Hello, I've just started trying the bowdrill, but with no success. I can't even get smoke. I apply (what I think anyway) the right amount of pressure and go slower in the beginning to warm up the board. Both the ends of the spindle are polished, which I've heard is from lack of pressure. I'm sorry I don't know what type of wood the board is or the spindle. I know that doesn't help you out very much but, I would love any advice you could give.
There is not much information to go by other than what you told me. It could be the type of wood you are using. Try scratching the hearthboard wood and the spindle wood with your fingernail. If you can scratch or dent it, it's a good start. I like to use soft wood on soft wood. You may be lacking in downward pressure. If you are not getting smoke, then you need to press down harder on your bearing block or whatever you are using for your hand hold. Also, increase the sawing motion of your bow. Utilize the whole length of the bowstring. The two factors for generating friction are spindle rotation and downward pressure.
Good luck on your fire making efforts,
Okay, the fireboard is way too hard, but the spindle is okay. What kind of wood do you suggest I use for the fireboard? I live in Ohio. Thanks for taking the time to reply. :)
Get a hold of some cedar wood. If you can't find a dead cedar branch in the wilderness, go to your local lumber store. Cottonwood will also work. Do the fingernail test and experiment with any other wood you can find. I would avoid the conifers.
I think I have cedar. I'll give it a try and let you know how it works. Thanks. :)
Some words of advice:
1. The thickness of your hearthboard should be at least 1/2" thick. Too thin and you'll bore through the heardboard very fast before you get an ember. You also don't want your hearthboard to be too thick. When you get the wood warmed up by going slow in the beginning, pick up your sawing pace and apply a good amount of downward pressure.
2. Create a wide V-shaped notch. Don't make it too narrow. Your dust should be dropping into the notch area and not swirling around the hole on the hearthboard. Be sure to have the cut of your notch go into the spindle hole at least halfway into the hole.
3. Accumulate your powder in your notch before you start to go faster. The dust should be as fine as flour. If your dust starts to pack up in the notch and you still haven't got an ember, you need to take a thin twig and poke into the dust to create more air pockets. A key factor for ignition is to also get oxygen into the mix.
3. More downward pressure and faster bowing movements during the optimum period of ignition.
Success in fire-by-friction is not only proper technique, but also being aware of the process and making adjustments accordingly. If the spindle is binding, create another notch hole. If the cordage is slipping, push down on the cord with your thumb to tighten the tension. If your spindle is sliding out of the hole, keep the spindle in a upright position and don't cant the spindle. As you execute the bow drill method, your bow, bearing block, spindle, hearthboard and you should act as one unit. Your wrist is connected to your shin, your spindle is seated into the bearing block, your foot is keeping the hearthboard stable, your whole arm is moving the bow in a level position, etc.
Remember to use the three Ps: Practice, Persistence and Patience. With the correct approach, this saying should ring true: "Where there is smoke, there should be fire." Good luck!
I have got a large red deer antler and I would like to cut it and use it for
1. Presure flaker for knapping
2. A billett for knapping
3. A handle for a knife blade, just inserting tange into pithe
Would like guidance on where to cut the antler to get the best parts, as it is quite big and have a choice of what to use. Never done anything like this before. New to bushcraft, so don’t want to ruin the antler by cutting in wrong place (with hack saw I believe is best).
Any help greatly appreciated and any other suggestions? Can send photo files.
Sorry, Phil, I don't know what happened to the photos you sent via e-mail. I did not receive them.
As far as cutting up the antler, find the straightest tine on the antler to use as a pressure flaker. The billet will come from the crown area and further up the antler for a handle. You'll have to grind off any knobby area to create a smoothed surface billet. Round out the knapping end of your billet. You can use any of the tine parts for a knife handle.
Good luck on your project. Sometimes you'll have to just "do it' and see if it works. Making mistakes is part of the learning process in bushcraft. You learn by doing.
Hello! Great information on your web site, thank you for hosting it.
I'm looking for natural dyeing (pigmenting) methods for reed that I will use in making baskets. One of the problems of dyeing reed is that the colors run when you're soaking the reed, and working the basket wet. Any thoughts on how I might solve this problem?
There are different botanical families of "reed", like the grass family (Poaceae) and the sedge family (Cyperaceae). Do you know the scientific name of the reed you are using? The outer coating on most reeds are waterproof, which becomes a problem when using dyes. If you don't need the outer coating, remove it and you should be able to dye the material.
In this case (creating Cherokee double-wall-style baskets), we're using Asian commercially-prepared reed that is fully stripped to the inner portions only. I'm finding that, when we buy dyed reed, it runs terribly while working. Just curious if you had any suggestions for preparing the reed to reduce this.
Are you splitting them again to get the appropriate width for your basket or are using the material "as is"? I cannot see what you have other than your limited text description of the material. Are you doing any processing after yo get the reed, If yes, what are you doing?
The processed reed comes in a wide variety of sizes, so we do not have to split it. In this application we use round reed that receives no further processing once we get it. It looks like the example here: http://tinyurl.com/bh5auf3 The reed is free of any chemical residue to the best of my knowledge.
I'm assuming our suppliers use chemical dyes on the colored reeds. I've tried soaking in salt water, which helps a bit, but still runs. http://www.basketmakerscatalog.com/reed/dyedreed.htm
My teacher has learned from Choctaw and Cherokee basket makers, but has used only commercial dyes. I'm looking to use things like oak gall and clay, as they would be ample in supply and native to the area. I am hoping to use honeysuckle vine some day, but extended drought is causing problems in securing an ample amount.
By the way, thank you for bearing with my questions and poor explanations.
