How To…. Make a Flint-Tipped Arrow

I put this How To…. together to show how to construct a couple of primitive arrows. I used mainly primitive tools with the exception of a few modern touches: the occasional use of a steel knife, adding false sinew when I ran out of real sinew, some sandpaper, a copper-tipped flaker and bleached feathers.

Preparing the arrow shafts

I made these arrows while on the Woodcraft School Primitive Technology course in 2009. John Rhyder the course instructor supplied us with pre-cut branches from a spindle (Euonynus europaeus) tree, which has traditionally been used for the manufacture of arrows as it is a hard wood and takes a point well. Another option that was available to us was hazel (Corylus avillana) as there was some on site. I chose to use spindle as I had never used it before to make arrows.

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Flint-tipped arrows

I used the back of my knife to scrape the bark off the wood but this would traditionally have been done with a piece of sharp flint or other such stone. For safety I kept the knife still and pulled the green stick backwards, scraping bark off with the back of the blade. I like this method as the blade stays still making it very safe. I then roughly sanded each of the branches with sandpaper. This could have been completed traditionally with either a handful of sand or a soft rock such as sandstone.

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De-barking

I then heated the branches over an open fire. I was careful not to scorch the wood as this changes its properties and makes it brittle. The trick is to slowly turn the branch in a circular fashion, heating evenly all around the section of wood that needs straightened. This in effect creates steam in the wood as the sap heats up and so allows you to slowly straighten the arrow (this method works best on green wood). To straighten the bumps in the wood you need to hold it in position (as straight as possible) until it cools and sets into its new shape.

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Heating and straightening

Making a Self Nock

Next I needed to make the nock for the string. I cut two small grooves (opposite each other) at the thin end of each shaft. Then about a centimeter down the shaft (showed here in red) I rolled the knife edge to mark a thin line at 90 degrees to the first grooves (too fine to see in the picture).

I then placed the edge of the knife into one of the larger grooves to split the wood down to the lower line. The small cut in the wood at the lower line helps stop the split running off too far. I then repeated the procedure on the opposite groove.

I wiggled the centre section back and forth until it started to break away from the main arrow shaft. In the bottom picture you can see the nock starting to appear.

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Self Nocks

The resulting peg finally pops out after a lot of wiggling about. Freejutube has an excellent video on making a primitive nock using a slightly different method – Arrow snap self-nock – with flint and bone tools

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The knocks

Preparing the Flights

John Ryder provided feathers for us to use. Due to health and safety requirements John had to supply his students with feathers that had been washed: traditionally of course the remnants of bird kills would have been kept and the feathers used for this job. If the feathers are from the same wing they make excellent flights, making your arrows more accurate.

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The Flights to be

I used my knife tip to start the split of the feathers to create the flights – a sharp piece of flint would have worked just as well. After the initial split had been made I used my fingers to split the rest of the feather. I tried to be very careful here to keep the split in the centre of the spine of the feather all the way to the end. It gets a bit tricky as it tapers out near the end.

I split and trimmed the feathers leaving enough of the spine at each end for wrapping purposes.

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Splitting out the flights

Making Sinew Cordage

To wrap the feathers onto the shaft I used deer sinew. This needs to be pounded gently between two stones until all the sinew fibres separate.

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Sinew

This takes time but it is worth it to see all the strands of sinew start to appear.

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Breaking down the sinew

Here you can see the fibres starting to really fall apart. There wasn’t enough real sinew for everyone so I had to supplement it with some false sinew: dental floss is another possible alternative.

I rolled the sinew strands to make them stronger and wet each strand with saliva. This allows the sinew to bind to the shaft as the fats in it act like a glue when wet. On the right you can see some sinew that is ready to use as wrapping.

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Finished sinew

Attaching the Flights

To aid in the process of attaching the flights to the shaft I tried out another type of glue made by crushing bluebell leaves to a pulp between my fingers. The resulting gloop was supposed to act as a first fixing to help keep the flights in place before wrapping; it turned out to be a little bit tacky but nowhere near strong enough to act as a glue. In the bottom picture you can just make out the shaded area on the shaft where the bluebell ‘glue’ was placed.

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Bluebell glue

In the end I just used sinew to hold the flights in place. You can see the bluebell stain on the shaft in this picture.

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First tie off

I then wrapped the flights at the top with sinew (bottom left) and then to finish this stage I wrapped the body of the flights with more sinew (bottom right).

I also wrapped sinew just below the nocks on each arrow to strengthen them. You can see this clearly in the arrow on the right. If I hadn’t reinforced the nocks with sinew they could easily have split with the forces of the bow string as soon as I shot them.

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Tied off with sinew

Creating and Using Pitch

Once the sinew was attached to each arrow I decided to put together some pine pitch. This was to cover the sinew to protect it from fraying and also to waterproof it. The name pine pitch is a bit misleading as I used spruce resin, since that was what was readily available in the area. After collecting the resin that had oozed from spruce trees (the tree uses the resin to seal any damaged areas on its bark) I mixed  it with fine charcoal (to give it strength) and beeswax (to give it flexibility).

I used the small rock (left hand picture) to grind the charcoal and a large flat rock (top right) as a preparation table. I heated the square rock in the fire to help with melting and mixing everything together.  The sticks were used as mixers and to store the resin (see below). The hot rock I used had been heated before many times so there was no risk of it exploding (which can happen if they contain trapped air).

On the heated rock (bottom right) I heated the first lump of resin, and as it melted I scraped off any debris such as bark.

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Pine Pitch Prep

I kept adding more and more resin, charcoal and beeswax (I just added charcoal until the mixture thickened slightly and added beeswax in little lumps) until it had all melted. The rock was super-heated so I had to take great care not to burn myself.

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Mixing

The rock had a slight indentation to collect the melted resin. It doesn’t look like there is much resin here but it was enough for what I had to do.

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Hot Pine Pitch

Using two sticks, one to scrape the pine pitch up and one to hold the cooling pitch, I coated the holding stick with the pitch mixture then submerged it in a pot of cold water to harden it. I would then repeat the process adding more and more layers. Using cold water speeded up the whole process.

Here you can see the pine pitch building up on the stick. This primitive method does not give you very fine pitch as you would get using a modern method but it does work surprisingly well

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Creating a Pine Pitch Stick

I made up two pine pitch sticks in the end. The stick on the far left has been charred and can be re-ignited quickly by dipping it into a fire to create heat to melt the pine pitch again to coat the sinew on the arrows. This protects the sinew and gives the arrow a nice finish

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Prepping to coat the sinew

After re-lighting the charred stick I used it to to re-melt the tip of a pitch stick (top picture). I found it fairly easy to drip the melting  pitch onto the area of sinew on the arrow I wanted to cover (bottom picture).

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Heat and coat

As I dripped the pine pitch onto the sinew I wet my fingers so that I could smooth the resin out and spread around evenly (John the course instructor is in the left hand picture demonstrating this). If you do not wet your fingers the hot pitch could burn you and also it will stick to your fingers (out in the woods without hot running water this is a pain to clean up).

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Re-heat and smooth out

Knapping the Arrow Tips

The next stage in the process was to make some arrow tips. I had collected up some shards of flint left over from the course we had with John Lord. Thankfully there was a mass of leftover flint for me to look through and choose from. All of the pieces shown below I thought could be made into decent arrow tips or barbs with the minimum of effort.

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Possible points

The next stage was to pressure flake the pieces with a copper tipped pressure flaker and an antler tine (I wanted to try both tools) into usable arrow heads. The glasses were worn to protect my eyes from flying pieces of flint and the glove protected me against cuts. I placed under the flint a strip of leather to give support and further protect my hand.

The picture on the right did not turn out very clear (a smear on the lens of my camera) but I soon had  an arrowhead ready to insert into my arrow shaft. Using the same method as I used to make the knock, I created a groove at the arrow tip.

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A bit of knapping

I re-worked the other pieces and after a little touching up these other flint points were ready to be used.

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The rest of the finished points

Attaching the Tips 

I then coated the arrowhead with some pine pitch and placed it into the groove on the shaft. I then coated the tip of the shaft in more pitch and wrapped sinew round it to keep the arrowhead secure.

Update 13/03/2014 – I have been advised by one of the Primitive Arts Society members David Colter that  it is very important to securely bind the shaft immediately below the point for a length of about a centimetre to prevent it from splitting on impact and failing to drive the point into the target. There is a very good experiment showing this in the Traditional Bowyers Bible Vol 3. I did not bind it for a full centimeter in my example (thanks for the update David).

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Attaching points

I finally added more pitch to cover the sinew to waterproof it all.

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Well attached

Based on archaeological evidence I decided to add a barb to the arrow. I firstly scraped a groove along the arrow shaft then put some pine pitch into it.

I then placed a long thin piece of sharp flint onto this pitch and coated more around the base of it (bottom picture) The barb is designed to cause maximum damage to the prey animal as the arrow enters its body.

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Attaching a barb

I finished two arrows in this project. The one I completed for this tutorial is the one on the right.

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Finished arrows

Using similar techniques I was able to produce an Atl atl set as well.

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Atlatl extras

I have never shot these arrows at a modern target as I don’t want to break off the tips but I did shoot them into some bales of loose hay and was very impressed with their accuracy.

This was a great project as it introduced me to some primitive but very effective techniques in arrow making.

Cheers

George

 

 

How To…. Build a Finnish Rakovalkea Gap Fire

While writing my posts on my Scandinavian Candle series I recollected a long log fire I was taught how to set up by my good friend Kevin Warrington of Natural Lore. I like to think of it as a candle, but horizontal instead of vertical. The set up is basically two logs (usually pine) laid horizontally with one on top of the other.

This post is a step-by-step recording of how I set up what I have discovered is called the Rakovalkea Gap Fire.

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Finnish Rakovalkea Gap Fire

Back in 2007 I was on a bushcraft course with Kevin Warrington and he showed me how to set up a long log fire. This isn’t quite the Finnish Rakovalkea but the idea is basically the same. These fires are great when you’re sleeping outdoors in a lean-to shelter or under the tree canopy in very cold or arctic conditions. Last weekend I came across an excellent post on making a large full length Rakovalkea Gap Fire by SKW Bushcraft (I used Google Chrome to translate the page).

