13. Crafts.

  • 13.1 Tanning skins
  • 13.2 Cattail sandals
  • 13.3 Using birchbark
  • 13.4 Flintknapping
  • 13.5 Making nets
  • 13.6 Making tar
  • The archives

    13.1. Tanning

    The archives


    If you want to bark-tan a deer-hide you don't need to scrape away the epidermis (many European bark-tanners let the hide soak much longer than brain-tanners will, until the hair will slip rather easily). You do need to scrape the inside ("membraning"). The you place the hide in a tanning bath.

    The tanning solution can be from any of a number of different sources (oak, spruce, salix, etc). Simply boil the shredded bark in water until the acids are leach-ed out, let cool and add your hide. Imagine letting strong tea draw until it puckers your mouth; that's how you want the solution (actually, I've seen hides tanned with tea). Plan on having plenty of time, since this takes time (weeks to months, depending). You might have to change or add to the solution during this time.

    You can test if the hide is tanned all the way through by cutting into the edge; if you can still see a line in the center it is _not_ tanned all the way through. This leather is useful for some purposes, e.g knife sheets. When done all the way though you have to work the hide, pretty much as with buckskin, but without the cabelling (etc) which would remove or damage the epidermis.

    You can do fur on tanning the same way, just skip the soaking, scrape the inside and let soak. But be aware that the tanning solution will stain the fur.

    Wet-Scrape Buckskin Brain-Tanning

    A very good source of braintanning info can be found at http://www.braintan.com.


    1. If there are large chunks of meat and/or fat on the hide you can tear it off with your hands; no tools needed. This makes most difference if you are going to soak the hide in a bucket; meat and blood can get a bit "off" quickly.
    2. Soak the hide in water (some add a fist-full of wood-ashes per hide, some don't) until the hair comes off with a sharp tug. This can take from one to three days, depending.
    3. Place the (still wet) hide on the log, and pin it between the top of the log and whatever it is resting against (or clamp it to the pipe) with the neck up, and hair out. The log should be at app. 60 deg. from horizontal, and you either stand next to it or straddle it.
    4. Hold the scraper perpendicular to the hide and scrape off the hair. Just press the scraper against the hide and pull towards you. Thin portions (armpits, bum) will tend to tear, as will any holes. Be careful, but accept that this happens sometimes. You will need to reposition the hide from time to time, and reverse it to do the neck. Scrape until you've gotten all the hair off, I tend to get the epidermis off at this time as well, but some need to do a second pass at this later.
    5. Turn the hide and scrape away all the membranes from the inside.
    6. Wring the hide out on the beam (look in some decent book for a picture of the double roll you need to do here) to open the hide up. Twist both ways, and turn the hide over and do the same. Some claim it makes a difference which way you wring first, some fail to understand how this can make a difference.
    7. Place in brain-solution. Use enough hot (not scalding, just hot) water mixed with your brains to cover the hide. If using mayonnaise, egg-yolks, etc do the same with them or follow specific recipes.
    8. You will need to take the hide out of the brains and wring it every now and then (a few times a day) until the hide is done. It is done when it "bubbles" all over when wringing.
    9. Now you need to work the hide until dry. Pull over the stake, pull in all directions between your hands (as if you where trying to tear it apart), and cable occasionally. Don't miss the edges and neck, and keep working it until it is dry and feels warm when you place it against your cheek. Use the pumice for fix spots where you missed epidermis or membrane.
    10. You will almost certainly have to cut off some edges that turned out hard. You can now use the hide as "white" or unsmoked buckskin.
    11. For smoking you need to sew your hide into a long tube (i.e. like it was on the deer), leaving an opening in the bottom. To avoid tears and self-recriminations also attach a piece of fabric as a skirt to the opening. Prop the tube open here and there with some small, springy sticks. It is possible to sew two hides together: just superimpose them (flesh-side to flesh-side) and sew along the sides and neck.
    12. Dig a hole in the ground (20" deep, 15-20" diameter) and get a good fire going inside. What you want is a good, thick bed of charcoal (yes, you can buy some and cheat).
    13. Suspend the hide over the pit and place rocks on the skirt to seal it. Put slightly damp rotten punk wood on top of the charcoal. The goal is to get a good, thick smoke inside the hide. Keep watch so that the coals don't flare up, and keep adding more punk as needed (you will need on the order of two grocery bags worth).
    14. When the smoke is coming through the hide, and it has turned a nice color on the inside you turn it inside out and smoke the other side. All told this will take from 2-6 hours, depending on a lot of things.
    15. Do something nice with your hide. The worst (or best) of the smoky smell will dissipate with time.

