Sunday, November 02, 2008

Felted Hat

Last week my brother and I experimented with the art of felting. We started by buying bundles of wool fibers from a store in the area. Most of the wool was of different sheep varieties but we also choose llama wool because of the nice brown color and cheaper price. There were many colors to choose from but we choose earth tones for making camouflage gear. We bought a total of 28 ounces of wool for about $40.

We took some of the white wool and dyed it using black walnut husks and osage orange saw dust. 

Pictured below are the wool fibers after dying. The yellows are from the osage orange dye. The orange and brown are from the black walnut dye. We were hoping that these would come out black and I'm not sure why one batch was orange and the other brown.

We decided to make hats. We referenced four different felting books from the local library. Each had a slightly different technique for felting a hat. The main concept was to pat, press, rub, agitate, massage, knead and throw the wool until it was felted. An important point was that the wool shrinks about 40% as from start to finish. Therefore we had to start with a hat 40% bigger than our head.

Below you can see one half of my hat laid out. Notice how it was 40% bigger than my head.

After laying out the wool I poured warm soapy water on it and pressed it down to tangle the wool fibers, starting the felting process. I left a 2 inch fringe of fibers dry so I could splice the matching hat piece to it.

Here you can see my hat with both pieces spliced together on the left and my brother starting his hat on the right.

After more rubbing and pressing the hat became felted enough that I could pick it up. Notice it is still very large.

After more kneading and throwing it hard against the table several times, the hat shrank quite a bit and I was reading to put it on my mold. We both constructed head molds from foam insulation prior to starting the hats. Once on the mold I pushed the fibers together more to shrink the hat to the desired size.

The final product is a totally customized, stitchless, wool hat. Because I made it myself, the camo pattern is exactly what I wanted and it fits my head perfectly. It took at most 6 ounces of wool to make putting the cost at around $8.

After successfully completing my first hat, I decided to challenge myself further. I made a reversible hat with a striped pattern. The first challenge was to get the stripes to line up at the splice line. The second challenge was to make the reverse side have different colors. Lining up the stripes at the splice line on the reverse side at the same time was very difficult. The splicing didn't work out so great on one part and I had to stitch it up.

Here is the same hat inside out (reversed).

On the list of future projects are quivers, bow socks, mittens, socks, boots, and perhaps other clothes. My dream project is to make a stitchless hooded sweatshirt, but the splicing would be very hard, not to mention making matching sleeves.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Glass Buttes 2

My brother and I drove back to Glass Buttes a couple weekends ago. This time we decided to drive around and map out the area so we knew where different varieties of obsidian were. We stopped at a campground and found this gigantic pile of debitage. 

When walking around one area I stumbled upon a small quarry with exposed rock. You can never tell how big a rock you have until you pull it out. We pulled a few nice size rocks out and then started excavating a huge one.

It turned out being the tip of an iceberg. We were a little bummed about not unearthing the entire thing.

Then my brother decided to spall it while it was in the ground and ended up with the biggest spalls I've ever seen.

We loaded my car up with over 400 pounds of rock and drove home. Now we have a room dedicated to storing our rocks. We plan to get some shelves to store it eventually.

Here are a few of the pieces I've been working on the past month. Only the small point at the bottom left and the knife have been pressure flaked (sharpened). I plan to work the rest into more refined products eventually. Most likely they will be spear points.

Here is a close up of the knife. The handle is made from Redheart wood.

I hafted the blade into the handle using pitch made from sap and charcoal. I then wrapped it with deer sinew dipped in deer hide glue.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Glass Buttes

August 20th I drove from Portland to southeastern Oregon about an hour east of Bend. I met my brother and his two friends at Glass Buttes, a mountainous area composed partially of obsidian. They were nearing the end of their road trip from Washington, D.C.. We met there to get our hands on beautiful, free obsidian straight from the source. We were used to paying $1-$3 per pound for the stuff and there it was free and plentiful.

The first night we set up camp and then drove to the closest spot on our map to try to quarry some rock before dark. With pick and shovel we dug in existing pits and the progress was slow. Matt took a hike to reconnoiter some other sites. He discovered that it wasn't necessary to dig to get good stuff. There were places where cantaloupe size rocks were just laying about.