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Where it all began

While out last weekend in the woods I came across some dead standing birch logs that looked ideal for the fire (normally pine is used but I do not have access to any at the moment), and luckily there were some handy, biddable children around to help transport it home.

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Foraging

The component parts are two logs and various green sticks for supports and wedges. I flattened one of the logs in preparation for cutting out a groove in which to start the fire, keeping all the chippings for getting the fire going later. The log was not wet, exactly, but it was slightly damp owing to the heavy rain we have had recently. I could have left this experiment for the summer but thought that if I could get a damp log going then that would be a more realistic test for the UK environment. This type of fire is normally used in dry arctic environments where dead standing pines are abundant.

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Component parts – Create a flat surface on one log

Once the log was flattened I carved out the channel. This is the dangerous bit, so cut the channel out with small cuts and with the log on the ground or well off to your side. I left flattened areas off to the sides but on reflection I think I should have made the channel the full length to maximize airflow.

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Axe out a channel

On the underside of the log with the channel I axed out two grooves for the support poles.

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Under the log with the channel axe out a groove at each end

The support poles help to stop the log from rolling off to one side. I think if they were big enough they must help when the log is resting on snow to keep it secure.

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Bottom log set up

On the log that I was going to place on top I just flattened one side of it so it would rest securely on top of the bottom log. Again, on reflection, as the log was damp I should have made multiple cuts in this area with my axe to increase the surface area of the log and let the flames catch hold better. I came across this method when researching the Raappanan tuli candle.

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Flatten out along a section of the top log

I carved two wedges that were to be used to vary the gap height between the two logs. These also proved useful as tongs later.

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Green wood wedges for adjusting height

On one of the poles of green wood I carved a point and dug it into the ground beside the set up as support. I made this extra long as I was setting this up on soft earth (on the potato bed my wife had just dug over, in fact, but as it’s not been planted yet no potatoes were harmed in the making of this fire, and as I keep telling her ash is good for the soil).

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One sharpened pole for support

I slimmed down the end of another green stick and hammered a nail into it. One end of the stick is dug into the ground and nailed into the top log (diagonally opposite to the vertically upright green pole)

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Nail pole support

This is the basic set up without any tinders in the middle. All in all (not including foraging the wood) this set up took me about 15 minutes to do. I have read that with the much larger set ups (full body length) someone with good axe skills can set one up in an hour or so.

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Basic set up without tinder

To get the fire going I used a mixture of waxed wood shavings, cotton wool balls smeared in Vaseline, and a lot of dry larch twigs. I did try and find some pine or spruce resin but to no avail. Resin is traditionally used along with pine fat wood.

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Filled with tinders

I lit the whole thing with just a couple of matches and in a few seconds the whole set up was alight.

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Firing up

It was lovely to see the flames spread so quickly and on both sides.

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Initial burn

After about 5 minutes I started to add lots of pine kindling along the whole length. There was no wind so I had a small plastic plate to use as a wafter. The wooden wedges really came into their own as they allowed me to adjust the height of the gap so as to insert the kindling.

I tested the heat (with the back of my fingers) along the full length of the set up and it felt very uniform along its full length.

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Adding small kindling

For the next hour I just kept giving the fire the occasional waft and added more and more kindling. I made a short video (the sound is quite poor I am afraid) of the fire at this stage.

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Main logs starting to go

After I had used up the kindling the gap had widened a fair bit between the logs so I did not need to use the green wood wedges anymore. I used the wedges after this to insert larger pieces of wood into the gap along the length of the fire. This greatly helped combating the dampness in the main logs. I had to use the wedges as tongs at this stage as the heat was quite fierce.

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Adding larger pieces of wood

After two hours the bottom log was alight quite nicely and if I was sitting in front of this in the woods I would have been toasty warm. In comparison to a traditional set up I would normally use (criss cross lay for example) I needed to use very little wood to feed the gap.

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Final flames

In the morning I found that the bottom log had burned through where I had placed the last of my small logs (I concentrated them on the centre section).

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The next day

The top log due to its dampness had still not burnt through after all that heat but I was very impressed with this set up.

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Top log too damp to burn through

I am looking forward to later in the year when I can try this again but with larger pine logs and one day soon sleeping out in a lean-to shelter in an arctic environment with one of these fires to keep me warm.

There are some excellent long log fire pictures here on the Bushcraft UK forum to view and the Winter Trekking forum shows some good pictures of the Finnish army using the method.

Cheers

George

How To…. Carve a Holmegaard Bow

The second bow I ever carved was a Holmegaard-style bow made out of ash. The bow on which I based my replica was found in a peat bog in the Holmegaard area of Denmark in the 1940s and is thought to be over 9000 years old. I made this bow while studying at John Rhyder’s Woodcraft School doing a Primitive Technology course. The wood that was available to us at the time for bowmaking was ash but the original bow found in Holmegaard was made of elm. The bow is a mixture of styles with the limbs that have a flatbow shape for half their length and ‘D’ sectioned like a longbow on the limb tips.

The Holmegaard
The Holmegaard

I really like this bow as it is very light in terms of draw weight but fast and whippy when it shoots owing to its ‘D’ sectioned tips. I have included in my previous post on Carving an Ash Flatbow explanations on different bow terminology and the differences between flatbows and longbows. Below are the rough dimensions I made my bow to – I tried to replicate the dimensions of the original bow as much as possible.

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Holmegaard dimensions

An ash tree had recently been felled and a section of the trunk cut down to just over 6 foot. I scored a line in the bark with a wedge down to the wood to help with guiding the split of the log. Note that the wedge is positioned to one side of the person scoring the line. This maintains a safe position for the worker. I then drove a wedge into the scored line to start the split at one end of the log (upper wedge in the top right picture). A second wedge was driven in at the base of the log to further split the log (lower wedge). Putting in the second wedge loosened the first wedge so I pulled it out and drove it in further down the line to widen the split.

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Start of split

I just kept repeating this process of ‘leap frogging’ the wedges, and the scored line helped greatly with controlling the direction of the split.

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First complete split

Once the log had been split I kept repeating the process again and again until all the staves were split out.

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Finished staves

Using a wooden wedge I shaved off the bark of the stave. I was very careful to remove only the outer and inner bark and not to touch any of the wood. The wood found just under the bark is the most flexible part of the bow and will form the back of the bow. Apart from light sanding this area of the bow will not be touched.

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De-barking with a wedge

This is the side profile of the stave (top picture). The side profile has been roughly drawn out leaving plenty of room for error. A close up of the handle area can be seen in the bottom picture and the vertical lines are for the stop cuts.

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Side profile

These stop cuts help greatly when getting rid of the excess wood. As the excess wood is cut out, the stop cuts prevent splits from travelling down the length of the bow. The top picture shows the area around the handle ready to be cut out and the bottom picture shows one of the limbs ready for work.

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Stop cuts

Some of the tools that are used to take off the excess wood: the axe for the start of the process and a knife and batton to finish it off.

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Tools for initial shaping

Keeping the stave off to one side of me and resting on a log, I trimmed the excess wood off. As the stave was off to one side I was in a safe position to work with the axe. If the axe had slipped its follow-through path would have been to my side.

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Axing out

The tool on the left is a draw knife and can be used to finely trim the bow shape. If you do not have a draw knife you can embed the tip of a knife into a piece of wood to act as a second handle and use it as a draw knife. If you choose this method make sure that the piece of wood is on a secure flat surface before pushing the tip into it – never hold the piece of wood in your hand while you do this.

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Professional and impromptu draw knives

I clamped the bow securely to a workbench and then could easily start to use the draw knife. Here you can see the impromptu method in action; it works surprisingly well if your knife is sharp enough. It does not take long to work your way down to the line.

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Using the draw knife

A lot of the time I braced the tip of the bow against my stomach as I removed the excess wood. As I worked towards the tip I repositioned the bow on the workbench so that it was held securely without needing to brace it. You can see the side profile of the bow emerging on the picture of the stave propped up against the tree on the right.

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Side profile blanked out

The next stage was to mark out the top profile of the bow. I used a string to mark out a centre line down the length of the stave (picture on left). Then using my measurements (shown at the beginning) I marked out the shape of the bow (picture on right).

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Marking out the top profile

The picture on the left is the handle area I drew out and the one on the right is of one of the limbs. Both now have stop cuts sawn in to help with chopping out the bow shape.

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Stop cuts in place

I enlarged some of the stop cuts to make sure that no split would travel very far. I find that jamming one end of the bow against a tree helps with the axing-out process and that it can be done in a much more controlled, safe manner so that the axe blade can never swing into me. It’s important too to use the axe in a safe and controlled manner. In the bottom picture you can start to see the handle shape appearing.

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Axing out the top profile

As well as taking off a lot of wood quickly, the draw knife method is useful for taking off fine shavings as you get down close to the line.

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Draw knife on the top profile

The top profile slowly started to appear as I finely carved the excess wood down to the line.

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Top profile getting there

The draw knife was very easy to use as the angle of the limb changed from a Flatbow (near the handle) to a more ‘D’ shaped Longbow limb near the tips.

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The Holmegaard shape is appearing

The ‘D’ sectioned shape of the tips soon started to appear. It was at this stage I decided to let the wood season for a month before doing any more work.

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Limb tip needing trimming

I seasoned the wood for one week in my garage and for three weeks in a cool spot in my house. This allowed the wood to season enough to start the fine work. During this seasoning process I tied the bow into a frame to induce some reflex into it.

Seasoning
Tied back to keep the shape while drying

One month later it was time to finish the bow. I started work on the tips of the bow so that they would have more of a ‘D’ section shape to them. Making the tips smaller meant there would be less weight in them, allowing them to move forward faster when shooting an arrow. Using my knife as a draw knife I was able to finely carve the shape of the ‘D’ section on each limb. As the tip of the knife is firmly embedded into a piece of wood it is very safe to use and highly manoeuverable.

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Fine draw knife work

On each tip I came right down to the line but not past it with the draw knife.

