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.

img_0265

img_0337

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