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/

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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.