Thumb Stick

A little show and tell this rainy winter morning.

Mule deer fork with rings of walnut and hickory.

I’ve been carrying this walking stick in one form or another since 2001. What does that mean? I just can’t leave well enough alone, that’s what.  It was a straight knobbed staff before attaching the stag horn but I decided it would be more useful and aesthetically pleasing with the fork on top.

A quick polish with walnut oil this morning.

The fork is not only good for resting the thumb but works well for creating shelter and provides a bit of heft should it be needed for persuasion.

The cancelous tissue is fairly light in this one as the buck had an unfortunate highway encounter with a truck. That’s how I found it.

This stick has long been a comfort on walks where stray dogs, javalinas, or other beasties may be encountered. I remember that it took me weeks of wandering around the high country, looking to find the right diameter, length, and character in a sturdy oak, in this case Quercus gambelii or Gambel oak). I don’t kill trees lightly, especially in marginal environments, as they are slow to grow and benefit the earth so much.

It’s always difficult to photograph walking sticks and longbows.

The foot of this one is capped in heavy copper to prolong life of the wood. It’s good to save those bits of hardware for re-purposing.

Terrible “selfie” of the previous hickory staff that this antler was mounted on. I can’t leave well enough alone so I changed it.

And just for fun, here is a nifty Sketchbook drawing of some uses for the traditional Scout Staff from and artist who goes by “Ishkotekay.”

Click for full size image.

Primitive Arts

Today I’m prepping to present some primitive skills on Saturday, from raw materials to finished goods. I’m also getting some kid’s activities together to draw in the latest generation.

An assortment of stone-age technology laid out to take to the public.

Antler and Bone

Despite my lack of free time currently, I have been re-inspired to get back to antler and bone as a medium for tool production.  My only issue with them is that they are enormously time intensive.  Even using a modern saw and occasionally a steel rasp these take a lot of energy to make.  However, the end product is amazing and I would really think they are often underestimated in the archaeological and primitive technology communities.  The rarity of these materials leaves most of us with such a lack of familiarity with them that they take a back seat to lithic weapons in study.  A little experiential archaeology goes a long way to clarify the devastating effectiveness these points have.


Antler point and “scraper”-like tool used to produce it.

Archaeological terms that include function in the name are loaded from the beginning.  The term scraper is bandied about with little regard for the tool’s actual function. I believe, and experiments bear this out, that the type of unifacial knife-scraper-planer combo, shown above, was the essential backbone of a hunter’s tool kit for much of our prehistoric past.


More antler points.

I don’t have ready access to the beautiful reindeer or caribou antler so treasured by our Upper Paleolithic ancestors but large mule deer, white tailed deer, and elk can suffice in a pinch.  Just as in Europe 15,000 years ago, these would be effective weapons against land or marine mammals of all sized.  My fairly limited use of antler points in “real life” indicates that antler is much tougher than stone and is easily resharpened if it is dulled or damaged.


Tanged arrow point of antler.

The pithy cancelous (spongy) tissue inside some antler makes them less than perfect for large points.  The denser tissue on the outside can be cut off and works well for flat projects, like buttons or, in the above case, an arrow point.


Sewing kit.

I find that one of the tougher tasks for the primitive craftsman is the making of eyed needles.  We know these have been produced for many millennia so we can imply some fine sewing. I find the eye particularly difficult to make but, for what it’s worth, here is what I have learned.

After getting the needle close to it’s desired finished size, flatten the area that is to become the eye on each side.  This flat area keeps the flake from rolling off the work piece while piercing the bone.  Instead of circular drilling, I find it a little more efficient to just scrape a tiny oblong hole by moving the flake tool back and forth.  Be patient, this takes a long time.  Holding it up to the light will tell how deep you’ve gone. When you are nearly through, flip the needle over and finish the hole from the other side.  Once you are through you can slowly widen the hole until it’s large enough to take your intended thread.  Finally, you can narrow the cylinder around the eye to make it as small as possible after the eye is safely made.  And note: you will break some; those become the short ones.


The indispensable awl.

An awl for heavy stitching can be made simply from the metapodial (lower leg) bone of most grazers.  This is a tough and dense bone useful for making fish hooks, needles, knives, etc. The knobby end (metapodial condials) fit in the human hand very comfortably and make a great handle or grip.  More tool experiments and replicas are being made around here in the long winter’s evenings and I hope to post them when I get some photos taken.

Too much to do!

Antler Points

I am very interested in the European Upper Paleolithic.  There are many amazing artifacts of antler and bone known from good archaeological contexts.  Having lugged a load of antler and bones around over the last several years, it seemed to be time to make some new goodies.  I went through a phase 15-20 years ago cutting and shaping using only purely traditional means, so I know it can be a long, slow process.  For these tools I used steel saws, files, and sandpaper to speed up the process but even with these conveniences there are many hours in these points.

I’ve always liked the look of these points and it seems clear to me why these were effective weapons used from 25,000-30,000 years ago across Eurasia to almost present day in parts of the Arctic.  However, until I made a few, I didn’t really appreciate how deadly and functional these points are.  As each barb is carved and sharpened, there becomes nowhere to hold the point safely while working without wrapping it in buckskin.    Not just a thrusting weapon, harpoon, or spear; I can imaging thrusting this into a rodent or badger den, using the barbs to pull out a good meal.

The plastic nature of antler will give these tools long life and resistance to breakage and can be re-sharpened many times.

The scraps are becoming arrow points like the one above.  Some will be made to modern legal specifications so that they may be used for hunting in the coming seasons.