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.