Handmade Sandals

Sandals in progress…

If you have ever taken a class with me you might know that all the intimidating sewing isn’t as bad as it looks.  The sole is three layers thick but the use of a good, sharp awl makes the double needle sewing go quickly.  A lot more work goes into these than I would have initially thought but I really think they come out great in the end.  It took several pairs to get the pattern just right but research into design and construction led me to this final design.  The sole is three layers thick (or more historically) and have been made this way in Europe and North Africa for more than 2,000 years.

The thickness of additional layers isn’t just to provide safety for the feet but the central layer provides a path for the straps to travel through without lumping under the feet.  The parts consist of an insole (medium weight oak tan leather), mid-sole to allow tunneling the straps through, and an outer sole, in this case, leather.  The straps are 48″ per foot plus the heel yoke.

This is how they looked when I thought I was finished. Shortly after, I added buckles and have since been through a few more soles. Currently they are shod with rubber.

Nine years on and still going strong. The patina that good leather takes on cannot be simulated. They get a coat of dubbin every six months or so but otherwise, need little care. I hope to get back to a time when I can wear them daily again.

Everyone Should Cultivate Manual Training

Does this mean we should neglect our intellect? Absolutely not.

In fact, the opposite. We should strive to cultivate both mind and body to become the most perfect specimen we can become, daily.

I came across this passage while reading a bit this morning from Amateur Joinery in the Home (1916) by George and Berthold Audsley and thought it would be worthwhile to share.

There is a lot of good advice here but the above sentences stuck with me while taking the morning walk. “One never knows when life or limb may depend on the expert use of the hand and ordinary tools.” This could be applied to so many facets of an interesting life and is the basis of human survival that has put us where we are for a million years.

I have been using the down time afforded us by the events of 2020 to catch up on an ever-growing list of books and articles I have been amassing for decades. When I was working in archaeology full-time, the hundreds of pages of reading most weeks necessary just to keep current pushed many other interests into side avenues. I hope you all are using your time in a way that works well for you. In the mean time, this book is available for anyone with an interest in tools and working with their hands. It may even inspire new projects.

Click here to download a pdf file of the book. Amateur Joinery in the Home.

Hunter’s Pouch

Kentucky Hunter’s Pouch –

Few words are needed to show this project.  It is a Kentucky Hunter style pouch of a style popular throughout the 17th and 18th centuries in America.  Its antecedents come from Britain and mainland Europe but changed with the times as North America was colonized.

Most of the components cut out and ready for sewing.

In the days before the common man had trouser pockets he still had a fair few things to carry, especially while out foraging in the forest. Men and women have carried some sort of bag to hold their essentials for as long as we have supplemented our inadequate selves with tools. Things such as food, fire making supplies, sewing kit, or ammunition.

After lining with a medium-weight cotton fabric, the interior pocket is sewn in.

The poor man’s hunting pouch is essentially a single pocket bag with one or more internal pockets to separate out the smaller items.

Closing a bullet hole in the hide.

I chose some bark tanned elk from Joe Brandl as it is sturdy but with a very soft feel.

When using real linen, I often soak it overnight in a hot cup of tea before drying and waxing. This gives a nice reddish-brown color.

Pocket complete.

The body is sewn with a welt to create a tight seam and edging is added to stiffen the pocket and flap.

Edge-binding and the reveal of the interior pocket.

The inside pocket makes small items accessible that might otherwise be lost in the bottom of the bag. When shooting black powder, this pocket is a must.

Hand-pinked and pierced binding at the top of the bag.

People have been adding fringe, ruffles, and other decorations to seams and edges for as long as there have been makers.

This type of bag is designed to stay closed without any fastener but it is good to have a way to really secure the flap when traveling. This simple closure is a type that I like for a rustic bag. The toggle is carved from antler and is secured by a simple loop.

Completed bag with strap and buckle.

Finally, a shoulder strap is added. This one is 7 oz. veg tanned cowhide and adjusts by more than 12 inches. This will accommodate most people but more importantly will adjust with the seasons as heavier or lighter clothes are worn. The buckle is solid brass and will never rust.

Typical attire of the early frontiersman. Nearly always armed for hunting and protection, our gentleman here sports three essential items; gun, powder horn, and hunter’s pouch. “Western Hunter.” Illustration credit: Lewis Collins, History of Kentucky, 1850.

This bag and others are available in my Etsy shop linked here:

Sandals

This post came from looking through a few class photos from Rabbitstick several years ago based on an inquiry. This is one of the years I taught my favorite sandal design, an ancient one though still cleverly marketed as a modern style.

I call them saint sandals as they look like something you would see on a medieval depiction of some holy wanderer from Europe or the Middle East.  To me, these are the greatest sandals I have ever owned.