The next morning we drove to one of these sites. On top of a hill there was an open quarry filled with large chunks of Silver Sheen obsidian that had been left by previous diggers. We spent most of the morning and afternoon sitting around the quarry working the rock into smaller pieces. We were determined to take as much rock home with us as our cars could handle.

Matt reducing a rock into a biface at the quarry.

Here I was reducing a large piece with a view of the high desert in the background.

My brother Andrew dug into the wall of the quarry and pulled out several huge pieces, some weighing 50 pounds or more.

Here I was holding one of the large rocks.

Prior to the trip I had worked on maybe five rocks of the large size that was commonplace there. I was always nervous because I had paid money for the rocks and only had a few of them. At Glass Buttes there was absolutely no pressure. If I messed up I could just pick up another rock for free. That state of mind along with advice from Matt and Andrew and the hours of practice there improved my skills considerably.

Later in the afternoon Matt and I drove around the area looking for other types of obsidian. There are many names used to describe the different coloration in the obsidian so it was hard to tell exactly what we found. Based on the pictures on the we found Tiger Stripe, Brown, Midnight Lace, Mahogany and Black. The bulk of what we gathered was glossy black and opaque black which some call "Black Butter" because of how nicely and easily it flakes.

Before we left on the the third day, we gathered everything together to get a group shot. From left to right (Andrew, Me, Ryan, Matt)

In my next post I'll show pictures of some of the pieces I've made since that trip.

Portland, My Home

A lot has happened since my last post. Most importantly I moved from Riverside, California to Portland, Oregon. I wanted to move here for many years. There are so many reasons for me to live here. I could list a hundred reasons, but here are a few.

It is commonplace for people here to enjoy and appreciate nature and being outdoors. It's not hard to see why, living in between Mt. Hood and the Atlantic. Not to mention that it seems like no matter where you are there is a park within walking distance. Forest Park in NW Portland is the largest urban park in the country.

More importantly there are people here who practice primitive skills and there is even a school to teach skills. I've wanted people to practice skills with on a regular basis for a long time and now I will have them. Plus, my brother moved here too and we now live together so we can practice skills together anytime.

Portland is a good place to be for the short and long term problems this country and the world face. The city government already started planning for the inevitability of Peak Oil despite no leadership at the national level. The city has pretty good public transportation and is bike friendly. I believe the copious amount of precipitation that sours some visitors experience will be a blessing as aquifers in the country start to dry up. Another interesting thing is that it seems like every house has a garden or a fruit tree. Blackberry bushes are so dominating here that they have to be sprayed to control them.

Portland and the surrounding cities have many companies with work in my areas of expertise. Having said that I'm still unemployed and looking. I feel like this is a good place to be looking though compared with other areas of the country.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Survival Kits

What would you do if you were given 1 day/1 hour/1 minute to gather everything you needed to survive for 1 day/1 week/1 month? You would probably panic and scramble around the house looking for supplies. Chances are you would grab some non-essentials and forget to grab some necessities. Now what would you do if you were at work, the same situation happened and you couldn't get home? Would you even be able to find necessities there?

These are the questions that survival kits, a.k.a. "Grab N Go" bags or "Bug Out Bags" are meant to answer. The idea is to have everything you will need already packed up so you can literally grab it and go. It is recommended to have a kit at home, work and in your car since you never know where you'll be when you need to bug out.

Each kit should contain items to satisfy these basic needs:

  • shelter
  • water
  • fire
  • food
  • signaling or navigating for help
It is a good idea to have more than one item for each of these areas. For example, my kits have more than one way to start a fire. The smaller the kit the more important it is for an item to be useful for more than need. Also, it is essential to have a pocket knife in conjunction with the kit. I carry one in my pocket every day.

One of the benefits of making your own kit is that you can tailor it to your personal needs and skills. I, for example, have little experience fishing so I added more fishing gear than a more experienced person would need including a cheat sheet on tying fishing knots.

I don't ever plan to stake my life on these kits alone. In fact, I wouldn't feel confident in survival at all if I hadn't taken classes and practiced skills. In a long-term survival situation I see these kits as giving me a buffer period to make up for my lack of skill and experience. For example, I could make a fish hook from a piece of bone or wood, but I've never done that before so bringing fish hooks gives me time to learn how.

