Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Beginners Guide to Wilderness Survival and Primitive Skills Part 1

The realm of the skills used by our ancestors, and survival in general can, to some, seem like a daunting and overwhelming place, fraught with hardship and discouraging moments which all too often lead to a "this just isn't my thing" mentality. On a regular basis when I mention the skills i practice and teach, I am greeted with the all too familiar retort: "I would die if i got lost in the woods."
This mental barrier of doubt gets in the way of learning new skills, the though that because it implies leaving your TV behind and cooking on a fire, it is somehow a difficult and painful way to get by, or live. The purpose of this, and others that will follow it are to give some guidelines and direction to those who are interested, but have no idea where to start when it comes to learning these skills.

First of all, locate a teacher or mentor if possible. When I began, I managed to get by for a short while by teaching myself to sew leather, knap small arrowheads, and generally spend lots of time in the woods making various odds and ends, but when it came to the desire to learn the hard skills like fire making, shelter building, finding water, or more advanced knapping skills, I realized I would need a teacher (or teachers) if I wanted to progress to a proficient level. My answer was MAPS Group at the time, where I attended many gatherings and learned many of the skills I know today. Other teachers seemed to find me, my friend Bill Ewing happened to have extensive bow drill knowledge, and had a very natural way of teaching me which woods to use and how to adjust the set to make it work.
Look up nearby tracking groups, anthropology departments at some universities teach knapping, or atleast have someone on staff who knows something of knapping. If you are on the east coast in the Mid Atlantic Area, there are several schools you can take classes from such as Ancestral Knowledge and Earth Connection. MAPS Group also has a list of people who can offer advice on certain skills.

Which skills should I learn first?

Good question. Perhaps a good way to decide is to put it into perspective. Eventualy you will hear of the Order of Survival. No, its not some mysterious cult dating back to a group of 15th century survival monks, the Order of Survival is the 4 things you need to live on a day to day basis, and in the long term, which are:


