Ghillie Shoe Class

Here are some throwback photos from Ghillie shoe making classes from 2009 and 2011.  The first pair is from a small class at the Bois d’Arc Rendezvous in southwest Missouri (note the lush green of late summer).  Maybe not as sexy as the arrow-making class but it is a very real and useful skill.  I have been honing the teaching method since I was taught how to fit and make these back in 1986.

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One of the appeals this design has for many people is that they require very little sewing.  If you don’t work with leather regularly, stitching can be intimidating.  Some careful cutting and you can make some stylish shoes in a short time.

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An hour of work and you’re ready to walk the world. More importantly, with the knowledge in your head you can always make more and keep right on walking.

Winter Count, Maricopa, Arizona 2011.

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Moccasin upgrade time again

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These ratty old moccasins have spent a lot of time in the woods.  These have been my winter moccasins for over two decades.  I can’t remember exactly when I made them but it was a quick and dirty sewing job.  They have been re-soled at least twice and need it again.  The uppers are an oil-tanned leather I bought from a saddle and boot maker supply house I found while driving through north Texas.  As can be seen, the tops can be worn up or down.  They aren’t beauties but they are definitely ME.

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.

Interview Time

Well this is exciting. I got interviewed at winter count near Florence, Arizona back in February.

It’s heavily edited from a much longer discussion but I don’t think I sound too stupid here talking about the Vardo.  The interview is very close-up and tight but you can get a feel for the interior layout. There is a lot of good stuff on the Cheap RV Living website and I’ve been a reader for a very long time.  Check it out.


https://youtu.be/ktkXcXmR96Q

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.

Thumb Stick

A little show and tell this rainy winter morning.

Mule deer fork with rings of walnut and hickory.

I’ve been carrying this walking stick in one form or another since 2001. What does that mean? I just can’t leave well enough alone, that’s what.  It was a straight knobbed staff before attaching the stag horn but I decided it would be more useful and aesthetically pleasing with the fork on top.

A quick polish with walnut oil this morning.

The fork is not only good for resting the thumb but works well for creating shelter and provides a bit of heft should it be needed for persuasion.

The cancelous tissue is fairly light in this one as the buck had an unfortunate highway encounter with a truck. That’s how I found it.

This stick has long been a comfort on walks where stray dogs, javalinas, or other beasties may be encountered. I remember that it took me weeks of wandering around the high country, looking to find the right diameter, length, and character in a sturdy oak, in this case Quercus gambelii or Gambel oak). I don’t kill trees lightly, especially in marginal environments, as they are slow to grow and benefit the earth so much.

It’s always difficult to photograph walking sticks and longbows.

The foot of this one is capped in heavy copper to prolong life of the wood. It’s good to save those bits of hardware for re-purposing.

Terrible “selfie” of the previous hickory staff that this antler was mounted on. I can’t leave well enough alone so I changed it.

And just for fun, here is a nifty Sketchbook drawing of some uses for the traditional Scout Staff from and artist who goes by “Ishkotekay.”

Click for full size image.

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!

Ferro Rods are in the Shop

These are securely set in mule deer antler and are fitted with a loop for suspension.

I bought a small batch of unhafted Ferrocerrum rods recently.  This came after finding out what a hit they were with some of my recent demonstrations.  Being able to produce a ridiculously hot spark with little effort in all weather amazes even the most distracted student.  Since the explosion of survival shows on television and internet media it seems these have not only become popular again but are getting bigger and bigger and bigger all the time.

Size isn’t everything folks!

And I’m not just saying that for the obvious reasons… For the minimalist hiker, camper, or general outdoorsperson, carrying a striker that will make tens of thousands of fires is generally enough.  Seriously, how long do think you’re going to live anyway?

If you are not yet familiar with this technology it is essentially a metal striker made from iron and cerium, that when crumbled, shaved, or otherwise shredded to expose the inner materials, produces a spark about 3,000°C (5,430°F) and can directly light most small tinder.  They have been around about 100 years but have really come back with the rise of the bushcraft and survival  popularity.

This batch will probably sell fast but more will be on the way soon.

I like to keep one that easily fits into a pocket or can be tied to a backpack or worn around the neck. these meet all those requirements and more so, if you are interested in one for yourself or need the perfect stocking stuffer this yuletide season, take a trip to our Etsy shop and have a look https://www.etsy.com/shop/lostworldcrafts/.

Springtime

Although this blog isn’t really focused on our daily activities, I thought I’d share a few photos.  We had time for a beautiful day out this weekend in the eastern Ozarks.  Many plants were in bloom, the insects were moving and ticks had their presence as well.