I decided to make three kits of different sizes. The first one is small enough to fit in my pocket so in theory I could take it with me always. It fits into an Altoids container. It's amazing how many useful things one can pack into such a small container.

Starting from the top left here are the contents and their possible uses:

  • Altoids tin: boil water/cook, plate/cup, use the metal for tools (scraper, arrowhead, etc.), signal
  • knot cheat sheet: tinder, leave a note
  • Ziploc bag: keep other items dry, hold almost a quart of water for use with purification tablets
  • fishing tackle (various sizes of hooks, swivels and split shot): stored in the little tube with the red top.
  • needles (also included in the tube): clothing repairs, medical
  • razor blades (also included in the tube); medical, process game
  • circular mirror: signal, medical (find ticks and see wounds), personal hygiene
  • compass: navigation
  • saw blade: shelter, make wooden tools (ie: trap parts, arrow notches)
  • 1 sq ft aluminum foil: cook food, boil water, fish/hunt/trap lure, signal, etc.
  • 8 water purification tablets (enough for 2 gallons): make water drinkable
  • fishing line wrapped in duct tape: fishing line to fish, clothing repairs, snare/trap parts; duct tape to repair, medical (wound closure)
  • LED light (12 hrs): temporary convenient light source, signal
  • safety pin wrapped in nylon: safety pin to repair, fish; nylon to fish, clothing repairs, shelter, snare/trap parts
  • candle (cut to fit): fire, light, heat
  • lint and petroleum jelly (in small bag): tinder (starts from a spark and when wet)
  • waterproof matches (in latex): fire
  • fire steel: fire (scrape off ignited metal filings)
  • alcohol swab: medical, fire
  • 2 butterfly closures: medical
  • bandage: medical
  • 10 ft of paracord (not pictured above): shelter, fishing line, trap/snare parts, keep kit closed, etc.

Everything packed in the kit

Paracord is very strong and is composed of an outer sheath with 6-7 smaller threads inside. It can be used whole or broken down into smaller pieces and is thus very versatile and useful.

The kit sealed with 10 ft. of paracord.

The second kit I made fits into a bag the size of a small camera case. The bag actually was a survival kit I bought from REI. Most of the stuff in it was junk, but the size of the bag was perfect and it had enough good stuff inside to make it worth the price. It is easy to sling over the shoulder or string through a belt. It weighs 2-2.5 pounds fully packed.

Starting from the top left here are the contents and their possible uses (where not already explained in pocket kit):

  • red poncho: clothing, shelter, water collection, signaling
  • 1 gallon Ziploc: water storage
  • emergency blanket: shelter, water collection, signaling
  • carrying bag with 25 ft. paracord strap
  • square mirror
  • money (I plan to put actual cash in when I can afford to): phone call, etc.
  • orange whistle: signal
  • 2 sq ft aluminum foil
  • LED flashlight - the only flashlight I could find that combined the long-lasting LED bulb with the cost-efficient AA battery.
  • 2 spare AA batteries
  • needle tweezers: medical (tick, splinter removal)
  • moleskin: medical (blister care, wound closure)
  • length of nylon
  • length of fishing line
  • 4 water purification tablets
  • 1 oz bottle of bleach wrapped with 2 ft of duct tape: water purification (6-8 drops/gal)
  • candle
  • camera film tube of lint and petroleum jelly
  • fire steel (from bigger than the one in the pocket kit
  • waterproof matches in latex: more than in pocket kit
  • 2 needles
  • 2 butterfly closures
  • 1 Pepto Bismal tablet: duh!
  • 4 500 mg acetaminophen: medical
  • 2 bandages
  • 2 alcohol swabs
  • fishing tackle: more than in pocket kit
  • 2 saw blades: the bigger one has a sharpened edge opposite the teeth for scraping wood
  • 2 bullion cubes: food (replace salts, flavoring)
  • fishing knots cheat sheet
  • Ziploc to hold small items
  • 2 razor blades
  • 5 safety pins

Below you can see the case fully packed with the strap I made from the 25 feet of paracord. It is stronger than the strap that came with the bag and is more useful.