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Limb tip finished

Up to this point I had tested the bow’s flexibility by floor-tillering it. This involves pushing down on the limb and checking to see if I was getting a nice curve or if there were areas of stiffness.

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Lots of hand tillering

To take off excess wood from areas of stiffness I used a metal cabinet scraper. The scraper only takes off minute pieces of wood and is ideal for this part of the process. I carried on this process of scraping and floor tillering until I got a fairly good curve on both limbs.

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Time for the cabinet scraper

Before using the tillering pole to finely check the curvature, I had to add knocks to the bow. Some Holmegaard bows have been found without knocks carved into them and it is thought that they may have had bone-tipped knocks added, or some sort of wrap on each limb as a knock. I decided as an experiment to make a knock from some material wrapped around the tips of the limbs. I first tried cordage made from western red cedar bark, but I found that this did not grip the wood firmly enough and kept slipping.

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Failed cordage knocks

Next I tried rawhide, soaking it in hot water and then wrapping strips onto each end. This took about one and a half days to harden but allowed me to string the bow.

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Successful sinew knocks

I coated the rawhide in pine pitch to waterproof it so it would not soften and slip if it got wet.

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Rawhide knocks covered in pine pitch

I just used some strong nylon string at first as a bowstring before starting the tillering process, tying on one end of the string with an overhand loop and the other end with a timber hitch. The string was just tied loosely, with no brace height. This picture is from when making my ash flatbow but the principle was exactly the same. Dick Baugh wrote a good article on tillering on the Primitive Ways website that is worth a read.

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Tillering string

I then placed the bow on the tiller and in increments slowly bent it to view the curve on each limb. The pictures are of the bow during the tillering process. After viewing it each time I would return to the workbench to scrape wood from areas of stiffness using the cabinet scraper or spoke shave. Also I would raise the brace height a little by shortening the bow string to see how the bow reacted under pressure when braced. This whole process ensures you get a good even curve on each limb and also trains the bow to bend properly.

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Tillering followed by scraping

This picture was taken at the end of the tillering process with a 4 inch brace height: I was happy to take my first shot now.

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Ready to shoot

Having seen a few bows in my time still fail (split) at this point, I only drew back on the string about two thirds of my normal draw length for this first shot.

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First shot

I then set about making my proper bowstring, which consisted of a Flemish twist on one end, a timber hitch on the other and serving the bowstring. Two good sites on this are Sam Harper’s site Poor Folk Bows for the string making and the Archery Talk forum for serving the string.

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Flemish twist and timber hitch

I used various grades of sandpaper to sand the bow down to get rid of any marks and sharp edges.

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Hours of sanding

To protect the bow I stained the wood slightly. Then I applied a mixture of boiled linseed oil and white spirits (50/50 at first). After this had dried I reapplied more oil, but with less white spirits each time until by the end I was applying just oil.

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Coats of linseed oil and white spirits

The next stage was to bone the wood by rubbing the whole bow with a small smooth pebble. This helps to close the fibres, making the bow very smooth, and also helps to lock in the oil. The whole process of boning can take a few hours but leaves a very smooth and shiny finish.

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Boning with a pebble

Lastly I wrapped on a small leather handle secured with a little glue. I thought about stitching one on but felt the seams might be too uncomfortable when holding it.

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Leather handle

The completed bow showing the belly, side profile and the back..

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One bow I am very proud of

I am so glad that the rawhide knocks worked so well on this bow as they were something of an experiment. I don’t know if the size of the knocks slows the limbs down when shooting, but she does shoot fast.

This bow is particularly liked by youngsters as it is so easy to draw but still shoots fast. I managed to capture this arrow just after it had been released by the Holmegaard bow.

Airborne arrow
Airborne arrow from the Holmegaard

Cheers

George

How To…. Carve an Ash Flatbow

Building a bow – from a log to a beautiful bow

I carved this Ash Flatbow back in 2008 while I was on my Bushcraft Instructors course with Woodcraft School and has since been used by scores of my Sea Cadets, and many of my friends and family. The two instructors who taught me to make this bow were John Rhyder (head instructor at Woodcraft School) and Nick McMillen (now of the Field Farm Project). Both of them as well as being professional outdoorsmen are top bowyers.

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An Ash Flatbow about to have its first shoot

This How To…. is designed to lay out all the main steps I undertook to make this bow and if you have reasonable woodworking skills then it will aid you in building a bow for yourself. If you think your skills are a bit rusty then I advise that you attend a bow-making course. In addition to John and Nick who still offer courses I can recommend Wayne Jones of Forest Knights School, Paul Bradley from The Bushcraft Magazine (though I’m not sure if he runs courses anymore) and Will Lord as excellent bowyers to learn from.

I made some drawings on my initial write-up in 2008 and thought it easiest to take some screen grabs of this bow theory for this blog.

Bow theory, terminology and scale

So the first question is – What is a bow?

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So what is a bow

Some bow terminology for you to remember as I will be mentioning some of this in the post:

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Some bow terminology

Not to scale, but these are the dimensions I mapped out for my bow:

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My bows dimensions

Splitting out staves

The ash tree was felled by the course instructor, John Ryder.

We scored a line down the length of the log, all the way through the bark and just into the sap wood, using an axe. This helps with guiding the split of the log.

We then drove an axe into the scored lined to start the split.

Note that the axe is at 90 degrees to the person hammering it in. This maintains a safe position for the worker.

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Splitting out the staves – Step 1

The first axe is followed by a wedge and another axe to widen the split.

The scored line helped greatly with controlling the split.

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Splitting out the staves – Step 2

As other wedges are driven deeper into the split the previous ones can be removed to be used again.

An axe can also be used to cut the wood fibres not split by the wedges.

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Splitting out the staves – Step 3

Once the log has been split the process is repeated again and again until you have the staves you require.

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Splitting out the staves – Step 4

Here are two staves ready for shaping.

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Split Staves

Shaping the bow

Using a draw knife I shaved off the bark of the stave. I was very careful only to remove the outer and inner bark and not touch any of the wood.

The sap wood found just under the bark is the most flexible and will form the Back of the bow. Apart from light sanding, this area of the bow is left untouched. All of the work on shaping the bow will be done on the sides and on the Belly (the part of the bow facing your belly when shooting).

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Trimming off the bark

Using a string I marked out a centre line down the length of the stave.

I then drew onto the stave the shape of my bow (using the measurements shown at the beginning of this post).

The first picture is the handle area and the other two are of the limbs.

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Marking out the bow

I then sawed stop cuts all along the stave: as a piece of wood is cut out with the axe the stop cuts stop a split running through the whole bow, meaning you only cut out the wood you want to remove.

Here you can see the stop cuts. Note too how the bow is wedged against a tree and resting on a stump and the axe is in front of me and at 90 degrees away from my body for safety.

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Stop cuts and axing out

Once the top profile is cut out the side profile is next.

Using stop cuts again I roughed out the stave until I got the basic shape of the bow. The drawing below shows the shape of the side profile (I didn’t take a picture of this I am afraid).

Side profile
Side profile

A finished blank stave ready to be seasoned for a while.

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Blanked out bow ready to season a bit

At this point I left the bow to season for a month: one week in my garage and then three weeks in a cool spot in my house.

This allowed the wood to season enough to start the fine work.

In the pictures below the bows are clamped down for the fine work.
A clear picture of the bow’s rough profile can be seen in the bottom picture.

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Clamped out bows ready for fine work

To begin with I used a draw knife and then moved onto a spoke shave.

Having the bow clamped allowed me to use these tools safely and with precision. I took the pictures so the hands you see aren’t mine: the top picture is Phil Brown of Badger Bushcraft using the draw knife and the bottom picture is Mollie Butters of the Field Farm Project using the spoke shave.

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Draw Knife and Spoke Shave

For very fine shaving I used a cabinet scraper. With all of these tools I only worked on the belly and the sides of the bow working down to the tips of each limb. I was looking to get a neat taper effect from the handle to the tips as shown in the plan in the picture on the bows dimensions.

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Cabinet scraper taking off minute amounts

Tillering

Throughout this fine work I tested the bow’s flexibility by floor tillering it.

This involves pushing down on each limb to test its flexibility (check out this thread on the Primitive Archer site on floor tillering).

I was looking for an even flexibility in each limb.

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Hand Tillering to begin with

Once floor tillering couldn’t tell me any more I needed to move to the tiller stand, so I carved out the knocks on each limb to hold the string using a round wood file.

The knock needs to be at an angle of 45 degrees and deep enough so that the string doesn’t slip off.

Finally I sanded the knock so that the edges would not abrade the string.

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Carve you Knocks

I just used some strong nylon string at first.

One end of the string is tied on with an Overhand loop and the other end with a Timber hitch.

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Tillering bow string

At this stage the bow was not put under any tension by the string. This was so that I could train the bow to bend incrementally by using the upright tiller. Putting the bow under too much tension would lead quite quickly to it snapping or cracking.

Dick Baugh wrote a good article on tillering on the Primitive Ways website that is worth a read.

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Ready for the Tiller Bar – No Brace Height

I then placed the bow on the tiller post and in increments slowly bent it, carefully watching the curve on each limb.

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First Tiller

The following pictures are of the bow during the tillering process. After viewing it each time I would return to the workbench to scrape wood from areas of stiffness using the cabinet scraper or spoke shave. The close up pictures show in detail the top and bottom of the tiller when set up.

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Further Tillers

The shape of the limbs can be viewed easily on the tiller: here I could see that the right hand limb was still stiff and needed working on.

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Left limb is good – right limb a bit stiff

The next stage involves shortening the bow string so as to raise the brace height (the height of the string above the handle when the bow is strung up) then testing the bow on slowly increasing brace heights on the tiller. To do this you have to unstring the bow (at this stage that simply means sliding the loop off the knocks and loosening the Timber hitch) and adjust the Timber hitch to shorten the string.

To re-string the bow after the Timber hitch has been adjusted and re tightened, hold the bow with the bottom limb (the one with the Timber hitch) trapped against your instep of your foot. Have the back of the bow facing you and with your left hand (if you are right handed) firmly hold the handle, then with your right hand slide the loop back up to the knock.