This design is a good introduction to leather working and specifically, making footwear, which can be a bit more complex than most people know.  Shoes really need to fit well in order to not cause pain or damage to the feet so an open design is a good way to start on this craft.

As I make them, the sewing is fairly minimal and can be eliminated entirely with the use Barge Cement.  The sewing makes them a stronger design and I think adds a sense if beauty and craftsmanship to the final product.  It is also a good introduction to double needle saddle stitching.

With a little dedication, these can be made in a long half day and are ready for use immediately.

Thank you to all the patient students who have learned this and taken home to teach others.  I look forward to this class each time I offer it.

Boy Scout Gear from 1925

This is a pretty good setup for any outdoorsman (our outdoors woman for that matter). By 1925, the scouts had worked out a pretty good uniform and gear setup based on many old experts not the least of which was the US Army.

If there’s a bit of a paramilitary look to the scouts it certainly owes much to its military background in Britain and further as a result of the Great War. Still, there’s a lot of good info to take away from this. These are truly the essentials.


The new internet Bushcraft world has very little on the old-timers knowledge.

Winter Count is Coming

I’m happy to say that I will be heading to the annual primitive skills gathering known as Winter Count down in the Sonoran Desert. Thankfully, it has moved to a more remote location further into the desert and far away from the Phoenix sprawl.


I will be teaching a course that I have been doing for some time now; Constructing the Ancient Frame Saw. I say “ancient” because this style saw goes back to the very beginning of metal working. It is a way to create an extreme amount of tension, and thereby stiffness, on a very small piece of metal; saving on a very precious resource.

Even though this, in essence, can be thought of as a one-off craft project. I hope that people will take time to learn the skills and take away more knowledge than a simple material good.


I think it might be easy, at first glance, to think of a project like this as a cheap way to get something that you might not be able to afford otherwise; and that is fine. However, learning basic skills like layout, simple joinery, and the use of hand tools are transferable skills that can be used for a myriad of other projects; from constructing a spear-thrower to timber frame building.

There is even plenty of opportunity to add one’s own style and artistic flare to the project.

Learning to operate even a few simple hand tools, edges and wedges in this case, connect your brain to your body in a way that pushing buttons and looking at screens could never do.

Working directly with a raw material like wood, with its own unique properties, connects us to a deeper understanding of the wider world.

Maybe I’ll see you there someday.

The Joys of a Morning Quickie

Sometimes you have needs

And also the solution.


I needed a net bag for my water bottle while I’m on the road. I knew this was going to be a problem when I left home so I threw in a ball of string in case I had some time on my hands. I almost always bring something to keep myself busy. Idle hands are the something’s something, or whatever.

The bottle in need and the raw material to make it happen.

I’ve been making nets and net bags for a very long time. Decades in fact. Some are fancy but most are quite plain and utilitarian. This one definitely falls into the latter category. However, it will serve the purpose and I suspect will be around for quite some time.


I took a few photos along the way and thought I would make a short tutorial as even simple knot work is often mysterious to the uninitiated. I hope this helps someone. It’s a great introductory project.

INSTRUCTIONS

This little bag uses a simple overhand knot technique and is probably the simplest mesh you can make. Other than a cutting instrument there really are no required tools for this so gather your string, fetch the object that will be held (in this case a water bottle), grab your knife and we can begin.

String is measured and cut.


For a regular cylinder that’s about 3:1 height to width you need to have at least twice its height in netting material. Each string will doubled so that they meet at the bottom without a complex knot.

Centers of the first strings are joined in a square knot.


The next thing to figure out is how many strings you will need. Much of this will have to do with how small you want the holes in your net; more holes, more strings. I estimate this bottle is about 12 inches in circumference and I thought the minimum number of strings I could get away with would be about 16. Since they’re doubled in the middle that means there will be 8 strings cut at least four times the length of the bottle.

The second pair of strings is added across the first.


And pulled tight.


After the first two sets of strings are put together the remainder are added like spokes on a wheel. If you’re going to use a lot of strings, say to make a cast net in this way, you would need to add a ring of cordage as the center to attach all the spokes to. Otherwise, you would end up with a bulky knot in the middle.


After all the spokes are added it becomes a simple project of making overhand knots in pairs.

The first set of knots made.


Here’s where it seems to get tricky for some people. The next step is to connect neighboring strings to create a diamond pattern. That is to say, each half of a knotted pair will join its neighbor.

It’s helpful to tie it to something when you’re working.


Connecting the alternate pairs.


Repeat ad nauseam.


If you notice your bag is coming out too skinny you need to space the knots further apart. If you need to taper it in at the base or the top, make the knots closer together.

The body of the net is finished.


Instead of binding the top in any fancy way I simply ended the last round of knots folded back to the previous. See the picture above.

I added reinforcement.


