Leather Knapsack Prototype

Why do this?

In my life-long quest for better designs and finer gear, I am constantly on some sort of hare-brained mission to make something new.  Some readers may remember the earlier backpack I made and eventually traded off to a new owner.   My friend Jacob, even made a fine copy for himself and it now lives happily in Botswana, hopefully seeing many great adventures.

Snapshot of the pack, ready for waxing.

Leather and Brass? (or, what the hell were you thinking?)

One thing that can be said about real leather is that it will, barring some mishap, last a lifetime but eventually fade back into to earth, leaving little trace.  Leather is strong, wears well, is abrasion and heat-resistant, feels good to the touch, and cannot be beat for beauty.  While I considered antler for buckles, I decided to go with a slightly more modern closures and fasteners made from solid brass.  As I use antler in most of my creations, I chose to make a few well-shaped toggles as practical accents.

The downside? These materials are heavier than modern, lightweight materials but, for me, the trade-off is completely worth it.

It begins with the little things. There are many repetitive steps in large projects such as this.

This backpack started off as some daydreaming and sketches on graph paper sometime last November but other projects and commitments made me set it aside again and again.  This was good though; it allowed me to rethink the plans and make modifications as they occurred to me in the quiet hours of the night.

The harness system took some time, thought, and modelling before work could commence.

What were the design parameters?

Design is always the toughest part when creating something new.  I’ve been looking at handcrafted bags and packs for years so I’m sure there are a thousand images bouncing around inside my skull influencing the composition of this piece.  Honestly, choosing a size was the most puzzling part of all for me.  I’m a biggish guy and have a tendency to go big when I make gear so I was determined to keep this one reigned in.

Once the more difficult decisions were made, cutting and sewing could begin.

I already had a “look”  in mind and already decided on the construction technique.  Should it be a six panel body for easier layout or single panel around the body for a more seamless build?  Should it be sewn, laced, or riveted and what pockets does it need?  Will it be “turned” (seams hidden inside) or will the closings be visible?  Finally, where to begin construction?  We can’t close the body until the external sewing is done so pockets and straps were a good place to start.

Not long after getting most of the parts gathered and cut, I found myself wounded, with only one arm for practical use.  This slowed down sewing to a crawl.  What should take fifteen minutes took over two hours so this bag became an exercise in patience.

Still, I managed to make headway and the pack came together over several weeks.

A “turned” pocket freshly attached to the body.

Maybe not my prettiest stitching ever, but as it will be mine, and not for sale, I will still cherish every flaw.

Large pocket accessible with the main flap closed.

As a prototype, there were changes that must be made on the fly but overall I was happy with the design.

The shoulder straps were made to be replaceable without too much hassle and are long enough to accommodate a heavy coat in winter.

A carry handle was a heavy debate in my mind but makes a lot of sense for modern travel.

Each side has a slip pocket, tie down D rings and a compression strap at the top of the pack.

Bottoms up! I was able to place a scar in the hide on the bottom of the bag. The two rectangular patches are for blanket straps.

Details – brass rivets, antler toggles, and beautiful leather called for a heavy pillow ticking to serve as the liner.

Waiting to be packed for an adventure. I hope to get it waxed and outside later this week. Hopefully, I’ll get some photos of the new pack in use.


  • Materials – 8 ounce veg tanned leather body, 4 – 5 ounce leather pockets, brass and antler
  • Height – 16 inches
  • Width – 12 inches
  • Depth – 6 inches
  • Weight – 5 pounds

Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Selfies of your hand-made gear?

A New Sled in Time for Winter!

I collect old plans for projects I never seem to get around to making.  With winter here, maybe someone would want to build this fine sled.  This comes from an old Delta Tool company publication and the procedure is about as simple as can be.

finished sled

I lived on the flat Plains for quite some time and I’m rediscovering the joys of hill country.


From the book Toys, A Deltacraft Publication, DELTA MFG. DIVISION

There’s not much to it really.  An couple large project scraps and two long boards for the runners will just about do it.

The recipe is simple:

  • The frame is 1/4″ birch and the top boards are 3/8″ birch. Fasten together with countersunk, flat-head wood screws.
  • The runners are made from ash. Make a simple form with an 8″ radius from scrap wood. Soak the ends Of the runners in hot or boiling water for about an hour, then clamp onto the form and allow to dry for 24 hours.  Ash takes to bending very well in my experience.
  • Finish body of sled with varnish or paint. Apply several coats of shellac to the runners and wax.

Maybe one less plastic tub sled will end up in the landfill.

Here’s the link to the website where I found the plans.  There are some fun and simple projects to you busy in the coming fall.  I recommend the “retro” section for some good stuff.




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).


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.


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.

DSC_0001 (9)

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.