This order is not set in stone however, since your situation will dictate which is more important, but this is more or less the order of importance of these 4 things.
That being said, I personally consider fire making one of the first things you should learn and become proficient with. It can be learned any where you are, there are a number of ways to go about it, and it covers a lot of your physical and mental needs. Being able to make fire can dramaticly increase your chances, so it is always a good thing to have a number of ways to do it on hand (and have some level of mastery of those ways).
I'm a big proponent of controlled chaos, putting yourself into less than desirable situation in order to take your skills (and your edge) to new levels. Its important to always push your limits, do not simply make a fire with a bow drill then put it away and decide you have mastered it, because you haven't (can you ever truly master anything?). Start adding in new factors, new obstacles, new challenges. Try it in the rain, in the snow, in a hail storm, break your arm and fine a way to make it work then. Well.. don't actually break your arm obviously, you can just tie it behind your back or something, but you get my point!
I'd like to share a story I often share with my students when teaching fire making.
Last Febuary on a particularly cold day, I was in the hilly woodlands of central Maryland. I was showing my girlfriend (at the time) around a patch of woods I had been going to for a number of years. THis particular patch of woods was a steep sided valley with a fairly deep, and at times wide creek running through it. It was cold enough that ice covered large patches. So, being the manly survival so-called "expert" that I was thinking I was, I decided it was a very good idea to show her how to cross ice without falling through. We found a patch of ice in a rather deep section of the creek and I laid down on my stomach and army crawled across the ice. No problem. Not so much as a crack. Once reaching the other side I coaxed ehr into doing the same, so she got on her stomach and started to crawl across the ice. About halfway across, she pushed down onto the ice to inch her way forward (instead of inch-worming your way across with arms out-stretched) and cracks immediately shot in every direction. Luckily she stopped moving and I was able to grab her hand and pull her across without the ice stressing any more.
We proceed down stream until we reached a series of rapids with deep pools, and we came upon a bridge crossing the creek from one side to the other, with open holes on either side. Once again my "man vs wild" mentality took over and I proceeded onto the ice bridge to show her how it could hold my weight, which it did, up until I started hitting the side of it with my boot. I remember looking back to her to say "wow it isn't breaking" or something to that effect, and that's when I heard a definite crack. I remember looking down in time to see the ice disappear beneath me and water come up to meet me. First thing I noticed was how fast the current was, it literally grabbed hold of my legs and tried to force me under a nearby sheet of ice. Another thing is that everything they say about trying to get out once you've fallen through ice is true. It's wet, cold, slippery, and tiring. I did manage to pull myself out however, at which point my clothes were completely soaked.
I don't remember feeling especialy cold, but I do remember rapidly decideing whether I was going to walk out of the woods, or stay put and make a fire. I settled on fire making, it was about 30 atleast in a snow filled valley.
The only fire making device I had on me was a bow drill, and a ball of tinder which had both gone into the creek with me when I fell through, so I immediatly handed it all to my girlfriend (who had done bow drill once or twice prior). After about a minute trying it became clear that she had not practiced since the last time she made a fire, and was not going to get a coal in time, so I had to take over and managed to get the fastest coal I think I've ever made (amazing what a little motivation can do). Within about 5 minutes of going into the water I had a fire going and my clothes drying by it. At first I felt slightly embarrassed, I had put myself in a position to get seriously hurt or killed, but I saw a different side of it. Using the skills I had practiced so much up until then, I had used them to better my situation, and perhaps save my life.
From that experience, I have come to appreciate the value of scenarios. Putting yourself in situations that are uncomfortable or perhaps risky to push your edge and test yourself. Making a fire in your backyard on a nice day is vastly different from making it in heavy rain t 40 degrees in a t-shirt and a pair of Carhartts. So I encourage you, challenge yourself, be uncomfortable, learn to adapt.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Yesterday I went on a wander around the surrounding woods. It was a relatively warm day and I found many interesting things as well as seeing a deer with spots, Red Ear Slider, hawk (unsure what species), Red fox, squirrels, Great Blue Heron, rabbit, and several interesting plants including nightshade and Wild Comfrey. Here are some pictures I'd like to share from my wander.

This caught my eye the moment I saw it. It was on a slight hill on the edge of a large area of dirt in a construction site. I took the picture then decided to find out what whatever animal that made it was trying to bury. I found a strip of raw animal hide about 4 inchs wide and 6 inchs long. Almost looked to be untanned deer hide, no chew marks visible. My guess is its the work of a fox hiding its meal to allow it to break down a bit before eating it.

Squirrel tracks in mud.

I found this Red Ear Slider in a creek. He dove in from the bank where he was hiding under some grass. He wasn't too bitey which is how most of these water turtles can be.

Letting the turtle go

I'm not sure what kind of mushrooms these are but they were all over this small part of the creek. I was struck by how many there were and how much they contrasted with the leaf-litter and roofs.

Nightshade (Silverleaf?). It was all over a field behind the library. It has very distinct fruits (seen here in yellow) which look like little watermelons when they're younger.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Product Endorsment

I recently vacationed in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and while at a hammock store I came across am interesting hat. There were also messenger bags, baseball caps and I believe backpacks, but this particular style of hat has always appealed to me so I was drawn to it immediately. They all looked as if they had been dragged through the muck and mire of an African safari and back, then hopped a jet to the Philippines to aid resistance fighters before making a bee line for the hammock shop in Kitty Hawk. Upon turning it over I noticed a text on the inside of the hat, informing me that it was made from recycled cargo truck tarps used in the amazon and other parts of Brazil.

This. Is. Awesome.

2 minutes and $30 later I was the proud owner of a Real Deal Brazil hat. According to the explanation on the inside of the hat, this hat should stand up to nothing short of 30 odd years in the jungle with a side of urban combat. Now, my previous hat was a black, 100% fur wide brim hat (same style), and needless to say it did not stand up to the riggers of being dragged up and down every slope and hill around the Patapsco river, not to mention the early summer rainstorms I have been caught in. Now it seems to have taken more of a hobbit fisherman look with the brim all distorted and wavy.
My favorite line in the description is "There is nothing you can do to the this hat that hasn't been done before." Ignoring immediate implications of this statement, I have decided to run this hat through every terrain and conditions I encounter and see how its doing in 12 months.