All I had was the string to work with so I had to make a heavier cord from this for a drawstring and strap. The simplest solution was to just braid up a heavier cord. In this case I just did a simple three strand braid. If I were making something more lasting I would probably finger weave a strap or maybe use a thicker, more complex braid.

Three 10 ft lengths of string become an 8-foot cord.

I ran the strap underneath the canteen to help support the weight.


The finished product closed.


And open.


Ready for the trail again.


I realize these instructions are not very detailed but this level of Technology is extremely simple and has been reinvented time and time again. It needs a little detailing if you are willing to spend the time and experiment a bit. Don’t be afraid to tie and untie things, to add more string, to have a less than perfect outcome.

This is how we truly learn. When we have to make decisions on our own based on the skills, materials, and information we have at hand.

GOOD LUCK!

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.

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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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.

Making a Bucksaw – Retrospective

At “Echoes in Time” Champoeg State Park, Oregon, USA 2014.

This is the prototype saw I used for teaching a bushcraft class at Echoes in Time in 2014.  Unfortunately, a split in the original wood spread last winter and I had to rebuild it.  Actually though, that is a beautiful thing when you can make your own tools.  I didn’t spend any abstract money for a new one, I didn’t have to trow away some sort of useless and polluting garbage, and I could readily improve the design based on several year’s use and observation.  I’ve sold about 20 of these now so the pattern is firmly ingrained in my brain and sinews while tweaking each batch to make them more pleasing to use and efficient to make. without losing the aesthetic of this ancient design.

Saw ready for assembly.

It has been a very successful class for me at both Winter Count and Rabbitstick over the years and I’ve honed the teaching so that each student can really get them most out of it.  Not only is there basic shaping and carving, but also learning to make a simple blind mortise and tenon joint, drill holes by hand-power, and think about design options.  I hope to be teaching this one-day class again soon as it is a great introduction to hand woodworking  while building a manageable and extremely useful tool.

Assortment of cordless tools used in class.

“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.

Wandering Minstral

A Wandering Minstral

A Wandering Minstrel

Here is a painting by the Scottish artist John Burr (1831-1893) of an itinerant fiddler playing for a family in a Scottish lane probably trying to make enough money to eat or maybe even receive some food for his entertainment.  I can’t help but think the father looking out has a skeptical look; possibly wondering what this will cost in the end.

Music and storytelling were a very different commodity in an age of widespread illiteracy and 24 hour media.  It’s hard to even imagine a time when all music was handmade and intimate and not an item to be mass marketed.

Three Million Views

I guess it’s time to celebrate…

Sometime yesterday this blog surpassed three-million views.  I am both astonished and grateful.  I have often thought of just shutting down the page as a closed chapter in my life but I do enjoy writing and sharing some of my nonsense with anyone out there in the wide world who wants to read.  It is often a conversation.

Honestly, I have no idea why this number should be a milestone, it just seems like a good excuse to celebrate on a cold a dreary day.

So, for everyone who has stopped by, read a bit, and maybe even given some feedback in the form of clicking “like” or commenting on a post, I thank you.  I have gotten to know quite a few people through these rambles and probably given away more of myself than I ever intended.

Your feedback is always appreciated.

The Caveman Catalyst in Your Tinderbox

It’s always time to up your fire-building game. Survival Sherpa Todd Walker does just that in this post. Check it out.

Survival Sherpa

by Todd Walker

The Caveman Catalyst in Your Tinderbox - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The human love affair with fire is intimate and ancient. Over the flames we cook, celebrate, spin tales, dream, and muse in the swirls of wood smoke. Fire is life. Its warming glow draws us like moths to a flame.

It’s not a stretch to believe that a Stone Age chemist recognized the idea of using carbon for future fires. Disturbing the leftover carbon ashes from the night fire, she stares at sparkles of light glowing like the pre-dawn stars above. She carefully nurses a baby “star” back to life to warm her hearth and home.

It ain’t rocket surgery. Even cavemen knew the importance of the sixth most abundant element in the universe.

Carbon and Future Fires

The game of chasing lightning strikes for each fire was no longer required. This unreliable practice was abandoned for twirling sticks together to create enough heat to initiate the…

View original post 1,375 more words

The World is Your Workshop

In Britain and Ireland, the Romany Gypsys and the Traveller community are often associated with low-skilled work such as scrap dealers, horse traders, musical entertainers, or more nefarious activities outside the societal norms.  However, there were plenty of skilled craftsmen and craftswomen providing goods and services to people around the country.

Below is an image of a couple, working together making footstools outside their vardo while another couple looks on from the comfort of their wagon.

Gypsy carpenters making small and large stools for market. From an early 20th century postcard.  Source: Romany and Traveller Family History Society.