It was also an opportunity to get out the new pack and see how it felt under load.  It was fairly heavy as it contained mostly water and food but was certainly comfortable enough for a day in the woods.

Kyly the wonder dog was back in her element sniffing out creatures and diving into every possible body of water or mud she could find.  Spring was here in full force.

The only minor disappointment was the complete lack of edible mushrooms in the area.  It wasn’t for lack of looking; we just didn’t find any.

We didn’t spot any snakes either but the area is just warming up now.  I suspect they were out but not moving much yet.

A very cold tributary to Pickle Creek provided hours of fun.

A leisurely walk in the woods without any destination is one of the finest things I can think of in life.  I hope you get a chance to get out and have saunter as well.  To get in the spirit, I find it’s good to re-read Henry David Thoreau’s Essay on Walking from time to time.

You can read it HERE:  https://paleotool.com/philosophy/walking-an-essay/

Deluxe Possibles Bag

In my shop, 18th century style is still in style.

More shameless promotion from the workshop.  This is my new, deluxe model possibles bag for the right mountain man or woman.  This design has proven to be practical and popular.  The leather is veg-tanned Hermann-Oak and all sewing is double-needle saddle-stitch.  The hardware is premium solid harness brass.  This bag will only get better with time and wear.  I’ve been carrying the same design for a decade and it is just getting more beautiful with age.

https://www.etsy.com/listing/669145808/deluxe-shooting-bag-possibles-bag?ref=shop_home_active_1

The Impartiality of Nature – from “Woodcraft and Camping”

Nessmuk – George Washington Sears

“…there are some who plunge into an unbroken forest with a feeling of fresh, free, invigorating delight… These know that nature is stern, hard, immovable and terrible in unrelenting cruelty. When wintry winds are out and the mercury far below zero, she will allow her most ardent lover to freeze on her snowy breast without waving a leaf in pity, or offering him a match; and scores of her devotees may starve to death in as many different languages before she will offer a loaf of bread. She does not deal in matches and loafs; rather in thunderbolts and granite mountains. And the ashes of her camp-fires bury proud cities. But, like any tyrant, she yields to force, and gives the more, the more she is beaten. She may starve or freeze the poet, the scholar, the scientist; all the same, she has in store food, fuel and shelter, which the skillful, self-reliant woodsman can wring from her savage hands with axe and rifle.”

~ George Washington Sears

Gardening With Purpose

It’s time to start some seeds.

We still don’t have a great place to garden but it is improving each season.  Pesky critters were quite a problem last year so we are working to improve this as well as the poor clay soil at the new house.

This plot might seem too ambitious but, if you shop wisely for seed in bulk, even a low-yield from a garden this large would really supplement the family needs.  Small packets from the hardware store really add up to high cost so I suggest ordering directly from some of the larger seed companies; it’s easy and fun to shop the catalogs.  They are generous with coupons and discounts for small-timers like us so, if you are considering a garden at all, I suggest singing up.  Here are the two I have used for years.

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 Handy Neck Knife

In the spirit of the internet Bushcraft trend of pulling out our tools and comparing I decided to join in the fun.   This is the patch / neck knife I purchased back around 1986 when I first started getting primitive.

A poor photo of the walnut sheath.

I went with wood as I was wearing this almost constantly whle working a backwoods program for the Scouts. I decided it might just impale me through the sternum or neck if I took a bad fall so the wooden block sheath was the solution.

Human hand for scale.

This one was made by a bladesmith from an antique crosscut saw and has a beautiful tiger-striped maple handle. This is probably its third sheath but it’s the one I’ve stuck with since around 2001. It’s been camping and on thousands of miles of field projects, not always around my neck but almost always close-by in my pack. For some reason, our society thinks you’re a little weird if you wear a knife around your neck all the time.

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.

Too Many Knives

A few too many camp knives?

This is what happens as you travel, receive gifts, buy better stuff, always need a good knife, etc.

From the upper left: Camillus 5-1967 (a friend carried this through Vietnam), my small Arkansas stone for field touch-ups, Buck folder, two classic Victorinox Pioneer knives (I’ve carried this style every day since high school) and a small pen knife, a lock-blade Buck made in Idaho, a 19th century bone handle knife cut down from a larger eating knife, two Gerber multi-tools (the original is from 1990 and a more modern, but heavy version beneath), a hand-made patch knife by M.P. with walnut neck sheath I’ve had since 1986, a Solingen-made high carbon Bowie knife with ebony handle, two classic Case XX folders, two small folding Gerbers, a hand-made camp knife from a fine Colorado maker, and at the bottom my “go to” Buck field knife that has worked on archaeological projects, cut up animals, dog holes, and performed about every other imaginable task.