So far this hat has a lot of character, is a great conversation piece (as if the flint knife and buckskin bag on my side with bow drill in hand wasn't enough already), all while doing its part to prevent many tarps from being burned up and wasted.

Their website is http://realdealbrazil.com/
They also have a blog at http://realdealbrazil.blogspot.com/


Summer is slowly transitioning into Fall, and posts will come more frequently as my summer work is now over. It was an awesome summer with much learned.

Something to look forward to is a video series that has been in planning for about a month, but due to my work I haven't had the chance to make it yet, but it's on it's way.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Friction Fire Class- August 2nd, 2008

If you are in the area of Oregon Ridge Nature Center, you may be interested in a Fire Making Class I am teaching there . It will be from 9-5 on Saturday August 2nd, 2008. Registration is handled through Oregon Ridge Nature Center. Cost for the class is $80.00 per person and the minimum age requirement is 18 years of age. If you're interested in more classes such as this, or this class in particular, you can find more information at www.earth-connection.com or Oregon Ridge Nature Center

Friday, May 9, 2008

Ancestral Knowledge and Living Earth School

Lately I have begun my work with Ancestral Knowledge Inc., based out of Mt Rainier, Maryland. We work mostly with providing summer camps and workshops for home schooled kids, at risk youth, as well as schools and boy scout troops to teach ancient life ways, wilderness awareness, and sustainable living skills. Above all, we like to get the kids out in the woods and streams, learning by doing, and experiencing nature the way their ancestors have for eons. We operate mostly in the Mid-Atlantic area.

I also work for Living Earth School based out of Charlottesville, Virginia. Living Earth runs weeklong overnight and day camps.

Ancestral Knowledge Inc.:

Living Earth School:

Here are some pictures from past events and Camps:

Demonstrating the bow drill with an over-sized set.

Making cordage

Oneof my favorite parts of spending time in the woods is discovering new and interesting places. This is an old Limestone Quarry, potentially over 100 deep.

Eastern Box Turtle

This is a print I am trying to identify. I could only find one. 5 toes, no claws visible. Don't tell me what it is if you know, simply give me a hint in the comment section or email it to me.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Improvised Bow Drill

Yesterday my friend and I were hiking in the nearby woods, and we decided to test her bow drill skills. It seems that everything that could pose a problem, did. First, finding adequate tinder, then her soapstone handhold was too soft, so the spindle had drilled almost all the way through at this point, then we realized the bow (with buckskin string) had been dropped somewhere in our travels. So we had to come up with some solutions to fix these problems and ultimately achieve fire.
First, a string for the bow. While I had a backup bow, we were testing her skills, not mine, as well as her equipment on hand. I was merely an observer in this. So after a moments thought, she produced a fine shoelace from her shoe, which served perfectly.
Next, tinder. We managed to locate a piece of bark with somewhat fibrous inner layer.
After giving the set a go, we found problems with the spindle, and realized the wooden spindle had actually bored deep enough into the stone that it was not spinning as freely as one would like, so we needed to find something to replace it, preferably without too much time needed. We weren't the first to visit this spot, and some others had seen this area as a good place to consume alcohol. As such, there was a few beer cans around, so why not try the bottom of a beer can? This worked rather well, surprisingly.
And so we were able to achieve an ember, and with some coaxing, a flame.

Above you can see the shoelace, beer can, and set used. The green coloured stone is the soapstone handhold.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bamboo Fire Saw

I recently tried the Bamboo Fire Saw method of producing fire. I have not been instructed in this method, though I have seen pictures, videos, and read about the process.
There is a large stand of Bamboo next to a creek near here, so I made my way there to gather the necessary materials. I wanted to go into this endevour with the assumption that I did not have my bow drill set with me, nor tinder, so I gathered tinder along the way. I did have my stone knife, but I was reluctant to use it, since I was trying to produce and ember without the usual tools I have with me, or with no tools at all.
I hadn't been in this patch of Bamboo in quite awhile, and so I spent a bit of time exploring while I gathered materials I would need. There was a faint smell of skunk, as well as a pile of bird feathers (unsure what kind, they're grey and very common to find around here).