It does help when there is more information to comment on. Thank you for the added explanation. Round reed does tend to crack easily when used dry, especially when you put 90 degree angles or extreme twist and bends in the reed. Most of the round reed is made from rattan. To make it more flexible and to keep it from cracking, soak the reed in hot water for about 5 miutes. Don't use boiling water. If you can stick your hand in the hot water without scalding your hand, the temperature is just right. After soaking the reed in the hot water, you should be able to bend the reed without cracking it. Don't over soak the reeds longer than 5 minutes. Most people who refinish or make cane chairs use round reed or split round reed. Check out websites that talk about how to redo cane chairs. They might have more information on how to work with round reed.
> I'm looking to use things like oak gall and clay, as they would be ample in supply and native to the area.
Have you looked at my article on how to create a black dye from oak gall? Here is the link on PrimitiveWays.com.
Hi, I'm a 9th grader at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii. I have to do a project for my Hawaiian Culture class and decided to make a Hawaiian knee drum. I have almost all of the materials except for the drum head. I know on your webpage (http://www.primitiveways.com/puniu.html) you used shark skin. I also know that you can also use kala skin (Unicorn fish). So the past few weeks I have been spear fishing and tried to get one. Unfortunately, I haven't had any luck. I was wondering how did you get the shark skin you used to make your Hawaiian knee drum? Did you catch a shark or acquire it from somewhere? Also, are there any other skins I can use for the drum that will be somewhat easier to get?
For the project we are allowed to receive help from other teachers. If you live in Hawaii or know other people, who can help and teach me to make a Hawaiian knee drum, I would appreciate it very much.
I live on the Mainland, so I cannot get together and help you with your Hawaiian knee drum project. In my area, there are seafood markets along the coast that sell shark meat to the public. When I was making the Hawaiian knee drum (puniu) awhile back, I had purchased some shark meat primarily for the skin. I did consume the shark meat. Today, I don't advocate the killing of sharks for food or any by-products. Scientists currently realize that sharks play a vital role in the intricate balance that makes up the ecosystem of the ocean. Modern fishing practices, such as long-lining, and new demand for shark fins have decimated shark populations around the world. Add to this the fact that sharks come to sexual maturity relatively late in life and have small litters when they do give birth. Generally, the catch rate for sharks has been twice the birth rate in recent years. Not a good combination. Yet the truth is that sharks are a vital link in the ocean food chain. When shark populations decline sharply, the results can be dramatic, upsetting the balance of the oceans and producing unintended consequences with effects that can reach around the globe.
That said, here are your options for acquiring the material for the drum head:
1) Go to Tamashiro Market to buy kala (Acanthurus unicornis) fish. The store is located on the outskirts of Honolulu, near Kalihi. Their address is 802 North King Street. Call before going down to the market to inqurie if they have any kala for sale. It depends on the catch of the day. Sometimes they have frozen kala. Their phone number is (808) 841-804.
To process the kala skin, cut off the head and remove the fins around the body of the fish. Don't cut into the main body of the skin. Carefully peel off the skin from the meat. If you run into any areas that won't come off easily, use a dull knife to remove the skin. Do not cut the skin. Your fish should be large enough to cover the coconut opening for your knee drum. One side of the fish skin should be adequate. You can remove the other side of the skin and you'll have a second drum head. When you've taken off the kala skin, use a butter knife, held at a 90 degree angle, and scrape off all of the adhering meat on the underside of the skin. Wash it clean with water. You can immediately fasten the kala skin to your coconut shell with cordage. If you plan to wait awhile, dry it out in the sun. When you are ready to use it, soak the skin in water until it is pliable again.
2) You can use deer rawhide or goat rawhide. If you know someone who hunts deer or butcher goats, ask them for the hide. Remove any meat, membrane and hair from the hide. You can also purchase rawhide through the internet.
If you want help, contact a hula halau (hula school) in your local area. One of the projects that a hula student might have to do is make a puniu. Someone at the halau can give you information on where to find a drum head for the puniu.
Good luck on your Hawaiian knee drum project. Let me know how it turns out.
I read with interest your page on the Internet about making rattles from bull kelp "feet".
I live in Long Beach, Washington. We have had quite a bit of bull kelp come ashore with early storms in the last days. I walked the beach this afternoon and cut off two of the bulbs that tether the kelp to the sea floor. I left about 15 inches of stem and tried my best to fill each with beach sand. The problem was, the sand and everything else here is very wet after two or more weeks of rain. One bulb had a larger neck than the other, and I do think I got the sand to the bottom of it.
I realize now that you suggested a "small" bulb. The ones I brought back are not small. They must be 4-5 inches in diameter at least. I guess I wanted to do it in a big way.
I am a relative newcomer to the Northern Pacific coast, having lived here a bit over a year. I find the winter storms to be beautiful and energizing. What I dread is the summer tourist season.
I am wondering how long the kelp balls will take to dry? Should I put them in a warm and dry environment or allow them to dry more slowly in storage outside out of the elements? They are so wet and the sand packed in them is so wet that I can imagine proper drying will take weeks, if not months.
I don't know how much the material will shrink, so I guess I had best wait until I see the dried object before deciding how to seal the handle end. Your gourd idea was good, but I would not know what size gourd to get yet.
And then I will have to decide how to decorate my king size rattles and what to put in them to make the rattling noise.
I would like to decorate them with Native American symbols, but am no artist. I suppose after being completely dry and decorated, they could be covered with clear acrylic sealant, huh.
Thanks for the article.
Thank you for visiting PrimitiveWays.com.
Did you pour dry sand into the bullwhip kelp bulb? Wet sand does not work very well. Be sure to completely pack the sand into the bulb. If you leave any air pockets, the kelp bulb will shrivel and shrink into the empty space. The sand is the mold that will help the bulb retain it's shape as it dries.
> One bulb had a larger neck than the other, and I do think I got the sand to the bottom of it.
Take a stick smaller than the opening of the bulb stem and gently agitate and push the sand into the bottom. Be careful not to puncture the bulb with the stick. Shake the bulb to stuff the sand further into the bulb.
The fall and winter months may keep the kelp bulb wet longer. Also, Washington is a wet state. Having the bulb in the sun would definitely help to speed up the drying process.
