Sunday, 22 April 2007

Primitive Skills Wikipedia

Urban Scout has started a primitive skills wikipedia. I think it's an excellent idea, which probably needs a lot of contributing people.

Moose Antler Axe in Action

Here is footage of my recently reworked moose antler axe in action. It is very heavy and packs a punch. I need a new shaft though as you can see it almost popping off all the time. It is also split. The tree (a dead, dry spruce) took about 10 minutes to get to the ground in total. A little slower than a dull steel axe. Thanks to Halvor Hylland Olsnes for filming.

Here is a photo of me chopping down a goat willow tree. The tree was down in two minutes approximatly.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Buckskin Leggings Tutorial

It has been a while since I made a pair of leggings. My last set was stolen out of my friends pickup truck during a trip. The bag held all my buckskin clothes and was the only thing taken. It's been long enough now that I smile when I think of what the person who took this bag must have thought when they got home and opened it up!

When making clothes of any kind with buckskin it is crucial that the skin needs to be washed first. I don't mean a trip through the washer (which you can do with buckskin!) but rather a dip in some water. When buckskin is worked soft in a frame, which I do, it tends to come out in a 2 dimensional shape. Deer are obviously not 2 dimensional so getting the skin wet and slightly working a little as it dries allows it to come back to a more normal shape. After giving the skin a dip I wring out the smokey water, catching it in a bucket to be used later for a braining. The smokey water helps keep the brains from going sour and also make it a little easier when softening the skin. The reason you want to soak the finished skin is because if you don't you might end up with one leg that wants to twist weird ways or a sleeve that is shorter than when you started.

One should also try to find matching skins when making clothing. That is to say that the skins should match in overall thickness as your first priority and optionally in coloring. To help with color matching smoke two skins of the same thickness together. The skins I use here were not smoked as a matching set and you can tell the difference if you look carefully.

I have found it much easier to use old clothing that you like the fit of and taking it apart rather than useing patterns or measurements. I went to the second hand store and picked up these old jeans for 2$. I simply cut out the crotch and then split them up the outer side seam. They are now my pattern. You can see in the pic where I have laid the "pattern" on the washed skin. You will note that the skin is not flat but has curves in it. This is normal. Buckskin is not like working with any other material. Your finished garments will never look like they came out of a factory.

I traced an outline of the pattern onto the flesh side of the skin. You can use some sort of straight edge to help make up for the ripples but again, it's never going to be perfectly straight. Be sure to keep track of which side of your skin will be the front part of your leggings and which part is the back. The side of the pattern where you can see the old pocket from the jeans is the front side. It will be that side that is eventually made into the fringe.

This pic shows the buckskin that has been cut away from the back side of the legging and also the crotch area. Before you cut into buckskin make sure you think about what your doing, then think about it again as you cant really fix a screw up too easily with buckskin. I made the cut about 1/2 inch away from the exact tracing line of the back part of the leggings. This is to allow for a little overlap in the seam of the sides of the leggings. Next I used an awl to poke holes on the line of the back side of the leggings, or the side that has been cut. Do not expand these holes by shoving the awl through the holes. Leave these holes small. All holes exposed to stress will become larger over time. This is why you want to leave the holes small. These holes are about 1/2 inch apart. You can space them wider or smaller to charge the appearance but much further apart and you run the risk of the seams becoming saggy over time. Much closer together and you run the risk of having the seems rip into each other.

This pic shows the seam on the outside of the skin. This is called a running stitch. In this case this would be called lacing as this skin is not really stitched as much as laced together. There are many variations of making seams. I like this one for it's simplicity. You can get really crazy and make seams that look like little x's or seams that look braided. Whatever seam style you decide to do you want to make sure that when you cut your lace that you take note of the different thicknesses of the skin. Thinner areas on the skin will stretch much more than than thicker areas. So when you cut your lace make the cut wider in thinner areas and a little narrower in thicker areas. Get your lace wet and pretstretch it. No need to let it dry before using it but you can. Note also how the same side (hair side of skin) is showing on the lace as well.

When I lace I lace from the bottom of the leg and work my way up. I leave about 8 inches of lace on the bottom just in case I need to make adjustments somewhere. When I finish off the end of a lace I tend to just weave it on the inside of the garment rather than tie it off and cut it. That way I have something to work with later if needed and I also know I have a little stash of lace on me in the event I need one and don't have one. I don't lace the the very top and will show what I like to do there next. Now we have the skin laced up the side. The big flap on the right can be left as is or made into fringe. To me half the fun of buckskin is the fringe and as you will see I love to get nuts with the fringe.

There are a number of ways to make the part that keeps the leggings on you. Some folks suggest a suspender type set up while I prefer a belt. To make the belt loop I lace the inside part of the flap that is left on the inside of the legging. I fold it over to create the loop and include this in with the lacing on the top and keep going all the way up, folding over the outer extra skin. That way I have a strong loop that does not want to stretch.

Making the fringe is pretty simple. Just cut strips of skin until they are as small as you would like them. I like to make some initial cuts all the way along the lateral flap just to make sure my fringe is as even as I can get it.