Other Gypsy families were blacksmiths, basket weavers, or similar occupations that could be taken on the road, required little stock or overhead, and could be performed independently or with a minimum of family help.

Gypsy Basket Weavers on Skyros. Source: http://from-hand-to-hand.org/.

There is more to wandering people than the romantic or demonized images we carry.  People are just people after all.

Gypsy Blacksmith. Source.

Gypsies France 1930s-1960s

Encampment on a pitch somewhere in France, early mid-20th century.

Tanning Leather: Not a Lost Art

Many years ago, in Morocco, I was able to tour an ancient tannery and see some of the process of creating beautiful leather.  I use leather for many projects and although I do some brain tanning myself, I purchase all of my truly “tanned” leathers from others.

Click the image to visit the Moroccan National Tourist Office on Facebook

Click the image to visit the Moroccan National Tourist Office
on Facebook. If you are interested in a description of the tannery at Fez, have a look at Becca’s post about it over on AlwaysCarryOn.

One very important lesson about tanning I learned in Africa was that I never want to work in a African tannery when it’s 100 degrees in the shade.  The smell makes a feed lot in Texas almost seem habitable and hits one in the face like a dense fog.

Well anyway, Markus at the huarache blog has done it again… forced me to steal his excellent article and link to his great research in Mexico.  The post gets a very close inside look into the tanning process; a somewhat secretive business in my experience.

img_0237img_0646img_0160Great set-up for the beams.  Spacious, indoors with a cleanable floor.

img_0218I think anyone who has tanned hides will appreciate this solid set-up.

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img_0782This is just a picture preview.  For much more in-depth information, have a look at the article on the Huarache Blog by clicking here.

I appreciate this work so much for having done some myself.  Tanning hides is tough, back-breaking labor that goes unappreciated.  It’s good to know that there are still folks out there keeping these important skills alive.  More importantly, to know that there are alternatives to corporate factories producing little more than garbage and waste.  It must be tough on these small family businesses but I hope, for all our sakes, that they find a way to survive.

http://huaracheblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/taller-de-curtiduria-gonzalez-making-the-best-vegetable-tanned-huarache-leather/

Bamboo Bait Box

Bamboo container with walnut reel. The background cloth is from some test cloth my wife wove and turned into small lunch napkins.

Here’s a bamboo container I may integrate into the new fishing kit.  It’s made from a big stalk we got from a friend in Georgia (USA).  I plugged the bottom with a poplar stopper and made the lid from a sotol stalk.   I’ve found that the sotal is denser than most yucca but is still relatively soft and easy to work.

The box can fit a lot of gear (lures, hooks, line, sinkers, floats) or could work as a bait box equally well.  The top is tightly wrapped with hemp cordage to prevent splitting and will be treated with pine tar.

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.

Wooden Packframe – The Final Draft

Expanding on Lessons Learned

In 2012 I decided to build a wooden packframe.  What started out as a Sunday afternoon project led me down many paths, from Iron-Age Europe to 21st Century military designs and it took about a year of stewing around before I actually got around to building something. It was fortuitous for me that Markus at 74 FOOTWEAR DESIGN CONSULTING wrote and excellent little history of frame packs at almost exactly the same time I began researching them myself.  Shortly thereafter, I discovered Steve Watts and Dave Wescott were delving into the same subject (great minds think alike I guess).  After collecting many photos and drawings I dove in, and using human measurements as much as possible, I built the frame below.

A few hickory boards and some simple steam bending created a design I liked.

I decided against metal fasteners for the original project so everything was pegged and tied with rawhide.

It didn’t take long to build and tying it all up with rawhide was a simple evening job. The next step was to create some sort of support to keep the frame from my back and attach shoulder straps.  This wasn’t as easy as it sounded since comfort and strength had to be combined while keeping possible chafing to an absolute minimum.

The two horizontal rods keep the uprights from converging under tension and the three cross-strakes are stabilized by being set in grooves on the uprights. The steam bent support and top bar add to the overall sturdiness of the frame.

I decided that simple was best so I used heavy leather, stretched tight, across the back kept the straps fairly straight-forward.

Several people asked about the need for a curved top bar; well why not? I like curves and I think it reminiscent of the Otzi-style simple frame.

 

An Otzi reconstruction. Click the image to see the article there.

Was it good enough?

The answer is probably.  It was mostly used to pack gear in for demonstrations and spent most of its time as a show-piece.  Honestly, over the years I owned it, it only went on one real backpacking trip, and that was even a fairly short one.  However, I learned some things along the way.  I like the shape, it was fairly comfortable, it was certainly sturdy enough,and it carried a heavy load without much difficulty or discomfort.  So the design was more-or-less right for me.

On problem was that I didn’t like the tensioning of the leather back straps as it was difficult to draw them tight enough.  That’s how packframe number 2 came to be.  I began by deciding to improve the back padding system but with a few other minor changes in mind, this happened.