> I am wondering how long the kelp balls will take to dry?
Drying time varies with the size of the bulb, how wet it was to begin with and the weather. You can dry the bulb faster if you keep it next to a heat source.
> Should I put them in a warm and dry environment or allow them to dry more slowly in storage outside out of the elements?
Keep the bulb in a warm and dry environment or if it is sunny outside, keep it out in the sun. Don't leave it outside overnight. The moisture in the morning or any fog will rehydrate the bulb.
> They are so wet and the sand packed in them is so wet that I can imagine proper drying will take weeks, if not months.
Pour out the wet sand and replace it with dry sand.
> I suppose after being completely dry and decorated, they could be covered with clear acrylic sealant, huh.
In your area, I would recommend putting a coating of sealant on your completed bullwhip kelp bulb rattle.
Have fun with your kelp project. Let me know how it turns out.
Around here at this time I would have to go to a building materials place and purchase dry sand. I don't think anything will be dry here again until April or May. You know the Washington climate apparently.
I have plenty more kelp to work with on the beach. I may try again when I decide where to get dry sand.
If I get something together and decorated before spring, I'll send you a photo.
Since sand is an inorganic material, it will dry faster in the open air. Pour out the wet sand and let it dry in a shallow pan near a heat source, outdoors or in the sun. Wind will also wick moisture from a wet object. To keep your kelp bulb from drying out without the sand inside, place the bulb in your refrigerator until the sand is dry and ready to be re-poured back into the bulb. Monitor your kelp bulb every now and then in the refrigerator to make sure it is not starting to shrivel or get moldy.
After you pour the dry sand back into the kelp bulb, try using your hair dryer in the "Hot" mode to help quicken the drying process of the bulb. It might take awhile, but every now and then use the dryer as the bulb is also drying naturally. I haven't done this before, but you might try using your oven at a low temperature to dry out the bulb. You'll have to experiment with the use of an oven and keep a close eye on the drying process. If it gets too hot, crack the oven door a bit to dissipate some heat. You don't want to cook the bulb. You can also dry the sand in your oven. Let the sand cool off before pouring it back into the kelp bulb.
. . . . just wanted to say thanks for all the info on the thumb ring construction for the use with the long bow.
I took the spoon idea a bit further and got a hold of a stainless steel ring (that fit me) and a tea spoon that fit my thumb. Ground the spoon to fit the ring and brought both pieces to a local jeweler that was capable of welding (laser based) stainless steel.
Came out perfect.
Rod P. (avid long bow hunter)
My pine pitch is the usual sap, charcoal and wax mixture. I haven’t tried dung yet. Is there any more info out there about making pine pitch less brittle?
The only mixture I now use is 1/2 pine resin and 1/2 powdered charcoal with bees wax mixed in to make it less brittle. The amount of bees wax I add in is subjective. I add in enough bees wax for what I need the pine pitch mixture for. I have heard of using some type of latex substance, but I have not tested any other additive to my current mixture.
I had thought of experimenting with dogbane sap, but I did not get around to it. In Hawaii, a latex-like substance (white sap) from the breadfruit tree was used as a filler and adhesive. I've handled it before and it is definitely very sticky. When it dries, the breadfruit sap has the consistency of dry latex.
Awhile back, I used deer dung instead of the bees wax, but the overall pine pitch mixture was still brittle for my needs. Any dry herbivore scat will do, if you don't have deer dung. The plant fibers from the scat acts like fiberglass and helps to bind the pine resin and charcoal mixture together. Finely chopped up grass added to the mixture will also work. A friend, by the name of Rob Withrow, told me that a good strong epoxy-like mixture can be made from a blend of pine pitch resin and deer or rabbit scat. The ratio is one to one. Only a very small amount of powdered charcoal dust is added.
Logic tells me that experimentation and good handrill technique should allow a person to use the two stick fire board along with the hand drill to get a coal. I've never tried this. Have you or any other primitive skills people you know used this method and what have their experiences been with it if they have?
I have successfully gotten a coal from the two stick fire board and hand drill method. Like any good fire hearthboard, in order to get a ember, you have to have the right type of wood. Hardwoods, like oak, ash, hickory, etc. (most dicot flowering trees), are difficult to achieve a lighted ember through the hand drill method.
The only reason for using the two stick fire hearthboard is due to the unavailability of finding wood that is wide enough to accommodate the diameter of your spindle tip. Also, by making two pilot holes side by side on the two stick hearthboard, you don't have to create a side notch for your char dust to fall into. I recall a bundle of cottonwood sticks that I used once which had a slight bend to one of the sticks. My char fell through the crack, but I created a lighted ember that dropped through the crack and deposited on the ground.
Check out the two articles on the PrimitiveWays website concerning the two stick hearthboard and hand drill method:
> Logic tells me that experimentation and good handrill technique should allow a person to use
> the two stick fire board along with the hand drill to get a coal. I've never tried this.
Thinking about it is great for ideas, but doing it is even better. Experiment and let your curiosity (and logic) guide you through all the mistakes and failures. The fun part is implementing it and learning through the "process of doing".
Good luck on your pyro endeavors,
Thanks ever so much for posting your igloo construction instructions regarding the block shapes at different levels and bevel angles. Two days ago I was about to give up being only 10 or so blocks from completion. However, then I re-read your article again (with practical experience this time) and this gave me courage to try one more time.
The two sources that I used was the 1949 NFB film by Wilkinson, and you article at: http://www.primitiveways.com/igloo.html
Two days ago I finished the entrance tunnel. So, now it is completed.
The igloo is 2.4 meters (8 feet) from floor to ceiling, and its inner diameter is 3 meters (about 10 feet). Tools were a carpenter's saw for cutting blocks, a plastic shovel for cleaning up the excess snow around a "cutting field", a 4' x 4' piece of plywood to stamp down the powder snow, and a piece of cardboard so I could cut the snow with the saw in an identical manner every time to produce similar sized blocks (about 370 square feet of snow was stamped down with 4' x 4' plywood board to make all the blocks). The larger blocks were 2' x 2' in size and the smaller ones about 18' x 24'.
