks, munchies, and other nibbles.  Once upon a time, we all caught, gathered, and ultimately made food for ourselves and our families.  If we had some extra, we might have provided for the needy, the unlucky, or even the lazy.  If we were entrepreneurial, we might have even exchanged our food for other stuff or services we needed. We cook our food to release nutrients, to make it easier to digest, and ultimately, to make it more delicious.  After all, “A clever cook can make good meat of a whetstone” Erasmus.

rats

…or so they say.

Throughout our evolution here on Earth, food never came from an assembly line or even a grocery store.  As time went on, we could choose to put some effort into our cooking and make delicious stuff.  For this we developed cooking apparatus beyond the simple fire and we adapted just about every food into some sort of cooked dish.  As true meat-loving omnivores, humans eat just about anything.  “If it has four legs and is not a table, eat it!” Cantonese proverb.

Enough digression, on to some minimalist cooking!

Cook of the SMS Ranch_ near Spur_ Texas_ Lee Russell_ 1939-600Every cowboy, Boy Scout, and classic camper in North America knows the amazing versatility of the cast iron Dutch Oven.  Why “Dutch” you say?  Well, those clever craftsmen from the Netherlands perfected sand casting for vessels such as this in the 17th Century and by the first decade of the 18th Century the English copied them perfectly and the name stuck (at least in England and America).

dutch-oven-breakfastThis was not even remotely a new design for cookware, just a new material.  A heavy thermal barrier to spread heat and hold a high temperature without drying out the food is a useful innovation.  Moving farther afield you can find kindred spirits around the globe serving the same purpose including the Bedourie, the potjiekos, Sač oven, and the Nabemono.

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The clibanus or Roman clay Dutch oven.

Over on the British Museum Blog Sally Grainger has been writing about her experiments with, among other things, the Roman clibanus (a.k.a. clay Dutch oven).  I had no idea that the rimmed lid for holding coals was such an ancient innovation but, of course, it makes perfect sense.  Our ancestors were cooking on coals every day after all.  There seem to be many variants on this design but the example here is something of an inverted version of our modern oven.  The entire lid lifts off to expose the tray or shallow bowl lower portion.  This makes for a serving vessel as part of the cooking apparatus.

mt_5_charcoal_544Just like it’s modern counterpart, an oven like this can be used to cook a wide variety of dishes, from meats, to stews, to breads.

traychickenSee her write-up of the experiments HERE.

TajineThe descendents of this style oven may be seen in the tajine and it’s cousins found all around the Mediterranean, especially in North Africa.

And finally, a relatively simple project for the primitive camp.

A simple, slab-built portable grill could be a useful addition to one’s camp kitchen.  Perfect for cooking a Mediterranean meal of shish kebabs and perfect for simple meals anywhere.  Recent archaeological work has brought this back to light.

GreekGrill

Replicated souvlaki pan from Mycenae ca. 3,500 B.P.

These are a relatively recent discovery in that their use is finally understood.  Experimental archaeology is a great thing.  Sometimes we can readily predict the answer we know to be correct, but sometimes the process teaches us something and clears up misconceptions lost to time.  In this case, a type of artifact called a souvlaki tray of ancient Mycenae (Crete).  These date to a period from over 3,200 years ago.  These are rectangular ceramic pans that sat underneath skewers of meat, and are generally discovered in fragments.  Prior to experimentation, archaeologists were not sure exactly how these were used, whether placed directly over a fire, catching fat drippings from the meat, or if the pans would have held hot coals like a portable barbeque pit.  Attempting to cook on them directly over a fire proved useless, as the clay was too thick to allow efficient heat transfer, however, placing coals in the pan made an efficient hibachi-like portable grill.

A short article on the experiment may be found here: Mycenae Portable Grills.

References:

C. Grocock, and S. Grainger 2006. Apicius: a Critical Edition with Introduction and English Translation. Totnes: Prospect Books. Grainger, S. 1999 Cato’s roman cheesecakes: the baking techniques, Milk: beyond the dairy, Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on food and cookery, Prospect books Totnes, pp.168-178.

Online:

The Medieval Spanish Chef  – Looking for a perfect peacock recipe or interesting ways to cook a horse?  Have a few extra rabbit hearts and don’t know what to do with them?  Check out Suey on her blog for some really interesting, well-researched Medieval recipes.

Making a Traditional Turning Saw, part 1

1907Tools-frame saw

Image from a 1907 turning saw add.

Bucksaws, bowsaws, and other frame saws are often lumped together into a single category in modern American or British English (unless you happen to be a traditional hand woodworker of course).  And why should anyone care anyway?  Bucksaws are replaced by chainsaws, bowsaws have become cheap, pot-metal, throw away abominations, and turning saws are replaced by band saws, scroll saws, saber saws, or even cheap coping saws.

The firewood bucksaw is the biggest of this family and one I’m glad to have in my toolkit.  Yes, I still own a chainsaw but find I use it less and less in favor of the quiet bucksaw that takes no petroleum and spews out no noxious fumes.  I have read that most homes kept a big bucksaw handy as the easiest means of creating firewood and I can certainly understand why this would rank above the axe for cutting logs to length.

Firewood bucksaw, the grandfather of the family.

Firewood bucksaw, the grandfather of the family.

Skipping even the practicality of being able to make your own excellent tools for a few dollars (or less if you are energetic), there is a great beauty and practicality in this ancient design that our ancestors hit upon a couple thousand years ago.  The basic premise of this design is to create a structure that will put a very thin strip of serrated metal under immense tension to simulate the stiffness of a much thicker material.

I regret that we’ve come to a point in our history where making a tool is odd, yet making something with our tools is not (yet).  Where working for hours at some other thing, we get tokens of cash to purchase something we could have made ourselves in far less time and probably less energy spent.  I believe Thoreau was on to this sort of thinking.