A bunch of new parts generated themselves on my workbench one lazy afternoon.

Parts –

Recycled fir for the uprights came from a 125 year old door frame, some planks for the cross-bars came from the scrap pile, and a couple pieces were pulled from the first packframe.  Before I knew it, I was bending a thicker and better arch for the top piece and construction began.  Since I wasn’t working from a plan and there is no real standard for this type frame I pondered the whole thing for a couple days to decide how to fasten the parts (pegs, lashings, screws, or glue) and began assembly a few nights later.  I have gathered quite a few old screws of various sizes over the last couple years in my housing restoration so I decided to use those for the basic construction.

After too long a mental debate, construction went pretty quickly.

Construction technique –

As can be seen in the images, the cross-bars are let into the uprights in a simple lap joint for strength and racking stability and fastened with reclaimed brass screws.  The platform support is lapped and pegged with wooden dowels.

Side view showing lap joints and side supports.

I added a small oak angle brace to further support the platform support which is also lapped and pegged.  The small missing piece visible here is operator error.  When I was cutting the laps I was in such a groove that I cut the low one on the wrong plane.  I’ll probably fill the gap with a small wood piece, but for now, I live with the hideous disfigurement.  Also visible here are the walnut caps I pegged to the bottom of the uprights.  Old Douglas fir is a fine wood but can be very brittle and the end grain would probably not fare very well under hard use on rocky terrain.

The frame in all its glory, waiting to be packed and carried off into the sunset.

Straps and Suspension –

I chose 12 oz Hermann Oak leather for the lower pad stretched tight and permanently fastened to the frame with brass screws and finishing washers.  The essential suspension depends solely on the cordage being strung tight while the leather pad distributes to stress across a smooth and wide surface. I think it will be quite comfortable.

Shoulder strap connection, a whittled oak dowel that is easily removed.

I would like to make a removable rucksack for this frame and would like to be able to utilize the straps either so making them easily removable was a must.

Waist support, 12 oz harness leather. 6-7 oz leather was used for the back pad.

As for hip belts; I’m still undecided at this time but I suspect that sometime soon I will be constructing one.

A better view of the top arc and the overall harness.

I’ll continue to update the progress here and try to remember to take more photos along the way.  It really hinders work to have to think about documenting yourself along the way but I know people appreciate seeing the steps.

Walk in peace…

GTC

Eating Spoon

Just a short show-and-tell today because I needed a new eating spoon.  I lost my old favorite a few weeks ago and as near as I can remember, it was about 20 years old.  I remember this because it was cut from the end of a bow stave of a bow I love.  Here is the new one made from Walnut harvested in southeast Missouri.

The growth rings helped determine the sweep to the handle.

It is satisfying to use something you create yourself, even if it isn’t perfect.

Maybe not as dense as Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) but walnut will hold up well and darken with time.

The board this came from was quite variable in density and color.  This spoon comes from the lighter-colored part.

For me, function comes first for a tool like this but grace and beauty should not be left out of the equation.

After it was finished, the whole spoon was rubbed down with walnut oil and it will be treated again in a couple of days to help protect the wood from soaking up flavors.

Bamboo Arrow Construction

Several years ago I starting documenting some of the arrow-making I do. I wrote the original version of this piece in 2012 but as it always draws a lot of interest I have re-edited it and am posting it again.

Arrows have been much on my mind after seeing how ratty some of mine have become.  Even though shooting takes its toll on the fletchings, it seems they get at least as much damage in storing and travel.

I was intending to start with a set of British longbow style arrows but having received some beautiful arrow bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica) from a friend who grows the stuff, I changed plans to suit the new material.  Prior to this project I had never used real arrow bamboo but have used it’s distant cousin the american bamboo or rivercane (Arundinaria gigantea).  It could not be much more perfect for the job.

Since I hoped to do this right, I decided to photo document the process as best I could.  Good arrow making isn’t easy or fast so unless you are dedicated to perfection, you are probably better off buying them.

Matching shafts.

High-grading the materials

The first thing to do is to select shafts.  I didn’t have hundreds to choose from but these were pre-selected for diameter (hence spine), straightness, node alignment, etc. so this made my work easy.  I parsed out a half-dozen I liked for starters and cut them to length.  Note similarity in diameter and node alignment.  The scale above the shafts is in inches.  I could hardly ask for better.

A preview of shafts selected, straightened, and cut to length.

Attributes to look for in bamboo or cane shafts

Your arrows should be a consistent diameter, consistent weight, similar spine, long lengths between nodes, similar node placement, with very little taper overall.  Most people seem to think that bamboo is straight coming right out of the ground but this is rarely the case.  Expect to heat straighten and you shafts. Your best work will be done in groups to get a consistent set, not just a one-off product.