Your image with the contact points helped very much in understanding how to eliminate block rotation. I take it that your contact point picture below is showing the blocks from the outside looking in. This since I noticed that when I placed contact point A, not over the entire length of the edge, but rather when contact occurred at the "towards the outside" edge, block rotation was eliminated.
I also had to use a slightly different vertical bevelling than what is shown in the following picture:
Instead of cutting to the center in a vertical manner, I cut vertically, but bevelled the preceding block so that the new block could lean against it.
It was a nightmare (took 4 days to build) but the next igloo (if I ever do this again) should hopefully go faster.
Thanks for valuable information you have supplied. You yourself mention that there isn't very much literature on preferred block shape, and it seems that your website is the best source available!
We live in southern Finland and there has been an abundance of snow this year.
Thank you for such a nice letter. I was delighted to see your photos. The igloo looks great.
In response to your question about the perspective of the drawing of the blocks, yes, it is from the outside. As for the angle of the preceding block, I understand what you are saying. I do the same thing myself, but it doesn't take much of an angle. Sometimes I just don't trim it as much. Those details are hard to show and hard to explain. Maybe your letter will help someone else with the details.
If it takes too long to make a 10 foot igloo, you might want to scale it down a little. If you build it 8 feet in diameter, you can dig down into the floor, expanding it as you go until it is 10 feet wide at the base. That will help you finish it sooner. Also, everything you learned will make it easier next time... besides there may be more hands eager to help once others see what can be done with packed snow!
Now, I have a question. Have you slept in it yet?
Best wishes to you and your family,
I love your site! I was wondering what you use oak galls for? I saw it on your calendar to gather them.
Thank you for your nice comment about PrimitiveWays.
Oak galls contain a high concentration of tannic acid. It's makes an excellent dye solution.
The early European settlers, that came from Spain and Mexico, made writing inks from oak galls when they had difficulty getting supplies shipped to California. The oak galls were powdered and mixed with water. Rusted iron was added to the solution to render a dark brown ink for writing with quill pens.
Some people, today, make toys that sometimes represent a deer out of an oak gall. Four short twigs are pushed into one side of the oak gall to delineate the deer legs. Two short forked twigs are poked into the top side of one end of the oak gall to portray the antlers.
I can't quite remember it's medical uses, but the tannic acid from oak galls was utilized for medicine.
I did a Google search on "medicinal uses of oak galls" and came up with this webpage:
Hello Mr. Labiste. My name is Glenn and I am interested in all aspects of how man used to live with the earth. I am semi-skilled in stone knapping, fire making with bow and hand drills, bow and arrow construction and edible plants, but have struggled with cordage, particularly with splicing. I have seen your dogbane video and appreciate you sharing your knowledge. Is there anyone you know of in Suffolk, Va. that may be willing to get me through that part? Thanks.
I don't know of anyone in your area who can help you learn how to splice cordage. Hopefully, my text explanation below might be of some help.
When you are running out of fibers on one side of your ply, lay your splice of new fibers along side the short bunch of fibers. I usually stick an inch of the end of the new fibers in between the upside down V-shaped portion of your 2-ply cordage. This is the area that is your last twisted cordage and the same area where your two bunch of unplyed fibers are separate. Continue twisting the short bunch of fibers and the new fibers together. Also, continue twisting the other half of your bunch of fibers. Bring the the 2 twisted fibers together and continue plying. When splicing, your cordage should not have a lump in the area you have just spliced. This happens when you add too much of the new fibers. Try to have an equal amount of fibers in both of the untwisted fibers. Thinning out the short bunch of fibers will help to accommodate the addition of the new fibers.
If you are still having difficulty splicing, look at Norm Kidder's article on cordage on the PrimitiveWays website. Access the webpage below.
Also, check out other YouTube videos on cordage making. Weed out the videos that have lousy information. There might be some instructions on how to splice in new fibers in some of the "how to" videos.
Question: How do you keep embers burning while traveling to another campsite?
There are lots of materials that can maintain a glowing ember. The technique consists of maintaining an adequate supply of dry, finely divided plant material plus a limited supply of air. Insufficient air or fuel and the glowing ember dies. Too much air and the ember burns too quickly. Practice, practice, practice. For the fuel: I have used dry fungus such as tinder fungus from a birch tree, dry powdered rotten wood, inner part of an agave stalk, dry crushed mugwort leaves. Put a large amount of the material in some sort of a container that will limit the air flow.
Hope this answers your question.
I am interested in doing a Imu pit oven, I've done loads of research and read your article about it about 3 times. I just had a couple things to clarify that I haven't been able to figure out. I live in Uganda, that’s in east Africa. I am unsure of the stones to use. We have a pumice here, but it's cut into pieces that are rather small. The Nile river is really close. I can easily go down and get smooth round stones. I don’t know what the best option is.
Secondly, I am wondering how to season the pig. I am going to do a whole pig. From the research that I have done, it seems all you do is rub salt all over. I did stumble across a recipe with tara and coconut cream with brown sugar. Sounds tempting. Any help would be much appreciated if you have the time.
Don't use pumice stones. If you have basalt stones, that would be better to use. Here is a suggestion on the smooth round stones in the Nile river, since I don't know what type of stones you have. Gather 4 similar Nile river stones and heat them in an open pit fire. Blaze them until they are red hot. If they break (or possibly exploded due to trapped moisture in the stone), then don't use them. If they remain intact after your intensive firing, they might be good. The main thing is that the rocks retain their heat during the cooking process. Experiment by cooking a small chicken in an small imu using the Nile river stones to see if they will work.
> It seems all you do is rub salt all over.