The first brace height I set the bow at was very low (the string touching the handle) as I only shortened the string by about an inch. A good site explaining how to string a bow can be found on the Archery Library website.

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Bow Braced very slightly (string just tensioned)

A two inch brace

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A 2 inch brace

Tillering by hand with a two inch brace

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Checking the feel of the bow as I went on – Still a 2 inch brace

Final brace about six inches. Tillering now complete with evenly curved limbs

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Six inch brace

After a bit of tuition from Scott it was time to take my first shot and I even managed to hit the target.

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Preparing for the first shot

I did not pull a full draw on the first shot in case the bow split.

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Arrow away

In the picture below you can see one that did not make it: Charlie’s bow had developed a hinge in one limb that gave under tension.

I think he took it in his stride.

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One that did not make it – Charlie took it well

String making

The next stage is to make the string for your bow.

Traditionally natural materials such as sinew, rawhide, plant fibres (nettle) or linen were used but we used modern materials for our bows. As modern string such as Dacron B-50 (50lb) is non biodegradable there is less chance of the string breaking, which means less chance of your bow breaking.

To make the string we used a plank with a clamp at either end, at a distance from each other of 18 inches longer than your bow length. Tie one end of the string to a clamp and run the string around the other clamp, then around the first one again. Keep doing this for five more cycles.

String making set up
String making set up

Cut the string at each clamp and you should be left with two sets of five strings.
Then follow the steps in Sam Harper’s site Poor Folk Bows to make a Flemish string. I did not document this step but he has a good tutorial on making the loop, twisting the string together and making the timber hitch at the other end.

Stringing up
Stringing up

The new string is attached by sliding the loop over one end down past the knocks and attached at the other end with a Timber hitch. You need to adjust the Timber hitch so that the string length is the correct length for the brace height you want. When you have the string set at the correct length, restring the bow and clamp it to a workbench.

The string now needs to be ‘served’ in the centre of the bow where the arrow will be knocked. The Archery Talk forum has a good thread on serving a bow string. Have a look, as my pictures on this part of the process are not the best.

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Bow clamped ready to serve the string

The serving of the string is basically a whipping to keep the individual pieces of string that are loosely wrapped around each other together and provide a firm area to knock into your arrow. I also served the top of the string near my loop to stop it unraveling. The little device you see in the pictures is known as a Serving Jig. After finishing serving the string I put some superglue at the end to keep it in place

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Serving the string

The finished loop needs to be wide enough to slip off the knocks but small enough to grip them when in place. In the picture on the left below you can see that it has been served for about 12 cms right up to the loop. The bottom limb just needs a timber hitch, though I did twist the end as if making cordage to keep it neat.

Finished bow string
Finished bow string

Final touches

The bow was now ready for some final sanding and oiling.

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Ready for the final touches

Using various grades of sandpaper, I sanded the bow down to get rid of any marks and sharp edges.

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Lots of sanding

To protect the bow I stained the wood slightly then applied a mixture of boiled linseed oil and white spirits (50/50 at first). After this had dried I reapplied more oil, but with less white spirits each time until finally I just applied oil.

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Oiling and staining

Lastly, I glued on a small leather handle. I thought about stitching one on but wanted to keep the clean line of the flat leather.

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Simple leather handle glued on

The completed bow.

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One Finished Ash Flatbow

This bow has been used by scores of my Sea Cadets over the last six years and still shoots as sweet as the day I finished her.

I enjoyed making this bow, it was my first but it was definitely not my last.

Cheers

George

How To…. Carve a Lovelock Cave Atlatl

One of my favourite Atlatls is the Lovelock Cave Atlatl. I made this Atlatl a few years ago using modern tools including a Mora knife, a small carving knive, a flex gouge chisel and sandpaper.

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My reproduction Lovelock Cave Atlatl – Top Profile
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My reproduction Lovelock Cave Atlatl – Side Profile

The original Atlatl was found in a cave over a century ago but was soon lost; thankfully, though, not before someone had made a detailed drawing of it. Lovelock Cave was previously known as the Sunset Guano Cave, the Horseshoe Cave and Loud Site 18. A good paper on the archaeological digs on the site was written by Phoebe. A. Hearst from the Museum of Anthropology (University of California Berkeley).

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Lovelock Cave – Humboldt Sink USA

A copy of the drawing is shown below: I found this in a post by Mike Richardson on the Split Stick Atlatl, who also writes that the original was 17 inches long. I reproduced the Atlatl as closely to the drawing as I could.

It has a fork at the rear and the drawing shows a small groove around each prong. I have read that this was where a small piece of carved wood or bone known as a spur was attached as a point to hold the Atlatl. I decided though to see if the Atlatl would work with just some cordage wrapped around it. There is no historical evidence that this was done but it does work well. A good comparison of both attachment types on this Atlatl can be read in the PaleoPlanet forum here. A further project for me on this Atlatl is to make a spur for it.

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Drawing 1

Knowing that the original was 17 inches long, I made a best guess at the other dimensions. The original Atlatl that was lost was made of Greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus) but as this wood is not available in the UK I opted to use a piece of Siver Birch (Betulus pendula) as I had some available and it is easy to carve. The wood I had ready was only 16 1/2 inches long (422 mm to be exact) so using that as a starter and the drawing as a guide I scaled up all the other dimensions as shown below.

Dimensions of my reproduction
Dimensions of my reproduction

This was a beautiful Atlatl to carve as the finished lines are very smooth and pleasing to the eye. The top picture (below)  is a close up of the handle of my reproduction. The final shape gives a surprisingly good grip even when smoothed down.

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A beautiful slim design

I split my log down to a rectangular shape and then using my dimensions drew out the shape of the Atlatl. After that I marked stop cuts along the whole length of the Atlatl and cut into them with my saw, finishing a couple of millimeters from the outline. These are useful to have in place to stop any splits from running off down the length of the Atlatl when you carve it.

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Draw out the profile and place stop cuts

I battoned out the rough profile first using only my knife and a small branch as a hammer. I did the battoning with the work piece placed on a log in front of me. I kept the blade of the knife at 90 degrees to my body as I hit it so that if the knife slipped it would swing away from my body. See my post on Knife Safety Tips for more detail on this.

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Batton off the excess

Then using my knife I trimmed the excess wood down to the line, keeping the work piece well in front of me to avoid any potential cuts from the knife if it slipped.

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Tidy up the profile with a knife

Using two more stop cuts I carved out the thumb and forefinger grip area.

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Carve out the thumb and forefinger grip

Then it was a case of roughly carving the handle area down to a size comfortable for my hand. I also started to carve out the protruding areas above  and below the thumb and forefinger grip area.

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Roughly carve out the handle shape

I worked on the bottom of the tail next, carving a flat area near the handle and then carving out an elongated bowl shape to the tail. No need to worry too much about perfection at this stage as the sanding will produce the final shape.

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Roughly carve out the underside of the tail

I tapered the tail area all the way to the end making a flat section of the final 8 cms (this will form the prong).

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Taper the carving all the way to the end of the tail

On the top of the tail I marked out with my knife tip a 1 cm wide by 23 cm long spear shape that would form the bowl for the dart to rest in.

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Mark out the top slot for the dart to rest in

I used a Flex Cut Gouge for carving the bowl area and my small carving knife for carving the prongs. This is the really tricky area of carving – you have to be particularly careful as it is very easy for the knife to slip.

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Roughly carve out the slot for the dart to rest in and carve the fork out at the end

Once I’d carved the basic shape I used various sandpapers from about 40 grit to about 1000 grit to smooth everything.

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Sand the whole Atlatl down using rough paper working up to very fine grades

Before I added the false sinew to the tail I oiled the Atlatl a couple of times and then boned it with a small pebble. Using a small pebble to rub the Atlatl wood down for a couple of hours smooths the wood fibres down and traps the oil in the wood. The whole process of boning really gives a smooth finish.

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Add any oils (I used vegetable oil) and bone it smooth with a small pebble

The finished profiles of the Atlatl.

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Tail, side and bottom profiles

The handle has a very unusual shape but gives you a fantastic grip.

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Handle profiles

It is easy to flick with an open grip as the thumb and forefinger grooves keep the Atlatl fixed in the correct position in a throw.

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Works with an open grip

As I carved the handle to fit my palm it makes for a very comfortable closed grip.

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Works with a closed grip

After carving little notches around each prong I wrapped false sinew to the tail using a Constrictor knot. I kept it fairly tight but you may wish to experiment here. As I said earlier there is nothing in the archaeological record to prove this method was used but after experimenting with other Atlatls like the Split Stick method I see no reason why it could not have been used if a point was not available.

The problem with cordage however is that when you are in the act of throwing a dart, various forces are exerted on it. As you release the dart will flex/bend, and the cordage may cause the tail of the dart (fixed in place by the cordage) to go out of line with the point of the dart, thus decreasing accuracy. Having a point at the rear of the Atlatl holding the tail of the dart in place allows the tail to rotate with the point as it flexes during a throw, maintaining the dart’s accuracy. Chris from Paleoarts explains it well in a post on the Paleoplanet site.  I will be experimenting with attaching a bone or wooden spur to the Atlatl in future.

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False Sinew wrap at the tail to hold the dart

I am left handed and even though the shape of the handle is designed for a right hander (the slightly protruding piece of the handle to trap the thumb and the smoothed corner to fit in the palm) it is very comfortable still to shoot left handed.

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Cordage wrap tail – No archaeological record of this

I enjoyed making this Atlatl and shooting it over the last few years. It would be great to see some more of this style being reproduced as there are so few to be found.

Cheers

George

How To…. Build a Mini and Mighty Bushcraft Loom

For a number of years I have been interested in bushcraft mat making. I like the thought of being able to go out into the woods and build my own shelter in a Robinson Crusoe sort of way, and in my blokey sort of way make my own fixtures and fittings. One of the key skills is having the knowledge to make your own mats to sit on, wrap around you, thatch with or just use as decoration.

This How To…. is designed to show you the main principles of making either a small or large loom using wooden poles. You will need to experiment to see what works for you but that is half the fun of it anyway. There are many other ways of creating looms, for example using  live trees as props, or recycled materials.

The first loom we will look at is the Mini Loom.