In this photo you can see a dark groove in the bamboo, thats where I was sawing away to produce some dust to form the ember. I did produce some dust, but it didn't collect very well. I did have some help from my friend, but we were unable to sustain the necessary endurance to get an ember.
After this attempt I did some research on the topic, and I found some great information on producing an ember with Bamboo in Russel Cutts' book, Wildfire: Fire Making Art. The method he illustrates is designed so that one person can do it. I plan on demonstrating that in this blog soon.
The method I attempted can be seen here (with success!)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Raccoon Pelt

I finally got around to finishing the raccoon pelt I scavenged in Virginia. I used the method described on braintan.com here. This is my first pelt that I actually brain tanned, as opposed to simply buffing it until its soft.

The bare spots are where the fur pulled out when I was fleshing it. It's not as soft as I would have liked, but it will do the job. Overall, it has a somewhat oily feel to it, I cant figure out if thats because of the brains or the pelt itself. Compared to other pelts I've done, and hides too, this one seems a little more oily than the others.

Here is the underside of the pelt. I still need to trim the edges, and smoke it to protect it from insects.
To apply the brains, I mixed it into a paste, then painted it onto the pelt, then folded it up and left it somewhere out of the sun and where animals couldn't get to it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Glass-tipped Spear

Spears are some of the oldest weapons used by by humans, both for hunting and warfare. They are also what comes to mind when most people think of when they hear "primitive", "paleo", or "tribal". Though not necessarily the easiest of weapons to use, both on a day to day basis, or in an immediate survival situation, they are nonetheless a very versatile tool in the paleo arsenal.

This is really the meat of it. Without a good point, your lance or spear is just a pole. When is comes to putting the business end on your spear you can go two ways, either a stone/glass point (or some scavenged metal if your knapping skills leave something to be desired), or fire hardened tip. I find fire hardening to be a skill I have no yet mastered, as it takes a certain amount of intuition on my part to tell whether I am indeed fire hardening it, or simply burning it into charcoal. So being halfway decent with a rock and some glass, I settled on using knapped points for my spears. The points above are as follows: (left to right)

-Large glass point, I believe from an old window from an abandoned hospital I visited
-Obsidian point, Idaho, no notching
-Notched Obsidian point, very thin
-Raw Texas Chert point, small enough that it might be better suited for an arrow
-Bottle glass point, I really like this one, I was able to flute it on one side
-Raw Texas Chert point, the overall form of this one is very nice, quite a robust point. I used it as an atlatl dart point for awhile

I used pitch to hold the point in place, then wrapped it with sinew I had soaked in the nearby creek. I finished that off with a strip of rawhide to secure everything and protect the hafting. I used a beech sapling for the shaft.

The finished product. It's not as long as some spears can be, but I feel it's size suits the sometimes dense woodlands of the east coast.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

I honour you Storm

Storm of Stoneage Skills has passed on from this world. It's hard to write anything here that can truly honour him to the fullest extent, I feel like the right words simply don't exist.
And so I would like to recognize him in this blog as a great teacher and as a true human.

May there always be good water, dry wood, and good food wherever you are.

You can view his blog here: http://stoneageskills.com/index.html

Friday, March 14, 2008

Blog Recommendation: The Daily Coyote

I was recently shown a blog by a good friend of mine that I thought deserves a recommendation to anyone reading my blog. It's called The Daily Coyote and it is maintained by a woman living in Wyoming. I feel like I couldn't possibly do it justice in any explanation, so heres the link:


Spring is on the way

Yesterday we had amazing weather here in Maryland, you can feel spring on its way (not to mention hearing it, birds seem more active and I've heard frogs at the nearby pond). On days like yesterday there are a few local spots I like to go, so here are a few pictures of one of my favorite places. I've been coming to these woods for a number of years now, and I know it very well.

