DIY Preparedness Projects

Primitive Preps: Craft a 3-in-1 Tool from One Hand Drill Spindle

by Todd Walker

Primitive Preps- Craft a 3-in-1 Tool from One Hand Drill Spindle - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Having items in your pack which serve more than one function reduces weight and increases resourcefulness. I’ve written about this multifunctional-mindset with modern equipment here. The concept is far from modern. Otzi the Ice Man carried multifunctional primitive tools over 5,300 years ago.

Here’s our experimental archeology project…

Multifunctional Spindles

How many redundant uses can we find for a hand drill spindle other than its primary use… friction fire embers?

If you have access to river cane, one spindle becomes multifunctional:

  • Friction Fire
  • Primitive Drill
  • Container

Friction Fire

Finding dry, straight wood long enough for a spindle in the field is challenging. Sticks in the 4 to 6 inch range is more likely. They don’t even have to be straight to be used as a friction fire fore shaft in a cane spindle. A quick whittling job will make them fit.

Primitive Preps- Craft a 3-in-1 Tool from One Hand Drill Spindle - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Burning in the hearth board with the wooden fore shaft stub.

To make the multifunctional spindle, straighten a section of river cane to your desired length in the 1/2 to 5/8 inch diameter range. Make two splits on one end perpendicular to one another just above the end node. Wrap the split with sinew with about a half-inch of split cane extending past the wrap. These four split sections will grip the fore shaft stubs as collets would on a brace and bit.

In my experience, simply carving or abrading the fore shaft in a cone shape is enough to create a tight friction fit in the spindle. However, carving an elongated pyramid shape (similar to brace and bit augers) on the fore shaft would add extra bite inside the collet grooves.

Primitive Preps- Craft a 3-in-1 Tool from One Hand Drill Spindle - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Similar gripping mechanics as the brace and bit

Primitive Drill

I discovered a gold mine of quartz crystals in a store in downtown Athens, GA. With this project in mind, I bought several in different sizes. A few are now stowed in my haversack for primitive skills tasks.

Primitive Preps- Craft a 3-in-1 Tool from One Hand Drill Spindle - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Quartz crystal secured in the spindle

If you can’t locate crystals for purchase, a bit of bipolar percussion can create serviceable drill tip. Use a hammer stone and strike the top of a smaller pebble until it shatters. With any luck you’ll have a sharp drill tip and no bludgeoned knuckles. If not, keep smashing rock and you’ll likely get both.

Primitive Preps- Craft a 3-in-1 Tool from One Hand Drill Spindle - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Bipolar percussion in action at Workshops at the Woods

Insert your drill tip in the spindle and spin it on your hearth board to drill a perfectly round pivot hole. One or two passes with your hands on the spindle should work depending on the hardness of your hearth material. The trumpet vine I used in the video below is soft which makes it an excellent hearth board.

For more robust wood, or even other rock or shells, craft a spindle which can be used in a bow drill set. The end of the river cane spindle which meets the bearing block would need a carved hardwood plug to mate with the bearing block socket. More downward pressure and speed can be applied with a bow drill set than hand drill. Plus, you’ll save the skin on your hands.

Container

Leave enough hollow shaft on the end of the cane opposite the drilling end. While this chamber isn’t very large, repair needles, charred material, or other small items can be stored inside. Whittle a cap to plug the open end. Another cap option is a larger diameter piece of cane with the node joint in place which slides over the open end.

Primitive Preps- Craft a 3-in-1 Tool from One Hand Drill Spindle - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A river cane vile pictured at top. Plugging the end of the spindle (bottom of photo) creates a container for small items.

I’ve given three uses for one spindle. What are some others you can share?

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Lost Skills, Preparedness, Primal Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

How to Straighten, Haft, and Fletch River Cane Atlatl Darts

by Todd Walker

Atlatl Series (Part I) – Ancient Atlatls: How to Make a Down-N-Dirty Spear-Thrower

Having built an atlatl in Part I, you now need to make a straight stick to launch. In this tutorial, we will make river cane atlatl darts from scratch. Even if you haven’t made an atlatl, primitive archery enthusiasts can use the same technique in arrow making by adjusting the nock end for a bow string.

How to Straighten, Haft, and Fletch River Cane Atlatl Darts ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Atlatl Darts

I was called out by a gentleman about using the term “spear-thrower” in the title of my first post on making atlatls. If you’ve read my article, you quickly find that the projectile thrown from an atlatl is a flexible dart. Spear conjures images of a caveman tossing a heavy, rigid sapling at prey or predator. Atlatls propel a light, flexible spear (dart). I often wonder about the paleo-genius who first discovered and leveraged this technology without the benefit of modern physics. He probably opened a cave classroom illustrating his invention on stone walls.

A month after my atlatl class with Scott Jones (Workshops at the Woods), he offered the companion class on making atlatl darts and arrows with his friend and fellow Georgian, Ben Kirkland. Both of these gentlemen are experts in primitive technology and excel in effectively sharing tribal knowledge.

River cane is said to be our modern day equivalent of plastic to indigenous tribes in the southeastern United States. Scott made several river cane practice darts for our class to throw. We added duct tape fletching which I’ve used before to make expedient arrow fletchings. Before adding feather fletchings, duct tape can be applied to test the dart’s flight. Satisfied with the performance of a dart, you can easily remove the tape and fletch the shaft with real feathers.

Heat and Bend…

No matter what material you choose for your shaft, straightening darts or arrows require heat – not by hanging them from barn rafters as Scott has been told by the uninitiated. His mantra on the laborious process is… “Get off your ass, go out and start a fire, and straighten your d*mned arrows.” On that 90 plus degree day in July, we built the fire and sweated to un-bend cane in pursuit of a straight dart.

Here’s what you’ll need to straighten shafts:

  • River cane
  • Leather gloves
  • Leather knee pad
  • Knife and/or fine-tooth saw
  • Fire

A roaring fire is not required to heat and bend shafts. In fact, I retreat to my shop in the Georgia heat and use my DIY Plumber’s Stove and/or a soldering torch. Call it cheating if you like, but I’ll take a cool shop with a small fire when straightening lots of shafts in the summer.

How to Straighten, Haft, and Fletch River Cane Atlatl Darts - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Keep the cane moving through the flames

As for cane size, the large end (growth nearest the ground) should be approximately 1/2 inch in diameter. The small end will likely be about 1/4 to 3/8 inch (pencil-size) at about six to seven feet. The large end will be the forward end of your dart with the smaller end serving as the nock. Before cutting to length (6-7 feet), leave extra cane on both ends for gripping in the heat and bend process described below.

Take a seasoned length of river cane and remove the branches and leaf sheaths. I break off the branches with my hand in a swift, downward motion and carefully trim the stubs even with a sharp knife. Use of a thumb lever with your knife to gain needed control to prevent accidentally cutting into the shaft.

Now begins the repetitive process of heating and bending. Sight down the shaft to locate bends. Move the bent section of cane through the fire in a constant motion. How long? Until the area is evenly heated. Experience will be your best guide. Leather gloves are recommended.

Once heated, place a folded leather pad or insulation layer over your knee, apply gentle pressure to the bend in the same fashion you’d use to break a stick over your knee – only with less pressure. I found a slight rolling motion against the knee yields good results. Allow the heated shaft to set for a few seconds on the knee before checking for straightness. Sight for more bent areas and repeat… and repeat… and repeat… and… repeat. You’ll eventually create a straight dart if you stick with the process.

Cut Cane to Length

There are no set design formulas for atlatl dart lengths. The acceptable guideline from experienced dart-throwers is about three times the length of your atlatl.

Once you have a straight shaft, beaver-chew with a knife through the cane to prevent splitting. Beaver-chewing is to make a series of shallow cuts around the circumference at the cutoff point. Make a few passes until the cane easily snaps off. A fine tooth saw works as well.

How to Straighten, Haft, and Fletch River Cane Atlatl Darts - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Shirtless Scott Jones going the abo route and cutting cane by abrading with a stone. It was hot that day!

Leave enough hollow portion on the small end of the cane for a nock to mate with the spur end of your atlatl – 3/8 of an inch ought to do it. You can always take more stock off but can’t put more back on. Chamfer the inside of the nock with the tip of your knife to form a female funnel of sorts. Test the fit on your spur and tweak as needed to insure a solid fit. If you’re using a “quickie” bamboo atlatl described in Part I of this series, detailed attention to the nock is not as important.

Hafting Darts

How to Straighten, Haft, and Fletch River Cane Atlatl Darts - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Scott preparing to haft a stone point.

On the business end of the dart (large end), leave enough cane (4-6 inches) past the last node joint to haft a point or insert a fore shaft. Another interesting technique Scott demonstrated for hafting was to use a short, larger diameter section of cane or bamboo with a stone point attached. This short female fore shaft is slipped over the outside of the shaft instead of being inserted into the hollow end of the dart as I had only ever witnessed.

Material and Tools

  • Points: Stone, bone, antler, hardwood, gar scale are good material
  • Glue: Pine pitch glue, hide glue, hot melt arrow point glue (commercially available), or a regular glue stick
  • Lashing: Animal sinew, artificial sinew, waxed thread, even dental floss will do
  • Knife
  • Fire
  • Duct tape

To add forward weight to practice darts, several methods can be used without a permanent hafting job. This is where duct tape becomes your friend… again! Scott described the use of duct tape by primitive practitioners as “modern man’s rawhide.” Fill the hollow forward end with sand or BB’s and tape it closed. An old nail can also be inserted in the hollow and taped.