I like the look of twisted fringe which was practiced by some aboriginal American tribes. I wet the fringe and then stretch each individual part of the fringe and twist them tight, giving a nice pull on the end.

I really suggest wearing the whatever your making around a bit before you do a lot of trimming. Again, you can't correct mistakes too easily and buckskin takes a lot of work to get to the point where you're making clothes and don't want to waste all that work. After you've worn it a while you will see and feel where you want to make some different trimmings. I am going to leave the upper parts of these intact for a while before I do any trimming.

And there you have them, leggings.

I really prefer leggings to pants for several reasons. My favorite reason is that they are adaptable. When you get up in the morning you put your skirt/breech cloth on and then add your leggings. When it warms up you simply take off your leggings, no need for a wardrobe change. When it cools back off then your leggings come back on. Leggings also cut down on laundry especially when used with a skirt which I what I prefer to wear with leggings. This makes them go for longer stretches where they don't need to be washed than do pants. While buckskin is pretty breathable it can get hot and musty in a hurry. Leggings cut that right out. Leggings also allow for much greater flexibility and range of motion than do pants and you never get butt sag as buckskin pants tend to do over time.

Some may think this a little drafty of a system but I have never had any problems with it having lived year round in a skirt and leggings outdoors. Buckskin is so naturally warm that a little ventilation is nice and the extra ventilation helps keep one cleaner in my opinion.

In final analysis the most important part of leggings is that leggings are just damn sexy!

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Needle Case

Needles are as a rule; small and fragile. Consequently being prone to loss and breakage. The needle case does the job of containing and protecting them towards breakage and dulling. Needle cases can be made very elaborately or very simply, from wood, antler, ivory or bone. This one can only be classed as very simple and is made from sheep bone. When I get my hands on some reindeer (caribou) leg bone I will make a bigger, more beautifully carved version.

This design is of Inuit origin, but I know that other natives, including the Scandianavian Saami used similar designs. The idea is simple. You have a hollow case, a leather/buckskin strip and two stopping devices. When closed it looks like the photo below. The needles are then protected inside the tube.

To open it, simply pull the opposite stopping device.

The needles are stuck into a buckskin pad.

A proper belt hanger could be made for it, but for this one I used only a stick to make sure the thong doesn't go all the way through. I will just carry mine in a pouch.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Toe Bone Fishing Hook

This winter I have made a number of antler and bone hooks made in several different ways. A method I tried fairly recently I would say is more than likely my new method for making a bone hook. Bone has two major advantages over antler as a hook. It gets sharper and isn't as affected by water (antler softens a lot after some time). The disadvantage is usually that bone isn't as flexible and has a strong tendency to break, especially where cut agains it's grain. The toe bone hook follows the grain all the way and can be left thinner, which faciliates easier bait attachment and possibly higher overall efficiency. With other words, this is yet to me, probably "the ideal" primitive fishing hook. I know that the barrel cactus have even more suitable hooks, but that plant is unfortunately not to be found here.

First you need a toe bone. Clean it up well.

Grind both sides until you expose the marrow in the middle, this will make into a natural, hollow rectangular(ish) piece of bone.

Clean up the inside.

Cut at what you judge to be the most suitable place and cut the shape of the hook.

Round the edges of the hook and make it sharp.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Carved Snow Googles

I've made a couple of pairs of these before, but this one is the first with stone tools only. I didn't take any photos during construction, so I hope that my explaination will suffice.

First you need to find a bent piece of wood, mountain birch being a good alternative. I chopped it down with my moose antler axe and when I got home I split it in half so that one piece has the split surface facing out of the curve, while the other has the face on the inside. Use the one with the split face on the inside.

Determine how it will sit on your face and use a flake to saw it to lenght and make the groove for your nose. Clean it up with a beaver tooth or a flake. Beaver teeth works better when hollowing out the nose room since the edge is stronger. Take your time, making such googles isn't done in a flash. Try to do as much work as possible while it's green.

Next, measure where your eyes will be and carve out the eyeroom with beaver teeth. After this is done, chances are the wood will dry out very quickly, so do as much as you can at once. The slit through should be as long as possible, to allow for the best possible sidevision. Carving the slit is easily achieved and can be done both from the inside and outside. For maximum light blocking, go as narrow as you can.

Drill one hole in each end for the string. I used a hand drill tipped with a very thin bone point. It will burn hole more than anything else, but it works. Drill from both sides and punch (carfully) through with a bone awl. Finish it up, attach a line and coat it with charcoal (not done in photo) on the inside of the eyes.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Glacier Lilly

Today my daughters and I walked about in a burn area looking for some early morrells. While we struck out on the shrooms we did see lots of glacier lillys. I havested a few to show ya'll. I noted that the bulbs that had no flower or the flower had not yet opened were much better and firmer than the ones that had flowers. There were tens of thousands of these ready for the harvest. I've read where a couple of hundred pounds of these were harvested by abo's. They are sweet and nutty tasting.

Final Stage of Sinew Making

The promised post to finish up the sinew processing. The pic below shows the dried elk backstrap sinew. Elk is very much larger than deer to work with but it also produces some very long strands. Moose would be much the same way.