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Mini Loom

The second one will be the Mighty Loom.

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Mighty Loom

The end result from the Mini Loom.

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Mini Mats

And the end result from a Mighty Loom.

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Mighty Mat

Early Days

When I was growing up on the Isle of Lewis weaving was happening all around me. My sister was a weaver for many years on the Harris Tweed looms and though I never wove I did as a young lad have a job spinning the bobbins for the tweeds.
I was reading back in 2006 Ray Mears’s book ‘Outdoor Survival Handbook’ and came across a section on mat-making using only two stakes and lengths of string. I tested this out with my Sea Cadets on a Duke of Edinburgh bushcraft course where they made some very good mats.

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A ground loom using only two stakes and string

Mini Loom

I came across the Mini Loom for the first time I think at the Wilderness Gathering a number of years ago. This loom has five individual stakes knocked into the ground on the left. On the right only two stakes are used and a crossbar tied off in between.

In this example five pieces of string have been used. The string is doubled over and tied off (at the bend) to the crossbar on the right. Then one strand is tied to one of the upright stakes on the left and the other strand to a horizontal rod that is used to move the string up and down. As you can see in this picture one of the strands is loose: I tightened it up after this.

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Mini Loom – Staked into the ground & strung up

Line everything up as neatly as possible with no string crossing another. I use the Tarp Taut Hitch on all the tie-off points so when the mat is finished it is easy to disconnect from the frame.

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Mini Loom – Top View

The horizontal bar needs to be tied off in the same way to the string and can then be lifted up and down as you insert material. This up-and-down movement ensures that the material gets trapped in the crossed-over string. After you insert some material and lift or drop the bar, remember to keep the mat tight by pulling the material towards the horizontal bar (on the right in this picture).

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Mini Loom – The Weave

The Mighty Loom
The Mighty Loom can be made in exactly the same way as the Mini Loom by driving stakes into the ground. I could not do that for this one as I was going to be teaching bushcraft in the grounds of a church. I needed to make something I could transport easily and set up easily with the minimum of fuss. I decided to make two seperate frames that could be set up using guy lines and when dismantled would leave no visible trace of having been there.

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Mighty Loom – Initial set up

I had a load of sycamore rods (Acer pseudoplatanus) available for use. The plan was to make two frames. I planned to make one frame 75cms high and the other 92cms high (this height was based on the lengths of wood available) and both would be 145cms wide. I cut the rods to size (nine verticals and two horizontals for each frame) and made sure they were smoothed out so nobody would get a splinter.

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Mighty Loom – Sycamore rods were used for the frame

I started each frame by lashing together the two uprights to the two horizontal poles to form a rectangle.

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Start of first frame

I used a square lashing on every tie-off point as you can really tighten this knot.

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Square lashing used

I tied off seven more vertical uprights to each frame using the square lashing, alternating them on either side of the frame to give it more stability when it was set up with the guy lines out. Here you can see the smaller frame set up with the guy lines out (I used some old tent guy lines).
I wove another horizontal pole through the frame to give it extra strength and also to act as an adjustable tie-off point for the string. This pole was not tied off but was held firmly in place by the vertical poles.

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First frame – 9 vertical poles lashed with one horizontal pole for strength

The bigger frame did not have this central horizontal pole as it would get in the way of the string moving up and down to create the weave (as per the Mini Loom). The pole propped up against the frame was used to move the string up and down.

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Second frame built (bigger than first frame) with nine vertical poles

Setting the string up is the same as for the Mini Loom. Ensure you cut lengths of string long enough to be doubled up and tied off.

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Initial set up – Roped up and staked out

The Tarp Taut Hitch was used again on each bend of the string to attach it to the middle horizontal pole on the smaller frame.

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First frame rope set up – Quick release knots used – 9 strings used

For each piece of doubled up string you have attached to the smaller frame you will have two individual strands to attach to the bigger frame. One strand should be attached to the middle of one of the vertical poles on the large frame and the other strand needs to be attached to the horizontal moving bar behind the larger frame.

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Second frame set up – individual strands tied off, one to the vertical pole a one to the horizontal pole

This is the part that any weaver will tell you takes the longest. You have to take your time, do not let the strands become entangled and be prepared to do lots of adjustments. Nobody will appreciate quite what you will have gone through to set this up but they will appreciate the ease of being able to make a mat with the system.

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All tied of and adjusted

I sourced a mixture of different plants from the local area, mostly from abandoned allotments next to the church. This material would be used to form the mat.

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A mixture of different weave material sourced locally

As with the Mini Loom, insert the material you want to start with. I prefer at the beginning and the end of the mat to insert fairly rigid material like the stems of Reedmace (Typha latifolia) but try different materials to see what works for you. Pull all the material (a good handful’s width) in tight then……………………

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Insert some material between the strands

…drop the horizontal bar to cross the string over and trap the material.

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Drop the horizontal bar

Then get ready to add a new layer of material to the loom.

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Then get ready to insert more material and lift the bar to trap it

Keep repeating the process of lifting and dropping the handle and adding new material to build up the mat.

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Keep repeating the whole process to build up your mat – vary the material as you like

The edges you can see here get very ragged. You can use a pair of sharp scissors (fairly big ones) or a very sharp knife to trim this down, but leave a good handwidth from your trimmed end and the first string so the material does not fall out.

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It soon builds up and kids of all ages love this activity

When you have finished, undo each slip knot and retie the string so that it holds all the material together. I attached some more string to this mat to hang it up and also decorated it with some small yellow flowers to form the name St James. Use your imagination and see what you can produce.

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Release the slip knots, tie off, hang it up and enjoy your artwork

Mat making is not something I do at every bushcraft event I run but if I have limited opportunity to run Atlatl or archery stances, having a loom on standby will keep kids occupied for a long time.

They can be as easy or as complex to set up as you wish but the common thing about all of them is the great craft they can produce.

Cheers

George

How To…. Make a Simple Burdock Hanger

Historically what would have been used to hang up your clothes and kit up if you lived in an environment where there were very few trees?

On the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides where I was brought up the stems of the Burdock  (Arctium lappa) plant were used. Lewis is predominantly moorland so the locals had to use whatever resources came to hand.  Burdock is a biennial (a life cycle of two years) plant and in its second year sends up a tall shoot in order to flower and reproduce. It is this stem (which is quite woody) that can be easily trimmed down and used as a hanger.

A keen convert to this was my friend John Fenna (from BCUK) as he does a lot primitive living re enactments (flint tools etc only allowed) and he thought it would be ideal for hanging stuff in his camp.

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Our Mr Fenna is happy he has a Burdock hanger in the making

I came across a post on this in 2009 on my friend Kevin’s Natural Lore site (written by the guest blogger Freebornjem). The hanger had been spotted by Freebornjem in one of Blackhouses at the museum in Arnol village on the Isle of Lewis. I can remember seeing hangers like this as a small boy but it was not until I read the post on Kevin’s site did I start using one.

I now use a burdock hanger regularly when I am using my tipi or have a base camp set up. I try and find dead standing stems (autumn/early winter) as the hanger is ready for use instantly after trimming. If you use the stem from a live plant it will work for hanging kit but will not be as strong as a dead stem.

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2nd Year Burdock growth (Arctium Lappa)

Once you have selected your stem, trimmed the leaves and burrs off cut the the branches back so that only about an inch is protruding from the main stem. Make sure you round each hook off as they can be very sharp if left after just a single cut.

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Branches trimmed and rounded

For this hanger I attached a modern connector (soft shackle prussick) but you can go natural by folding the thin top piece of the stem back and wrapping some cordage around it to form an eye. Kevin’s post covers this method. I use a modern connector now as it will take more weight. I use the hanger in my garage to hold any kit that I regularly use or it can be hung quite easily from a tree.

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Great for indoors or outdoors

I particularly like this hanger in my tipi as it is easy to hang of the central pole and does not take up any room.

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Hanging in my tipi

Experiment with how you want to attach the hanger to something. I like the soft shackle prussik as it grips very well and is easy to adjust.

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Man made connector on this one

The top half of the shackle can be attached to a nail, branch or piece of rope very easily.

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Soft Shackle Prussik

By pulling the little coloured tab you open the shackle up so making for an easy set up or take down. I will look to post an article in the future on making this type of shackle if anyone would be interested.

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Soft Shackle Prussik opened up

Freebornjem mentions that the burrs when clumped into a fist sized bundle make a scouring pad. I have not tried that yet but may be worth a go next autumn.

Cheers

George

How To…. Primitive Skills – Build a ‘One Stick – Split Stick Atlatl’

Recently I posted an article titled – Atlatls – What they are and why I love them where I said I would be publishing a couple of How To…. guides on making them. This is the first of these guides on making what I call the One Stick – Split Stick Atlatl.

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The One Stick – Split Stick Atlatl

As explained in the previous article, an Atlatl is basically a spear-chucking device. Many different types have been made by different societies: there is nothing in the archaeological record (as far as I know) of this type of Atlatl, but then as it’s made completely of organic material there is no surprise there. I decided to investigate this type after researching the Lovelock Cave Atlatl. There is debate over how darts were launched by that Atlatl and whether a point was used or whether a strip of cordage was used.

The One Stick -Split Stick Atlatl I made for this post was done using primitive tools only and a single shoot of goat willow (Salix caprea). I made the Atlatl just to prove to myself I could make one out of a single stick (shaft, wedge and cordage). All you would need to make one using modern tools would be a good sharp knife. The piece of willow I selected was about 1.5 metres long and about the thickness of my thumb. This was far longer than needed but I wanted it this length to get lots of cordage from the bark and to use part of the excess wood as a wedge (needed in making this type of Atlatl).

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Goat Willow (Salix caprea)

The first thing I did was to cut into the bark all the way around the stick about 12cms from the thickest end, leaving an area of bark slightly larger than my fist. This bark-covered end acts as a handle area.

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Cut a line through the bark around the stick

I used an old deer rib bone to scrape the dark outer layer of the bark off rest of the stick, leaving the handle untouched. If you leave this on the bark, the cordage you make from it will not of the highest quality.