For permanent points hafted directly to the dart end, bore a 1/8 inch hole about half an inch from the end of the dart. Bore a second hole directly opposite and on the same plane as the first hole. With the tip of your knife inserted in one hole, cut toward the end of the cane. Cut until you’ve removed a straight section of the cane. Repeat on the opposite hole. Widen the section as needed to accept your chosen point. Dry fit the point and adjust the width. A gar scale may seat fine without widening the slot.

Once satisfied with the dry fit, heat your glue and apply a glob into the slot on the shaft. While the glue is hot and pliable, insert the point in the slot. Reheat over the fire if necessary to line up the point with the shaft.

Make a few wraps of sinew around the slot/point connection for a secure hold. Before applying the sinew, wet it thoroughly in your mouth with saliva. This moisture activates the natural glue in the fibers. No need to tie-off natural sinew. It will stick when applied and shrink as it dries. Hide glue can be applied to the wrap afterwards to add hold and prevent moisture from effecting the sinew. Other cordage material must be tied.

How to Straighten, Haft, and Fletch River Cane Atlatl Darts ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A dogwood fore shaft inserted in one of my atlatl darts

Adding a male fore shaft to the end of your dart requires less precision. Make two splits on the forward end of your dart in a cross hair configuration (perpendicular to one another). The splits should be about 1.5 to 2 inches in length. When wrapped with sinew, these splits will act as a grip on the fore shaft like a drill chuck on a drill bit. Scott noted that fore shafts are likely to split the end of your dart anyway. This method creates a controlled spit and added purchase.

How to Straighten, Haft, and Fletch River Cane Atlatl Darts ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A collection fore shafts at Scott’s class

Fore shafts can be carved from wood, bone, antler, or anything you can imagine. They need to be tapered to fit the end of your dart but not so much that the tip of the fore shaft contacts the end node of the shaft.

How to Straighten, Haft, and Fletch River Cane Atlatl Darts - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The long barbed point left of the stone points is a stingray barb which was used by aboriginal people in coastal areas.

Fletching Darts

Duct tape makes a field expedient and serviceable fletching. Tape two pieces to the nock end of your dart so that they stick to each other around the shaft. Trim the edges to shape and you have a fletched dart. If the dart performs well, leave the tape or remove it and use real feathers for the fletching.

Not all feathers are legal. Using eagle, hawk, owl – (raptors), or birds covered under the Federal Migratory Bird Act could land you in legal trouble with big fines. Here’s a link to get you started researching legal feathers.

In this tutorial, I’m using legally harvested wild turkey tail feathers. The method used is called Eastern Two Feather fletching.

How to Straighten, Haft, and Fletch River Cane Atlatl Darts - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Ben Kirkland demonstrating the Eastern Two Feather fletching technique. Notice the two goose feathers attached at the nock end of his arrow.

Material and Tools

  • Feathers
  • Scissors or knife
  • Glue
  • Sinew

Use two feathers curved in the same direction. Make two cuts about an inch from the tip of the feather perpendicular to the feather shaft (rachis). If using scissors (which are recommended), cut in the direction from feather tip to the base of the feather. Cut in the opposite direction if using a sharp knife of flint flake.

How to Straighten, Haft, and Fletch River Cane Atlatl Darts - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Cuts made for the Eastern Two Feather fletching.

Trim down both sides of the shaft to the previous cuts leaving only an inch or so of bare shaft. Now trim down both sides of the shaft leaving 3/4 inch of vane on both sides. Grip the inside curved vane (concave part) and strip towards the base so that about 2 inches of vane is left on the tip-end of shaft.

Measure the desired fletch length by placing the feather in your outstretched hand. Your length from the tip of your index finger to the inside of your thumb is a good length – about 5 inches give or take. Remove the portion of the long vane at that point by pulling toward the base.

With a sharp knife on the shaft at the point where the end of the short vane connects, make an angled cut to the center of the shaft. Carefully flatten your knife and cut down the center of the shaft through the hollow end of the feather. Cut the half-shaft off about one inch past the large vane.

One method of attaching the fletching is to bend the tip end of the feather shaft toward the outside of the feather. Unfold the stem and place it on the dart with the outside of the feather facing up and past the nock end of the dart. Heat the dart shaft area where the fletching will be attached. Apply a small amount of pitch glue on the shaft to hold the feather in place. Repeat this step for the second feather. The position of the fletching doesn’t need to line up on darts like they would on an arrow shaft’s nock. Just attach them directly opposite of each other near the nock end of the dart.

With the vanes temporarily attached, apply sinew wraps to hold permanently. Fold the feathers back over on top of the dart. Twist the fletchings 45 degrees around the dart shaft. This causes the feathers to spiral around the dart shaft. Pull the vane shafts tight and repeat the previous step to attach this end of the feathers.

Safety Note: When applying feathers to archery arrows, make sure the forward ends of the fletching are flattened and completely covered with sinew. Any exposed feather shaft will rip through your arrow rest (skin) on release causing much pain.

Making your own darts and arrows is a time-consuming journey. However, learning to reproduce a deadly primitive weapon from scratch is quite satisfying!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Gear, Lost Skills, Primal Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Ancient Atlatls: How to Make a Down-N-Dirty Spear-Thrower

by Todd Walker

Ancient Atlatls: How to Make a Down-N-Dirty Spear-Thrower ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Somewhere down your family tree a spear-thrower used a simple, two-piece weapon to bring home the bacon… or wooly mammoth… or mastodon. Ancient atlatls have been discovered on every continent except Antarctica.

What’s an atlatl?

A simple dart-throwing stick with a handle on one end and spur (male end) or socket (female end) on the other end. The dart, a flexible spear, mates with the spur/socket when thrown. Typically about two feet long, an atlatl employs leverage to extend the arm’s length to propel a dart further and with more velocity than when thrown using only the arm.

Spanish conquistadors discovered quickly that their state-of-the-art armor was no match for the primitive Aztec spear-throwers. Imagine becoming a kabob inside your standard issue fighting armor. The barbed stone point prevented Cortez’s men from pulling the shaft from their bodies in the opposite direction. It must be driven clean through the flesh to be removed. That’s impossible when the dart doesn’t pierce the backside of the metal suit. A slow death ensued when pinned inside one’s armor.

The primitive atlatl and dart system predates bow and arrow by thousands of years. The physics and math involved in this simple weapon is more complex than one might think. No. we’re not discussing calculus today. But we will delve into the past long enough to whet your appetite, and, hopefully spur you on to make your own dart-throwing weapon.

Down-n-Dirty Atlatl

As I wrote this piece, I quickly realized it would be too long for one to sit through. In the spirit of keeping you interested in this primal weaponry, I plan to make this a multi-part series on atlatls, darts, fletching, and throwing.

My friend and expert primitive skills instructor, Scott Jones, taught a “Quickie” Atlatl class at a recent Workshops at the Woods. Having never thrown an atlatl, much less made one, I signed up.

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.
Albert Einstein

At first glance, the simplicity of this primitive technology deceives the beginning practitioner. There are details and tweaks which only experts like Scott have learned over years of experimentation. His idea of making a quickie atlatl from bamboo holds potential for self-reliant living. With a few basic knife skills, even atlatl newbies like me can carve out a very functional weapon.

Material and Tools

  • Bamboo ~ about thumb-size in diameter and about 2 feet long. River cane will work but is not as bountiful as bamboo in this diameter.
  • Knife
  • Fine-toothed saw (hacksaw blade works well)
  • Awl
  • Leather ~ used in making finger loops
  • Fire

Selecting Bamboo

Find a suitable piece of cane and cut it close to the ground. The way in which the nodes grow close together at the base of bamboo will make a heavier handle and add purchase when throwing. Scott provided shafts from his stand of golden bamboo on his property. I think you’ll find land owners happy to have you harvest as much bamboo as you’d like as it tends to take over. I’ve never been turned down.

Typically, atlatl length is about one-third the length of darts. Cut your bamboo so that a node is left at the smaller end of the atlatl. Mine measured 26 inches – armpit to the base of my middle finger. The end node will serve as the female “spur” which will mate with your dart.

Cut in a “Spur”

This style of atlatl has a cup (female joint) not an actual spur (male joint). Use your knife to cut a long notch in the last joint of the bamboo. Begin by making a stop-cut about 1/4 inch from the end node (spur end) to a depth of 1/3rd to half way through the shaft. The notch should taper from zero to about 1/3rd the depth of the chamber toward the end node. This notch should be about 6 to 8 inches long and wide enough to accept your chosen dart shaft. The photos below show the cut.

Ancient Atlatls: How to Make a Down-N-Dirty Spear-Thrower ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A hacksaw blade is handy for making the stop-cut

Ancient Atlatls: How to Make a Down-N-Dirty Spear-Thrower ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Making the tapered cut to the end nock.

Ancient Atlatls: How to Make a Down-N-Dirty Spear-Thrower ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Scott cleaning up rough edges

Clean up any rough edges with your knife leaving a small semicircle 1/4 inch in front of the end node where the dart seats. Test the seating by placing a dart (river cane in this case) in the female end. Hold the dart in one hand, the atlatl in the other, and check if the dart fits and moves without resistance. The dart should swing freely out of the atlatl notch until they are almost at 90 degrees from each other.

