Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Primitive skills – Self flat Bow, Arrows, Woven quiver, Glues, Fixings, Birch Tar, and Flint knapping

A rather monster post this one. I’ve had a busy last few weeks making an Ash flat bow, primitive arrows, and a woven quiver, alongside a little flint knapping and natural glue making.
It’s taken a few man hours both in the woods and at home, but the job is finally finished.
Wilderness Survival Skills are a bushcraft school based in Wiltshire (UK) and have recently ran a series of winter craft courses running in a logical order to make the above items, along with shave horses, and continuing in a few weeks time with Buckskin and Moccasin production. That’s a serious amount of crafting and I’ve been lucky enough to be along for the ride J

These types of primitive crafts take time and lots of it, so some my work was continued after courses at home, particularly as I was keen to practice some of the skills further before making the final objects. My first attempt at a flat bow also ended in a crack at the final tillering stage that can hopefully be repaired with a rawhide backing. So I felled another tree with axe and saw, and quickly made another in-between weekends.

Home in the woods. Canvas tarp, and a bivi bag

Splitting the felled Ash tree stem with wedges

The draw knife and shave horse do nearly all the work, after the Axe.

Tillering on a home made jig with scale to measure draw wieght

Oils curing

Next up was the quiver weaving.
Something fairly new to me was the proper woven willow basket. I’ve made a few baskets and containers before, but not with conventional willow and nice patterns. I really enjoyed the process even though it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever completed. Towards the last third of the basket, I was getting the hang of the different weaves, and remembering what to do and when. The strap is made from rush, and rush it I did at the start messing it up, but again with patience and a little more thought (and remembering to ask questions when stuck) I did the weave properly towards the end.


A bow is just a stick without the arrows, and unless I made some, that quivers going to end up stuffed with all sorts of things or worse, end up as a strange ornament! But before they are made the group prepared the glues, cordage, and tars needed to make them.

Making Birch Tar using Silver Birch bark rolled up tightly into an old festive chocolates tin. This was made using a fire built up around it to force the naturally occurring oils out of the bark, through the bottom of the tin and into a smaller container placed underneath.
This I used to coat and seal the surface of my arrow shafts, and can be used on the bow too. Enjoying the smell is also a bonus, as well as scaring the newly emerging and hungry flys to death.

Making the pine resin glue with beeswax and charcoal 

Pitch sticks ready for action

Then I spent some time removing usable flakes from larger flint cores, to then pressure flake some flint arrow heads. I made a few out of glass to practice beforehand, then attacked the flakes. I threw in one of the glass ones and a bone one (made from a roe deer shoulder eaten a few months ago) for good measure, to make up the seven needed.

Shafts were then nocked for the bow string, and heads fixed into place with the pine resin and artificial sinew. Sinew from deer leg tendons were also made and used during the courses.

Then onto fletching, using turkey feathers, more sinew and pine resin.

Then eventually the arrows were done!

This then completed the project. Hurrah!

This type of work seriously keeps you busy and focused, and an actual project like this gives you a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. (especially when the bow stays in one piece at full draw J)

If you ever fancy learning any of this, give Joe O Leary a shout via his website at: -
Hope you liked the post; feel free to ask questions by leaving a comment.



Monday, 17 February 2014

Winter Bushcraft Challenge - February 2014

Ive just arrived home from an excellent weekend attending the Winter Bushcraft Challenge at Wilderness Survival Skills down in Wiltshire, UK.
Its a great chance to practice the real skills of bushcraft in a lovely Hazel copice, with Oak and Ash standards, surrounded by other mixed blocks of woodland, and plenty of wildlife.

We were allowed to take with us a Knife, Folding Saw, Billy Can, Firesteel, Wool Blanket, and Wooden cup as the main kit with a dry bag containing a mobile phone, first aid kit, meds, camera and notebook.

Wool clothing with a cotton type outer windproof layer were the choice of most folks too. It was in no way a hindrance wearing this kit. It works perfectly for lots of reasons.

So good old fashioned debris shelters, beds, and large fires were to be prepared on the first day, with a misson to locate water and food hiden in the woodland, to cook up a well needed meal in the evening, before bedding down for a good sleep. The idea wasn't to rough it, but to live it. I love these sorts of trips to the woods, its what bushcraft is all about for me, and the longer I'm on a trip, the more I can move away from the basics of survival and into more consuming subjects like tracking, hiking, nature observation, wild foods, and crafts.

We started out the day with the remains of yet another powerful storm, which subsided in the morning of day 1, followed by several dumplings of rain, some hail, then an excellent still cold and clear night with a nearly bright full moon. Full sun and a frost on the morning of day two, and I was very glad of my healthy stack of boney Oak firewood.

Here are a few pictures of my short but happy little venture into the winter woods of Wiltshire.