    13.2 Cattail (or other plant material) sandals

    The sandals were made by the the bintubi (also known as Pintubi) aborigines and the technique is simple but since a picture is worth a thousand words I'll find the reference to it and you can track it down. I think it was in the Journal "Mankind" and it was written by Thomson.....Naaah I'll try and explain it.

    Sit on the ground with legs drawn up near the body, like a loose lotus position...Take a length of string(about 5mm thick), fold in half. Where the fold, is place over big toe of outside foot, take the two loose ends, one in each hand and tie them behind your back. You now have a continuous loop of rope going from the small of your back, around your big toe, and back to the small of your back on the other side (Man this sounds complicated for something so easy)

    Now take green cattails (A bark will work better eg. clematis bark, but cattails will work temporarily) and starting about 4 inches from your big toe, weave the single strands under and over and back and forth along the string until you have gone the length of your foot, plus a couple of inches. So basically you have the base of the sandal in the shape of your foot. The end near your toe is the heel end.

    Undo the string behind your back, place sandal on ground, with the loop that was around your toe facing you.. Put your foot through this loop(it should be a snug fit)and rest your foot on the cattails. Grab the free ends of string, bring the right hand string up between your big toe and 2nd toe. Bring the left hand string up between your 3rd and 4th toe and tie both free ends to the loop around your ankle. You can improve on this anyway you like, and tie it off anyway you like as long as it works for you.

    The Bintubi lived in an area that had large areas of sharp rock as well as desert sands, and would make these sandals as a temporary measure to get them over the rocks which could go for considerable distances. They made them out of a soft bark.
    [Sean McBride]

    13.3 Uses for birchbark

    80 uses for birchbark!

    Once upon a time the question: "how many uses for birchbark can we come up with" was asked. Here is the whole list, edited only to remove duplicates and silly answers:

    1. Firestarter
    2. Shelterbuilding
    3. Basketmaking
    4. Insoles for shoes/moccasins
    5. Tar
    6. Canoe building
    7. Cups
    8. Torches and lighting devices
    9. Bedding
    10. Pots for boiling water
    11. Rope making
    12. Woven moccasins
    13. Paper for writing on
    14. Sketch pad for art by scraping (winter bark)
    15. Platform for holding the fire-by-friction coal
    16. Spoons
    17. Making bilboquets (using inner spongy bark)
    18. Checkerboards for playing chess or checkers by scraping white squares, (winter bark)
    19. Dark checkers (using inner spongy bark)
    20. Rugs and clean working platforms
    21. Buttons (using inner spongy bark)
    22. Plates
    23. Napkin rings
    24. Pill bottles
    25. Insect repellent bottles
    26. Business cards (original!)
    28. Hot plates
    29. Fans
    30. Place-cards
    31. Moose calls
    32. Trumpets
    33. Lamp shades
    34. Pot lids
    35. Ladles
    36. Dippers
    37. Rattles
    38. Coat hangers (several thicknesses)
    39. Child sleds
    40. Eye shade or visor
    41. Emergency slit eyeglasses
    42. Archery arm guards
    43. Archery parfleche
    44. Map container
    45. Butcher paper
    46. Bum wipe
    47. Picture frames
    48. Book covers
    49. Case for computer disquettes
    50. Whistle
    51. Hats
    52. Toys
    53. Targets
    54. Plates
    55. Floors
    56. Arrow fletching (in a pinch)
    57. Decoys
    58. Effigy
    59. Fan
    60. Gasket
    61. Jig
    62. Jug
    63. Knife sheath
    64. Knapsack
    65. Packs
    66. Level
    67. Moulds for maple sugar
    68. Maps
    69. Ornaments
    70. Porches
    71. Patterns
    72. Quiver
    73. Ruler
    74. Umbrella
    75. Vase
    76. Xylography
    77. Food (inner bark)
    78. Food (sap, both as is and boiled down to a syrup)
    79. Food (young leaves (less than 14d old)
    80. To cover the tree

    Folding birchbark

    Folding birchbark is much easier of you soak it, and warm it slightly next to the fire. Also, it must be thinned down for it to work.

    13.4Flint knapping the primitive way

    (This is a collection of two posts by Thomas on the topic of flint knapping. Not the pinnacle of the craft, but it will get you started, or allow you to produce something useful in an emergency.