Ancient Atlatls: How to Make a Down-N-Dirty Spear-Thrower ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The half-circle shown at the end node where the dart seats

Fire It

Before adding finger loops, pass your bamboo atlatl over and through a fire. Use leather gloves to keep the shaft moving through the flames over the entire surface. You’ll notice the waxes in the wood will begin to add a sheen to the atlatl. This process will help preserve the wood.

Ancient Atlatls: How to Make a Down-N-Dirty Spear-Thrower ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Firing the bamboo

Finger Loops

I found the bamboo atlatl (without finger loops) comfortable to throw by gripping the handle like a tennis racket. Scott had several different atlatl styles to practice with at class – some with loops, a few without. Finger loops add a secure hold on the shaft while throwing.

To add finger loops, bore a small hole through the handle end of the atlatl with an awl. The hole placement is determined by the base of your palm to the intersection of your index and middle fingers. Thread a piece of leather or buckskin through the hole and tie the ends to form a large loop. Test the fit by placing your fingers through the large loop with the shaft between your two fingers.

Ancient Atlatls: How to Make a Down-N-Dirty Spear-Thrower ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Leather looped through the holes and tied

Throwing with finger loops requires that you slip your index and middle fingers through the loops with the end of your grip at the base of your palm. Your loop fingers are split by the atlatl shaft with your thumb and remaining fingers securing the handle to your palm.

Ancient Atlatls: How to Make a Down-N-Dirty Spear-Thrower ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Adjust the loops by tightening or loosening the leather loop

Down-N-Dirty Atlatl Benefits

One advantage Scott pointed out about his “quickie” atlatl is the fact that you can throw inferior darts without nocks required with typical spur-mounted atlatls. Any straight stick or cane will make an effective hunting projectile. This down-n-dirty design can be made in the field with a lot less effort and skill than traditional atlatls.

I would recommend using this method for those interested in making a spear-thrower for the first time. The entire process can be complete in an hours time. Finding and straightening darts, well, that’s gonna take some time. But having this survival skill-set in your arsenal is well worth the investment.

If you’re interested in learning primitive technology, Scott offers a wide variety of classes at his Workshops at the Woods. For those not local to our area, he has written two essential books I reference often:

Next in the series we’ll cover atlatl darts ~ the primitive projectile which brought down wooly mammoths and turned armor-plated conquistadors into Spanish shish kabob.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Lost Skills, Preparedness, Primal Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on One Fire Pit

by Todd Walker

Good food makes outdoor adventures worthwhile. Long days in the woods end with boiling water over a propane burner which is poured into a mylar bag of freeze-dried food for some outdoor enthusiasts. Those add-water-meals have their place. But for a traditional woodsman’s basecamp, that simply won’t do. Nope. Up your cooking game with what Steve Watts called “honest grub cooked over an open fire.”

Campfire Cooking- Grill, Cook, and Bake on One Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

There are many campfire cooking arrangements in old journals from the days of Classic Camping. Today, I want to share with you one I came across in an old Scout handbook. The time and energy needed to build one is best reserved for a permanent basecamp or your backyard.

Pit Construction

The T-shaped configuration of this pit allows you to grill, boil, and bake. Add a waugan stick, carved pot hangers, and a bipod suspension system to create a very functional and classic cook system. Here’s what you’ll need to build your own…

Tools and Material

  • Shovel or Trenching Tool
  • Reflector Oven – I used an old metal pan used for applying drywall joint compound
  • Saplings – I covered the construction of a waugan stick and pot suspension system in a previous post you may want to reference
  • Rocks – do NOT use river rocks as they tend to expand and explode during heating
  • Water – stay hydrated!

Dig It

You’ll dig two holes. Dig the first hole about 18 inches square and 5-6 inches deep. My preferred digging tool is my military trenching tool. Adjust the shovel end to a 90 degree angle and swing it like a pickax. You’ll encounter rocks and roots. This tool will sever roots and split rocks.

As you excavate the hole, pile the dirt past where the next hole will be dug. Dirt from both holes will be removed to form an angled earthen berm.

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Dirt from both pits formed the berm in the lower portion of the photo

Outline the deeper hole as a rectangle 12 inches by 24 inches. Dig this hole to approximately 12 inches deep. As you pile dirt on the berm, tamp it periodically with your trenching tool or boot.

Rock It

With the multi-level pit dugout, it’s time to add flat stones to the bottom of the deeper pit. The rocks will add thermal mass which translates to more radiant heat. Do NOT use rocks soaked in water. If no dry stones are available, go without. The pit will still be functional. Hot river rocks can explode and send sharp shards flying.

If you have plenty of rocks, line the outer rim of the upper cooking surface. Again, this isn’t necessary. If stones are limited, cut two logs and lay them parallel to one another on the outside edges of the pit. Green saplings can be laid over the logs/rocks to form a grilling grate. If you have a metal grill grate at your basecamp, use it. Cut one sapling to support one end of your grate while the other end rests on the rocks.

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A cheap metal grill grate is handy for basecamp

Fire It

Use your fire craft skills and build a fire in the upper hole. You want good seasoned (dead standing) hardwood for your fire to produce abundant coals for cooking. In my location, hardwood is abundant. However, folks have cooked over lesser wood and even brush when that was the only thing available. In other words, use what you have available.

A blown over Red Oak near my shelter has provided firewood at basecamp for over two years. I cut two limbs about 5 foot long and 6 inches in diameter and hauled them back to camp. My experience has been that splitting the long logs into quarters first saves me energy and sawing time. Place the full-length quartered wood on your camp sawbuck and cut to your desired length. I simply saw them in half and split them down further to kindling size with my hatchet. Learn to safely handle axes, saws, and knives if you cook much over an open fire.

Campfire Cooking- Grill, Cook, and Bake on One Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Fire it, Evan! ~ Photo courtesy of Mike Newsom

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I had the pleasure of having Evan, a local Boy Scout, and his dad, Mike get in some dirt time at basecamp. Evan started this fire with a ferro rod and cedar bark. Nicely done, bud!

Unless you’ve burned a good amount of wood in the upper pit, you won’t have enough coals to rake into the lower pit for baking. We pulled some coals into the lower pit and fed it to make a separate fire below. As the top fire  began to burn down, we kept feeding the lower fire. Timing is important if you plan to cook several items.

Cook It

Our menu included various cook times: Steak (10 min.), corn muffins (20 min.), and rice (25 minutes).

We dipped water from the creek in the basecamp bush pot and suspended it from a pot hook over the lower fire. Once boiling, we added rice. Somehow I had left my Old Bay seasoning at home. This meant bland rice unless we sopped it in the steak juice, which happened.

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Next up… corn muffins. In my canteen cup, I added water and the dry ingredients and mixed them together well. It appeared a bit soupy, but we poured the mix into foil cupcake sleeves anyway. The three-quarters full sleeves were placed into the make-shift reflector oven – a used, but clean, all stainless steel drywall finishing pan. The reflector oven was then placed on a level spot at the end of the lower pit near the radiant fire.

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The muffins browned on the side away from the flames first

After 5 minutes or so after setting the oven, two juicy rib eye steaks were pulled from the cooling water of the creek and placed on the grill top. I like my steak medium-rare. Evan prefers well-done. Mike said he just likes steak. And, yes, we cook to order at basecamp!

Manage It

To my surprise, the soupy corn muffin mix firmed up and began to rise within 5 minutes or so of being in the pit. This was due to fire management. To keep the fire hot we added wood before it needed wood. To better explain, adding wood to a low burning fire means you’re playing catch-up with the temperature aspect of baking. Even seasoned wood takes some time to drive moisture out and reach combustion temperature. However, that’s where creating surface area (kindling) with your ax can fix the situation. The wetter the wood, the longer it will take to reach that critical temperature and produce the desired radiant heat towards the reflector oven.

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The muffins browned on the side away from the flames

To gauge the heat entering your reflector oven, place you palm just in front of the oven and count to 5 quickly. If you reach 5 before nerves in the back of your hand tell your brain to jerk out of the heat, you’re at a good baking temperature (around 350 F). Any lower in the 5-count and the temperature in your oven goes up.

If you need to break camp, put out the fire in both pits. I use a 5 gallon bucket of water to throughly soak the fire until all smoke stops. Check under fire ring rocks for hidden embers that may still be alive. Be aware that pouring water on hot stones in the bottom pit will create steam and actually boil the water. There’s always the chance of flying shards of rock when cold water hits hot stone. Take precautions.

Eat It

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Honest grub!

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Mike and Evan improvising with a cedar stump as a dining table

Nothing tastes so satisfying as sharing honest grub cooked over a campfire with friends.

Here’s a video tutorial of the build if you prefer this medium…

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

 

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Real Food, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Off-Grid Winch: Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope

by Todd Walker

The power of simple machines, smartly employed, are capable of moving most anything. Over the years I helped my daddy move really heavy stuff in his plumbing/welding business and on our farm. He once moved and installed a new 3,000 gallon metal water tank at our elementary school using only ropes, pulleys, and levers… by himself.

Daddy didn’t possess superhuman strength, he simply understood the power of simple machines.

