Fishing Reel

I’ve been working on a new hand reel to keep in my pack with my travel fishing kit.  I didn’t have much of a plan when I started so I drilled out a couple of one-inch holes a little further apart than the width of my hand and started from there.  The wood came from the scrap pile and is a very solid chunk of walnut.  I’m a little concerned about the possibility of cracking but this piece is old, well-aged, and extremely solid so I suspect it will be okay in the end.  It will be heavily waxed to waterproof the wood and I’m working on making and trying a few silk leaders.  Anyone with experience with hand-made fishing gear have any thoughts on this?

The hand reel and the primary tools used.

These little projects are a nice way to spend the evening in a productive way.  After looking at so many artifacts over my career it becomes apparent that our ancestors often created works of art and beauty that truly come from within maker and their influences throughout their lives.

When you make for yourself, your tools and possessions become a reflection of who you are, not where you shop.

Photo Gallery

I’ve added a photo gallery in the sidebar to the right of the main blog feed.  I think nearly all these projects have been shared here over the years but this makes for easy viewing.  I’ll continue to add images and re-post some older work as I get time so please check back feel free to continue the feedback, and I hope you enjoy.

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Or just click the image to get to the gallery.

Primitive (but useful) Sewing Kit


Tools, clockwise from lower left: large awl, sewing awl, rivercane needle case, bone toothpick, sewing needles in center.


I do quite a bit of sewing and I feel it is an essential skill for nearly everyone.  My sewing includes new buckskin trousers, cotton shirts, shoes, a few leather bags, backpacks, and repairs to clothes to name just a few projects.  All this has caused me to think about sewing without manufactured goods.  Over a few evenings I decided to make a better primitive sewing kit. Although I can’t say that bone could fully replace the smallest steel needles in my day-to-day sewing basket, I have been able to make some very small ones indeed from some deer legs I have lying around.

This 7 centimeter (2 3/4 inch) needle, dated to approximately 50,000+ years before present, was made and used by our long extinct Denisovan ancestors, a recently-discovered hominin species or subspecies.  the material is bird bone.  Photo: Siberian Times (click the image for the full article).


I’ve learned that very small holes can be made with a largish stone flake or knife if it has a sufficiently acute point, drilling from one side and joining it with a hole from the other.  From a sewing perspective, the smallest hole possible will provide the strongest needle. during the finishing on the smallest needles, I had a 50% failure rate splitting out the eye.  It isn’t generally a total loss since the needle can be shortened and the hole drilled again.  I actually found that using the flake like a knife (as opposed to a drill bit) was the best way to start a tiny hole, scraping a small slit until a significant indent is made.  As with all new skills, knowledge and experience were gained along the way.

Eyed needle from the burial at Horn Shelter, Texas (links to overview of this remarkable shelter). Click the image for and article explaining the needle context specifically.

Despite their fragility, bone needles are found far back in the archaeological record of Europe, Asia, and North America.  Small, eyed needles are generally considered, in the Anthropological community, as proxy evidence for tailored clothing or, in a few cases, surgical or first aid related.  Unfortunately, needles don’t often survive and, no doubt, many small and broken fragments have been lost through the screen during excavation.


Awls are essentially a small spike used to pre-punch holes in tough or thick materials.  Both the awls shown here are also based on archaeological examples; the awl being a universal tool in human communities.  The metacarpal “knob” on the sewing awl still needs a bit of refinement but the round handle works well for repeated stitching in buckskin.  Bone (and antler) can be made surprisingly sharp and hold an edge reasonably well.

Storing the Needles

Needles are sharp and dangerous to leave lying around so the next obvious step was to make a case to hold them.  This is a simple affair made from rivercane with a yucca stem stopper.  The cordage strengthens the tube and prevents splitting and the whole thing was rubbed down with pine tar for preservation (hence the dark coloration of the cord).


In use on buckskin lacing project.

Finally, with a thin scrap of bone I ground out a bone toothpick to keep in the travel kit as a toothpick is always a handy thing to have in the bush.

