Another Bucksaw on the Loose

I am stunned to hear from several recent misguided enthusiasts to the gentle art of wilderness skills that their new hobby costs them so much money… I guess even our low-tech approach to life can be marketed and sold to the right customer with our ingrained need for newer, quicker, and “approved” gear. Let’s hope this ailment isn’t catching.

Making something for one’s self is, in itself, an act of rebellion in these troubled times so I thought I would share what I’ve been up to in the idle hours these past few days.

After someone sweet-talked me out of my last (and personal) bucksaw I was in need of a replacement. I lucked upon some beautiful walnut last year and set some aside to make a few saws. Straight-grained, strong, and beautiful, this 5/4 sawn chunk was ripe for carving into something nice. I spent far too much time in finish and detail on this one but a beautiful tool is much nicer to use than an ugly one and curves appeal more than straight lines to this gentleman.

There isn’t much need for a lengthy instructable for this design but notice that the straight grain was respected in all dimensions and runs the length of each arm. As for hardware, it was my intention to inset square nuts into the handles and connect the blade with round-head machine screws. However, looking through my hardware on hand, that would have required a trip to a store, so for now, we use carriage bolts and wing nuts.

The devil is truly in the details and it is a joy to carve such fine wood with sharp tools. The entirety is polished with Lundmark carnauba wax as it brings out the color and grain while providing excellent protection against water.

Gourd Bottom Bags and More

Stacey has been adding her art to the shop lately so I wanted to give her a bit of a promotion here on the blog.  Among other things, she produces meticulous and beautiful art, beaded bags, earrings, and fiber arts.  Here are her latest additions to the shop.

The smaller bag on the left is jute and the larger is hemp, both with braintanned buckskin trim stitched into a gourd bottom.  The darker color is a homemade American walnut dye.

Here is a small sampling of what she makes below.  I’m sure she will be adding more in the coming weeks.  Consider checking them out on Etsy and “favoriting” our shop.

Crochet felted Icelandic wool hand bags.

Brain tanned buckskin medicine bag.

Buckskin neck bag.

Bike Trekker – Allen Hastings Fry

Despite how much I like this photo, I have held off posting this image here because I couldn’t find any attribution or further information about this gentleman and his fine bicycle.  I came across it several years ago and stuck it in my image files until I could find out more; alas, I have not.

“Portrait of Allen Hastings Fry, with his photographic equipment strapped to his bicycle. An illustration taken from the magazine ‘The Professional Photographer”, June 1916.” (Thank you Patrick for the information and link).

My first interest was in the excellent baggage he’s carrying; a very modern looking frame bag, a tool roll or similar, nice front and rear bags, and what appears to be a wooden box along the top tube.  His haversack is not visible although the strap is in this image.  Any thoughts on the bike or image itself are welcome.

The rest?  Maybe you can tell me…

Click the card for more information about Allen Hastings Fry.

(UPDATE: Thanks for the corrections sent by Luc and Patrick.  Updates were made to reflect the new information.)

“The Travelling Tinker” by John Burr

The Travelling Tinker

The Travelling Tinker

A painting by the Scottish artist John Burr (1831-1893).  Tinkers were originally tinsmiths or “tinners”.  One of many itinerant jobs pursued by a class of casual laborers.  These were mostly skilled and specialized crafts like basket making, shoe repair, leather work, and metal work but many poorer workers were migrant farm labor picking hops and tending the market gardens during the peak harvest.  The fellow in the image above appears to be a fairly well-off repairman mending a seam in a pot.  This from a time when new items were a rare purchase.

I love deciphering images like this for the details of domestic life.  Unlike most photos, there is real intention in what the artist chose to include or not in the painting.  The house is clearly a poor one but a freshly killed chicken hangs from a nail on the wall by some dry roots.  A handmade broom leans against the wall next to a basket that has the tradesman’s coat lying across it.  The oldest daughter tends the infant while the mother stands by the laundry basin with a toddler behind.  All the children look on while the novel worker plies his trade in a waistcoat and hobnail walking shoes.

Making a Stitching Pony; Video Tutorial

Stitching Pony, Leather Worker’s Clamp, or Saddler’s Clam…

Whatever you call it, it is a handy device to own if you sew any leather.  These are simple devices that just about anyone can make with little time or money invested.  Although there are many varieties and models, the one shown in this tutorial by Harry Rogers of Bucklehurst Leather is the one I have most commonly seen.  Is there no end to this man’s skill and diversity of talents?


The only comments I really have are:

YES, the jaws should be lined with thick, smooth leather and that the gap is necessary to keep the jaws as flat as possible against the work.  It is also nice, but not necessary, to have a compression spring over the bolt to push the jaws apart when loosened.   And finally (terrible way to open a sentence in writing I know), a recent comment from a friend suggested that the tightening nut could be replaced and a better system be devised from a bicycle quick release axle.  Maybe on the next one.

Check out his leather work here:


Pump Drills

In preparation for summer teaching I recently spent some time making a couple new pump drills for demonstrations and hands-on activities.  While some modern tools were used in the production, these are entirely hand-made with no purchased parts or plans.  As I have only made two of these previously I spent a little time perusing images of old pump drills to find good examples to use as models.

Beginning at the end. The first pump drill of the weekend.