The third kit I'm still working on fits into a backpack. It basically includes everything included in the kits above but in larger quantities. It also contains the usual gear for a backpacking trip like a tent, clothing, stove, pots, knife, food, water and sleeping bag. I also plan to include a wild edible/medicinal plant book, my survival journal, passport, cash, work gloves, etc.

I was curious to see how well aluminum foil would work for boiling water. I took a 1 sq ft sheet and formed a crude bowl. I made a fire in my rocket stove and set the foil bowl on top. It successfully boiled water. The first time I tried it I wasn't careful enough with the foil. I ended up putting holes in it with the bending and shaping, so you do have to be a little delicate with it. But, I only needed one ply to be successful.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


This weekend I spent several hours flintknapping. I focused on making arrowheads. The weather was sunny and hot, but I took dips in the pool often to cool off. Every time I work on this skill I do my best work so it's pretty fun. I worked with several different materials.

The white piece is made from chert. The rock is very hard and takes a lot more pressure to push a flake off. It's pretty easy to mess up so it was nice to finish an arrowhead. The piece is only about 3/4 of an inch wide so it's not ideal for hunting.

The gray piece is dacite also about 3/4 of an inch wide. The black one is made from obsidian. It's a little over an inch thick so I could hunt with it. The last two are made from glass. I was trying to make the big piece into a spear point until I dropped it. I didn't expect it to break so easily.

Material from left to right (penny for size reference, chert, dacite, obsidian, glass bottle bottom, glass slab)

This obsidian is translucent.

I'm still working on my notches. Ideally the notches near the bottom of this piece would be two or three times deeper in.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Rocket Stove

I stumbled across the rocket stove on one of the many outdoor/survival skill websites I frequent. The stove has several advantages over an open fire when it comes to cooking. The two major benefits are less fuel is needed and less smoke is produced.

After dreaming about it two nights in a row, I figured I better make one!

I gathered all the materials and tools I needed. I didn't end up using the small soup can or the wood chips (more on that later). Also I used another pair of snips and work gloves after I cut myself on the metal.

I cut out a soup can sized hole in the side of one large and one small coffee can. After removing the remaing end of the soup can I inserted it through the holes in the cans. I filled the space between the coffee cans with insulation. The idea is to keep all the heat in the cylinder and ultimately directed up to the cooking vessel. This is something you can't do well with a normal fire pit.

Ideally I would have used wood ash from a fire. Unfortunately I don't have a fire pit anymore so I had no wood ash. I opted for flammable wood chips! I reasoned that they wouldn't be touching flame and there wouldn't be enough oxygen to ignite. As it turned out I was wrong. During my first test they did burn. I doused the whole thing with water before it got out of hand. I had to settle for sand as my insulator which isn't very good since there aren't many pockets of are between particles. When I find wood ash, I'll swap.

I used the bottom of the other large coffee can to make a cover to hold the insulation in. I also decided to leave four tabs sticking up to give the cooking vessel something to sit on.

The soup can has a platform in it. The fuel goes on the platform leaving the bottom half open for oxygen to enter. By only burning the tips of the wood, less smoke is produced. As the wood burns down, it is pushed further into the stove.

Here you can see the pot resting on the tabs.

I tested the stove by bringing one quart of water to boil using only the tinder and wood pictured below.

It took 10 minutes although I let the fire die a little so in theory it could have boiled faster. As you can see in the picture below I didn't need all the wood.

To increase the efficiency of the stove I could add a skirt around the pot that would direct hot air up the sides of the pot. The sides of the stove were hot to the touch so thicker insulation would also be an improvement. That would require a larger can though.

While not a primitive tool, this stove is pretty cool and very practical in an urban survival situation. With proper ventilation this could be used indoors due to the low level of harmful emissions.

There are some good how-to videos with various size stoves if you search Google Video.

Friday, June 06, 2008


It's been awhile since my last post. Let me catch you up on what I've been doing. My internship with the Student Conservation Association ended May 17th. It was an amazing journey for me. I learned so much about how to live in the wilderness. I also learned a lot about how to live with less money than I've been used to. It was a timely lesson as prices for everything are soaring these days.

After saying goodbye (for now) to my crew I moved to Riverside, CA for the summer. I'm living at the home of Chris and Karen Roholt. Chris is the Wilderness Planner at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that gave our crew its assignments throughout the year. I am going to work for him at the BLM for 60 days working on the water source data my crew collected during the 8 month internship.