Cozy Camp

I made it out for a brief stay in the eastern Ozarks this week.  The rain and cold came back just in time for my outing making it a little less comfortable than it could have been but I still enjoyed the time out.


I chose to stay fairly low-tech with the exception of a sleeping bag instead of the old blankets and I sheltered under an old military poncho instead of the more usual canvas.  Since I was out, in part, to work on some crafts I packed in very heavily with tools and a few raw materials.


It’s easy living for the most part in the Ozarks and I think I could happily live primitivly in this environment indefinitely.  There is not much legal hunting this time of year as the furry critters are off procreating and having babies so I brought some basic foodstuffs with me.  I’m back in civilization now but expect to get back out very soon.  Maybe the sun will stay out for a few days and dry things up as a preview of Spring.  I’ll post some follow-ups about gear and some things I’m working on very soon.


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


Something to keep in mind when learning a new skill.

A Primitive Technology Disclaimer.

I firmly believe that in Preindustrial Societies, the onus of learning was on the pupil.  Anyone who wants to succeed will find a way to learn.  

Real learning is an active endeavor.  We learn best by carefully observing and doing.  There will be failures.  There will be frustration and tears.  Not everything will be obvious nor will the reason for every step be readily apparent.  It is not the duty of the teacher to drag every unwilling pupil along nor argue every point to their satisfaction every step of the way.  Failure is not something to fear but is something to learn from.  If you don’t like the teacher or the methods, either suck it up or find another teacher.

GT Crawford

Ghillie Making at Winter Count 2014

One of the many things taught at Winter Count this year was shoe making in the form of carbatina or ghillies.  These are relatively simple shoes notable for their one piece construction and generally involve very little sewing.  I am interested in how things are learned and for me, the process is more important than any other aspect.  Hopefully, students take away some knowledge that they can apply beyond the class setting and in an afternoon can learn something that they can use for life.

ghillieHistorical examples vary widely but tend to have a lot of similarity in the complex toe-cap.  Shoes are a difficult piece of clothing and protection because the fit is critical and even minor problems with the shoe will impact the feet in a negative way.

Marx-Etzel2The toe cap is formed by strips of leather overlapping which gives flexibility and room for expansion.  The simplest forms are one piece but better versions are found with insoles and outer soles to extend the life and create a sturdier shoe.

DSCN4029 DSCN4030 DSCN4031 DSCN4033 DSCN4034These were all made from premium oak tanned leather (ca. 8 oz. or 3.2 mm) which proves to be tough to cut but provides a long lasting shoe.  It was a great set of students in the classes and I think we ended up with 17 pair of shoes in the end.

An earlier post describing my journey into Ghillies can be found HERE.

Craft Fetishism or A Return to Craft Values?


There’s been a noticeable increase in crafted products over the last 5 years.

From Artisan Bread, Chocolate and Beer to handcrafted bicycles, bags and belts. Crafts have been celebrated in books, documentaries and Design fairs. Artists like Joana Vasconcelos have adopted crafts such as crochet and lace for their chosen media, and even graffiti has taken a crafted turn with new techniques in stenciling and knit-bombing. With significant developments in progressive crafts such as digicraft, many industrial designers are also turning to craft values instead of the traditional industrial ones.


But why is it that in today’s increasingly technological culture is there also such a strong crafts vibe?

A successful exhibition titled POWER OF MAKING  at the V&A in London recently celebrated this craft resurgence and presented some reasons for it. A few of the exhibiting artists, designers and craftspeople like Ji Yong-Ho and Demakersvan have already…

View original post 1,859 more words

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.



Primitive Technology Gatherings

The culture of off-beat primitive technology gatherings has grown and morphed into many forms around the continent and I suspect, around the world.  Certainly, when I was a school kid, I didn’t know of anything approaching the types of gatherings we enjoy today.  I guess the closest thing we had were Larry Dean Olsen’s practical book on outdoor survival and some near-mystical writings by Tom Brown.  A little later I found Bradford Angier’s How to Stay Alive in the Woods which made survival in the far reaches seem completely possible with just a little skill and knowledge.