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.

Archimedes

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I first discovered this ingenious flip-flop winch from a YouTube demonstration by Mors Kochanski, the Godfather and author of Bushcraft. A search of flip-flop winches on YT will garner several clips demonstrating the power of using two logs and some rope. So why would I add my video to mix? Because it’s only theory until you put it into action by Doing the Stuff!

The flip-flop winch combines two simple machines, lever and pulley (wheel and axle), as a force multiplier to free vehicles stuck in the mud, safely dislodge hang-ups when felling trees, and/or move heavy rocks. I decided to pull my truck up a slight incline in a field.

Flip Flop Winch

In an emergency vehicle kit, weight and space are not an issue – unless you tool around in a Smart Car. For this winch, all you need are two logs and some rope. Of course, you’re not hauling eight foot logs in your vehicle. You will have to cut those with your truck ax or takedown bucksaw.

Material and Tools

  • Ax or Saw – cut two logs about 8 feet in length
  • Rope – non-elastic is preferable for safety reasons
  • Cordage – enough to make two loops about 1 foot in diameter
Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

L to R: Green paracord loops, 100′ of rope, truck saw, truck ax. Top pole – lever pole. Bottom pole – pulley pole.

Cut Two Poles

You’ve hit a ditch or snow bank (rarely happens in Georgia) in the hinter-boonies and need to get unstuck. Reach into your vehicle emergency kit and fetch your saw or ax. You have an emergency vehicle kit, right? Be sure to add 100 feet of strong rope to the kit if you haven’t already. A tow strap won’t be useful with this winch unless it’s really long.

Scout for a straight tree (dead or live – it’s an emergence) to cut. Anything between 4 to 6 inches in diameter is suitable. Cut two lengths in the 8 foot range. De-limb the poles by chopping any branches off with your sharp truck ax. You can saw them off but proper ax-manship makes quick work of the de-limbing. This process is best done by cutting from the trunk end to the top end of the pole. Keep the pole between your body and the moving ax.

Lever and Pulley Pole

Now that you’ve got two poles, one will be used as the “lever pole” and the other will be your “pulley pole.” I noticed in my video that I called the drum pole a “barrel” pole interchangeably. In this written tutorial, I will use “pulley pole” to hopefully clear up the verbiage. The terminology is not that important. What you need to know is that the pulley pole is where the rope will coil similarly to that of a modern come-along.

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Using Rig 2 causes the rope to coil on one side of the pulley pole

A larger diameter pulley will winch more rope with each revolution. The pulley pole I used was a standing dead pine which was a bit lightweight for the job. I was forced to drive two stakes in the ground to prevent the pulley pole from swinging in towards the tensioned rope in our video. With two people available, the stakes wouldn’t be necessary. A heavier pulley pole will solve the issue as well. I wanted to simulate and experiment with the lowest quality wood I could scavenge. The lever was a smaller dead cedar but the most solid of the two poles.

Locate an Anchor

The base of a live tree is perfect. A dead tree is not a good candidate. You’ll risk toppling the tree down if the object you’re pulling is really stuck or heavy. Wrap the rope around the base of the anchor twice and tie it off with a tensioning knot.

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The base of a Sourwood tree was used as an anchor point.

Ideally, you want the anchor point and the object you’re pulling to form a straight line sighted down the rope.

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Both truck and anchor point are lined up for optimal pull.

2 Rigging the Systems

Midway between the anchor and object lay the two poles perpendicular to one another. Run the rope on top of the pulley pole about a foot from the larger end of the pole. Pull the rope back under the pole to form a loop. Insert the lever pole into the loop from the side of the pulley pole where the loop is formed. Give yourself about a foot of lever sticking through the loop.

 

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The loop formed to receive the lever pole.

There are two methods of rigging the winch. Rig 1: One causes the rope to coil on both side of the pulley pole where the lever pole crosses (demonstrated on the video). Rig 2: This technique causes the rope to spool on one side of the pulley pole. I’ve found that the latter method causes less side-to-side torque since the rope remains in a straight line.

With the winch rigged, pull the slack out of the line and tie to the object you’re pulling. Another tension knot will work.

Start the Flip-Flop

Flip the lever pole up and over the pulley pole. Once on the ground, check the first wrap on the pulley pole. This is the time to straighten the loops around the pulley before real tension begins. Try to keep the rope from spooling on top of the previous coils as this may weaken the rope. With each flip-flop, the rope will begin coiling on the pulley pole.

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Rig 1: This set up will spool rope on both sides of the pulley pole (shown in the video)

Note: I’ve watched others spool rope on one side of the pulley pole only. This technique decreases the swing of the pulley pole towards the rope under tension. To use this method, place the rope attached to the anchor and the object on the same side of the lever pole before flip-flopping.

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Rig 2: One revolution with the rope spooling on one side of the pulley pole

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Notice how the rope coils to one side of the lever pole (Rig 2). With the rope in line, the pulley pole is less likely to torque in towards the tow rope..

Now, flop the pulley pole over the rope for the next flip of the lever. If the pulley pole was magically suspended off the ground, no flop would be required. This would become a Spanish windlass. You’d simple spin the lever around a wheel and axle. The earth prevents this continuous spin. But the ground is what keeps the system from unraveling. The flop of the pulley pole is necessary for the lever to make another 180 degree revolution.

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The rope spooling down the long end of the pulley pole (Rig 2).

Continue this of flip-flop action until the object is freed. Six full revolutions around the pulley is what it took to inch my truck up the incline to level ground in the video.

Flip-Flop Tips When Alone

If you practice the technique with rope coiling on the pulley pole on both sides of the lever, you’ll find that the pulley has a tendency to swing in towards the rope as tension increases. My fix was to drive two stakes on opposite sides of the rope where the pulley pole lands on each flop. If the ground is too hard for stakes, a heavy rock or object may prevent the slide. As mentioned above, a heavier pulley pole would decrease the chances of this happening.

Experimenting with the rope spooling on one side of the pulley pole remedied the torque issues. I recommend using this method (Rig 2) vs. the rope spooling on opposite sides of the lever pole (Rig 1).

Also, under tension, the lever pole can rise off the ground with either method. Attach a loop of cordage on the tow rope where the flipped lever lands. Slide the loop over the lever on each flip once a good amount of tension is present.

Off Grid Winch - Incredible Power from Two Logs and a Rope - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A Prussic Loop is a quick way to connect to the standing rope

Disconnecting the Rig

Obviously, once a vehicle is freed, the rope is no longer under tension. However, when pulling a tree or rock, tension can be released by reversing direction of the flip-flop. Once tension is removed, the spooled line can be handled safely.

Safety Concerns

There are inherent dangers when tension is applied to a rope or cable. If the rope has elasticity and snaps, the potential energy turns to kinetic energy moving like a slingshot or bow and arrow in opposite directions. Use rope without elasticity, nicks, abrasions, and a working load suitable for the task.

If you’re alone, you must cross over the rope in this process. Minimize the risk from flying rope by laying a heavy coat or blanket (if available) on the rope at both ends. With two people, nobody has to step over the taut line.

Another safety precaution is to wear leather gloves and eye protection. A smart thing to have handy is a knife handy to cut the rope if you somehow manage to get a hand pinched between the rope and pulley. Not sure how that might happen but better safe than sorry.

This powerful simple machine takes practice to perform properly. With a minimum of tools and some rope, the flip-flop winch can be a life saver on the homestead or in the backcountry. Add it to your preparedness toolbox. Give it a try and share your results.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

 

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Gear, Homesteading, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Bushcraft a Hollow Log Crawfish Trap

by Todd Walker

If you never experienced an angry creek lobster clamped to the end of your finger as a young creek-walker, you missed a childhood rite of passage. If the crawfish was of sufficient size, bleeding would soon follow. But that taste, oh, that wonderful, heavenly tail meat, boiled up in your tin can hobo stove by the creek side, made the pain a distant memory.

How to Bushcraft a Hollow Log Crawfish Trap - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

My brother and I were well acquainted with these woodland decapods (ten-footed crustaceans). Craig and I would catch them by hand, mostly. A cane pole with a hunk of blue gill or tadpole hooked at the end of the line would be employed to coax larger mud bug from hideouts when neither of us were brave enough to go in bare-handed. Clamped to the bait, a greedy crawfish will usually hang on until you drag him slowly out of the water and into your tin can.

Another successful method came in the form of a “scavenged” window screen. Sorry about that one, Daddy. But it worked. Tie strings to the corners of the slightly bent frame and knot them a few feet above the center. Tie bait to the middle of the screen and lower it in the creek. Pull the trap out when you see crawfish on top of the trap. You’ll lose a few but will catch enough.

You may never run across a window screen or hardware cloth in the woods but hollow logs are plentiful…

Hollow Log Trap

While collecting resources in the woods last month for my river cane fish trap, I ran across a hollow log. Mr. Steve Watts shared a diagram of a simple fish trap crafted from a hollow log in his book, Practicing Primitive. If it worked for fish, it could be modified to catch crawfish, I thought. Even in his recent passing, his legacy and influence lives on.