This photo came about as I decided to organize my camping gear.  While emptying packs and bags I realized there were knives in every one, usually in more than one pocket.  After throwing them out on the floor and arranging for a quick photo I began to think about the ones in various tool boxes, my wood carving knives, a couple collector knives I can’t seem to part with, and others stashed away around the house.  My search for minimalism is failing when it comes to good tools.

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.

Bread – Some Thoughts from Cobbett

Every woman, high or low, ought to know how to make bread. If she do not, she is unworthy of trust and confidence; and, indeed, a mere burden upon the community.  –William Cobbett

Today this should probably read “Every homemaker” instead of “Every woman” but, as Cobbett composed this treatise in 1821, he assumed that the home and cooking were the domain of the women and the men were to labor outside the home.

Bread

I have a mixed relationship with bread.  I love to make it and eat it, and have for many years, yet I don’t eat a lot of it as it seems to easily fatten me up and doesn’t always sit well in my gut; the same reasons I rarely drink beer these days.  However, I am very aware that bread, in one form or another, has been a staple in the Western World for millennia and should not be overlooked so I occasionally dive in and start making bread regularly again.  I can’t stand the modern garbage marketed as “bread” as it barely resembles the greatness of a real, leavened or fermented loaf.

By the early 19th century, big business was already encouraging families to buy bread instead of bake at home and there can be some sense in this, especially in the city (fuel cost for cooking, the efficiency of oven sharing, etc.).  Cobbett thought this purchase instead of make mentality was one of the many atrocities that kept laboring families unnecessarily poor.  Foolish practices that kept the poor from ever improving their lot was a major theme of his life and we can learn from this.

I have included his treatise on bread here.  He also spreads himself pretty well as to how he despises the potato as Ireland’s lazy root (before the famine).

https://i2.wp.com/www.mediatinker.com/blog/images/bread-ad.jpg

Despite the bad press and nay-saying of diet fanatics in recent decades, real bread still finds its way onto my table.  What do you think?

https://shiftinglight.com/images/090415.jpg

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 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.

Bird Traps

I’ve been researching more ethnographic data for trapping techniques to get beyond the same handful we have all seen since our Scouting days; the Paiute, Figure-4, spring snares, etc.  While not looking at all I came across this interesting image from the archives of the Smithsonian from 17th century Italy.  The more I research, the more I learn that trapping, in the old days, was a passive-active activity, not just set the trap and go away.  Leaving the animal for any significant time allows the prey to escape or be taken by other, craftier, predators.

Text authored by Giovanni Pietro Olina, , about 1622; and illustrated by Antonio Tempesta, 1555-1630 and Francesco Villamena, ca. 1566-1624.

This trap is a great example of the active-passive nature of hunting and trapping.  The hunter, disguised as a cow is slowing pressing the flock into a tubular net, guided by the short fences on either side.

There are more tried and true ideas where this came from so hopefully I’ll be able to tease them out of the available archives and share a few more as I find them.

Dép lốp or “Ho Chi Min” Sandals

I was looking up a link for someone and rediscovered the video today showing how to make tough and durable sandals from discarded tires.  This style is well-known in Southeast Asia, particularly in poorer areas.

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If you are interested in sandal-making, you can hardly go wrong with this design if you have access to old tires.  I suggest watching the video if only for the remarkably sharp knife this maker is using.  Using tire material is a little heavy but will truly last a lifetime.  The straps fit purely by friction so they are continuously adjustable while the waterproofness of the material makes them perfect for the wetlands and jungle.

I understand this style was created in the 1940s when old tires became abundant and some creative shoemaker had a Eureka moment.  There is also a short write-up on this style on the always interesting Huarache Blog if you are seeking more information about this shoe.

Another step toward self-sufficiency and off-grid knowledge for the Mayhem Shoe Collective.

Making a Pack Basket

From one of my new favorite blogs Running With Sheep.  Johan and Sanne are a couple of remarkable outdoors – bushcraft – survival enthusiasts with more than a touch of philosophy thrown in.

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Their most recent project shows how to convert a run-of-the-mill thrift store find into a functional pack basket.  From what I can tell, they are adept leather workers so their skill shows in this project.  Re-using found objects is an excellent way to economize both money and time, especially if it is something outside your skill set or craft specialty.