Some of the more prevalent trees in the area are Beech, Sycamore, and Tulip Poplar. When I make Poplar Bark buckets, this is the place I come to for the bark. Though it is bordered on all sides by housing developments, its remarkably clean of too much trash. Hawks, Owls, Box turtles, as well as very large deer herds can be found here. This is also where I harvested Japanese Wineberries in July.

I really like this particular bend in the creek (this is sort of behind and to the right of the previous picture). It seems these woods are almost characterized (especialy so as you head downstream) by steep sided valleys. I have picked up several deer trails in the area of these pictures where deer have been walking along these steep hills, almost like the Big Horn sheep in Montana.

Even on warm days I enjoy a nice fire. In fact it seems there are few times I don't enjoy having a fire around. The set I used for this one was Basswood on Boxelder, and I used local Tulip Poplar bark for tinder.

The creek can raise several feet when it rains heavily (evident from errosion along the banks as well as debris) and the ground was covered in Tulip Poplar seeds. On a warm, dry day these can ignite, so I brushed them away from the fireside. This also helped when it came time to leave, so once the coals and ash had been removed I could cover the spot. Something I've noticed is when you build a fire somewhere, and someone else comes along and sees the coals, they get the same idea, and suddenly it becomes the place to have bonfires.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Day in the woods

I filled up my gourd canteen and took it with me into the woods today. I've found it doesn't change the taste of the water and works quite well, though it still needs a stopper.
I've decided this summer is the time to make a good hunting bow. I've learned alot about what to do with an animal once you've taken it, and I hope to begin hunting my own animals. Up until now I have been relying on others to provide me with meat, hides, bones, sinew, etc.
There is a hickory tree I have been aware of for a number of years and it appears to be the perfect size for a bow. I want to get to know it before I cut it, so I'll visit it for a while until I feel its the right time to cut. For something like a bow, where so much goes into the making of the tools and hunting of the animals, I feel like this should be done right, and not rushed.

A Box Elder (Ash leaf Maple) fell near my old debris hut, which I am very grateful for since it it one of my favorite friction fire woods around here. I try not to ever cut live branches, and to come across an entire tree like this is an appreciated gift. Some of the upper branches are very straight so I've made a hand drill set. I tested it out but produced only white wood dust. I'll make a video so I can explain it easier. This is the first time I've made a handrill set with a wood other than yucca, cotton wood root or mullein.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sit-spot and getting to know your enviroment

Something that I'm beginning to learn is that it is a good thing to know these skills, but they can seem arbitrary and disconnected when not applied. Especially so because the materials use to make many of the things I talk about on my blog rely heavily on what your particular environment provides, and so an understanding and knowledge of your environment is desirable if you want these skills to be more than just a passing hobby or interest. When it comes to making bow drill sets, for example, you will want to know what trees in your area work best. You'll also want to know where they grow, how they grow, what animals rely on them, etc. The point I'm trying to make is all these skills and technologies stem from a deep understanding of the natural world that surrounds you.

The best way I have found to increase your awareness and knowledge of an area is Sit-Spot. This technique is done by simply finding somewhere within 5 minutes (preferably) of where you live. The reason for 5 minutes is that you should be able to go there easily so you can visit it daily.
Now if you want to implement this technique and benefit from it, it should be a daily, or at the very least a routine task, and you will want to do this at varying times of day and weather.