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Splitting out the pieces.

Halving and halving again to make straight grained boards.

Halving and halving again to make straight-grained boards.

Choosing a length of straight-grained oak in this case, an axe is, by far, the fastest method of reducing it into the constituent pieces for the saw parts.  This is far faster and better than sawing, creates no noise or dust, and ensures that each part is exactly in alignment with the grain.

Finished in seconds.

Finished in seconds.

For a quick and dirty saw, these could be worked almost instantly into the mortice and tenon.  However, as we always intend to make a tool we will cherish and pass on, some shaping is in order with an eye for form and comfort.

Template on card stock.

Template on card stock.

I have a file of templates I keep from past projects so I don’t have to continually reinvent these things and I highly recommend this.  I find it helpful to write the details on the card stock, as well as label and date them (the notes on the one above are on the underside).  Now comes the somewhat tedious task of shaping the arms for which I didn’t take a photo (maybe I’ll remember next time).  I saved a few minutes by using the belt sander to taper the upper portions of the arms to save on shaping later.

Cutting a mortice.

Cutting a mortice.

After marking up the arms, I cut the mortices with a bench chisel.  These are easier than many people think but do take a very sharp chisel and a little practice.

Drilling for the blade and handle connection.

Drilling for the blade and handle connection.

I used a 5/16″ doweling bit for this as it leaves a very clean, precise hole for the 1/4″ brass rod to run through and turn freely.

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Finally, the tenons are cut with a thin backed saw.

Cutting the tenon is very easy if the lumber is split precisely with the grain as opposed to sawn out on a table saw (ignoring the natural grain).  After the cheeks are cut, its a quick matter to pop off the waste with a sharp chisel.

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Auguring the handle for the brass rod.

I used a spare file handle for the primary handle.  A 1/4″ hole is augured about 1 1/2″ deep for the 1/4” brass rod that will become the connection for the blade.

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The rod is driven into the handle and will be cross-pinned for security.

Come back for Part 2.

Bucksaw Again

For this project I moved my little operation into the living room of the house.  Creating sawdust and wood chips for the dogs to track around in their boredom is a real bonus.  But, on to the show…

Making a Bucksaw for carpentry, bushcraft, or just because they’re cool.

DSC_0901The little bucksaw I built last winter had never been “finished” even though I’ve been using it for a while now.  Having a few hours to spare I pulled out the knives, rasps, and scraper and decided to finish this once and for all before getting down to the next project.

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The curves are merely aesthetic and can be ignored completely for a serviceable saw (if you can live with it).

I hope to put this together soon as a sort of “Instructable” for making frame saws, buck saws, and turning saws but for now, this will have to do.  Although common enough for the last couple millennia, frame saws have lost their place in the tool kits of carpenters and craftsmen, having been replaced by sabre saws, band saws, and the like.  There is a lot of beauty in the old design and a serviceable saw can be built in a short time with very few tools.  In fact, the one pictured here cost about $4 for the partial band saw blade, maybe a dollar for the screws and a few bucks for the long-toothed firewood blade.  The lumber was created from a less-than-perfect bow stave; a well-seasoned shagbark hickory bodged down to about 7/8″ thick.  The genius of this design is that it allows for an extremely thin blade to be stretched very tight for ease of work and a very clean cut.

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A file for cutting (top), a store-bought 20″ bow saw blade (middle), and a band saw blade ready to be cut (bottom).

A new, high quality band saw blade can be purchased for under $14 from a decent hardware store.  The above is a Delta brand 1/2″ blade with 6 teeth-per-inch (TPI) and is only 2/100ths of an inch thick.  That makes for very little waste which can be especially valuable when working harder to acquire materials like antler or bone.

DSC_0906Band saw blades are made in a continuous loop and are great for what they do but the first thing we need is to break the loop.  The metal is extremely hard, and fairly brittle which works to our advantage.  The edge of a sharp bastard file, like that pictured above can be used to score cross the blade.  You don’t need to cut all the way through, but just make a solid scratch across the surface.  Then the blade can be snapped by hand, making sure to not put any unnecessary bends in the blade.  Drilling the holes in the ends is the tough part.  As I said, the metal is very hard so, either you can use a punch to make a starter spot and drill through as is (but this will severely dull most drill bits), or the ends can be gently annealed in a forge or with a torch and drilled soft.

DSC_0909Here are all the components of the new buck saw with the new linseed oiled surface glaring in the sun.  The tensioner can be made from any strong cord (in this case 550 paracord), but any strong line can be built up or bailing wire will work (but is a little low-class and ugly and difficult to remove quickly).  The spreader bar (the horizontal piece) is morticed into the legs but is not fastened by anything other than the tension on the whole system.  Thus, the whole saw can be taken down in a few seconds and stuck into a toolbox or backpack for easy travel.

DSC_0910Above is the assembled saw under tension and ready to cut.  A good question was already asked as to “why the spreader is curved in this case?”  Because this was made from real wood, split with and axe, following the grain.  I could have worked to straighten it for looks but I like the fair curve it created and, as it has no bearing on the function, left it as is.

Hope this helps anyone wanting to make a saw like this.  Maybe I can offer this as a short, one day class at Rabbitstick or Winter Count soon.

Up soon: a turning saw.

Edwardian Camp Equipment

From The Army and Navy Co-operative Society Store, London 1907

1907-11907-21907-31907-41907-61907-71907-51907-91907-101907-11Waiting for the plumbers gave me a few minutes to put up this post.  This is a lot more than a bunch of nifty images (but it is that as well).  There are some excellent items here that should give some inspiration for fabricating some classic and classy gear.  From an era before the activity of “camping” was fulling segregated from “regular living”.

Much more of this to come…