Here I am giving the sinew a twist, bending it every which way possible. You basically just keep on doing that until it becomes loosened up. Deer take but a few minutes but this elk tore up my hands pretty well. It's really strong stuff.

Here I splitting the sinew in half lengthwise. This will make it easier to torque around. Just keep working it until it wants to come off as threads. You can see the perpendicular cross fibers of the fascia that was left on it.

The final pic shows individual fibers that have been stripped out. Across them is a piece of nylon thread so you can get an idea of how large the threads are. I generally leave the sinew intact and only split off threads as I need them. Wet them to prestretch them before you use them. Sinew doesn't take a square knot very well so one must use a figure 8 to begin to sew with them, or some other knot that doesn't come out.

One last thing, when splitting anything including sinew the side that recieves more of the tension will end up thicker, so to keep a split uniform you try to keep the tension uniform bi-laterally. If you start to see the split make one side thinner then add more tension to that side. Make sense?

I'm going to be making some buckskin leggings next so check back in soon to watch them take shape!!

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Snow Blindness

The light from the snow can in spring be very hard on your eyes. The potential consequence being snowblindness. Having experienced it myself once, I can tell you that it isn't fun and the condition would seriously impact your ability to provide yourself with food. The danger of becoming snowblind isn't all that great as long as you stay in the forest, especially in the evergreen coniferous forest. But in case you need to go up in the tree less mountains or cross a big surface of ice, you will need some kind of protection.

Coating charcoal around your eyes will help a little, but to be properly protected you need some special googles. While I don't know of any transparent natural material with UV protecting properties, the inuits (and probably others) made googles with slits in them, to reduce the amount of sunlight which hits the eye. Especially important it is to remove the reflection from the snowy ground.

If you of some reason has gotten snowblind, you need to stay indoors in the dark for a number of days days, the length depending on the severity of your case. You will know that you have been cured when it does no longer feel like needles stinging your eyes when you look outside.

Very soon I'll post instructions on how to make more advanced snow googles of wood. Not many photos I'm afraid, but hopefully the text alone will be suffcient.

Here is a photo of some quicky birch bark googles in usage. They work reasonably well, but the slits could have been made narrower.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Processing Sinew

Torjus has talked about using sinew for sewing so I thought I might show a little photo tutorial on how to process sinew. These instructions won't be exactly in chronological order as I won't be showing how I remove sinew from the critter until I butcher my next goat. The sinew I will be working with here was saved for me by my friend the meat processor who I worked with in gathering up my deer skins for my year. They were already cutting the sinew off of the loins so I just showed them how I wanted to keep it as long as possible and they supplied me with bags and bags of deer and elk sinew. I keep finding these bags in my freezer and I have more sinew than I know what to do with! You may wish to become very good friends with your localmeat processor or butcher as they can supply you with many things that you may not have access to if you live in an urban area but like to play caveman.

The first pic is of elk backstrap sinew that has only been cut away from the rest of the loin. When I remove sinew it seldom has this much meat left on it but I am not complaining. In my hand I am holding a piece of slate. On the sinew is a obsidian flake.

The next image shows the actual removal of meat from the sinew. You want to work perpendicular to the sinew, not at an angle. You don't want the tool your using to be very sharp as you can cut the sinew. The longer your sinew is the better it is to work with in most cases. I am simply "pushing" back and forth.

This pic shows the elk backstrap sinew getting cleaner. There is some connective tissue on elk that isn't on deer that I used the sharper obsidian on.

This pic shows the connective tissue on elk that makes meat removal a little harder.

You want to clean both sides of the sinew. You will find that the side of the sinew that faced the dermis of the critter doesn't have all that much to remove but you do want to remove as much of the fascia as possible. Every little bit helps. Any meat or fat left on the sinew can weaken the sinew. This pic shows fascia or connective tissue that you want to remove as much of as you can. Elk especially is very tough when dried out.

I will post the next part on Sunday.

Thanks Torjus

Thank you for the invite to help out on your blog. I look forward to helping this blog become a great resource for people who want to learn more about primitive skills. Perhaps I fantasize too much in dreaming that one day we might be able to put on a primitive skills gathering there in Norway!!

Just to let folks know a little about me. I am a traditional tanner who lives on a reservation in Montana, but I'm not an aboriginal American. I make my living as a traditional tanner selling garment quality skins to aboriginal women who use my skins to make clothing and moccasins. Traditional tanning as such is not practiced much among aboriginal people these days.

I have been making braintanned buckskins for about 14 years now. I have also lived very "primitively" for about 3 years straight at one point in my life which has given me a practical perspective on living simply. I did this with children which is also somewhat unusual for many primitive practitioners. One of my children was birthed 1/2 mile off the nearest road in a shelter I made, and without a midwife. I have a wide range of primitive skills that I know and practice but by far I am best at braintanning deerskins.

Thanks again Torjus. I look forward to contributing.


Reopening the Blog

The blog is now reopened and has had the name changed. This time with several posters. The purpose is threefold:
  • Take workload off me.
  • Give a broader contribution from people who specialize in other fields.
  • Offer these contributers commercial exposure.