The pump-drill is an ancient technology that was used world-wide for at least the last 5,000 years.  As most (sometimes all) of the parts are perishable, archaeologists are often limited to conjecture on the finer points based on a few surviving parts or images available.  Despite its immense antiquity, pump drills (and their cousins the bow-drills) maintained their currency in the maker’s tool kit well into the Industrial Revolution and, in some places, into the 21st century.

The components of the basic pump drill: shaft, drill bit, flywheel, cross-arm, cord, and flywheel key.

The components can be easily gathered around the house or the wood pile.  The flywheel, in this case, is steatite, a soft soapstone that is easily carved but has a high mass.  Wood or other materials can be substituted if they are more readily available.  My first drill, many years ago had a flywheel from a mesquite wood log. I chose it for its relatively high mass and availability.

The “chuck” shown here was created by drilling a small hole lengthwise down the shaft and cross-cutting with a small back saw. This allows a square shaft drill bit to lock in place as the shaft is lashed tight.

The shaft for this project was split out from some aged oak and worked into a cylinder with a diameter of just over 1/2″ (13 mm). The shaft needs to taper slightly, widest part at the bottom, to keep the flywheel from sliding off.  I drill the flywheel hole 1/2″ wide and slowly reduce the shaft size until it finds a snug fit.

The central hole is “keyed” to keep the weight from sliding around the shaft as it reverses direction.

I learned long ago that through hard use, the stone will sometimes slip around the wood shaft.  Cutting a key slot on the shaft with a corresponding one on the stone will solve this problem with the insertion of a sliver of hard wood or “key.”

My fancy oak key is just a sliver wood. You can literally use a toothpick if you have one in the pantry. Imagine the labor it will save.

Someone could create a nifty GIF animation of this but I think the photos below will assist in understanding how the key works.

A small groove on the shaft holds the key in place while the flywheel is slid over the shaft.

A bit of glue would probably help but I don’t think it necessary if the pieces all fit securely together.

The wheel (or whorl) is slid down the shaft holding the key in place will securely lock both pieces together.

Soapstone is easily worked and can be slabbed, by hand with a hacksaw.  A rasp or an assortment of sandpapers are all that are needed to shape the stone.


A simple metal bit can be easily shaped from a square masonry nail.

To make a bit from a masonry nail, simply heat it until it is cherry red and let it cool naturally in order to anneal it. This makes the metal soft and easily worked with a file, stone, or grinder.  After it is shaped the point can be re-hardened by heating the point to a dark cherry red again then plunging it in water to cool.

What I didn’t document here is the lashing method.  After fitting the bit in the shaft, the chuck was secured using heavy cotton thread coated in pine tar.  I think that a long-term solution would benefit from using wire but I wanted to keep these simple.  We’ll see if they last.  If you aren’t concerned with “primitiveness” then a strong and permanent connection could be made with JB Weld or two part epoxy.

Anything fun worth doing is worth doing twice. Here are the sibling projects from the weekend.

The second drill, on the left is rigged in a different fashion.  All the connections are made with clove hitches.  We’ll see which we like better.

The rain drove me indoors but it seemed like a good time to take one for a test run. Drilling a block of steatite.

The drill, which hasn’t had it’s final sharpening yet, made it through about 3/8″ of the stone in about 15 seconds.

Spade bits like this one tend to bind as they come through the opposite side so the hole will be finished by flipping the stone over.  Still, the hole is peeking through and ready to finish.

Broken down for storage or easy packing.

Pump drills are an awkward shape to pack when assembled but I discovered early on that they easily disassemble to fit into a very small space.

If you are considering a primitive project as part of your summer “to do” list, give a pump drill a try.  Lots of fun, can be made in a day, and it will impress your not-so-primitive friends.  As a final note, I put an Instructable up based on this post as well.  Have a look if you don’t mind and give comments if you see fit:


Follow-up. Drilling slate pendants.

While preparing materials for a primitive tools class I decided to test the new drill on a piece of slate. This is a little harder than soapstone and more abrasive. I didn’t have any lubricant handy (e.g., water) but decided to try it out anyway. It cut like a charm! Just a note to those not familiar with these low-tech drills; the hole is generally cut until is just barely pokes through the other side then the object is flipped over and drill from the rear. This keeps the bit from binding as is comes through.


How to Build an Earthen Oven — Savoring the Past

The existence of ovens like this is easily documented for the 18th century. In fact, just about every ancient culture had a very similar oven. There’s one particular wood cut illustration from medieval times depicting an earthen oven built on a wagon. There are references in 18th century literature and also archaeological evidence that you […]

via How to Build an Earthen Oven — Savoring the Past

Documenting a Foot-Powered Treadle Lathe

From the YouTube channel, Chop With Chris where he does “amazing woodworking projects with no power tools.”  At last count, he has 19 “how to” videos available and a slew of other good things on his YouTube channel.


From his “About” Page:

“I play in that weird intersection of woodworking and music! A few years ago I randomly picked up this woodworking hobby that started with a few cheap flea market tools and a wooden stump. Driven by inspiration and passion to try bigger and better projects, this “hobby” has turned into an obsession with wood, tools, and video editing. Join me for the excitement, the entertainment, and the eduction on my next woodworking adventure. Come on and Chop With Chris!

Learn and enjoy!