The ability to make fire from the forest without any need of tools from home has given me a heightened feeling of freedom and self sufficiency that is difficult to express. I may in the future to through a lengthy how-to on the process. Until then please watch and glean what you can from this video.
July is bark peeling season here in Southern New England. Tree bark is an important resource for anyone living close to the land as it supplies the raw materials for many things; coverings for dwellings and canoes, string and rope and containers of all kinds.
Many species of trees bark share exceptional properties that make it so useful. Many become pliable when wet and ridged when dry. Many contain strong fibers and some oils that lend to flammability and rot resistance.
One of my favorite things to make during this time are bark berry buckets. This July I peeled some bark for this purpose.
Here are some images of my daughter making a berry bucket. In the future I may do a full tutorial on how to do this. For now I will hit the high points.
The bark (in this case of tulip poplar) is folded in half at the bottom in a certain way to create an elliptical cross section. Then the edges are stitched together. Gabby used a bone awl to make the holes and then stitched with hickory bark. I prefer hickory bark taken from saplings or branches (any species of hickory seems to work similarly), it is very strong and drys to a wood-like hardness).
A rim is then stitched on, in this case Gabby wanted to leave one side of the bark proud above the rim for “style”.
We had a fun time together working on this. My daughter went right out and picked blueberries with it, nearly filling it. This and other bark projects are great for kids and beginners to woodcrafting or wilderness skills.
When I first met my wife Deneen we were taking a workshop on how to put together an atlatl and dart kit. A few weeks later when we where courting over email I told her I had already killed a mammoth with mine, how was hers coming along?
My attempt at charm aside, atlatls and darts (spears) were what ancient man used to hunt mammoths and other very large animals. Australian Aboriginal people used them up into historical times. Much simpler that bows, they are relatively easy to make and fun to use.
This is a video exploration of a couple sets I have made.
Forgot to include this here. Part 3 of the coiled basket tutorial.
Part two of three how to video on make a coiled basket out of grass. I begin the sides, and even out the shape. In the third part I will show several ways to make a handle depending on materials, tools and time available.
Basketry is an art form with many variations. One form found in many parts of the world for hundreds and maybe thousands of years is coiled basketry. In this country (the U.S.) the most recognized form would be the pine needle baskets made by Native American groups in the Southeast and possibly elsewhere. Many materials have been used in the past and today.
In this video I demonstrate how to make a simple and expedient coiled basket out of dead grass and string. This will be a three part video so I can show all aspects of the process. Many other suitable materials could be used in the same way. This is one of the few basket weaving techniques that could be applied as a survival skill because it is immediate with no need for soaking or lengthy processing of materials (willow shoot weaving would be another).
If you enjoy this video please subscribe to my Youtube channel to be sure to see the next two installments in the coiled basket series.
Fire by friction is a defining skill of wilderness survival and primitive living. Here is the first in a series of videos to help people learning the bow drill method. Future videos and articles will cover the construction, from scratch, of a friction fire set and the ultimate skill of harvesting all materials from the landscape using stone tools also gathered on the spot. Thanks for watching.
The bark of Grey, Paper and to some extent yellow birch are well known for their flamibility and rot resistance. These birches have a high amount of oil in their bark that we can use the same way the birch tree does.
In researching this I found that betulin, the substance often distilled from birches for medicinal uses, which is the wintergreen compound also found in the plant known by that name, may not be the same thing as birch tar. They are, though, both known as birch oil. The more rot resistant birches that we will be using here are know for having a lack of this wintergreen oil in their bark, which is readily detected by smell. Wikipedia tells me birch tar, “… is compounded of phenols such as guaiacol, cresol, xylenol and creosol.” My friend and colleague Jamie from White Memorial Conservation Center and I set out to make the latter, birch tar.
Birch tar has many uses. It was once used in Russia to treat leather, making it water resistant and rot resistant, it can be used similarly to finish wood. Neanderthals and early humans used it as glue for projectiles (when the oil is reduced further it becomes a thermo-plastic, epoxy like substance).
To distill tar from the bark the bark must be heated without it burning, allowing the liquid oil to seperate from the solids in the bark. The oil, which changes viscosity with heat, runs out.
Here’s how we did it;
I collected birch bark from dead grey birch trees, I have an abundance of them in my neighborhood.
I filled this tin Deneen got from goodwill with the bark. There is a multitool on the edge for scale. I had previously poked a hole in the center of the bottom of the tin to allow the tar to run out. It also has a tight fitting lid to keep oxygen out so the bark doesn’t just burn. Buried in the fire pit is another tin can to catch the oil as it drips out.
After placing the tin full of bark directly over the can, we surrounded the container with firewood and lit it. I didn’t get a picture of the fire as it burned which would have been cool.
After about 2 hours we removed the remaining firewood and put out the fire. I enjoyed the anticipation of what we might find.
After carefully removing all components we found a significant amount of oil in the can! Well over a cup. It was similar in consistency and color to motor oil, had a strong, unique smell and felt tacky.
The bark was reduced to this almost glass like material that reminded me of “scale” found on steel after heating. It would not burn. When crushed it was brittle and easily reduced to powder.
We later put the oil in a jar. It continued to thicken as it cooled. I tried it on wood and some leather, it remained somewhat tacky even after some time, darkening the material significantly and adding its characteristic odor. In the future I will reduce it further to make glue for hafting stone points.
It is very cool stuff, and not difficult to make. I have spoken to another colleague who experimented with producing birch tar with only the materials available to neanderthals and early man. I intend to try this myself.
This year at the Maine Primitive Gathering I only took a few pictures. The Gathering has come to be so important to me, a chance to see so many special people and feel part of a community that shares a common interest. My time there this year was abbreviated so I was not able to connect with as many of those special people as I wanted to.
The images here do not begin to do justice to the scope and dynamic nature of the Gathering. I was too busy enjoying myself to take pictures that might express this better. Dozens of instructors taught workshops about archery, bow and arrow making, friction fire of all types, tracking, survival skills, health and healing, and many other primitive and wilderness skills. Many families attended, I saw a lot of little babies on their mothers hips and kids running everywhere. What follows are a few examples of what went on.
Some oldtimers and whippersnappers Mike, Al, Nick, Red and Bob, all experts in one field or another, there to share the knowledge.
One of many workshops.
Garlic Hawkers Rich, Gabby and Maple
Some of the boys hanging out around the fire.
A fire workshop on group friction fire. Here they are teaming up on a giant hand drill.
Someone saw me looking around for my daughter and our friends and asked “Looking for your tribe?” and I thought, yeah I am, my tribe within a tribe. In this place I am a member of the the Gathering Tribe, the Fire Clan, the Deneen, Andy, Gabby, Jace, Evan, Dena, Maple Tribe (my “extended” family) and the Long Time Instructor Society.
Pardon my sentimental words. To be part of something meaningful is a great feeling and a tough thing to explain.
My friend Greg, a great bower, helped me out making this Holmegaard style bow. Its is make of Sugar Maple and shoots smooth and sweet.
Holmegaard is an area in Denmark where the first of these ancient bows was found preserved in a bog. Holmegaard’s have certain features that I have replicated, though not precisely, in this bow. I used a wider belly than back, narrow non-bending handle, and narrow tips.
A more true example would have been shorter, mine is over 6 foot, bent little in the narrow tips and been a little wider in the rest of the limb. I prefer a longer bow and therefor a narrower limb. Replication of history is also not my aim. My aim, so to speak, its to make good bows and learn to hunt with them. The second part is a longer journey than the first.