After a lot of reading, I decided to approximate Korean style arrows with inserted wood nocks.  These have worked well for me in the past but I have never started with this great of bamboo.

Remove the flares at the node sections.

Cleaning up the shafts

Raw bamboo has a flair at each leaf node that must be removed for a smooth arrow shaft.  I do most of this with a knife but a small plane or file will suffice.  You don’t want something bumping over the hand or bow as the arrows is loosed.

Smoothed node.

The node above is cut smooth.

Further smoothing.

I have a neat little shaft plane (made by Dick Baugh) that helps at this stage but a rasp or sandpaper will work too.  You might have a divot at the joint but this won’t really affect your arrow.

Nodes are smooth.

The nodes of the set are now relatively smooth.  Now, any final straightening should be done over gentle heat.  This can take several hours so don’t rush it.  Keep  fixing little bends and make sure to heat the entire shaft to temper it.  I stand over the stove for this but have used coals from the fire in a pot to achieve the same purpose.  Wear gloves and be patient.

Whittling nock inserts.

I selected Osage orange for the nocks.  Horn or other hardwoods can be used here as well.  The above photo shows a blank and finished nock preform.

More whittling.

This photo shows the basic method.  With a very sharp knife, score a ring around the nock.  Whittle away from the score to narrow the piece slowly.  Repeat until it fits the shafts.  At this point I will say that I omitted a photo of an optional, but I think important, step.  That is, to wrap the end of each shaft with sinew and hide glue to prevent the shaft from splitting while pressing in the wood.  If, for some reason, sinew isn’t available, silk thread can be used in its place but you should top the silk with a little thinned white glue to help prevent it unraveling through abrasion.  As sinew is free and carried around inside all the higher life forms, it should be pretty easy to get some.

Almost a tight fit.

As you get close, keep test fitting the nocks until they are a perfect fit.

A perfect fit.

You can see the sinewed shaft ends being fit with the inserts.  Glue the nocks in place with a water-soluble wood glue for easier repair.

Steps in forming the notch.

At this point, several simple steps create a nice notch.  First, wrap the joint with more sinew and coat in a thin layer of hide glue. Second, drill a small hole through the nock, preferably at 45 degrees across the grain.  Make a small saw incision to start the carving and remove the waste with a small knife.  Use a very small file or sandpaper to open the notch and smooth the surfaces.

The finished product.

At this point, you have the essence of an arrow.

Foreshafts, points, and fletchings

The next step to make these fancy sticks into arrows is to fletch them with feathers.  To make fletchings, the best feathers must be selected.  I am using some goose wing feathers given to me by a friend which have been graded to the last three per wing.  Perhaps common knowledge in the fletching world but it worth noting that all three feathers must be from the same side of the bird (i.e., all right wing or all left wing).  I cut a template from Bristol board to serve as a guide so that all the fletchings are the same size and shape.  After the quills are split and trimmed, the bases (where they will be glued to the shaft) must be trimmed smooth and sanded flat to lie against the arrow.  This is a very time-consuming task but critical in proper fletching.

Feathers to fletchings.

Again, there are only about three feathers on each wing suitable for fletchings and all three on an arrow need to come from the same wing to have the same shape and twist.  To produce the needed 18 fletchings I cut about 24 as some may go to waste.  I always ruin a few in the final trimming or end up weeding them out due to defects.  Save them for later repairs if you have any left over.

Serving the feathers with silk.

After gluing them in place by hand, the ends are served with two layers of fine silk.  This is a slow and tedious job and neatness really shows but the end product will be sturdy and handle a lot of abuse through shooting.

Silk in the sunlight.

The arrow above is now fletched, reinforced, and has a sturdy wooden nock.  Real silk is strong and shimmers beautifully in the light and comes in virtually any color.

Inserted wood nock and goose fletching.

It takes me nearly an hour for each arrow so I took a break after the first four.

Footings

The foot is the front portion of the arrow that reinforces the shaft and connects to the point or head.  This was done exactly as the nocks above but instead of drilling and cutting a slit, they are tapered to match the heads they are to be attached to.

Bodkin, foot, and sinew reinforcement.

As for points, I chose some traditional bodkins since they are good looking and very efficient.  Many cultures came up with this essential design.  These are English copies and are known to punch through heavy armor.  They are surprisingly sharp and tear through most targets easily.

Bodkins test fitted.  The joint at the wooden “foot” is reinforced with sinew.

For the photo, I dropped these from about six inches above and they all stuck in the oak.  I should mention that these points haven’t had the final fitting yet and are just stuck on by friction.  If you look closely in this photo, the ferrules don’t quite fit the foreshafts yet.

First four finished.