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Pack baskets are light and strong and a perfect choice for hauling anything from food to dirt.  Prehistoric people used them for everything, and the solid structure makes them useful even when not carried on the back (most of the time).

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If you can cut a few straight lines, do some minimal sewing, and hammer a rivet, this project is for you.  For the complete post, head over to Running With Sheep to learn more.  I suspect you’ll want to stay a while and catch up on their other posts as well.

Enjoy!

DIY Pack Basket:

https://runningwithsheep.com/2018/04/16/diy-pack-basket/

Thoughts About Minimalism and Survival

Learning a thing or two from the past…Part 1, 21st century Westerners are not the first to minimalize.

kylixdonkey

How much stuff do we really need to lug through life?

There’s a lot of recent talk about Minimalism as a social movement and this fits well with my personal philosophy and my interests in preindustrial technology and survival.  Not long ago, minimalism was mostly associated with artists, aesthetes, wanderers, mystics, and philosophers.  That is to say, the fringe element, outsiders, and weirdos.  These things come in cycles and I think, as a backlash against generations of sell-out philosophy and the creation of a professional consumer class, many people are reaching for something new.

We come to learn that everything old is new again.

I’ve been pondering history and prehistory on a full-time professional basis for several decades now.  As hard to believe as it may be, I even get paid a salary to do it.  One of my professional interests involves the tools, tool-kits, and strategies for surviving that various people have come up with for dealing with the world.  As a sometimes primitive skills-survival instructor and full-time frugalist I think it important to not reinvent a lifeway when we have millennia of ancestors who dealt with most of the same issues we do today.

San

A San bushman demonstrating fire-making.  Ostrich egg canteen in the foreground. These people probably resemble our ancestral way of life and have very few possessions, even in their harsh environment.

For most humans, for most of our history, owning too much stuff has never really been an issue.  We had what we needed and either made what we needed or did without the things we didn’t have.  It brings a smile to my face to know that more than 2,500 years ago, various thinkers people in China, India, Greece, and the Middle East were contemplating the nature and evils of acquiring stuff; some were even writing about it.  That’s not to say that I have immediate plans to become a wandering mendicant like a medieval friar (as appealing as that might sound to some) but I do have an interest in lightening my material load and some very specific goals for the coming year.

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Medieval European mendicants represented by a pilgrim and a friar.

My foundation as a minimalist (and I may not be very good at it)-

I have been thinking about what stuff a person needs to survive since I was a teenager who enjoyed backpacking and travel.  Like virtually every young boy, I had grand ideas of escaping the family and traveling unhindered across the world.  My family weren’t exactly readers but I devoured Jack London and Mark Twain stories as a kid.  I loved the extensive and well-thought out gear lists provided in the Boy Scout Handbook, the Explorer’s Handbook, and the Philmont Guides.  I read Larry Dean Olsen’s great book of Outdoor Survival Skills and Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker again and again.  I read about the mountain men of the fur trade, and always, took note of what they carried or didn’t seem to need.  I would copy lists into a notebook and revise them while sitting in some boring high school class, making my own lists of what I have, what I need, and what I want.  This thinking encouraged me to work and save money to buy a better knife, backpack, or camping stove.  I was probably the only kid I knew who wanted, and got, a file and whetstone for Christmas one year (my grandpa was good that way).  My friends and I spent our teens and early twenties hiking and camping year round, mostly in the woods of the Ozarks in southern Missouri testing our mettle at that time in life time when all teenagers know they are invincible.  Some of us even made it to Europe, Asia, Africa, and beyond.

Books

A few of the many books I ended up possessing on a quest toward fewer possessions.

In a modern sense of survivalist, many people look to the military or the loonies of the social media.  Often, military service is the time when young men and women are introduced to such things for the first and only time in their lives.  Realistically however, the military itself acknowledges it’s shortcomings on a personal basis as (with the exception of a few special operations units) its entire system is dependent on lengthy and complex supply lines, support chains, and de-emphasis of the individual and personal decision making.  Military survival is generally approached as a means of keeping alive until help arrives.  Great for fighting a war, but not always so good when you are turned loose into the world.  This sort of survival strays from our point here anyway.

Just remember –

The things you own end up owning you.

~Chuck Palahniuk

 

More (and less) to come soon.


* here are a few links to modern Minimalists of various ilks and philosophical merit.  A journey through these links will hint at the breadth and depth of people on different paths but moving in the same direction.

Read, research, think, and enjoy!

Primitive Fishing

My fishing kit is coming together and I added another hook and leader last night.