Now onto what sit-spot is. You find a place that is close by, and you sit. Thats right, sounds simple, but you'd be surprised how difficult it can be to just sit and take in your surroundings sometimes. You should strive for atleast a 20 minutes minimum at your sit spot, because it generally takes about 20 minutes from bird alarm calls to stop. You will also want to use wide angle vision at this time, if you are familiar with wide angle vision.
To supplement your sit-spot experience it might also be advantageous to keep a journal and write down things you see or notice. When I do sit spot one of the first things I do is take note of the surrounding trees and plants, and try to get to know them and what they are over time. Sit-spot isn't something you rush, and it is an ongoing thing. The longer you do it, the more you begin to know and understand your area.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Southeastern Style Blowgun

At MAPS Meet 2005 I took a class taught by Mac Maness on making rivercane blowguns. This weapon was used by many Southeastern tribes (Catwaba, Chocktaw, Cherokee, etc) to hunt small game. Blowguns have always been an interest of mine, its simplicity and the fact that you can shoot something lethal with your breath is has always appealed to me. They're also not entirly difficult to make and under Mac's expert instruction I had a function blowgun and dart in only a few hours. Unlike most ranged weapons of any great effect or accuracy which require special tools or time to prepare the material, the river cane blowgun can be field crafted on the spot if need be.
I still have my blowgun and pick it up from time to time, and its fast becoming a favorite weapon to practice with. I have been using the same dart I made in 2005 and the thistle down is starting to wear off, so I decided it was time to make a new one. I still had a thistle blossom I picked up from Mac's class, so I went about fletching a new dark. It's not very paleo, but I use skewers for the dart shafts. The real fun of making the darts is not the wooden shafts however, applying the thistle fletching is where it gets tricky. I would have liked to get some pictures of the process, but sadly I possess only two hands, and I was using both to hold the whole assembly together. However I do plan on photographing the entire process when I get the chance to collect more thistle blossoms.
The blowgun itself is about 4'7 while the darts are approx. 6 inchs. On average blowguns fromt he southwest range from 6-8 feet in length.
The Cherokee Heritage Center website has a good section on how blowguns and darts were made and their significance in Cherokee culture. I found this passage that describes the process fairly well as well as providing the common name for the thistle used:

"It's made with Scottish thistle, which, like the river cane, grows locally. You pick it in the late summer, August being the best month. You want to pick the thistle after it has bloomed, opened up, and then reclosed. After picking as many flowers as you can, they need to be stacked and the pressed between two pieces of wood to keep the thistle flower from breaking open and dispersing the fluff.

Once the thistle is dried, you pick off the purple flower casing and keep the white down of the thistle. You pinch the entire bundle of fluff between your fingers, brush off the seeds, and tie a piece of sinew or string to the end of the shaft, hold the string in your mouth, and then roll the shaft into the down so that it naturally builds around the shaft into a large, round stabilizer for the dart. Then you tie the sinew to keep the thistle mounted on the shaft." (1)

There is also an article written by Douglas S. Meyer in Spring 2005 issue No. 29 of the Bulletin of Primitive Technology on fletching Choctaw darts with cotton, as well as pictures detailing how to do so. ("Choctaw Blowgun Darts", pp.69-73)

Practicing with the blowgun about two summers ago, showing dart exiting the blowgun

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Gourd Canteen

I finally finished my gourd canteen yesterday. I suppose sealing the inside with beeswax isn't 100% necessary, but I decided since my friend had some to spare I might as well.
This particular canteen is the one I started at MAPS Meet 2007 at Jamie's (of Earth Connection) gourd class. I might give it another coat of wax to be sure its sealed.

If you have any gourds sitting around that are suitable for something like this, all you have to do is poke a series of holes where you want to remove the top so you have an opening, then it should break free with relative ease. Use sand to scour the surface to remove any mold or dirt, and rocks to clean our the inside of the gourde.

Monday, January 28, 2008

General Update

I haven't really sat down to update in awhile, so I'll covered a few new things.
We got some nice snow accumulation about 2 weeks ago, which was also my first snow experience in Maryland for about 3 years. I've grown used to dry powdery snow in Montana, so the wet, icy snow of Maryland is quite different for me. We usually get at least one big snow storm a year in Maryland with significant accumulation (save my senior year of high school when we failed to accumulate any snow days), so I look forward to another big snowfall as Spring draws closer.

This picture doesn't really reflect how much actually fell, this was pretty early on when I was visiting my old debris hut.