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Scrape the outer bark off

After scraping off all the bark I re-cut around the stick just above the handle area to make sure all the inner bark was disconnected from the handle area.

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Cut again through the inner bark all around the stick

I then cut a line through the inner bark from the handle to the end of the stick to start to open the bark up.

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Make a cut along the full length of the inner bark

I used my thumbs to peel open the bark. Other tools that make this job easier are a small wooden wedge or the back of your knife blade. In late spring the bark comes off easily so my thumbs were all I needed.

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Slowly peel the bark off – use a wooden wedge if the bark does not come off easily

Wherever possible try and take the bark off in one piece so you can make long strands for easy cordage making. Do not worry if this does not happen, all it means is that your cordage may take slightly longer to make.

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Try to get it off in one piece

I wedged the flint knife into a groove in the log and then sliced the bark into strips. I managed to get a good amount of strips out of this one piece of bark. I then left the strips to dry out in the sun. Cordage is best made from rewetted strips of bark as the bark shrinks considerably when it is dried out for the first time.

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Split the bark into strands

I decided that I wanted my Atlatl to be about 64cms long (fingertip to armpit for me) so I used a piece of flint knapped as a discoidal (curved) knife to saw through the stick. This takes far longer than using a modern knife but I find far more satisfying.

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Saw/cut a piece of wood from the end of the stick

Keep sawing until you can feel you can snap the wood without splitting it down its length. Once snapped, trim the end of the Atlatl smooth.

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Primitive cut

The spare piece of wood needs to be trimmed down and cut to size to make a wedge. This will be used to form the split stick part of the Atlatl.

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Spare piece of wood to make a wedge

I used my flint adze at first to blank out the wedge, making it about 10cms long.

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Create a wedge

Then I used my flint knife to trim the wedge to its final shape.

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Trim the wedge

I used my flint knife to split the non-handle end of the Atlatl open. As the knife has a flat spine I just hit the back of the knife to start the split. Be careful to keep the split in the middle of the stick. A piece of cordage should really be tied off on the shaft where you want the split to stop. I forgot to do this but thankfully the split did not travel too far. I made my split 20cms long.

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Split the end of the Atlatl

I used my discoidal knife to create a small groove around each split limb for the cordage to grip onto.

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Create a notch on each split

Before inserting the wedge I did tie off the split with some of the dried bark using a constrictor knot.

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Insert the wedge but with the base of the split tied off.

Afterwards I used more of the bark strips to secure the wedge by wrapping them around it to hold it secure.

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Split secured

I had plenty of bark left over after this, which was good as I wanted to make some cordage to create a strap to hold the dart in place before launching.

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Dried-out bark ready to make cordage

I completed a piece of cordage about 50cms long to give me plenty to tie onto the Atlatl. I used a constrictor knot on each split to hold the cord in place. Jonsbushcraft blog has an excellent tutorial on making cordage.

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Create cordage to attach to the splits

I was very happy with how this Atlatl turned out.

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Completed One Stick – Split Stick Atlatl ready to go

You can see the dart has a groove instead of a hole at the end. This allows the cordage to hold the dart in place before launching.

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Dart has a groove instead of a hole

The finger pinch hold is just the same as a normal Atlatl with a point.

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Simple finger pinch hold

I think the launch with this type of Atlatl feels slightly different but once you get used to it I find the release is as smooth as it is with a normal pointed one.

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Perfectly good Atlatl

I made this Atlatl purely for the joy of making one with primitive tools and to see if it was possible to produce a hunting tool out of just a single stick.

I have no idea whether hunters in pre-history used this type of Atlatl but I certainly now know they would have found it the easiest thing in the world for them to make.

A good post on some other Other Types of Atlatls: Loop, Fork and Cord was written by Mike Richardson on the Primitiveways website.

Cheers

George

How To…. Build a Bhutanese Bow

Back in August of 2012 at the BCUK Bushmoot I learnt how to make a Bhutanese Bow with Wayne Jones of Forest Knights. As far as I know Wayne is the only instructor in the UK running classes in making this type of bow. I hope he runs another one at this year’s Moot.

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The Bamboo Bhutanese Bow

This is a quick bow to make when you have an instructor like Wayne to guide you. The bow is made up of two pieces of tapered bamboo joined together in the middle by some sort of cordage or tape around the handle area. I tried to take pictures of all the steps but must admit to missing a few as I got so wrapped up in the whole process. To make up for this I rehandled the bow at home and took some pictures of the missing steps.

I have done a bit of research about this type of bow. It seems that archery is a national sport in Bhutan with many villages in the country running archery competitions. Kids as young as three are taught how to use the bow. Due to the nature of bamboo the outer layer of the bamboo becomes the belly of the bow and the inner part becomes the back: as the outer layer is very hard it will not take the expansion forces exerted as you draw the bow (it will crack), but as it is a grass the inner area (which is fibrous) is more flexible.

Below on the left is a picture of the finished (reworked) bow and on the right Spikey is holding the tube of bamboo we used to make it.

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The finished article and how we started

Wayne Jones researched the bow for me as well and found this in the Bowyers Bible: ‘Unless the bamboo wall is unusually thick it’s best to overlap two billets at the grip secured by a couple of rivets made of nails or dowels, the grip is then wrapped with rawhide, sinew or even tape. Overlapping stiffens the midbow and increases poundage per bow length. Such bows can be made in minutes. Even though “quickie” bows, they are excellent in every regard.

This design is a good choice for kids’ bows: quick and easy to make, and fairly indestructible.’

Wayne brought a supply of large bamboo to the Moot for us to use. With this type of bow you need to use very large bamboo so that when you split it into quarters you get fairly flat limbs. I do not know the type of bamboo that was used or where Wayne sourced it but I am sure if you were to ask him he would help you.

In the first picture below Wayne is showing us two limbs made from one piece of bamboo he had carved earlier. As bamboo gets thinner as it grows higher you need to make both limbs from the same piece of the column to ensure both limbs are of the same width and thickness.

I cut out a section of tube that was 103 cms long to begin with so that when the two limbs were joined together the bow would be my height. NB I am not 2m 6cms tall, but as the limbs overlap at the handle these measurements produced a bow of my height. You will need to experiment for yourself.

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Finished limbs and start of the bow

I used an axe to batton out the bamboo into quarters and selected the best two pieces to work with. I made sure when I was battoning that I kept the blade of the axe at 90 degrees to my body. This would ensure that if the axe slipped out of the split it would swing away from me.

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Battoning out the limbs

Here you can see many of the battoned-out pieces of bamboo ready to be shaped into limbs. You can clearly see the node plates on the inside of each limb, which keep the structure rigid. These need to be knocked off and eventually filed flat.

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In this picture you can see Mark using the back of his axe to knock off each piece of the node plates.

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Breaking the node plates

To make full use of each limb it is best to use string to mark out its shape. Allow an extra half centimetre or so so you can finely trim the limb after you have axed the shape out. I made the handle area (thicker end) about 5 cms wide and the tip of the limb (thinner end) about 3 cms wide. Once you have blanked out the first limb you can use this one to mark out the second limb so it is the same shape.

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Using string to draw the limb shape

Keeping the limb to one side of my body, I experimented first with using an axe to cut the excess off but soon swapped it for a large chopping knife loaned to me by my friend Sargey (Andy Sergeant). This was so sharp with such a good weight behind it that I soon had the first limb blanked out. I then used a smaller knife to trim the limb down to the line I had marked with the string. I used this finished limb to mark out my second limb and repeated the whole process until I had two roughed-out limbs.

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Shaping the limbs

I used various tools such as my Japanese rasp, a cabinet scraper, a small knife and wood files to smooth out what was left of the node plates and to curve all the edges of the limbs. If you do not smooth off all the edges, you don’t just risk a splinter, there’s a good chance your finished bow will develop a split when you draw it.

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Smoothing the plates

Take your time smoothing the plates and edges down.

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Smoothed plates and sides

The outer layer of the bamboo is left untouched and this will become the belly of the bow. The smoothed inner side will become its back.

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The belly (left) is left untouched – The back (right) is smoothed

I used a rounded file to produce the nocks to hold the bow string. Make sure you get them the right way round.

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Nocks produced with a round file

Make sure the edges of the nocks are sanded down so there are no sharp edges. A sharp edge will potentially cut your bow string and could cause a split to occur.

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Lined up neatly and the edges rounded off

When I first built this bow I left the handle area as you see it in the picture below. After shooting the bow I found the handle area just too wide for a comfortable grip.

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Ready to work the handle area

I marked out one handle so I would lose 1 cm on each side, making the actual handle 3 cms wide. Then with a sharp knife I carved out the excess.

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Mark your handle area on one limb, trim off the excess and then use the first limb to mark out the second limb

I then used the first carved handle to mark out the second handle and carved that one as well.

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Trim off the excess from the second limb and you are ready to join them together

To take this picture I got my son Finlay to hold the tape taut and my wife Alison rolled the bow to tape the limbs together.

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I used help to bind the handle. Keep the tape taut and roll the limbs

This method ensures the limbs stay in the correct position and the tape is put on as firmly as possible. Once I had the limbs secured I taped up the middle of the handle by myself.

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Secure both ends

I find that the tape does not offer a good grip so I put on a leather handle using a common whipping technique.

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Finish taping the handle and add any leather for a comfortable handle

Tillering is the process of testing the bow to see if it forms a balanced curve on each limb. Initially we had just a piece of paracord attached to the bow to do this. The tillering stick in the picture allows you to see if the limbs are balanced. If they are not balanced you need to remove a small amount of the inner side of the bamboo using a light rasp or cabinet scraper wherever the limb looks stiffest. This is one part of the process that is very hard to show without taking a whole string of pictures and probably where going on a course and getting one-to-one tuition on it pays dividends. Dick Baugh wrote a good article on tillering on the Primitive Ways website that is worth a read.

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Tillering

Wayne supplied some Dacron for our bow strings. I twisted one end as you would do to make cordage and used that to make a timber hitch for one end of the bow.

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Timber hitch

For the other end I created a loop using the Flemish twist method. Sam Harper in his blog Poor Folk Bows has an excellent article including a video on making the Flemish twist and the timber hitch.