If you do use salt, don't use a lot salt. Use common sense. If you rub a lot of salt, the pig will be very salty in taste. I don't use any salt during my imu cooking. Your guests can always season the cooked pig afterwards with salt according to their taste.
> I did stumble across a recipe with tara? and coconut cream with brown sugar.
I am not familiar with "tara". If you are unsure about what seasoning to use, experiment with a small portion of meat, like a small poultry or a pork butt. Cook it in a small underground oven and taste the results.
Have fun with your imu cooking.
Hello, my name is Brett and I was looking at the PrimitiveWays website and you seemed like the right person to ask this question to. What did primitive people cook out of? And How do you make it?
Thanks for your time,
Brett, when you say "cook out of", I assume you mean cooking in a pot before metal (6,000 BP) or pottery (8,000 BP). Up til the late 1700's in California, people cooked in water tight baskets. They used hot rocks which they rinsed, then stirred inside the basket with the food to heat it. If the rocks are glowing red, about three rocks will boil water this way. In the Pacific Northwest, the people made bent wood boxes which would hold water. They also used hot rocks to boil it. A third container was rawhide bags filled with food and water and hot rocks. People in southeast Asia could boil water next to the fire in green bamboo sections with the top split off. In south America and Africa, gourd boils were used. Coconut and ostrich egg shells were also used as containers. Finally, burned out wooden bowls could be used. All these require the stone boiling technique. Making water tight baskets and bentwood boxes is a very precise and time consuming art. Having gourds was such a blessing, that the ancient Pre-Inca of Peru valued gourds above pottery and buried gourd bowls on the chests of royalty and priests. Sometimes tightly made African baskets can be made water tight by soaking overnight, then cooking oatmeal in them. The pasty oatmeal plugs up the holes.
Good luck and I hope this answers your question,
(additional response from Sue Labiste)
I read Norm's response to you and thought it was pretty complete. I thought you might be interested to know that sometimes the "rawhide" used to cook in was the skin still on the animal. I've read of hot rocks being used inside the internal cavity of marmonts as a means of cooking. The skin itself becomes the rawhide bag.
If you want to try some other ways of cooking primitively . . . . ones that do not require a container, you could try some of these ideas:
Pit roast or Hawaiian Imu oven: this is a pit, often lined with rock. A fire is lit and allowed to burn hot for a few hours until only coals remain. Some cultures removed the coals and some didn't, but all seem to add vegetation for moisture (steam). Then the food goes in. A new layer of greens is added to protect the food as the whole thing is covered with earth. The oven is left to cook the food. The cook time depends on the volume and type of food. You find this technique throughout the world with some cultural variation. California Indians often used this method. The food tastes great this way.
Cooking directly on the coals: When coals are still red hot (not white and ashy) you can broil meat/fish directly on the coals. Try it with some tri-tip the next time you do a barbecue.
Spits: We've all done hot dogs this way. Fish is particularly nice if you keep it just off to the leeward side and you add alder chips to create a smoky flavor. This is the traditional way to do Pacific Coast salmon. The idea is to cook it slowly, not hold it directly over the fire. The spit sticks are upright, slanted toward the fire, but not close enough to burn the sticks.
Have fun cooking,
How might the indigenous groups that lived along the coast avoided shellfish poisoning? Is there traditional wisdom that dictated when to eat (or not to eat), or a taste test? What about treatment?
Inquiring minds want to know, since the quarantine is in force now [July] by law, but not historically.
I have not read any research information concerning your questions. That is not to say that there is no information out there in the anthropological records. It's just that I don't have the answers for you. You will probably have to investigate deeper into academic research.
My best guess is that there might be a certain time coastal indigenous groups didn't gather shellfish due to the red tide. Indigenous people are incredible observers of their natural world. Humans all over the globe, whether ancient or modern, developed hypotheses about their environment and the organisms that interacted with their lives. If a type of food was making them sick during a certain point in time, then they didn't eat it. Maybe, someone decided to eat a shellfish, like mussels, again and did not get sick. By observing the seasons, it might have helped them determine when it was safe to eat the mussels again. Someone had to do the taste test. Maybe someone observed the algal bloom in the water and associated it with not eating shellfish during that time of the year.
Another way of observing when the toxins from the algal bloom occurs is when it produces harmful effects on marine ecosystems. For example, when masses of algae die and decompose, the decaying process can deplete oxygen in the water, causing the water to become so low in oxygen that animals either leave the area or die. If by observation, there were hardly any fishes in the water or they were dead on the surface of the water (or on the beaches), then it might be an indication that the red tide effect is present or something is happening that is killing the fishes. No eating of shellfish could have been implemented during that time. Another obvious observation is when the blooms turn the water a deep red. These observations along the coastal waters might have given clues to native groups as to when not to consume shellfish. Of course, people had to get sick or die during that time to give an indication that something was wrong with the shellfish. And someone had to eat those shellfsih again to know that it was now safe to ingest. Maybe, coastal people depended on marine life to sustain them during the summer months and they had to eat the shellfish to see if it was edible again. Afterall, it was edible before people started to get sick. So when was it fit for human consumption again? Observing the ocean shoreline might have given them the answer. There was more fish in the water after the red tide. No fishes were dying, so maybe the shellfish are OK to eat now. The red color in the water is gone. Just my guess.
Keep on inquiring. Maybe that is how indigenous people got started. It began with questions about important matters in their lives, while observing and experimenting to come up with conclusions. These conclusions might have turned into traditions that got past down from generation to generation.
Dear Ms. Labiste,
Your igloo building article is the only one on the web which mentions carving a concave bottom on the block so it will stick when placed. This, I feel, is key to success. I also put a concavity on the side of the block which contacts the previous block to ensure a single point of contact at the top.
Your article is also the only one I saw which mentions stomping down the snow to cut the blocks from. Most instructions start with the equivalent of "find a place with perfect snow for building an igloo". With lots of stomping and patience, I have been able to build igloos in deep powder snow.