I chopped a section of the log and hauled it back to base camp. It sat there for a few weeks as I conjured a way to catch mud bugs in a hollow log. Here’s my adaptation of Steve’s simple trap design…

Material

  • Hollow log section with an opening just larger than the size of my fist
  • Vines and sticks to craft an entrance funnel
  • Rock or stick to plug the opposite end – or weave two funnels for both ends
  • A rock large enough to keep the log submerged
Surviving Large on Small Stuff - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A hollow log about 2 feet long with a 4″ opening.

Weave a Funnel

I have an abundance of wild grape vine near my shelter. The honeysuckle patch was further away but would also be well suited for the task. Any flexible vine or material would work. With little effort, I found several young vines stretching up a nearby tree.

On larger diameter grape vines you’ll often find long, stringy tendrils hanging down from the main vine. Not sure what their proper name or function is, but you’ll recognize them when you see them. They remind me of hippy beads hanging from the doorways in my past. I used a few of these in the weaving.

How to Bushcraft a Hollow Log Crawfish Trap - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Weaving the vines through the river cane ribs

Take and odd number of sticks (5 to 9) about eight inches long and shove them into the ground at an angle to form a one to two-inch circle at the base. This allows you to weave vines between the ribs which will save you large amounts of frustration. I used split river cane for my ribs which were left over from my recent fish trap project.

Begin weaving vines at ground level alternating between the uprights. Continue this weaving pattern until the funnel is large enough to cover the log opening.

Attach Funnel

Insert the funnel into the opening of the log. For this test, I closed the smaller end by driving a wrist-size stick into the opposite opening.

Hunt-Gather-Eat- Identifying Plants the Real Food Eats - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The woven funnel is inserted in one end of a hollow log with the other opening plugged to create a bushcraft crawfish trap.

You’ll want to secure the funnel(s) to the log. On my first test, I used a few long vines as cordage to wrap and secure the funnel to the log. This method was not as secure as using commercial cordage but did work better than a friction fit only.

Bait the Trap

As for bait choices, I’ve found crawfish prefer fresh bait and lots of it. Fish heads, frogs (not toads), fresh entrails, chicken liver or gizzard work. They also seem to love bacon! Who doesn’t, right?

Surviving Large on Small Stuff - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Plug the smaller hole with a stick or rock. You could also craft a funnel for this opening. 

Before closing the trap ends, place your preferred bait inside the log. I cut a chunk of my homemade, dry cured bacon and tossed it into the hollow log, secured the trap ends, and set the trap in the creek.

Set the Trap

Find a spot near the edge of a creek or pond you can easily reach. For creek or stream use, a weak current or eddy current is preferred. The water needs to be deep enough to completely submerge the trap.

How to Bushcraft a Hollow Log Crawfish Trap - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A flat rock holding the trap under water

Most wood is less dense than water and therefore floats. To sink the log tarp, I leaned a heavy, flat rock on top to keep it submerged. I then went about my day working on some fire craft skills at base camp. An hour later I had two creek lobsters in my pot.

Surviving Large on Small Stuff - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A few crawfish in the bucket for dinner.

This type trap has limitations. Unlike commercial traps, you’d have a difficult time submerging a wooden trap in deeper lake water. My main purpose was to craft a trap from items found in the woods. But make no mistake, the hollow log trap is more than a novelty item. It will catch a delicious woodland delicacy!

Related Resources

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

How to Make a River Cane Fish Trap

by Todd Walker

Give a man a fish and he eats for a day… teach him to make a fish trap and he feeds himself and his tribe!

How to Make a River Cane Fish Trap - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

On the heels of our last post on river cane, I thought you may be interested in how to build a traditional fish trap. The beauty of any kind of trapping device is its ability to passively gather protein while you spend valuable time doing other stuff. Set it and forget it.

This funnel trap is not a “survival” trap. Your time would be better spent in a short-term survival scenario than burning calories collecting resources and lashing cane. However, for a long-term, consistent fish-catcher, take your time and build it to last.

Admiration and many thumbs-up signs go out to all aboriginal people who built one of these from scratch. The sheer amount of cordage needed is daunting enough using modern bank line. If my only lashing option was natural cordage, I’d choose to make a woven basket to eliminate the cordage requirement. Raw hide may have been used by our ancestors. I had enough bank line, so I used it.

Building a River Cane Fish Trap

Before you get your taste buds riled up, check your local game laws regarding fish traps. In my state of Georgia, you must have a commercial fishing license and traps have to be built to meet certain standards with respect to materials, size, and use. This trap fails the state standard. Chicken wire is required and does not grow naturally in the eastern woodlands. River cane does and was used to construct this self-reliance experiment for educational purposes only.

Our video tutorial is up for those who like this format:

Material and Tools

  • River cane of various lengths and diameter (thumb-size to pencil-size and at least 6 feet long). Non-native bamboo is a good substitute.
  • Cordage ~ Bank line, jute twine, or raw hide and natural cordage for the purists.
  • Knife or pruning shears

You’ll need lots of time, patience, and knots once you gather the river cane.

Build 3 Hoops

Either use freshly cut cane or other flexible branches. In my experience, cane cut over a week ago won’t bend for the hoops without heating. All I had was older cut cane at my shelter when I began this project. I improvised and tested two pencil-size species: Tulip Poplar and American Beech. Tulip poplar worked for the largest hoop (15 inch diameter) but was too brittle for the medium (12 inches) and smallest (8 inches). All three of the hoops on the larger funnel are beech limbs.

River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Cut lengths for your desired diameter. Overlap the ends and lash together. I started the lashing with a bowline knot and terminated the lashing with a clove hitch. Apply gentle pressure to the hoops to create round supports for the river cane ribs to be attached.

Harvest and Prepare Cane Ribs

Harvesting river cane has inherent risks. Snakes, chiggers, and ticks make canebrakes home. Prepare accordingly.

River cane has two leaf types: Clum leaf and branch leaves. Clum leaves form a protective sheath which hug the clum upward from each node. The branch leaves grow from the end of the new branches coming off nodes.

To remove the clum leaves, grip and twist the sheath-like leaf at each node. It’s not necessary to remove these leaves if you’re pressed for time. Then again, if you’re pressed for time, this project may not be for you. The branches protruding from the upper nodes are easily removed by pulling them down towards the base of the clum.

Trim and blunt the ends of the cane to avoid accidental puncture or cuts while building and using your trap.

Attach Cane Ribs

Use four of your more robust canes to start framing your trap. It’s not that important which knots/lashings you use. They just need to hold the ribs securely to the hoops. I used square lashing with bank line on most of the ribs initially. However, as more cane is added to the frame, space becomes limited. Get creative with knots.

How to Make a River Cane Fish Trap - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Attach the larger ends of the tapered cane to the largest hoop at 12:00, 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00 with about a couple of inches overlapping past the hoop. Repeat the process about halfway down the four canes with the medium hoop. I found that laying the frame on the ground to attach the remaining hoops speeds up the process.

Lash the smallest hoop about 18 inches from the middle hoop. With the three hoops attached to the four canes, you have a steady framework on which to add the remaining ribs. Don’t worry about cutting all the ribs to the same length at the onset. They can run wild and be trimmed even at the end of the project.

Add more cane ribs… Add more cane… Add more… you get the picture. This labor of love eats up most of you time. As the spacing between ribs narrowed, I began tying a modified diagonal lashing. On tight spaces, I simply wrapped the cordage around the cane and hoop and tied a square knot.

The spacing between canes at the opening of the trap are naturally wider than those at the tip end. After testing, I may have to weave cordage between the ribs to add rigidity to the funnel and lessen the chance of smaller fish escaping. I’ll update you after the field test.

Build the Inner Funnel

On this day, I had freshly cut river cane. I used it to make two hoops. I can say that it is better and more flexible than the beech used in the larger funnel.

How to Make a River Cane Fish Trap - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The interior funnel hoop is slightly smaller in diameter than the opening of the large funnel. The small hoop of the interior funnel was about 7 inches in diameter.

Build the frame of this funnel in the same manner as the larger one. Use smaller diameter cane with the large ends attached at the larger hoop (opening end). Allow the smaller, more flexible ends to run past the smaller inside hoop by 6 to 7 inches.

In theory, doing so will allow fish to swim through the flexible funnel end but prevent them from leaving. Kinda like a line from the Eagles hit song, Hotel California… “you can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave.”

Connect the Two Funnels

Once the interior funnel is complete, insert it into the larger funnel opening. Lash the two hoops together so that the inside funnel is somewhat straight and even with the large funnel. Secure the hoops at several points around their circumference in a permanent fashion.

How to Make a River Cane Fish Trap - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Inner funnel secured

You’re almost done!

Close the Trap Tip

Gather the cane at the tip of the trap at a point with about 6 inches of cane remaining. Lash this point with a knot that is secure but can be easily untied. This is the end you will untie and empty your trap of all the fish you’ve caught… fingers crossed.

How to Make a River Cane Fish Trap - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Once the tip end is lashed, trim the wild ends. One whack from a machete on a chopping block and your done.

One last detail you’ll need to take care of if you use nylon bank line. Cut and melt the ends of all those tag ends of cordage. If you have a soldering torch (not very primitive, I know), simply burn the tag ends so they don’t unravel. Take care not to melt the lashings or set the cane on fire. Melted nylon is no joke on your skin. Be careful.

Bait the Trap

Wrap your bait of choice in panty hose or cheese cloth and suspend it from the inside of the trap. Catfish like stinky stuff like chicken liver, dead fish, and commercial blood bait.