There was actually about a decade where I thought that a few of my friends and I were about the only people practicing “survival” skills, foraging, friction fire building, making bows and spear-throwers, and eating wild foods.  There  were rumors of things out west.  There were re-enactors living primitive if only for a weekend. Rumors of some big meeting in Idaho, but no one seemed to know how to find out more (this was before the INTERNET!).

In the mean time I read more ethnographies, more archaeology and technology papers.  I combed 100 year old issues of Nature, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Antiquity, and other views of people from different times and places.  My personal research took me into archery, boomerangs, spear-throwers, fire making, blowguns, music, shelter, and hide working, to only name a few.  It wasn’t until I was lucky enough to find the Society of Primitive Technology, then in about its fifth year, that I felt things really coming together in a community situation.  People are social animals and real survival only works in a community.

The generation growing up now has much more information to draw upon from experimental archaeologists, outdoor survival schools, adventure programs, and people who have actively pursued a life outside the norm of consumerism as a way of life.

Hide scraping is a community effort. Rabbitstick 2009.

The two big gatherings associated with the Society are Rabbitstick near Rexburg, Idaho and Winter Count near Maricopa, Arizona.  Each are week-long instructional gatherings that teach various survival, primitive, and other off-grid skills.  Participants and instructors are probably the most diverse cross-section of people one could ever find assembled in one place.

A pottery class firing at Winter Count 2011

A small but interesting primitive skills gathering is the Bois d’Arc Rendezvous in southwest Missouri.  While working on some archaeological projects in the region, I was lucky enough to meet up with Bo Brown and Don Brink, who really made this event happen over the years.  This event has a slightly different feel than other gatherings as it is partnered with a knap-in*.

Bois d'Arc Rendezvous

The Echoes in Time gathering is held for five days in July near Salem, Oregon.  This is a fairly structured workshop/class-type event with a daily schedule.  I think some people respond better to this than other events where classes come and go and have an amorphous schedule.  Although I know many of the participants, I cannot speak firsthand about Echoes as I have not made it to this event (yet).  Meals are not provided but there is a communal kitchen area and cooking may be done in camp on a portable stove.

Tools from Winter Count 2011. Click the image to go to Jeff Damm's excellent photo collection of past events.

The Buckeye Gathering is a newcomer to the scene but seems to be heading for greatness out in California.  One of its unique qualities is its close tie to the Native community.  It is held at the YaKaAma Indian Education and Development center about 90 minutes north of the San Francisco Bay area.

The central arbor at Buckeye.

Firefly Gathering:  This is another relatively new one and luckily for many, it is near the east coast.  I have not been to this one either but it is on my short list of things to do in the near future.  Its in a beautiful part of the world and I wish them well.

Earthskills’ Rivercane and Falling Leaves Rendezvous.  These folks put on two major events each year in spring and fall out in northern Georgia.  It is pretty huge and even offers hot showers for participants.  The instructor list is extensive and impressive.  Check them out if you live in the area or can get to the eastern seaboard for a great vacation.

If you are interested in “primitive” skills, homesteading, wilderness survival, or just crafting things to make your life better, consider an immersion in one of these events.  Then, if something really catches your fancy, there are many instructors and schools out there that will take you farther in a direction you may want to go.

*For some odd reason, knap-in folks don’t tend to mix with the other “primitives” although most of us primitive types are at least fair-to-middling knappers ourselves.  I think that the deep-seated reason is about process versus product.  Many knappers I know are mostly interested in the product as a object d’art whereas the archaeologists and primitive technologists are more concerned with the process and functionality.  A secondary reason may have to do with image.  The primitive technologists and survival-types are often a little rough around the edges for polite society and may even fall so far as to be considered an all-out bush hippie**.

**Bush hippie – def.  “Hippie” person who lives rough on the margins of consumer society.  Often sporting re-purposed or handmade clothing possibly made from buckskin.  Hair is plentiful and the cranial portion often in the form of dreadlocks.