Arrows are difficult to photograph so I took this high oblique shot to show them as nearly done.  I hope these images help a fledgling fletcher somewhere as it isn’t an easy task.  Be patient, don’t lose hope, and be consistent.  Good things take time and it really shows in their performance and longevity.

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A bit of red ochre paint completes the set.

I marked my shafts with a little ochre paint made with a base of boiled linseed oil with a drop of turpentine and ground pigment.  I love the natural look of ochre and enjoy knowing I found and ground the pigment myself.

These remarkably fast and true arrows suit my bow very well.  A little luck, experience, and patience pay off big rewards in the end.

Now, time to shoot.

Arrowology

Some Thoughts on Making Arrows, an Underappreciated Art –

I have been making my own arrows from scratch for a couple decades (since 1987 to be precise) and thought I’d showcase some I have made over the past few years.  I don’t generally make them to sell and I rarely hunt these days but there is something very satisfying and meditative in gathering the materials and constructing something so practical, with such fine tuning and narrow parameters in functionality.  I learned many tough lessons along the way, having no actual teacher, but I gleaned all I could from the historical resources I could find.  Most cultures of the world have a martial tradition of archery and each have their advantages and limitations.

A set of seven hand-turned poplar arrows in the English tradition.

The poplar arrows above were made from aged, straight-grained wood that was split along the grain then turned in a dowel cutter.  The nocks are reinforced with Bois d’arc (Osage orange) wood for added strength.  The heads are conical bodkins, fletchings are prime turkey wing secured with glue and silk binding.

A “primitive” set of cane arrows with hardwood foreshafts tipped with a variety of point types.

Making matched sets –

I sometimes come across beginning arrow-makers (fletchers) who only produce “one-offs” without attempting a matched set.  This is fine as an experiment or as a learning tool but does not suffice for someone who plans to actually use them for precise or regular use.  The minimum I make is three but I try to produce arrows in sets of six or twelve.  Since the plank used for the the arrows above worked out to produce exactly seven shafts, I kept the group together.

I believe it was a writing by Arthur Young where I first learned that to have a truly great set that sometimes you had to sacrifice a few as imperfect.  With all the work that goes into an arrow, it is painful to cull one out but sometimes it must be done.  The weights may match, the spine may feel the same, but one may just not fly as perfectly from the bow as the rest.  In the past, I have marked these and they become stump shooters of ones that you don’t mind risking on a long or difficult shot.

Finding a perfect set of rivercane shafts can involve a lot of looking, sorting, and luck.  People who want to purchase these hand-crafted materials and products rarely appreciate how much work goes into just gathering the materials.  A dozen matched cane shafts may come from sorting a hundred plants, then aging, curing, and straightening before the arrow can even be started.

Rivercane (Arundinaria) arrows with reinforced self nocks.

Fletchings –

To produce enough fletchings for the above, one has to acquire three feathers per arrow, matched by side (all rights or lefts) and placement on the wing of the bird (e.g., second or third wing feather).  This could mean wings from seven to fifteen animals depending on how picky one is just to produce five sets of fletchings.

Antler point.

Points –

Finally, the points are considered based on the needs of the archer.  Will these be for hunting large or small game, target shooting, or just all around fun shooting?  I use bone, antler, stone, wood, and steel depending on the intended use of the set.  Although I purchase most of the metal points I use, a lot of time can go into making matched heads from natural materials.

More thoughts to come…

Primitive (but useful) Sewing Kit

bonetools

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

Sewing

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).

Needles

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

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).

awlnstitching

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.

The Magic of Sinew

SINEW

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Elk leg sinews dried and ready for processing.

Sinew  is the term used to describe tendon or ligament in more formal English. It is the cord that connects muscle to bone or bone to bone in skeletal animals.  Like rope, it is made up of bundles of bundles of bundles as shown in this anatomical illustration.

Foot Anatomy

For our purposes, sinew is a true gift to the primitive technologist, survivalist, or low-tech hunter as it provides us with so many possibilities.  Sinew is the fiber stripped from animal tendons and used as a strong thread or it can be braided or plied together to make a stronger cord or rope.  It can be used to make bow strings, tie objects together permanently, backing and strengthening a bow, or lashing spear or arrow points onto their shafts.  It binds well with hide glue, having almost identical chemistry (collagen).  This causes it to act a lot like duct tape, binding and sticking to most surfaces.

It is also important to know that every human on Earth had access to and likely utilized sinew in the pre-modern world.  It is a gift of nature that aided our ancestors in the making of compound and composite tools.

Here are two recently hafted spear points points.  If you haven’t worked with sinew, its difficult to convey just how amazing and useful this material is.  It has been called the “duct tape” of prehistory but it is even better than that.  It not only holds well and is remarkably strong, but shrinks and strengthens as it cures.  The points above were hafted (tied on) with sinew dipped in hide glue to create a solid  and tight hold on points.  This method holds up very well for throwing darts or spears and is nearly impossible to break.

https://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/nepe/exb/dailylife/FoodGathering/NEPE1796_Bow2.jpg

Sinew backing and binding on a Nez Perce bow. Courtesy of NPS.