Attach a sturdy line(s) to a larger rib/hoop junction for lowering and raising the trap. You’ll also want to attach an anchor to sink the trap as river cane floats. Use a jug at the end of the line to mark your trap in deep water. Near the bank you can tie the line to a tree or limb. My experience with chicken wire traps in my childhood was that I caught more turtles than catfish in shallow waters.

Leave the trap submerged for several hours or overnight. Check the trap regularly and follow local game and fishing laws.

 

An update will be coming on the functionality of the trap. Max and I didn’t have time to get it in the pond. If it’s anything like the chicken wire traps we used years ago, we won’t go hungry if we ever have to depend on this river cane trap.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Primal Skills, Self-reliance, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

River Cane: 25 Self-Reliant Uses for “Cherokee Plastic”

by Todd Walker

Bamboo can quickly takes over yards and even entire fields. Though it has many uses world-wide, non-native woody grasses are not our topic of discussion. Today we’ll cover what some describe as the Cherokee Nation’s equivalent to modern plastic… River Cane.

River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

River cane (grass family, Poaceae) is the only native bamboo in the eastern woodlands. Three have been identified: River cane (Arundinaria gigantea), Switch cane (Arundinaria tecta), and a newly discovered (2007) native bamboo called Hill cane (Arundinaria appalachiana). Source

Historical accounts of vast canebrakes stretching for miles along river floodplains were noted by early explorers of the New World. William Bartram, America’s first professional botanist, described clums of river cane “as thick as a mans arm.” John Lawson (1674-1711) recorded that one culm (hollow stem) of river cane could hold “about of pint of liquor.” Cheers!

Without delving into the botanical differences, which would require more space than this article allows, the historical use of cane is well documented as a rich resource for self-reliance. It’s uses are not lost on modern primitive practitioners and experimental archeologists.

Below are three books on primitive skills and technology which have helped me on my journey of experimental archeology and the practice of primitive skills…

I never had the pleasure of personally meeting and learning from Steve Watts but he treated me like a good friend through our online communications. His recent untimely passing spurred me to re-read his book, Practicing Primitive: A Handbook of Aboriginal Skills.

I’m fortunate to have Scott Jones, a student and colleague of Mr. Watts, less than an hour from my Georgia home. I’ve had the pleasure of attending several of his Workshops at the Woods. I have both of his books, A View to the Past, and his most recent work, Postcards to the Past: Context and Continuity in Primitive Technology, gifted to me by my good friend, Kevin Bowen.

My pursuit of primitive technology and skills is largely due to these two authors. Outside the modest cane fishing pole, most of the cane projects within this article come from Watts and Jones.

Though my cane craft is limited, every Georgia country boy I know is intimately familiar with catching blue gill from ponds and creek banks with a homemade cane pole. The use of river cane extends far beyond boys fishing and raising cane on hot summer days. Below I’ve listed 25 traditional uses for this amazing plant.

25 Uses for River Cane in Self-Reliance

Hunting

  • Arrow Shafts ~ A preferred material for Southeastern Native American tribes.
  • Atlatl and Darts ~ Cane was used to make darts for these spear throwing tool. Jones describes in Postcards from the Past (pg. 193) and has made spear-throwers entirely from cane.
  • Knife ~ Some tribes made fire-hardened knives from cane capable of skinning game. I have a deep cut on my knuckle which is finally healing from a brush with sharp river cane.
  • Blow Gun ~ Nodes (joints) were removed to form a long, hollow tube of cane to blow darts from. These were effective in hunting small game animals and birds.

Fishing

  • Fish Trap ~ The Cherokee used a funnel style trap at an opening of rock dams and weirs in steams to catch fish.
River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Cane fish trap in progress

  • Split Cane Gig ~ Easy to carve and fire-harden harpoon style gigs for fish or other aquatic species.
  • Floats ~ A small clum between both nodes can be used for a line float on a cane pole.
  • Jug Fishing ~ Bundle several lengths of cane together with a line and hook attached for passive jug fishing.

Containers

  • Baskets ~ Cane was split into splints and woven into baskets for food gathering and storage, clothing storage, ceremonial uses, and day-to-day containers. Natural pigment were used to dye and decorate.
  • Mats ~ Woven mats were used for covering walls, floors, bedding, burial, and seating.
  • Cane Vial ~ The hollow portion of a clum makes a great container for storing liquid, salt, pepper, medicine, needles, etc.
River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A vial for my repair kit

  • Sheaths ~ I traded with James Gibson (Knob Creek Forge) for this handy antler-handled awl with a river cane sheath.
River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A simple but effective sheath

Wildlife

Canebrakes are an ecosystem unto themselves.

River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A small canebrake

  • At least 23 mammal species, 16 bird species, four reptile species and seven invertebrates that occur within canebrakes (Platt et al. 2001). Source
  • Swainson’s warbler builds it’s nests in dense canebrakes.
  • Canebrake Rattlesnake (endangered) live and hunt in canebrakes.
  • Whitetail deer eat young shoots in the spring.

Farming

  • Food ~ Attractive to many grazing bovine, young cane was the highest yielding native pasture in the Southeast. Indians managed large canebrakes by controlled burning every 7 to 10 years. For humans, boil and eat young shoots in early spring and summer.
  • Riparian Buffer ~ Canebrakes improve water quality by filtering ground water nitrates/phosphates, trapping sediment, and stabilizing erosion.
  • Tomato Stakes ~ If river cane isn’t abundant in your area, use bamboo instead.
River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Bamboo or cane is a great garden companion

Construction

  • Shelter ~ Cane and other flexible saplings were used in wattle-and-daub walled houses.
River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The crew from Georgia Bushcraft constructing a shelter from river cane’s cousin (bamboo).

  • Watercraft ~ Bundles of hollow river cane lashed together to form pontoons.
  • Pipes ~ Stem for smoke pipes.
  • Blow Tube ~ Perfect for making burn and scrap containers and spoons.
River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A burn and scrap spoon made while camping with Bill Reese (Instinct Survivalist)

  • Furniture ~ Chairs, beds, tables, etc.

Crafts

River Cane- 25 Self-Reliant Uses for -Cherokee Plastic- - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Two excellent resources: A river cane handle on a tulip poplar bark berry basket.

  • Paint Brush ~ A short, hollow portion of river cane will accept animal hair or plant fibers to form a brush.
  • Jewelry ~ Necklaces, bracelets, and pendants can be made from cane.
  • Burnishing Tool ~ Used to burnish leather edges or other craft items.

Music

  • Flute ~ A famous poet from Georgia, Sidney Lanier, was also a flutist. It is said that he made his first flute from river cane collected on the Ocmulgee River in central Georgia.
  • Whistle ~ Hank at Sensible Survival shows you how to make a simple survival whistle.

We are fortunate to have such a rich native resource growing in our Southeastern woodlands. Efforts are being made to reestablish river cane on land once covered with native bamboo. Keep stewardship in mind when harvesting from canebrakes. Select only what you need without over-harvesting. Non-native bamboo can be substituted for many of these projects mentioned.

In what ways have you used cane for self-reliance?

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Gardening, Homesteading, Lost Skills, Preparedness, Primal Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

How to Carve 7 Pot Hooks for Classic Camp Cooking

by Todd Walker

How to Carve 7 Pot Hooks for Classic Camp Cooking - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

You’ve probably heard the adage, “Practice makes perfect.” This statement is misleading. The truth is…

Practice makes permanent!

In other words, the more you use your knife, correctly or incorrectly, the more permanent your skill becomes. Use poor technique long enough and you’ll be a danger to yourself and others.

 

If you’re new to camping and outdoor self-reliance, learning to safely handle a knife is essential. Even old-timers like myself can learn new tricks. I covered some basic knife safety issues in our recent article if you’d like a refresher.

Today we’ll covering a few basic notches which not only hone knife skills but create functional camp comforts… mainly for your camp kitchen.

Knife Selection

For an all-around camp carving knife, look for one that has the following features.

  • Simple ~ Gadgets look cool but aren’t practical. The only true way to build knife skills is to practice with a simple blade.
  • Grind ~ For carving tasks, I prefer a blade with a Scandinavian grind. Here’s a link with diagrams comparing multiple grinds from L.T. Wright Handcrafted Knives. There is not one perfect grind for all camp/woodcraft tasks. It’s hard to beat a Scandi grind for carving, though.
  • Length ~ My dedicated carving knife (Mora 120) at home measures 2.5 inches. In the woods, my Mora knives, either the Companion (4″) or Classic 2/0 (2-7/8″), are excellent for fine carving tasks. These knifes are inexpensive yet build to last. A blade length of 3 to 4 inches is ideal for fine carving in the field.
  • Handle ~ After hours of carving, you’ll find a smooth, round handle which fits in your hand to be more comfortable than fancy textured handles.
L to R: LT Wright Genesis, Mora Companion, Opinel No. 8, and Mora Classic 2/0

L to R: LT Wright Genesis, Mora Companion, Opinel No. 8, and Mora Classic 2/0

My main belt knife (pictured at far left above) is larger and more robust than the knives previously mentioned. However, it too can be, and has been, employed in fine carving tasks. Skills learned with smaller knives are easily transferred to a larger blade.