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The left hook and gorge are made from deer cannon bone (metacarpal) and the right is whitetail deer antler.  The antler hooks are proving to be tougher and less likely to snap under tension.  The leaders here are yucca and stronger than I would have thought.  Hopefully, we can test them out sometime very soon.

Learning by Replication

I study the technology of prehistory.  Because of this, I believe strongly in the benefits of experiential archaeology.  It gives perspective on a very deep level.  We can walk in the shoes of our ancestors, so to speak.  I say experiential here not experimental and I’m glad to hear this word coming into the dialog of other primitive technology people.  While not trying to dwell on the words themselves, it is an important distinction.  Experimental generally implies the ability to replicate an actual experiment (i.e., testing a hypothesis to see what you find).

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Experimental pottery; gathering materials, construction, paint, and firing.  Click the image to see more about this project.

True experiments are things like:

  • Can a tree be cut down using an exact replica of a prehistoric axe?
  • Is it possible to move a ten ton stone over long distances using only the technology and manpower available in the Neolithic? 
  • Can fire be made by rubbing sticks together? 
  • Will a Medieval arrow penetrate 14 gauge armor plate?

You certainly gain the experience through these experiments but you are also testing something specific with something like a yes or no answer.  Experimental archaeology can create some popular misconceptions as well.  Just because something could be done, doesn’t mean that prehistoric people must have done it that way.

Replicated woven sandals from the Southern High Plains and the greater Southwest.  Produced from narrow-leaf yucca.

Replicated woven sandals as found on the Southern High Plains and throughout the greater Southwest. Produced from narrow-leaf yucca (by Stacey Bennett).

Experiential archaeology integrates this and everything else learned along the way.  E.g., How comfortable are these shoes, is there more or less back pain using a tump line on a pack, what kind of wear can be expected on arrow fletchings over time?  This allows us to ask even more questions and have a fuller knowledge of ancient peoples.

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Testing silk lashed goose feather fletching. Clicking the image links to bamboo arrow making.

I really enjoy the various directions replication takes the maker.  Learning the finer points of cutting and scraping with stone flakes or abraders, working with antler and wood, creating glues and mastics, and developing an appropriate paint or sealer as on the spear thrower below.

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Upper Paleolithic-style spear thrower.  Image links to the “how to” for making this thrower.

Whatever you do and whenever you learn, it’s all good.

It’s Food for Thought

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There are so many good reasons to have a home garden, even in the city.

Starting fresh in a new place means we’re in for some work this spring.  Although I suspect that many things have grown in this yard in the last century, other than the small plot I turned over last year, we have mostly lawn.  Even our lame little herb and tomato plot yielded some great results.  Our worst pests are definitely squirrels, with birds and raccoons running a close second.  The seed catalogs are in, orders are being placed soon, and preparations are ready to begin.

https://archiveseducationupdates.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/victory-garden-ii.jpg

With the risk of sounding like a nonconformist, I really feel that every creative act  minimalizes our interaction in a consumer economy, is a small personal victory.  Our war is a personal one now.  Planting food, mending clothes, buying local (or not buying at all) is a triumph of the will.  Knowing where our food comes from is a good beginning on a path to a better life.

For many Americans, simply planning and making a great meal from scratch feels like a success; and it is.  It just takes small steps and eventually, these skills and habits become second nature.  Your food is better, your health will improve, and you will have an invaluable skill.  Teach your children well.

https://download.vikidia.org/vikidia/es/images/thumb/0/09/Cartel_%27Am_I_proud%27_-_NARA_-_513787.jpg/350px-Cartel_%27Am_I_proud%27_-_NARA_-_513787.jpg

And finally, food preservation is the next logical step.  With refrigeration as the norm in the industrial world, we should take a little time to ponder what happens when the power goes out.  Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, or acts of terrorism are all very real things, even if we don’t feel them every day.  There is a thin line of convenience that can be quickly swept away and a little preparedness goes a long way.  One great start is the Ball Canning Jar Company’s Blue Book.  It has been around for over 100 years and has helped people preserve food without much experience and at a low cost.  Even though there some initial monetary outlay, remember that most everything is re-usable.

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A good reference like this keeps you healthy and safe.  The modern, up-to-date version is readily available at nearly any retailer who sells cookbooks.

https://www.freshpreserving.com/dw/image/v2/ABBP_PRD/on/demandware.static/-/Sites-master-catalog-ball/default/dw896196f9/Vendor%20Products/Cover-Ball%20Book%20of%20Canning%20and%20Preserving%20FINALsquare.jpgIf you haven’t grown your own food, or you haven’t in a while, consider making this your year for better food.