    First of all get a pair of leather gloves and a pair of glasses to protect hands and eyes. Those tiny splinters are sharp as hell.... oh sh... my finger's bleeding... no Sir this was just a small fragment of stone that cut my sinew.... Then you have the Chimpanzees way: lay the flint nodule on a hard stone (anvil) and smash it with another one, just like a nut, clean up the resulting mess (in case the nodule didn't fly away) each of the chunks should have a so lala usable edge for striking sparks

    The homo erectus way: take a fist sized stone and try to hit a natural facet (in case there is one) If not try to hit a protruding 'nose of the cobble'. Hit it with a circular movement rather pulling the flakes of the future core. The angle of your blow should be something like 45 degrees. Remember the flakes are pulled, not driven into the core. Each of the resulting flakes is usable, those of the crust, called cortex are as well usable.

    If finished with removing cortex, take next step (Neanderthal) remove fine flakes with antler hammer.......

    Well flint-knapping is something closely related to slicing potatoes, hehe theoretically at least. Imagine you have a fist-sized potatoe (flint nodule) long sides, small head, flat, well a usual sized potatoe. (By the way a German proverb says that the size of a potatoe is in inverse proportion to it's producers intelligence hehe )

    First you have to behead the potatoe, cut of the small protrusion, the cut starts at the flat front and ends at the rear side a bit lower than it started. Done ? OK this is your point of impact, the so called platform. Next cut is at the longer side, starting at the flat front cutting of 1/4th of shoulder and rear side, resulting in a so called facet. Now turn the potatoe, former head is still up rear side now being front side. Cut from the new facet (platform) again to the rear side, resulting in a V-shaped edge. From there, cut in the same way back to the front using the flat facet you cut before, to start a new facet. Do this from the virtual head down to the virtual feet of the potatoe. Voila a bit rough but a kind of hand-axe..... hehe I just found a new recreational course for housewives 'The art of carving potatoes' having fun while working in the kitchen .....oh oh have to stop here Ingrun is arming her atlatl now......

    OK let's get serious again next cut starts at the top, now taking away the zigzag edge you cut before. The edge was established to give the cut/blow a leading ridge it has to follow. You have now a french-fry with wavy back, about 1,5cm broad (0,6 inches for the folks in the former colonies hehe) 10cm long (4") and 1cm high (0,4"). This is called a blade. The left and right side of the negative form the leading ridges for the next two blades, they are half potatoe-'meat' and half peel. You can start now cutting of one blade after another from the reduction face......

    Ok That's the theoretical part of the game.... breaking flint this way will take about half a year of concentrated labour and practice. Flint knapping the real traditional way, has a kind of Zen buddistic aspect. Zen or the proper way to slice a potatoe :-)
    (Thomas Ruthardt)

    13.5 Making netting

    I've made several nets. Rather simple, actually. You need a netting needle (made out of a pointed piece of wood with two notches in the middle so you can wrap the string), and a piece of flat wood to ensure that each hole is the same size.

    You've got to learn the weaver's knot, otherwise known as the Sheetbend.

    Start by tying the string to the left of a stick, (using a clove hitch is fine), and then using your piece of flat wood as a gage, tying it to the stick again and again in loops until you have the width of net desired and you end up at the right of the stick. Then you tie a sheet bend in the middle of the last loop formed and using the flat wood as a gage, tie a sheetbend to the middle of each loop going from right to left this time to make the second row. Then from left to right, you make the third row by tying sheetbends to the middle of the loops of the second row, and so on. Always use the flat wood as a gage so that all the loops are the same size.

    I've also made round nets (also called cast nets). These you make by tying a string in a very small circle of the size of the mesh you want, and adding loops around this small circle. You have to tie two or more loops to each loop of the preceding circle, otherwise you will end up with a bag instead of a flat net.
    (André-François Bourbeau)

    13.6 Making tar

    Tar is made by dry distilling wood. A semi-primitive way to make small amounts of tar requires one large metal container (a gallon tincan or metal bucket), a smaller can to recieve the tar, and a flat piece of metal to use to make a "funnel" for the tar.

    1. Cut a slit in the metal sheet and form a crude funnel or cone. Make sure there is a hole in the middle.
    2. Dig a hole in which your smaller tin fits tightly. It needs to fit, since you are depending on the earth to cool it. Make it a bit deeper than the depth of the can.
    3. Fill the large can with sticks of wood.
    4. Place the funnel over the hole (with the small can inside), and place the large can upside down (i.e. opening down) over it. Cover with dirt around the edges. to make a more or less airtight seal.
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                           |      wood      |       
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                         --__              __ --     ground level
      ======================= --__     __--=============================
                                  -- --
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    5. Light a fire on top of the large can and let burn for a few hours, depending on the size of your setup. Allow to cool before opening.

    If everything went right you know have charcoal in the top can, and tar in the bottom one.

    If you want a particularilly fine tar use birchbark instead of wood.

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