While there I will learn more about GIS (Geographic Information System) and specifically the ArcGIS software that is used in the industry. My goal is to get enough experience to get a job where I can both collect data in the field and analyze it in the office.

I got to spend two weeks back in the Midwest. I managed to spend time in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana. After three weddings with friends and family, lunch with old work buddies and hanging out in my home town, I spent time with almost everyone I know!

I'm hoping to still work on skills while living in Riverside, though I don't plan on having a fire pit or digging out a shelter in the Roholts' backyard!

Tomorrow I get to spend my birthday at the beach. My friend Melissa and I are going to watch the AVP (volleyball) tour at Hermosa Beach. I'm hoping to get in a pick up game or maybe fill in for an injured player (*Announcer*: "Can anyone in the crowd play volleyball?") during the featured match.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Obisidan Knife

I've wanted to make a knife or spear point for a long time. Until a couple days ago I never made a point longer than a few inches. The first problem was to get a long enough piece of rock to work with. I started by knocking a long thin spall off a roundish nodule. From there I knocked piece after piece off making very few mistakes for once. I took a few pictures on the way to the finished product because I was afraid I would mess it up.

I switched to pressure flaking a little sooner than I should have. I could control the accuracy of the flakes I pushed off so much easier than when striking the rock. The problem is that the flakes I took off weren't as long and thick as when striking. I was too afraid to ruin the piece with a misplaced strike though so I picked up the ishi stick. The consequence was a thicker, duller blade than I hoped for. Near the tip it's probably a 2/1 or 3/1 width to thickness ratio. That makes it good for stabbing things but not so good for slicing. By the way, I don't plan to do either with this guy so don't worry. The finished point ended up being about 4 1/2 inches long.

After finishing the point, I selected an antler from my stash. I sawed of the tines at a nice wide spot. I put the antler in boiling water to soften up the inside of the antler. After taking it out it was pretty easy to scrape out the inside with some metal tools. I also filed down a groove in the sides since the rock was wider than the antler. When fitted together the blade fit about 1 1/4 inches into the antler handle. Ideally it would've been a little deeper into the handle, but I was satisfied with it.

After whipping up a batch of pitch as I discussed in my last post, I poured it into the antler handle. At the same time I heated up the blade over the Jesus candle so that the knife would have holy powers. I then jammed the blade into the handle.

As the pitch overflowed I molded it around all sides of the blade and handle. As the pitch cooled it became very easy to mold. Below is a close up of the finished product showing the black pitch.

The picture below shows you the overall size of the knife. The blade is now approximately 3 inches long. The blade feels very secure inside the handle.

Pitch - "Survival Epoxy"

Last November when doing trail work in the lower Sierra Nevada's I happened upon a tree that was gushing out sap. The picture below shows just a portion of the sap that was running. I took the opportunity to collect as much as I could. After finishing with this tree I found a few more trees that had pretty good quantities. I suspect the dry air in the region leads to more limbs cracking then most places.

I collected the sap to make pitch which can be used for many projects. Anytime you need to adhere one object to another, pitch can be used. I hadn't had a need for it until today when I hafted an obsidian blade into a deer antler handle. That will be the topic of my next post. To make pitch you mix equal parts sap and a hardening agent. Charcoal, white ash and powdered egg or mollusk shells are examples of hardening agents. I chose to use charcoal from the remains of my pottery fire.

First I rigged up a contraption to melt down the sap. The bottom of a beverage can rests on two wood blocks sitting over a candle. I put tape on the wood so the can wouldn't slip around. The small candle provided plenty of heat to soften up the sap.

Next I added a small amount of hard sap to the can.

After a few minutes it melted into a viscous liquid. I pulled out as much debris as I could to make it more pure. The more junk in there the more crumbly the final product will be.

Meanwhile I used a nice ergonomic grinding stone I found on another trip to powder up charcoal.

Then I mixed an equal amount of charcoal powder into the liquid sap.

Finally, after using it on my obsidian knife which I'll discuss in my next post, I took the remaining pitch and molded it on a stick for later use. All that needs to be done next time is to hold the pitch stick over a flame for a second to turn it to liquid.