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More basketmaking


I’ve been on a bit of a basketmaking kick lately. Pictured are an oval basket, a kisheen and a bowl-shaped hedgerow basket.


More bows

Three bows

Top left: Short red elm. 25#@21″.
Top right: Red elm ELB style. 30#@26″.
Bottom: Bamboo-backed American oak with cumaru core. 40#@26″

Beech atlatl

My third atlatl. Spalted beech with bone spurs, 24 inch with a slight flex. Influenced by the Alaskan style.

Hawthorn bow

This was from a piece of hawthorn I cut from a canal cutting when we were on a narrowboat holiday last year. It split quite badly during the drying process and I was forced to cut it very thin in the handle section to avoid two of the worst offenders. The remainder of the shaping and tillering process was spent compensating for the resulting weak sections where the handle met each limb.

53 inches, nock to nock. 27lb at 26 inches. ‘D’-shaped cross section. Finished with beeswax and an elk hide handle wrap.


These mocassins are made using commercially tanned deer hide sewn with artifical sinew using a pattern by Coogs on the PaleoPlanet forum. I don’t think they’ll be very hardwearing with this kind of leather – maybe next time I’ll make an everyday pair from elk.

Great for foxwalking!

Ash bow

I finished this bow a little while ago. It’s 57 inches nock to nock. I haven’t had a chance to measure the draw weight yet, but I would guess it weighs in at between 45 and 50 pounds.

The bow is backed with linen and painted using earth pigments in a hide glue medium. The overlaid nocks are horn, the fur dampeners are rabbit and the handle wrap wool. The string is three-ply cordage I made from waxed linen.

Leather drinking flask

I’ve also just finished a leather drinking flask. This is made from vegetable tanned leather, sewed with linen thread and waterproofed with beeswax. The stopper is hazel and the rope corded from jute.

The large flask holds one and a half pints, and the small flask on the right which I made as a prototype holds about a quarter of a pint. I might use it as a medicine flask or to carry a nip of whiskey for the long autumn nights!

Bamboo composite arrows

Here are some arrows I’ve just finished working on, after what seems like an age. They’re not wrong when they say building a bow is easy compared with a crafting a bespoke arrow.

They are a composite of bamboo shafts with holly foreshafts and nocks, and bone arrowheads. Despite bamboo growing relatively straight, it invariably changes direction slightly at the nodes, so after thinning the shafts to spine them, they did need a little heat straightening. I selected holly for the nocks and foreshafts because it is dense and strong in compression; they used to use it for the hubs of cart wheels.

The arrowheads are fixed to the foreshafts using hide glue rather than pine pitch, as I wanted to keep the clean look. Therefore I carved the foreshafts in such a way as to not impede the entry of the arrow into its target.

To go with these arrows I also made a new crocheted quiver.

June craft work

Here are some of the crafts I’ve been working on since the last meeting of the Earth Living twelve month programme. Pictured here is a crocheted bag, primitive pottery, a leather flask, a new basketmaker-style atlatl and a new bow drill.

The crocheted bag is my first real attempt at using pattern, and I feel that it came out well, although the patterned section draws in narrower, so I need to work on my tension when changing yarns. It was originally intended to be a quiver, but came out too wide. I’m going to try again though and hopefully create a quiver using the same principle, but perhaps a different pattern.

Next up is a new bow drill bow made of hazel. This bow is flexible to help the string grip the spindle and counter the effect of string stretch. It is intended to be used with natural cordage, either plant or animal. I will get around to making a proper rawhide string at some point but this one is corded jute. As natural string is more liable to wear than nylon it helps to hold the bow at an angle to prevent it rubbing against itself on the spindle. As a result the bow needs to be shorter to prevent hitting the ground. This one’s about 16 inches.

The back of the bow has the bark left on for decorative effect, though I would like to get hold of a rawhide snake skin at some point and use it to back a bow drill bow. The handhold is a black stone I found near the river, but I need to spend some time pecking out the hole.

Also pictured above is a rawhide bottle I made to store coal extender. It’s sewed with linen thread and sealed with hide glue. The stopper is a section of buddleia stalk.

This is another bottle I made, this time as a flask for liquids. It’s make out of vegetable tanned leather sewn with linen thread, and with a hazel stopper. It still needs waterproofing with beeswax. This flask was really just a prototype of a bigger flask I hope to be able to carry a serious amount of water in. This is currently in production, as pictured. Once I’ve made the bigger flask I shall waterproof them both together. I may end up using the smaller one as a medicine flask.

Next up is my second atlatl, this time a basketmaker style at about 23 or 24 inches. It’s made of hazel stained with walnut husk stain. The spur is bone and the finger grip is jute soaked in hide glue. The atlatl is slightly flexible to help even out the distribution of force and give the dart an extra zing. I’m pretty pleased with it, apart from the fact the pith of the wood is visible on the surface of the atlatl which detracts from it slightly. The stain came out a lot darker than I intended but I quite like it in contrast to the white spur.

Finally these are my unfired primitive coil pots, some of which I produced on the last part of the Earth Living course and some since. We’ll be firing these next week at the next meeting. Fingers crossed that they’ll survive! I’ll post a picture of any that do when I come back.

First meeting of the Native Awareness twelve month programme

Last weekend was the first long weekend of the Earth Living twelve month programme. I’ll try not to give too much away for those who might be thinking of signing up to the programme next year, but refer to the topics as listed on the Native Awareness website.

The main thing I took from the weekend was the camaraderie between the students, instructors and volunteers. Spending time with like-minded people was (as always) a pleasure, and we bonded well as a team, which bodes well for the survival immersion week next April, which we are all working towards. This is when we venture into the wilderness for a week with only the clothes we are standing in and the authentic primitive tools we have made throughout the year.

This first weekend was focused on advanced skills and crafts. I really enjoyed the pottery making and intend to find and process some of my local clay to make more of the utensils we’ll need in the immersion quest, hopefully in time for us to fire them communally at the next meeting in June. I managed to make a small pinch pot, larger coil pot and small oil lamp at the weekend, but have lots of ideas and inspiration for other pots I’d like to make.

Advanced bow drill was a revelation, and I’ve taken away lots of tips that will help me better understand, and become more proficient in, this type of firemaking. You never stop learning with the bow drill, and I’m already thinking about building my next set, in accordance with the time-tested theory that the more love and attention you put into your kit, the better the attitude with which you approach the process of firemaking, and the more successful you will hopefully be.

The other thing I took away from the weekend was the experience of finding and purifying water and foraging for wild edibles. These experiences brought me closer to the environs of the camp in all sorts of ways. Learning the skills of survival is not just about dealing with extreme situations; its about re-discovering our relationship with the natural world by removing the fear and distrust that separates modern humans from nature. Only when we can enter the wilderness with nothing, and without fear, can we re-establish the communication our ancestors enjoyed with the world… and our spirits so crave today.