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Flemish twist

The finished bow. This was taken after I had reshaped the handle. I plan to wrap the exposed tape in strips of rawhide to cover them up.

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Ready to shoot

I like this bow much better now that I have rehandled it as it is far more comfortable to hold. I think some more of the cadets will also want to use it now because of the reduced handle size.

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Shoots well

A nice shot of the bow in action with an arrow in flight.

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In action with the cadets – Spot the arrow.

If I could ever source some of this bamboo I would definitely make one or two more. In comparison to my Ash Flatbow and Holmegaard this bow shoots just as well but took only a fraction of the time to make.

If you have further information or links on this type of bow I would love to hear from you.

Cheers

George

How To…. Primitive Skills – Bone Knife Bark Sheath

This How To…. lays out some simple steps to make a bark sheath for a knife. I have also used this method to make a quiver for my arrows and with a sightly different method you can easily make containers.

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Sweet Chestnut Bark Sheath

I took these pictures in 2009 when I was on the Woodcraft School Primitive Technology course. The sheath was made using only primitive tools as required by the course. To do this I made for myself a flint knife, flint adze, some discoidal flint knives and also used the bone bodkin that I showed you how to make in the previous post. For more modern methods I would say you could do this job with a small saw and a small knife.

I started the project by selecting a suitable Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) limb from a coppice stool to take down. After checking the tops for any dead wood I started to clear away the undergrowth using some flint. Clearing the undergrowth away ensured a safe working area around the limb. I used a large sharp piece of flint for this. Also I made sure I had clear exit routes around the limb I could use when it came down.

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Trimming and starting the cut

I had created for the job a Flint Adze. This is a piece of worked flint attached to a handle with rawhide. Unlike traditional tree felling where a wedge is created and then a back cut made I am made a rosette cut all around the tree using short chopping motions. You can see the rosette cut appearing in these pictures. The small branch you can see in the foreground got in my way so I cut this down.

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The Rosette cut

You can see that the Adze creates tears in the wood but is very effective in cutting into it. As I got into the heartwood I had to support the limb as I did not want it to fall uncontrollably and eventually I was able to let the limb to fall under control. I did not need to back out of the coppice stool as the limb was light enough to control. Had it been any heavier, my cleared exit routes would have come into play.

Traditionally the stump would have been left like this. I however sawed the stump cleanly at the base. If a stump is cleanly cut (with a little angle) then it has less chance of getting infected and will eventually have new shoots grow out of it.

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A wooden flower

Using the Adze in a safe manner away from my body I trimmed off all the brash from the limb.

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Trimming the limb

Using the flint that I had cleared the undergrowth with I scraped off all the outer bark of the limb as this is too brittle to work with. All I wanted to use was the inner bark. My friend Paul held the limb to secure it: this speeded up the process as I could use both hands.

I scored a line down the limb through the inner bark with my flint and also scored a line around the limb at the top and the bottom. Then, using a small piece of wood I’d found on the ground, I peeled away the inner bark from the limb. This was done in April so the sap was rising, making the debarking of the limb very easy.

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Scraping and de-barking

The tools I used for the job:

1) Adze

2) Flint

3) Piece of wood

I cut a further piece of bark off the limb as well.

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Fresh bark ready for drying

I left the bark to dry out overnight and then re-wet it the next day before cutting it into strips. If you use the bark straightaway after harvesting it, anything you weave will become loose as the bark will shrink slightly as it dries. This shrinkage does not happen again if you let it dry out first then just re-wet it to make it supple enough to work.

To cut the strips I had a flint knife prepared for this.

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Re-soaked pliable bark

I cut the strips by eye only but I am sure you could rig up a worktop to cut consistently wide strips. The good strips are on the right and the offcuts on the left.

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Bark strips

With practice you will be able to gauge how many strips you’ll need for your size of sheath. This was a small sheath so I estimated 6 strips.

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Chosen strips

Firstly fold all your strips in half with the inner part of the bark showing as it is the smoother side.

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Fold the strips in half

I have documented the first 12 steps of the weave in the next 3 pictures. Each numbered bullet point relates to a numbered picture below.

1)  Lock the right hand strip onto the top half of the left hand strip.
2) Lock the next right hand strip onto the bottom half of the left hand strip.
3) Lock the third right hand strip onto the top half of the left hand strip.
4) Lock the second left hand strip onto the top of the first right hand strip and weave through the other strips.

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Weave 1

5) Lock the third left hand strip onto the bottom of the first right hand strip and weave it through the other strips. The ‘point’ of the sheath is now complete.
6) Fold back the top of the first left hand strip.
7) Fold the bottom of the first left hand strip diagonally over the other left hand strips.
8) Then flip back up the top of the first left hand strip.

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Weave 2

9) Lock the next right hand strip onto the bottom half of the left hand strip.
10) Flip the whole sheath over. There should be a single strip on the right now.
11) Now fold the bottom right strip diagonally over the other right hand strips and weave it in.
12) Starting again on the left hand side keep repeating the whole process.

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Weave 3

Soon your sheath will take shape.

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Keep weaving

Keep going with the weave and stop when you have enough to securely hold whatever will be kept in it.

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Ready to close off

The top can seem a little bit tricky at first but all you need to do is turn the ends back on themselves and weave them into the sheath. Just tuck each end in as neatly as you can: it’s tricky as each end will be different, you might need to experiment.

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Closing off

When you have closed the top off, trim all the ends so that you cannot see where the weave ends.

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Trimming the excess

All the ends were trimmed so that the ends were hidden by the weave. The sheath is ready for a dangler strap now.

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Ready for a loop attachment

I used some raw hide I had left over from making a bag. I wet it to make it more pliable and then rolled it in my hand.

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Re-soaked rawhide

The bodkin I had made earlier came in handy here to make a gap in the weave. I then used a small stick to push the rawhide into the gap made by the bodkin.

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Bodkin in use

Attach it as you like and it is ready. I think I used a simple Larks Foot knot here.

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Dangler attached

This sheath completed my primitive belt order (the smallest one on the right).

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My Primitive belt order

This type of weaving can make some very useful items. I have been using the quiver on a regular basis since 2008 and it shows no sign of wear and tear.

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Let your imagination create what you want

A How To…. on making the bone knife can be found here – Primitive Skills – Bone Knife/Bodkin.

Good luck and enjoy experimenting.

George

How To…. Primitive Skills – Bone Knife/Bodkin

Primitive Bone Knife

During the summer of 2009 I completed the  Woodcraft School Primitive Technology course. I do not know if John Rhyder still runs this course but he still does a lot of excellent craft courses.

I originally wrote this How To…. for Fenlander and his Natural Lore blog back in September of 2009. It is a subject I love so thought it would be good to include in my How To…. section as well. I apologise for the quality of some of the pictures, I think the light was poor at the time and my fingers were quite slippery from the marrow.

The course required that at least one our craft items had to be made using only primitive tools and techniques.

I decided to make myself a bone knife and a bark sheath for it. The knife I made from a Lamb’s thigh bone and the sheath was made from Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) inner bark. The How To…. on making the sheath can be found here – Primitive Skills – Bone Knife Bark Sheath.

This post concentrates on the knife only. I have put another link yo the bark sheath at the end.

The techniques I used were from what I had researched at the time and I am sure there are many other methods to do this.

As a word of warning please do have a First Aid Kit on standby as the flint is very sharp and thoroughly wash your hands after wards.

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Bone Utility Knife and Sheath

I wanted to be able to use the knife as an Awl for working hides, as a Bodkin for when weaving and as a general knife for cutting cordage and meat.

This post will concentrate on how the knife was made. The next post will be about the sheath.

The bone I used was a thigh bone known as the Shank. Hence the names ‘Lamb Shank’ as a cut of meat and the word ‘Shank’ as a primitive knife.

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Fresh Bone and Flint

As I was using primitive tools and techniques only I scraped all the fat and flesh off with a piece of flint.

Other students tried burning the fat and flesh off but the made the bone brittle so it easily shattered. It is slippery work that requires a lot of patience. One slip and the flint will cut you as cleanly as any sharp knife.

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Slippery Work

After an hours work I had the bone cleaned up.

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Ready for Carving

I decided that one knuckle would make a good handle but the other had to be removed.

I scored a line around the whole bone near the knuckle I wanted removed. Apologies for the slightly out of focus picture. The score line was about a couple of millimetres deep.

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Removing a Knuckle

After scoring the line John Rhyder (course instructor) showed me how to scorch the line to make it a little brittle in that area.

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Scorching the Bone

A close up.

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Scorch line

Once the line was scorched all the way around a little gentle tapping was all that was needed.

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Gentle Tapping

A crack soon appeared.

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Cracked Bone

To finally remove the knuckle I carried on scraping with the flint.

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Removed Knuckle

Once the knuckle was removed then I decided on the shape of my knife point. I did this by gently scraping with the flint on the bone to define my knife shape.

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Flint Score Lines

Then making sure that the bone was on a stable surface and held in a secure grip the tedious scraping began. The carving out of the knife shape took a number of hours.

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Making the Groove

The awl tip taking shape.

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Awl Tip

Eventually I was able to prise a section of bone out.

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Removal of Bone

I went through two pieces of flint carving the bone out.

Eventually the general shape of the knife was produced.

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Basic Shape – Front

And the other side.

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Basic Shape – Back

A messy but necessary job is to remove the remaining marrow. I just used a small stick for this.

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Removing the Marrow

To give the knife a basic edge I used a piece of sandstone.

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Sanding the Edge

Any rough edges I tidied up with flint.

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Final Touches with Flint

Below you can see the side profile of the knife. This curve is useful as a Bodkin in basket weaving. In the next post you will see that this was the knifes first job.

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Side Profile of the Knife/Bodkin

Here the knife is sitting on the inner bark I used to make the sheath out of.

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Ready for a Sheath

Like any knife it needs a sheath. I did produce one using primitive methods and documented all the steps.

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The Sheath How To…. is next

This whole process took a whole afternoon for me but I did find it very relaxing taking my time and really thinking about each step.

Afterwards I left the knife hanging for a few months in my garage to air dry and keep it away from any inquisitive rodents.