The Pot Hook Notch

Eating a hardy breakfast and dinner cooked over a campfire requires proper tools. With these basic notches, your camp kitchen will be well-equipped for cooking.

There are several ways to craft a pot hook. This article illustrates techniques using both straight and forked sticks.

Straight Stick Pot Hook

Find a straight stick measuring elbow to finger tip just larger than thumb diameter. Seasoned (dry) or green wood works, with greenwood carving easiest. A soft hardwood like Tulip Poplar, Basswood, or any sapling fortune sends will work.

The location of your pot hook notch should be a few inches (3 to 4 fingers width) from the end of the stick. Any closer to the end and you risk breaking the notch while hot dinner dangles over the fire.

The quickest method is to baton an “X” pattern on the stick using your knife. The blade should penetrate the wood at least half to two-thirds deep. Carve out the upper half of the X-pattern where the two lines of the X intersect. You’ll also carve out the wood next to the bottom, outside portion of the X. This will create a raised V pattern resembling a bird beak as you look down the stick. Hence the name, Beak Notch.

How to Carve 7 Pot Hooks for Classic Camp Cooking - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The Pot Hook or Beak Notch

Carve out the wood under the point of the beak where the bail of your bush pot will rest. Test the fit by placing your empty pot on the hook and give the stick a sudden twist. If the pot doesn’t fly off, your notch is deep enough.

Care should be taken in stick selection when hanging cast iron cookware. Use a robust stick and only carve the notch to the pith (halfway) for added pot hook strength.

Hanging the Straight Pot Hook

There are a few options for hanging your newly carved pot hook. Since you’ve got the pot hook notch technique down, carve another notch at the other end of the stick so that the beaks are pointing towards each other. However, for balance, carve the additional notch on the opposite side of the stick at 180 degrees from the first notch on the other end of the stick.

The Speygelia is a long stick used to suspend pots over a fire.

The Speygelia is a long stick used to suspend pots over a fire.

Depending on stick length, you’ll want to carve 3 or 4 additional notches to adjust pot height over the fire. These notches will rest on a longer stick (Speygelia) with a chiseled tip propped over the fire. This longer stick is anchored in the ground by an inverted Y-stake or simply wedged under a rock or log.

My basecamp pot hanging from a tripod.

My basecamp pot hanging from a tripod.

A tripod also works well for straight pot hooks with a hole notch on the end.

The Hole Notch

Mors Kochanski teaches a method of carving a hole in the end of the pot hook for hanging. This notch is also helpful with camp construction projects.

The steps to carving a hole in a stick are:

  1. A few inches from the hanging end, remove stock from both sides until one third of the original is left in the center.
  2. Score a line an inch from the end of the 1/3rd piece with your knife. Score another line 1/2 inch up the stick. Between these lines is where the hole will be carved.
  3. With the butt/pommel of your knife in the palm of your hand, cut a quarter inch section across the grain on the score mark. This is done best by rocking the point of your knife perpendicularly across the wood grain. Repeat this cut on both score marks and make matching cuts on the opposite side of the stock.
  4. Make a rectangle by scoring a line which connects the crosscuts. Repeat on opposite side.
  5. Insert the point of your knife in the middle of one long side of the rectangle you created in step 4. Pry the wood up and out. Repeat on the opposite side. The thickness of your stock may require more prying and crosscutting but the rectangle should pop out to create a hole.
  6. Clean up the inside edges of the hole with your knife point. Insert cordage or wire for hanging the pot hook. I like this application for my camp tripod.
Hole notches in both straight and forked pot hooks.

Hole notches in both straight and forked sticks.

Toggle Method

A down-n-dirty method Dave Canterbury teaches for hanging a bush pot over a fire is to use a simple wooden toggle. Cut a shallow V notch in the middle of a finger-size stick about hand length. Tie a piece of cordage to the middle and hang from a tripod. Slip the toggle through the bail of your bush pot and your ready to cook.

How to Build a Bushcraft Tripod for Your Outdoor Kitchen

Toggle holding a cast iron squirrel pot

Forked Stick Pot Hooks

The Pot-Claw

The most expedient pot hook may be what Daniel Carter Beard called the Pot-claw in The Book of Camp-lore and Woodcraft (1920). The Pot-claw requires only one beak notch to be functional. However, more beak notches may be added for raising or lowering pots over the fire. Crave a pot lifter for removing the pot from the fire (details at the end of this article). And remember, we’re practicing knife craft so add more notches.

A variety of pot hooks hanging on a waugan stick. L to R: Straight pot hook with hole notch, Pot-claw, and Gallow-crook.

A variety of pot hooks hanging on a waugan stick. L to R: Straight pot hook with hole notch, Pot-claw, and Gallow-crook.

Select a sapling or tree limb with a Y-branch with similar diameters mentioned previously. Trim the smaller Y-hook to four-finger length. Carve a pot hook notch a the end of the stick so that it is pointing up on the opposite side from the Y-hook.

The Gallow-Crook

This pot hook in classic camping literature is basically a pot-claw with a twist. Cut a sturdy sapling which has a small, flexible Y-branch attached. Bend this branch to form a loop and lash it to the larger sapling to form a loop. Carve a series of beak notches opposite the loop. Place the loop through your waugan stick for a secure pot hook.

A Gallow-crook hanging from a waugan-stick with a bipod, which is adustable both horizontally and verically.

A Gallow-crook hanging from a waugan stick with a bipod which is adjustable both horizontally and vertically.

The Gib

One other pot hook used in the Classic Camping era was called the Gib. This hook requires two forked sticks spliced together. It’s not a slight on your woodsman prowess if you use two nails to make the Gib. Old timers often carried a few nails when camping. No beak notches are needed when using metal fasteners. You pot hangs from the nail.

Using a beak notch to splice two forked sticks together

Using a beak notch and V-notch to splice two forked sticks together

Cordage is another option for joining the two forked sticks. With either fastener, carve away half of the stock from the ends of both sticks the length of your hand. The flat parts are located on the opposite sides of the forked branches so the hooks are on opposite sides of the Gib.

Carve a beak notch on the rounded part of one stick opposite the flat area on one end and a V-notch on the other end of the other stick. Mate the flat surfaces together and lash with cordage. I’ve found tarred mariner’s line works well even over a fire.

Start with a timber hitch or clove hitch over the beak notch. Wrap the remaining cordage and tightening as you go. Wrap to the V-notch and terminate the lash with a clove hitch.

The Gib is useful at a more permanent basecamp when you have more time to set up your kitchen. On the fly, simply drive a nail in the end of a forked stick… no notching required.

Hanging Forked Pot Hooks

Traditional woodcrafters and classic campers used a Waugan stick atop two Y-sticks driven in the ground. On frozen ground, two tripods or a tree and a bipod can be employed to support the waugan cross stick. The bipod can be lifted and moved so the waugan stick and pot hooks are completely away from the fire if the need arises. Maneuverability of this setup offers a drying rack for wet camp clothing and gear near the fire when the meal is done.

Your pot-claw and all other forked pot holders are hung on the waugan stick over the fire. For versatility, several hooks can be employed when cooking camp dishes when more company is expected.

Pot Lifter and Pourer

I first saw these last two ideas employed by Chris Noble from Master Woodsman. Hot bush pots can be safely carried and poured using a forked stick. Cut the tops of the Y so they fit through the bail of your pot. Carve a beak notch just above the Y with the beak pointing toward the handle. Flatten the two ends of the Y-stick with your knife for added stability when pouring the pot.

Lift the pot bail in the beak notch. To pour, tilt the pot slowly until the Y makes contact with the pot rim for safe pouring of hot soup or beverage.

 

IMG_5031

Lantern Hook

One last idea for the pot hook notch comes from Chris Noble who made and installed one like this on our Georgia Bushcraft shelter. Cut a Y-stick and shave the back flat. Carve a beak on one end and a V-notch on the other. Lash the piece to a tree or post at basecamp for a lantern hook.

Coat hook or lantern stand using a pot hook notch.

Coat hook or lantern stand using a pot hook notch.

Developing competence with a knife can only be achieved through practice. And the best part is you can practice these skills in your own backyard or anywhere sticks grow.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Cherokees Used Trees of Southern Appalachia for Food, Medicine, and Craft

by Todd Walker

How Cherokees Used Trees of Southern Appalachia for Food, Medicine, and Craft - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Foraging wild food requires practice, knowledge, and experience on your landscape. Notice I used the word your land. What you’ve read in books and watched on YouTube may not apply to your locale. While survival principles may never change, self-reliance is local.

Many of us are self-taught in skills of wilderness living. However, one way to shorten your learning curve is to find an experienced skills practitioner in your area who is actually Doing the Stuff. After receiving instruction, you gain knowledge. Knowledge weighs nothing but is not enough. You make knowledge applicable through time and experience and context. There is no substitute for time in your woods.

I had the recent pleasure of attending my third class at Medicine Bow, A Primitive School of Earthlore in the North Georgia Mountains. If you look up Renaissance Man in the dictionary, Mark Warren’s bio should appear, but won’t. He’s not only a walking encyclopedia of woods-lore, he won the U.S.National Champion in Slalom/Downriver combined and the World Championship Longbow Tournament in 1999. On top of his wealth of outdoor knowledge, he is also a musical composer and published author.