If you hunt (or know someone who does), you can acquire this from the legs and back straps (the strap covering the tenderloins) of nearly any animal of size.  Elk, bison, and deer are obvious candidates for long pieces and are readily available in North America. Smaller animals such as rabbit can be used, but as in so may things, longer can really be better.  The main issue I have with the shorter sinews is that it is more difficult to work wet as it must be continually added while binding.

Plate LXIXThe more you know…

On the Antiquity of Gourds

Gourds have played an important role in human history in both the Old World and New.  The origin, domestication, and spread of this and other plants was a topic of much conversation when I was in graduate school.  It seems now that its antiquity and introduction to the Americas is becoming much clearer.  This humble but amazing plant is securing its place in early American prehistory.

Ancient Humans Brought Bottle Gourds To The Americas From Asia

Thick-skinned bottle gourds widely used as containers by prehistoric peoples were likely brought to the Americas some 10,000 years ago by individuals who arrived from Asia, according to a new genetic comparison of modern bottle gourds with gourds found at archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere. The finding solves a longstanding archaeological enigma by explaining how a domesticated variant of a species native to Africa ended up millennia ago in places as far removed as modern-day Florida, Kentucky, Mexico and Peru.

Read more about it here:  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051214081513.htm

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.

Making the Possibles Bag

Several years ago, I made a shoulder bag that I still often carry today.  It is the perfect size for a small field bag or hunting pouch.  It was a lot fun looking at various designs, mostly from the 18th century to try and come up with something that would fit my needs.

My bag, several years and many miles later.

When I first joined Boy Scouts at about age eleven, I envisioned myself as a mountain man-explorer who was going to learn to live off the land.  The first merit badge book I bought with my little money was Wilderness Survival and it spoke of the possibles bag that  early explorers carried that kept everything they needed to live off the land and cover every emergency.  At least, that’s how I remember it.  Later, as a an actual wilderness explorer, traveler, and archaeologist, I learned to appreciate the “kit” bag on a more realistic level, and how this bag transforms for different purposes and places one travels.  It is the unsealed* survival kit to be used and replenished as needed based on the situation. My current favorites, though too big for general daily wear, are the Mountainsmith Approach pack and my Filson Medium Field Bag.  I can live out of either almost indefinitely and both make handsome weekender bags.

On to the Shoulder Bag

After much deliberation and review of mostly 18th century gear I decided I wanted a small outside pocket, a small inside pocket, a larger, closable outside pocket for important things like a compass, and main compartment large enough to hold a notebook and daily essentials.  I decided to make the main flap in a stitched-down style so that it would keep things in, even if it wasn’t buckled shut.

In the end, I went with a fairly standard English-American shooting bag style as seen above.  It works well for me and after using it for several years now, I don’t believe I would change anything about it.

 

Dimensions: the body of the bag is 9 x 10″ with a gusset exposed at 1″.  Reinforced ears, riveted for strength.  All stitching is two needle saddle stitch, except the body, which is laced.  Three pockets, and a 1 1/4″ shoulder strap, adjustable by about 12″.

All the parts of the body except the main gusset.

When laying out a complex sewing project like this, you need to decide in what order to begin the assembly.  The back wall of the bag has an internal and external pocket that were sewn down first (beginning with the smaller one inside).

Outer pocket attached.

The outer pocket has a gusset that was sewn inside-out before being sewn down to the front wall of the bag.  You’ll probably notice that the edges of the flaps are raw but if I were using thinner leather I would bind them with a soft buckskin or something similar.  The raw edges were smoothed and burnished to create a nicer look than just a sharp cut edge.

The assembled bag.

Finished!  It’s hard to gauge work time but since that is generally the first thing anyone asks I will estimate about eight hours of stitching and assembly for this project.  There is one inside patch pocket, an outside rear pocket, and a gusseted pocket under the flap.  Eleven pieces plus the strap (four pieces).  Hardware includes a one inch bridle buckle, a 5/8″ buckle, and two solid one inch “D” rings.

 

Now, what to keep in it…

*The modern sealed survival kit was developed for conscripted soldiers and airmen to keep them from rifling through and using up the goods and having nothing when they truly need it.  This has carried over into survival-skills-for-morons programs world-wide and creates a product to be sold and consumed by the inept.  If you cannot trust yourself to update, change, use, and modify the contents of your personal survival kit, by all means make or buy one and seal it up, awaiting the day it will come in handy.  If nothing else, you can enjoy all the surprises you will find while you wait for someone to rescue you.  ~GTC