In dry snow, I tend to cut blocks, which are about 16" x 24" x 4-6" thick. Given how thin and crumbly the blocks are, I have never worried about shaping or beveling the blocks. Just make sure there are only 3 points of contact with the previous blocks and the rest takes care of itself.
Thanks to your excellent article, I now have a place to send people who want GOOD advice on how to build an igloo!
Thank you Chuck. What a pleasure to hear others are enjoying the process of building igloo shelters in the winter. It sounds like you have become quite proficient. My illustrations might lead one to believe the key to success is to bevel the blocks to fit exactly, then cut a concavity in the bottom of the block. But as you suggest, the key is the 3 point contact . . . . and I might add, a gentle hand when working with compacted powder snow, or snow with layers of iced-over snow.
Now that we are getting some snow to work with, I hope you have time to enjoy some igloo building!
Thanks for the reply. At the risk of sounding obsessive, there is one other subtlety I would like to point out with respect to cutting out the blocks. I am sure you are aware of this, but did not mention it in your article. To avoid breaking blocks when cutting them out, make the bottom and end cuts first. Make the large area back face cut last. When you finish the back face cut, the block will settle a little bit if it is truly free. It the block does not settle, redo the cuts until the block settles on its own accord, if you try to pry the block free, it will usually break.
I also make a point of never quarrying the blocks from where I am putting the igloo. I did this once and I could not reach the ceiling from inside to stabilize that last block! This also happens if you start too large or don't slant the blocks inward enough.
Thanks for the soapbox,
Great tips Chuck.
Good morning. My name is Joey Allen of Stillwater Nevada. I was researching decoys via the Yahoo search engine and found an excerpt from your work here: http://www.primitiveways.com/tule_ethnobotany.html
I have been a decoy maker since 1993. My cousin, Martin George, Grandson of Jimmy and Wuzzie George, was my teacher. We are from Stillwater, Nevada, a community just outside the city of Fallon. The article states that the decoys are from California. I am unaware of any California Indians who are decoy makers. Martin George's mother was from Woodford California, but the decoys are native to the Stillwater area.
I'm not sure if other information is correct. Martins brother Davin was another maker of the decoys. Their father Ivan had also made decoys for sale. The Ivan George decoys are fairly rare and if you are in possession of one you are truly fortunate.
If you have any questions, you can contact me. You can also call the Churchill County Museum for further verification of the information. They have examples of decoy makers and tule technology from Nevada's prehistory.
Thank you for your time.
Joey, thanks for the information. I'm happy to know that descendants of the George family are still making decoys. I have a Daven George decoy in my collection, and the park where I worked (now retired) has one by Darren George, if I remember right. The decoys I make are roughly based on these models. We also have the photos of Jimmy George making a decoy which he covers with a duck skin from `Survival Arts of the Primitive Paiutes' by Margaret Wheat. I have also seen decoys found in a dry cave (I believe it was Lovelock) in Nevada, and replicas made by a friend of mine - Jim Riggs - in the museum in Bend, OR. Where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, the only evidence is references to decoys `stuffed with tules' at a lake here in Fremont. There are also drawings of decoys from other parts of the state. The only details I could find clear enough to make a model were the ones from your family. Nevada and California seem to share some similar technologies, and a linguistics expert studying our Ohlone people's language found evidence that they originally came from Nevada, so may have brought the decoy technology with them. Because the Ohlone people were heavily missionized soon after contact, relatively little of their material culture survived. In my efforts to provide students with a complete picture, and where there is evidence for use of a tool but no archaeological or ethnological samples, I have to go to the nearest neighbors of the Ohlone who can provide me with samples to copy. With duck decoys, the nearest neighbors were the Paiute because, as you note, there are no California Indians still making tule decoys today (unless they are also copying the George family samples). When teaching I always try and remember to credit the source of the model. One of these days I'll try to get by the Churchill Museum to check on their collection.
Hope this helps clear things up,
I enjoyed your article about making shellfish hooks and just wanted to send some observations to you. I am a commercial fisherman in California and fish using longlines and up to 3,000 hooks at a time. All of my hooks are circle hooks, most fishermen gave up the traditional "J" hook years ago. Now, only sport fishermen use them. The small gap at the mouth of the hook you wrote about is very important, too large and the fish will fall off. Circle hooks are designed to rotate in the mouth of the fish as it turns and swims away with the bait. The line ends up in the corner of the mouth, and as the hook reaches the corner of the mouth, the hook slips around the lip. The small gap is just big enough for it fit at the corner of the mouth and to get bait on. Halibut fishermen using "J" hooks could expect two fish for 90 hooks in the old days. After switching to circle hooks, the numbers went up to the hundreds of fish and thousands of pounds. Mustad fishing supplies claims to have invented the circle hook, but as your article shows, they were not the first people making these great hooks.
Thanks for a great article.
What a great thing to hear about your first hand experience. I love to fish, but only have done sport fishing. Your description of how the circle hook works sounds intriguing. I am sure the size and species of the fish is critical in determining the optimal hook size and hook gap. Can you give me any information on the size of your longline hooks as they apply to fish species and size caught? I'm particularly interested in the hook gap and if your hooks are offset at all. On my hooks, there is no offset. One is 2.7 cm diameter and the other two are 3.5 cm. The gap measures 0.6 cm on each of the 3 hooks even though one is smaller than the other two. I'm curious how they compare to your hooks, and if you see them as effective for any specific fish species.
I recently took the hooks I made out on a trip to the Farallons and only caught rock fish on my conventional J hooks ( 2-7 lb Strawberry cod spp). The Chumash hooks found by archeologists have a variety of gaps and sizes. I am thinking, my lack of success could be in the hook size, the hook gap, or the manner of attaching bait. Without a barb, baiting the shell hook is a challenge. Then too, perhaps I was pursuing the wrong fish species. Any ideas?