Mark’s knowledge of the Cherokee uses of plants and trees is the foundation for anyone interested in wilderness living and self-reliance. I wrote him an email after the class asking assistance on a question for this article. I wanted to know the degree to which Cherokees depended on domesticated crops verses wild foods.

Mark’s response:

“Everyone knows about Cherokee farming and the 3 sisters (corn, squash, and beans), but the wild growth of forest and field was actually “farmed” too, by pruning or clearing for light. For example, swamp dogwoods were pruned to encourage survival shoots for basketry and arrow shafts. Large areas along flood plains were burned to help create a monopoly of river cane (for the same two crafts). A lot of those “brakes” can still be seen. The same is true of foods. I have a sense of why Amicalola was sacred to the Cherokee. I suspect it was for the prolific sochani that grows there. It’s also called green-headed coneflower. Cherokee women in NC still harvest it in spring and freeze for the year.”

Click here for more information on Sochani (Green-Headed Coneflower).

Think about this astounding bit of research…
“The Cherokees of the 19th century are listed as having around 800 plants in their repertoire (Mooney, 1992). This from a pool of about 2,400 species of plants to work from or about a third!” ~ Source

Every year I add more plants and trees to my food-medicine-craft list. But 800! I’ve got a lot to learn and experience.

“In the school of the woods, there is no graduation day.” 

~ Horace Kephart

Trees of Southern Appalachia

Wild plant foragers get excited this time of the year. Green shoots make their way through the soil for another growing season. Autumn turns to winter and the smorgasbord disappears. But trees, they stand ready to share their resources year-round.

Winter tree identification would not be challenging if trees would stop dropping their leaves. Mark taught winter botany lessons which I had never been exposed to. Sharing all I learned would take several articles. For our purposes today, we will explore 3 of my favorite trees in my woods and how the Cherokee and settlers used them for food, medicine, and craft resources.

Tulip Tree

Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) it is not a poplar at all. It is actually in the Magnolia ((Magnoliaceae)) family of flowering trees. There are many common names for Liriodendron tulipifera besides Tulip Poplar… Yellow Poplar, Canoe Wood, Yellow Wood, and Tulip Tree. That is one reason it is important to use scientific names of plants and trees… if you can manage to pronounce them. This will remove any confusion over common names.

Related Resource: Trees for Self-Reliance

Food

The Tulip Tree, while not a nutritional powerhouse, is a favorite of mine mainly for craft and outdoor self-reliance. Tulip Tree blooms are a main source of nectar for honey bees which produces a dark, amber honey loaded with antioxidants.

  • The only part of a Tulip Tree that I know is edible is the nectar in the flowering blooms.
  • Edit: Darryl Patton, The Southern Herbalist, sent me a message saying he collects, dries, and pounds the inner bark into flour for baking in his spring classes. Thank you, Darryl.

Medicine

Tulip Tree’s inner bark and leaves were used medicinally by the Cherokee and settlers in Appalachia for treating…

  • Poultice from leaves for inflammation and sores.
  • Inner bark tea for periodic fevers, diarrhea, pinworms, as a digestive aid and for rheumatic pain.
  • Supposedly, inner bark was chewed as an aphrodisiac.
  • The bark could also serve as a substitute for quinine in treating malaria.
  • Tooth aches.
  • Used as a tonic to induce perspiration to treat fevers.
  • Root bark and seeds useful as a wormer for the body.
  • Cough syrup from bark.

Craft

  • Fire Craft ~ Wood for friction fire, inner bark for tinder, hot, quick burning firewood which does not produce long-lasting coals like other hardwoods.
  • Cordage ~ Inner bark fibers can be processed into cordage and rope.
When Primitive Skills and Prepping Have Sex | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Indigenous cordage: Clockwise from 12:00 ~ Dogbane; Tulip Tree; Okra, and Yucca.

  • Containers ~ Outer bark crafted into berry baskets, arrow quivers, and larger pack baskets.
  • Carving ~ The soft hardwood lends itself to easy carving of spoons, bowls, pottery paddles, canoe paddles, and even the canoe itself. One common name of this tree is Canoe Wood.
This design will be carved into the Tulip Tree and used to imprint designs on primitive process pottery.

This design will be carved into the Tulip Tree paddle and used to imprint designs on primitive process pottery.

  • Insulation ~ Shredded inner bark can be stuffed between layers of clothing to create dead air space to retain body heat in a survival situation.
  • Roofing/Siding ~ Outer bark slabs used for shingles and siding on shelters.

Hickory

Hickories make excellent wildlife resource as squirrels and feral pigs love to eat their nut meat. Pignut (Carya glabra), Mockernut (Carya tomentosa), and Shagbark (Carya ovata) are the three hickories I’m most familiar with in Georgia, Mockernut being the most common.

Food

  • Sap ~ Sap water from hickories can be consumed without treatment.
  • Nuts ~ Contains fats (18g/serving), protein (3.6g/serving), and carbohydrates (5 g/serving) – Serving size = 1 oz.
  • Hickory syrup from crushed and processed nuts.
  • Cooking oil from nuts.
  • Kunuche (ku-nu-che) ~ A traditional Cherokee hickory nut soup.
  • Nuts with exterior husks are useful as charcoal for cooking food.
Scott Jones using hickory nuts as charcoal

Scott Jones (Media Prehistoria) using hickory nuts as charcoal.

  • Hickory Milk ~ “They pound them to pieces, and then cast them into boiling water, which, after passing through fine strainers, preserves the most oily part of the liquid; this they call by a name which signifies hiccory milk; it is as sweet and rich as fresh cream, and is an ingredient in most of their cookery, especially homony and corn cakes.” – Source

Medicine

  • Infusion of boiled bark for arthritis pain.
  • Inhaling fumes of young shoots on hot rocks as a treatment for convulsions.
  • Cold remedy
  • Liver aid
  • Gynecological aid
  • Dermatological issues

Craft

How to Handcraft a Custom Ax Handle from a Tree - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

This ax handle started out as the hickory tree pictured in the background

Hickory was used by the Cherokee’s for…

  • Stickball sticks
  • Crafting bows
  • Handles – (Here’s my tutorial on carving an ax handle from hickory)
  • Firewood
  • Smoking meats
  • Furniture
  • Inner bark of Mockernut and Shellbark Hickory used to finish baskets
  • Ashes from hickory were used by settlers to make quality lye for soap.
  • Inner bark used for cordage. Mark described a method of slicing down a hickory limb to remove the bark and twisting it to make a strong rope. I’ll explore that method in a later post.
  • Green nut husks used as dye – (My bed sheet tarp was dyed with hickory and black walnut dye)
  • Nut oil mixed with bear fat as an insect repellent.

Pine

There are 36 pines in North America to choose from. These evergreens are easy to spot for anyone. To narrow down the species, count the needles. The Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) is the only species in Eastern North America with 5 needles in the fascicle sheath (the paper-like sheath surrounding the base of the needles).

How Cherokees Used Trees of Southern Appalachia for Food, Medicine, and Craft - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Hemlock is a part of the pine family and grows in southern Appalachia. Like other pines in our region, the inner bark is edible.

Food

  • Pine nuts are edible and tasty.
  • Inner bark was eaten when other foods were scarce. Should be boiled/cooked since it is high in turpenes. Can also be dried and ground into a flour.
  • Pine pollen can be collected and is edible and used like flour.
  • Long strips of inner bark can be boiled to make pine noodles.

Medicine

  • Pine needle tea has the following medicinal properties: antiseptic, astringent, inflammatory, antioxidant, expectoranthigh in Vitamin C for colds – flu – coughs, congestion, and even scurvy.
  • Shikimic acid, the main ingredient in Tamiflu, is harvested from pine needles in Asia.
  • Pine resin applied to skin conditions.
  • Arthur Haines describes on his YouTube channel how pine pollen provides multiple avenues of protection against radioactive cesium.
  • Warm poultice of pine resin will draw splinters and foreign matter from skin.
  • The inner bark can be fashioned as an antiseptic Band Aid for cuts and scraps
  • Chew softer sap straight off the tree like a gum for sore throats and colds. You could pre-make “gum” with these ingredients: bees-wax, pine sap, and honey.

Craft

See more useful fire craft articles on our Bombproof Fire Craft page.

  • Wood for shelters and bows for bedding.
  • Rescue Signals ~ A pre-made signal fire built with green pine boughs on top will generate enough white smoke to be seen for miles.
  • Pine needles were used to make baskets and resin was used as a sealer.
  • Logs were used in home building.
  • White pine and hemlock are both good wood for friction fire.
  • Dried and ground hemlock inner bark used as flour.
  • Dried pine “flour” is useful when rubbed on the body to cover human scent while hunting.

Mark says that Cherokees called trees “The Standing People.” Trees do not walk to new locations like animals in search of food. They are always in the same spot. Learning to identify trees and their resources will put you in a better position of appreciation and stewardship of your natural environment.

To mention all the trees used by the Cherokee would be better addressed in book form. In this article, we’ve highlighted three of my favorite trees in our woodlands. I’ll write future blogs covering more. Here’s a teaser on future posts… Dogwood, Sourwood, Basswood, Black Walnut, Persimmon, Beech, Black Cherry, and the list continues.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Herbal Remedies, Lost Skills, Medical, Natural Health, Preparedness, Real Food, Self-reliance, Survival Skills, Wildcrafting | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

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