This hut is in very poor condition, and I was going to tear it apart earlier and rebuild it so I could use it when snow came, but the snow beat me to the chase. I was looking through the contents of the shelter and found a bundle of milkweed stalks and some polypore fungus I had left last December. I also left an elk knuckle bone, however it appears the local animals have made off with that. It always amuses me to find things I've left from the previous year.

I spent some time exploring the woods in the hills above Ellicott City this past week and found an exceptionally large deer rub. I'm no expert on deer rubs, though I enjoy finding them, but I'd say this is from a rather large buck, judging by its distance from the ground. My friend who hunts further west of Ellicott City agreed that a very large deer made this. It does seem unusual to me that it would be on such a thick tree. I see them on smaller saplings usually.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Growing Avocado

Growing an avocado plant may seem out of place on a primitive skills blog, but I thought it was interesting none the less. I know a few people who do this, and one thing they report is if you put it outside too soon, the squirrels will come and eat it, so I plan on keeping mine indoors for the most part, and hopefully get some nice fruit from it.

It's really quite easy, simply put three toothpicks in the thickest part of the pit,put it on top of a glass with the bottom of the pit about a half inch in the water, give it sunlight and keep the water level up and let it do the rest.

Friday, January 11, 2008

MAPS January Skils Meet

Last night was the second MAPS (Mid-Atlantic Primitive Skills) Skills meet. There was a pretty good turn out, with a few kids and a couple people I hadn't met at a MAPS event before. It's a free event held every second Thursday of each month, and anyone is welcome to walk in and learn more about a skill, or just talk with people about skills. The monthly skills meet is a new thing to MAPS since Kevin Haney handed over the job of coordinator to Andrew Pinger. If you're in the DC, Maryland area, I recommend that you get yourself on the MAPS Email list, and drop by.
Some of the skills practiced were proper fire setup, bow drill, cordage, deer leg bone knives, bird wing identification, as well as talk of debris huts.
Here are some pictures from the meet,

Waiting for an ember

Enjoying a nice fire

Miriam modeling a braintanned hoodie (belonging to Andrew Pinger)

Recently split deer canon bone

Monday, January 7, 2008

Softening Pelts and Hides

It's an unseasonably warm day in Maryland today. So I took out a few pelts I need to finish and a deer hide I didn't complete last summer. I have one raccoon pelt and two gopher pelts from the Bitterroot Valley in Montana. The raccoon is from last summer in Virginia.
The hide is a Whitetail Deer Hide I acquired from a friend who is an expert braintanner.

The raccoon pelt is on the left an has been frozen since last summer, looking more like a bundle of fur or a big owl pellet. The gopher pelts have been salted and stored in my garage, and appear to be fine. They just need to be scraped, maybe washed and softened.

The hide is pliable, but not soft and open as you would expect with buckskin. I think a good working over a post or cable should soften it up enough to be of use. I have a particular project in mind, so that's the driving factor behind finishing these pelts and hide.

I will probably use a 2x4 either lashed to two trees or with a beveled edge to soften these.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Fires of the New Year

I was planning on making a video today, but when I arrived at my old debris hut, I found I had left the memory card to my camera at home, and while my house wasn't that far, I didn't feel like walking back to get a 1"x1" piece of plastic and metal. So I pulled out my basswood bowdrill and started an ember. For tinder I used some birch bark collected in Montana with Tulip Poplar in the center. For kindling, even though it's been wet and rainy around here recently, there was plenty of dead rose bushes, box elder twigs and dead grapevine. The fire produced is of the scout fire variety. Small, enough to keep you warm, provide you with spiritual comfort, some light, and easily extinguished if need be.
The debris hut I have is in very poor condition. The skeleton of the structure can be seen, and the ridgepole has snapped in half. It's also located in a wet area, so it has a tendency to rot away so by this time each year it needs to be pulled apart and reconstructed. I hope to get a series of pictures when I rebuild the hut to demonstrate how it's all put together.