Starting the framework of the lean too shelter. 
Near loads of firewood fallen from two Oak trees, 
and a little shelter from the breeze by the Holly bush.
Sprung bed of Douglass Fir, and the preparation for firelighting, 
sheltering from yet another soaking on the first day.
Little curls for big sparks.
Small amount of dry thin coniferous kindling found, 
meant only two feather sticks were needed.
Brewage, and man was I ready! No fluids for several hours of hard graft. 
Only the billy to collect and boil water, 
and it was a bit of a walk away to the water source, 
which makes you appreciate a water bottle or a larger billy.
Filleting the fish for Tea, to go with the rice.
Watching and waiting. He wasn't the only one dribbling. 
"Good colour, but needs a dram of whiskey though" ; )
Turning in for the night. Boney Oak and merino wool blanket for warmth.
So comfy, I had a cheeky lie in till a respectable 07:45hrs 
and I watched the woodland doing its thing for a while. 
Up twice in the night to throw on some more Oak, within 10 hours. 
Roll on next time 

Saturday, 14 December 2013

An Early Shiny Christmas present

After selling most of my knives Iv'e made over the last few years, I thought I'd find the time to make just one more for myself and try to hold on to it this time, before switching to other Bushcraft activities. I'm looking forward to getting out more and taking along the wildlife camera trap, to see what's lurking in the woods at night. Best be careful where I set that up then!

This blade was forged out with a friend a couple of years ago, and after realising what I now want in a knife for general bushcraft use, I decided to burn off the handle, reshape it slightly, flatten the bevel, make it into a stick tang, and make a new handle. A new sheath was on the cards too.

I decided on a Reindeer antler bolster, Leather, Pewter, Yew, and Elm burr to form the handle on the blade forged out of coiled spring steel.

Getting the raw materials together and a few ideas. I collect all my woods from tree work, season them at home, and then use a chainsaw and hand tools to shape them into usable sections.
 I was going to use Birch burr as in the picture but thought about an elm burr that's been kicking around for a while. Yew won out this time for the end grain section instead of Oak.

Bucket forge full of charcoal for the heat treatment. Great little device for simple forging too.

All the bits ready to be glued up and shaped. 

All done!

Partially rounded spine

Bolster worked out better than I thought

I love this effect on the Yew

Shiny new sheath made with dangler loop and firesteel holder.
I guess an Elm burr or Yew firesteel handle is now called for at some point.

Hope you like it as much as me :)

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Oak handled Scandinavian style bushcraft knife

Well, I had to crack in the end and decided to make another knife.
 I've had a break for a while as I wanted to do other things bushcraft wise and of course real life also gets in the way.

 There' a lot that goes into these knives from forging out the steel, grinding, heat treatment, sharpening, and multi section handles. There great to do though and very absorbing in both attention and time!

This one is forged from a spring coil and handled in Oak, pewter and leather.
I'm rather pleased with it. Just the sheath to make now while the flaxseed oil cures.

Kolrosed and chip carved wooden eating spoons

I decided to spend some time making a few more decorated spoons recently. I really like the simple (and not so simple) geometric designs from the Sami areas of the Nordic countries, and decided to draw heavily on them but try to make up a few different arrangements.

It all started a few years ago experimenting using diagonal lines and letters. Then after seeing the wonderful work by Wille and Jogge Sundqvist I began to understand the patterns and how to make them a little more. Shortly after this I met a great woodcarver called Jan Harm ter Brugge who via a short but very well presented workshop at Spoonfest (in the UK) in 2013 explained all the different ways to decorate spoons by cutting the designs with a knife. 

I was hooked and had all the knowledge to get started, so I made this when I got home using a bent section of Rhododendron. Its almost a copy of one of Jan Harms spoons.

Then I made a few more using Birch, Cherry and Ash, and tried a few more designs using images I had seen on Sami craft work. 

A month ago I was demonstrating spoon carving at a public event and tried to be consistent with my eating spoon making. These are all made from Ash as there was a spare log going near the pole lathe turner. Normally a bit on the tough side for carving spoons, but they show up the designs well as a contrast.

So I made a few more!
The staining is Coffee, Cinnamon, and Paprika

So far they have all been made and decorated using an Erik Frost 106 sloyd knife. I just use the tip of the knife and hold it like a pen. You really don't need another special knife to decorate with, but there are some about and I guess there a little safer for some folks. Its nice to know you can do it all with one knife, which is great when on camping trips.

Hope you like them and feel free to comment about designs your working on.

Three tree wooden coffee table

Well not just for coffee, but a low table perfect for the living room. Thought I'd have a bash at making one of these as the next level up I suppose from a stool. I bought a lovely solid section of sweet chestnut from a timber yard and then worked it all by hand.

It was rough sawn, so I plained all the top and sides, just sanding the end grain slightly. Partially augured 4 holes for the legs so as to blind fit the oak wedges to splay the tenons on the Ash legs. The legs were all made from one log, quartered and trimmed up with an axe and shave horse.

The stretchers are Hazel poles made from an old walking stick I made a while ago, and a recently made digging stick used to source some burdock roots. Had to use these, as they were nicely seasoned and materials were on the low side. The tenons are just whittled on with my knife, and glued into the holes made by bit and brace.

I lick of Linseed oil, a dry in the warm followed by a natural waxing and its ready to rock : )

I really enjoyed making this table and hope it lasts many years in our house. It might.. dare I say it, even be child proof !