Thank you for taking the time to write, and for sharing your experience. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
I'm interested in making my own dugout canoe. It seems that at this point, obtaining the log is the most difficult step. I live in San Antonio, Texas, so finding a log of the appropriate size will be difficult. Would you happen to know where I could go about getting the right size/type log for making a canoe in Texas? Thanks.
Look along creeks or rivers. Drive in the county and look for a downed tree. Ask property owners permission to access their land and cut down a tree. Put an ad in the Craigslist.com website to see if someone has a downed tree on their property. Look for a wood easy to hollow out like cottonwood. Remember, it is hard to move a large log or dugout. It is best if it is cut right next to water.
Hello, my name is Thad Beckum and I would like to make a wild turkey decoy from the skin of the bird! What do you think would be the best way to preserve this skin so that I could pull it over a mold. I have a lot of soft lightweight wood in my area that could be carved into a nice turkey shape. If I scrape the fat from the skin and degrease, what would be the best natural way to make sure that this will last me awhile.
I have done a good bit of braintanning, but have never worked with bird skins! Could I simply use punky wood and smoke it enough to preserve it. If I could preserve it, I may consider gluing it down on the mold with animal glue, like putting a snake skin on the back of a bow!
I do not want to use borax, even if it is natural. It is not available here, only if you buy it.
I am trying to make this decoy for a TV show that will be filmed in the spring. I will be hunting with primitive archery dressed in my braintan buckskin. I will be hunting with the men at the NWTF and this will air on the Outdoor Channel!
I would like to handle this skin as little as possible so that the feathers do not get out of shape! I would appreciate any help you could give!
Borax would work well for preserving the skin/feathers and keeping any tiny organisms from feastng on your feather and skin. But, if you don't want to use Borax, then another alternative is a salt solution. You mentioned that you did not want the feathers to get out of shape. If you use the salt solution, the feathers will get matted. After it dries, you will have to hand preen the feathers back into shape. It will not be as pristine as it originally was, but it can be fluffed back into shape.
The salt solution basically preserves the skin from organisms that like to feed on your skin and feathers. If you decide to do the salt solution, here it is:
Use a trough or plastic bin large enough to hold your turkey skin and feathers. Fill it with enough hot water to cover your turkey skin and feathers (I'll refer to "turkey skin and feathers" as TS&F from now on). DO NOT put the TS&F in the container yet. Pour salt (regular salt from the supermarket or grocery store) into the hot water and stir until the salt dissolves completely. Depending on how much water you have, it will take a good amount of salt to create the solution. Don't ask me how much salt is needed because I have never measured the amount I use when I preserve duck skins with feathers. I keep pouring salt into the hot water until it doesn't dissolve anymore. Sorry, but that's the best I can tell you about measurement.
After you feel it has enough salt in the water, let the solution cool to the touch before putting in your TS&F. If your solution is still hot and you put your TS&F in, the feathers will slip off the skin. I would let the TS&F sit in the solution for 2 weeks. The whole TS&F should be submerged in the salt solution. Gently weigh it down with something if it floats to the surface. After 2 weeks, take it out of the salt solution, thoroughly rinse it with fresh water and let it dry in the sun. Any matted feathers will have to be hand preened to get it back to looking good. A blow dryer set on cold air will also help fluff up the downy feathers.
You'll have to decide whether this method of preservation will work for your needs, since you do not want to get the feathers out of shape. I would recommend experimenting with a small chicken skin with feathers or just do a variety of feathers, like the primary, secondary wing feathers, down feathers and breast feathers to see if you can get it back to it's original shape after soaking it in the salt solution.
I hope this info is of some use.
Dear Mr. Labiste,
I really enjoyed your video about starting fires with the spindle method. You and others on Youtube make it look easy. I have noticed that most of the primitive pyromaniacs (consider that a complement) come from the southwest where the humidity is dry. I live in Marquette, Michigan where we have high humidity. Have you ever tried to start a fire outside of the southwest. I assume the dry air is an advantage.
So far, all I can do is create a lot of smoke. I have used a variety of spindles: cattail, mullein, and cedar with hearth boards of basswood and cedar. I have used the hand drill method, the bow method, and even cheated using a drill press at different speeds. All I can do is make a lot of black dust and smoke but no coals, which makes me wonder about the humidity.
I would appreciate any information you might have concerning the humidity in the air.
Humidity can be a factor. I would also look at your equipment. The V-shaped notch on your hearthdboard has to be wide enough to accept your char (the fine dust that results from grinding the spindle and hearthboard together). Is your char swirling around the top of the hole and not falling into the notch? Sometimes when people get more smoke and no lighted ember, it's because they are burning off the accumulated dust on top of the hole before it gathers in the notch. Widen your notch on the hearthboard. Also, the point of your V-shaped notch should go about half way into the hole on the hearthboard. I would also recommend removing the bark on your spindle and heardboard. You want char that is as fine as flour. The outer bark tends to create coarse char that becomes difficult to ignite.
Go slowly at first to warm up your spindle and hearthboard. Accelerate to a moderate speed, while applying downward pressure, to next acquire your char in the notch. When you see enough char accumulating in the notch, increase your DOWNWARD PRESSURE and SPEED to ignite the char. If you stop because you are tired, leave the spindle in the hearthboard hole. Don't take the spindle out. If you have fine dust in the hearthboard notch, there might be enough heat from your efforts on the spindle tip to light the char. Gently wave your hand back and forth over the char to feed it some oxygen. When you see smoke wafting from the char, you have a lighted ember.
Due to the early morning fog in my area (I live next to a bay), I usually keep my hand drill spindle and my hearthboard wrapped in leather to keep it as dry as possible. I also do the same for my tinder. Most of the time, modern practioners don't realize that primitive tools had to be prepared and stored properly to provide for optimum success. Today, people often think only in terms of "survival skills", gathering what they can find immediately, without any preparation or afterthought. It's good to have that knowledge in case you ever need it. But, if one is to live or replicate the primitive lifestyle, one should be prepared to have a high percentage of success. Tools should be functional. Our paleo-ancestors were knowledgeable and well prepared for living their lifestyle many thousand of years ago.
