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.
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.
After a little over a week traveling across the country in the new and improved vardo I want to share a few unedited and unstaged photos of life in the caravan.
It took a couple tries to get a good area to set up in but eventually I risked parking in some low ground. I think it would have been an easy escape had we needed to pull out for rain.
The ante-room serves as a staging area for cooking, working on projects, bathing, and other activities.
The bed and bedroom are the essence of a vardo. The pared-down essentials of travel. This is the bed extended to full width.
The washing up station is my favorite addition. The tank is a recycled Russian samovar and holds a little over a gallon of water. The copper sink provides a place to shave, wash, and brush your teeth.
It is all the details and little fixes that happen over time that make the vardo so personal and cozy. I try to focus on the practical and little innovations that make our life easier on the road.
In a small space, everything has to have its place. Everything fragile or dangerous also has to have a place to travel to avoid damage.
It’s hard to escape an almost nautical feel to the vardo. Many of the same issues have to be overcome as those in a boat. Hence the railings on all the shelves.
I owe much to my good friends who have given many of the finer bits and pieces that I use every day we travel.
I also enjoy repurposing found objects for real use in the vardo. In this case, some hundred-year-old glass insulators serve as convenient rings to hold a clothesline.
The large work counter serves many purposes. My beautiful copper water tank was made by the multi-talented fellow-traveller Mick Robins. The large overhead shelf is very handy for often used items.
The slide out bed spends most of the day in this position, giving more floor space as needed. It’s still plenty wide for a single person to sleep on in this configuration.
Just as with the 19th century living wagons, I try to use every square inch in a sensible way. Having a wood burning stove in such a small space presents its own set of problems and limitations.
This awning arrangement is a new one for me and worked beautifully. The tarp is a fly that normally attaches to my wedge tent but this arrangement served well as a workshop and outdoor cook space for the week.
I am still pleased with almost every aspect of the Little Green Vardo, even after 29,000 miles.
More of my work can be found on my Instagram page.
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.
Hand made pottery made by artisans who collect the raw clays, slips, and paints make for greatly loved cookware and cups. Wood turned on a foot-powered lathe from cleared alder trees make for intimate dinnerware.
Many cultures are represented at the gatherings but in the Southwest, the black-on-white ceramics dominate the fancy wares.
Packbaskets are found worldwide but only in small sectors of the western population. This one is particularly beautiful.
Making a bowl by burning and scraping. Delicious ducks roasting in the background.
Even a simple bowl can be a satisfying accomplishment when it holds it’s first meal.
Fresh deer skins being turned into buckskin.
A lot of time and labor goes into dressing a fresh deer hide but the payoff is immense. Buckskin clothing will last for many many years.
Perfectly tanned hides by “Digger”.
Skilled artisans and craftsmen can make the best customers as they know and understand the care and effort that goes into a handcrafted project.
The talent doesn’t end with the crafting of artifacts. People who “Make” have skills that reach far beyond the world of modern consumption. The primitive technology crowd brims over with artists and musicians of many types and genres.
Thanks to those who participated in our bow making class this year. I failed to get many photos so if anyone would be willing to share theirs with me, I would be most grateful. Email me at zcoyotez (at) yahoo.com.
We made very traditional flat bows. This is a straight-forward, predictable design that is easy to tiller and makes a fine shooter.
I use a minimum of tools, relying primarily on the axe, drawknife, and spokeshave for the heavy work with rasps and cabinet scraper for finishing.
It is a little more difficult to teach such a hands-on skill to groups, as opposed to individuals, but the class seemed to go very well. The point was not to just make a bow but to learn enough of the concepts that everyone in the class should be able to go home and make more without much guidance. A key to the success is using good staves to begin with. There is enough to learn without added problems of twists and knots in the raw material.
All of the bows were successful and I hope will bring happiness for years to come.