Good luck on your pyro endeavors. Let me know if you get any positive results.
We have ignition! Thank you. I widened my notch and was able to make coals using a mullein spindle and a basswood hearthboard. I used a bow instead of a hand drill, but I'm sure the principle is the same.
Thanks again for your time,
Good to hear you got success. It's those little nuances that make it happen.
(pertaining to the article entitled, "Antler Handle Knife")
For the antler hilted knives, is it necesary to use creek or rain water? There's not many bodies of water where I'm from.
The reason for creek or rain water is to have bacterial activity in the water. The bacteria starts to decompose organic material. In the case of the antler, the bacteria starts to soften the pithy portion of the antler. In my area, our drinking water is treated with chlorine, which inhibits bacteria.
You can still use tap water. Just put some dirt in the water. The dirt will add all the bacteria you will need to complete the process of softening the pithy area of the antler.
A word of advice: When attaching the tang portion of the knife blade to the antler, go slow and don't rush the process. Sometimes people are too anxious to get the job done quickly and tend to force the tang into the antler by bending the tang from side to side. You will either break the tang or bend the blade. Be aware of what you want to accomplish and don't let your anger control what you want to do. If the tang is not going into the antler, analyze the problem and don't deal with it emotionally. The reason I am telling you this, is that people have broken their knife blade due to bad judgement during the insertion process. "Go slow and think about what you are going to do before you do it". Also, be sure the pithy area is soft enough to accept the tang. I've given people "words of advice" in the article to be aware of any possible problems.
Good luck on your knife project.
I was looking through the wonderful gallery on the PrimitiveWays website and came across this picture:
I hope I understand the picture in the first place. Is the material in the centre of the leaves the acorn mix?
I'd be very thankful if you could explain to me how this leaching process works. I do not know that much about acorn preparation and have only ever seen them leached through a synthetic bag in a stream.
Thank you for your help!
The PrimitiveWays website really is excellent. Keep it up!
Acorns contain tannic acid and have to be leached before eating. Tannins, which are plant polyphenols, interfere with our ability to metabolize protein. The amount of tannins vary with the different acorns.
Here is a condensed version of the acorn leaching process:
1. Acorns are dried in the shell.
2. Acorns are shelled. There are different species of oak. If the acorn you are using has a skin on the nut (similar to the skin on a peanut), that has to be removed before grinding.
3. Acorn nuts are ground into VERY FINE flour. The finer, the faster the leaching of the tannins.
4. The photo you are referring to only shows one method of leaching acorn: A sand basin is created. The sand basin is lined with overlapping grape leaves. The acorn flour is spread over the grape leaves.
5. A cedar bough is placed over the flour to evenly disperse the flow of water into the flour.
6. The water leaches the tannins out of the acorn flour as it slowly percolates. Allow the water to disperse into the sand, then continue leaching with more water.
8. After the 3rd or 4th leaching of water, taste the acorn. There should be no bitterness when the leachinng is finish. If there is still any taste of bitterness, continue the leaching process.
9. After leaching, boil acorn flour with water.
The taste of acorn is subjective. Some people say it is bland, others say it has a unique nutty taste. Despite it's varied taste, acorn is highly nutritious. Percentages vary from species to species, but all acorns contain large amounts of carbohydrates, fats and protein, as well as the minerals calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and the vitamin niacin.
Hope this helps,
I am a producer on a TV show titled, Extreme Cuisine. We are exploring the extreme/unusual foods of the Pacific Northwest right now. Would really appreciate any info on edible Kelp in that region. Could we possibly do a story where we go out harvesting them and then come back and cook something?
Attached, please find a sheet on our show. Would appreciate any information.
Extreme Cuisine is an interesting show. Jeff Corwin has a fun job of tasting exotic foods all over the world.
In the Bay Area of California, we have a diverse ethnic population from many corners of the globe. The smells and taste of all the different ethnic foods make the Bay Area a great place to live.
There are a variety of edible marine algae, seaweed and kelp in Northern California. The time to gather seaweed varies, but usually it is from March to July. Seaweeds are as seasonal in their growth patterns as land plants. Seaweeds grow in response to the increased sunshine filtering down to them in spring and summer, and die back when the days grow short in late autumn.
The choicest edible kelp harvested in Northern California are:
1. California Nori (Porphyra perforata)
2. California Kombu (Laminaria digitata)
3. California Wakame (Alaria marginata)
4. Bull whip kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana)
They are easiest to gather at low tides. Some seaweed grow at the high intertidal zone while others grow in the lowest intertidal zone, which requires a wetsuit and extreme low tides for harvesting.
Other edible species are Sister Sarah (Cystoseira osmundacea), Green Nori (Enteromorpha intestinalis), Ogo (Gracilaria verrucosa) and Sea Lettuce (Ulva lactuca).
There is another seaweed that is also edible and that is the California Sea Palm (Postelsia palmaeformis). In 1984, it became illegal to gather California Sea Palms because the plants were under too much harvesting pressure. Hopefully, these restrictions will help the Sea Palms return to their former numbers.
I hope this information helps you with your show about Pacific Northwest marine cuisine.
Let me know if you have any other questions concerning seaweeds and I'll try and help you as best as I can.
(pertaining to the video entitled, "Cordage Making")
As a native California Indian (Koyom'kawi Maidu), I am very pleased on your video take of the dogbane cordage. This has been the most informative piece that I have come across. I do not know one of our elders that knows the "traditional" crafts and this adds to my quest to know the "old" ways. I am very appreciative.
Thank you, Wallace, for your kind comments. I'm glad that the video has been of some help to you and to those who would like to learn the "old ways" of making cordage. Dogbane has provided me with many items of practical use. I am grateful for it's generosity and I am constantly learning from the dogbane plant.
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