More on the bark sheath can be found here – Primitive Skills – Bone Knife Bark Sheath.

George

How To…. Build a Finnish Candle – Raappanan tuli – Part 6

Welcome to Part 6 of this series on bushcraft candles.

On my ‘to do’ list was the Raappanan tuli candle. From my research on candles it seems that this is the original Finnish candle. I became aware of this type of candle from reading Perkele’s blog (link to the aticle at the end of the post).

It is a simple but effective system using only one log. The log provides the support limbs and the tinder/kindling.

This system works very well in dry cold environments where you have well seasoned dead standing timber. I, on the other hand, had a few pieces of damp birch collected from the woods a couple of weeks ago, but decided to try it out anyway.

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Raappanan tuli candle/stove

The log I used was 45cms in length.

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One slightly damp birch log

Firstly split the log but not right in the centre – slightly off centre.

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Split off just over a third

Then split off another piece about the same size from the other side so that you are left with a flat piece of wood in the centre.

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Split out just over another third

The wood did not split straight down so I ended up with two centre pieces.

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The wood in the middle gets split into kindling

After splitting the centre pice into kindling I shaved off all the bark to use as tinder.

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Shave the bark off as well

Then using your axe, chop into the split areas of the support limbs (the full length) to create a fuzz stick effect. This will give something for the flames from your initial fire to catch on to so that the limbs start to burn quickly.

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Chop into each half of the wood to create a fuzz effect

Two large fuzz sticks. This technique multiplies the surface area the flames have to catch on to.

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Glorified fuzz sticks

The set up is very simple. I banged one limb into the ground, laid some kindling flat on the ground (the ground was wet) and banged in the other limb. If you were using a wider but smaller log stability would not be such an issue.

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Set up

The support stick was just a twig dug into the ground and jammed up against one of the limbs that I was concerned might fall over.

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Support stick in place if needed and ready to go

I stuffed loads of birch bark and small wood shavings into the gap and lit it.

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Plenty of birch bark as tinder

The kindling went up well but due to the dampness of the log the limbs would not catch fire at first. I had to continually feed the kindling into the burn area and soon ran out without the limbs catching fire.

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Instant flame

The bottom of the limbs had caught fire but would not self sustain.

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Everything was damp so hard to keep going

Plan B was to get a dry log from inside my house (one that had been intended for our open fire), split it and place the dry kindling in a vertical position instead of a horizontal lay. This totally transformed the candle.

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Added dry kindling in a vertical position

In no time the candle was lit the whole way up both limbs.

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Took off well

From the point when I added the vertical kindling the pot took less than ten minutes to boil.

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Boiling water in no time

Happy to get my brew.

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Usual Brewage

I let the kindling burn down to see if the limbs would stay alight but they were still too damp.

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A continual battle with the damp wood

Here you can see the area on the top where the moisture was being boiled out.

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Boiling wood

About 30 minutes after the start of the fire the logs finally started to burn on their own. Got quite a nice fire face out of it as well.

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Baby dragon fire face

I added the last of my damp tinder and kindling and the limbs finally started burning freely.

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Final Flames

I found this candle a real challenge to keep going but that is not because the concept is wrong, but because this type of candle needs to have really dry wood to work well.

I am sure that when I try this again with dry wood it will go like a rocket. It is such an simple and effective method and I wish I had been making this type of candle years ago.

I have written six articles on different candles so if anyone has ideas on other candle types please leave a comment on their idea below.

Cheers

George

Perkele’s post on the Raappanan tuli candle

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – Log Rocket Stoves – Part 5

Welcome to Part 5 of this series on bushcraft candles.

Take one log, drill a couple of holes, add some combustibles and strike a match – you have yourself one Log Rocket Stove.

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Three Log Rocket Stoves in action

After building the Fire Face Candles I was intrigued by Marcels Workshop video on You Tube (link at the end of the post) where he mentioned that his candles would make good stoves. I was sure that they would but after seeing another You Tube video by James Hookway using a slightly different method I was unsure which one to use. So this post is not just a How To…. on building a Log Rocket Stove but it is also a report on comparing the two types.

I wanted to investigate these stoves as I felt that they fitted in well with the Finnish/Swedish Candle theme of this series. I also added a third stove to test out using a damp log just to see if it would work.

I have numbered the stoves 1), 2) and 3)

1) A dry western red cedar log to be fed with dry kindling
2) A damp birch log to be fed with damp twigs picked off the ground
3) A dry western red cedar log fitted with a wick and filled with wax

I should have tested each log separately but for ease of photography I decided to test all of them at the same time.

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Take three logs

I drilled a small pilot hole into the centre of each log with 12mm drill piece. Then after marking my 24mm drill piece to the required depth I drilled out the main chimney.
While drilling I secured the log between my feet but if you do not feel comfortable with this method I advise securing the log to a workbench.

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Drill a pilot, measure and drill a chimney

Next you need to measure where the burn chamber will be. I normally mark the log somehow (with tape this time) above the base of the chimney. This will create a small chamber in the burn area you can fill with combustibles for your fire and still allow plenty of airflow into the stove.

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Measure for the burn area

Again after securing the log, drill into the side at your marked spot until your drill piece enters the chimney. For stoves 1 & 2 I drilled two holes (side by side) to create a wider burn hole to feed kindling into the burn area. For Stove 3 I only drilled one burn area hole as I would be using a wick in the stove.

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Drill the burn area out

I used a knife to trim the excess wood in the burn areas of stoves 1 & 2.

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For the wood-fed stoves drill two holes for the burn area and finish with a knife

The finished burn area holes.

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Burn areas for all 3 stoves

Here you can just see the holes at the top of the logs where the chimneys are and the holes for the burn areas.

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Stoves ready to be filled

Stove 3 – I melted some candle wax and dipped a wick into it, ensuring the wick got fully soaked in wax, and then inserted it into the stove. I used a pair of pliers and a stick to push the wick into the burn area hole and then from the top pushed all the excess wick into the well at the bottom of the chimney.

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Insert a wick if you want to make stove 3

I decided to try combustibles I would normally find in my bushcraft bag.
I stuffed Vaseline coated cotton wool into stove 1, crumbled fire lighters into stove 2 and pored melted wax into the well of stove 3.

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Fill with your choice of flammable material. 1) Cotton wool & Vaseline 2) Crumbled firelighter 3) Wax to cover the wick

I cut and trimmed some green hazel to act as pot stands and placed them all side by side in the garden.
There was very little wind again that day so I made sure I had a chopping board handy to use as a wafter.

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Set up to fire up and with green wood pot stands

I decided to feed dry split kindling into stove 1, damp twigs into stove 2 (stove 2 was also a damp log itself) and stove 3 would have only the wick and wax.
My daughter lit each candle with one match each.

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All the additions 1) Dry kindling 2) Damp twig kindling 3) Wax wick

I needed to keep an eye on each stove (this is why I should have tested each one separately) as each one went out in turn as I was dealing with another. After relighting they all managed to stay alight. Stove 3, which had the wick, needed no further tending whatsoever.
Stoves 1 & 2 required constant attention to maintain the flame in the burn area. Too much kindling choked the air off, too little and the flame died out.
At this stage the burn area of the log started to burn but not much of the chimney, so I relied on feeding twigs into the burn area to keep the stove going.

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5 minutes burn time

After 10 minutes I put the pots on. Each had half a litre of cold water in them. Stove 3 was going well and needing no tending as the wick was well alight now. Stoves 1 & 2 were still struggling and requiring constant attention. At this stage stove 2 was still giving off a lot of smoke as the wood around the burn area dried out.

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10 minutes burn time

After 15 minutes stoves 1 & 2 started going well with the burn area in stove 1 getting bigger.

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15 minutes burn time

Stove 3 was getting stronger and stronger with no help required.

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15 minutes burn time

The flames were steady now under the pots.

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2 & 3 going strong

After 20 minutes even stove 2 (the damp log) was going well.

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20 minutes burn time

25 minutes after ignition (20 minutes of heating) the first pot was boiling.

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25 minutes burn time

Stove 3 was the winner as it had held a steady flame throughout. With a little bit more wind I think we could have knocked a few minutes off this time.

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Stove 3 is the winner

Stove 1 was fully lit now (the chimney wall was burning well) and did not need any more kindling. The burn area had widened to a point that you could not easily add any more fuel (it just fell out) but all it needed was a bit of wafting to keep the flames going. Again if the wind had been there I think this stove would have performed much better.
I had given up on the damp twigs in stove 2 by now and added some of the dry split kindling I had been using in stove 1. This made a vast difference and the stove suddenly burst into life.

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30 minutes burn time

Five minutes after coming to life stove 2 had boiling water with stove 1 shortly after. These two stoves I feel would have performed much better if I had been giving them individual attention rather than trying to keep all three going, photograph them and analyse what was going on (I find the multi-tasking thing difficult!).

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Stove 2 comes in second

An hour after ignition, winning stove 3 had burnt right through to the back.

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Stove 3 (the winner) at 45 minutes and 60 minutes burn time

I started to add dry kindling into the top of stove 2 and we had a proper candle now.

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Stove 2 dried out and now with dry kindling after one hour burn time

After one hour I would have said that stoves 1 & 3 were a bit too delicate now to use as stoves. Stove 2 was still going well but I had to waft the other two to get the flames you see in this picture as there was still no wind.

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Experiment over after an hour

Two hours after ignition all the stoves had burnt out. I put all the fallen pieces of wood into stove 2, gave it a quick waft, and away it went again.

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Two hours after burn time a little waft and number 2 stove is flaming again

I thoroughly enjoyed doing this experiment with the three stoves but in retrospect I should have either tested each stove separately or had some helpers to tend individual stoves.

Given time (and some more logs) I will be redoing these stoves and seeing how they operate on their own and with a bit of wind. I also want to get myself a drill piece about 35mm wide as I feel that will help when it comes to larger log stoves.

Definitely not a stove for the ultra-light bushcrafter but one to be chucked into your wagon before going on a trip.

I will make a few more up for the New Year and bring them to some of my courses to see what people think of them.

My thoughts on each stove

Stove 1) Did not perform well without wind and the burn area became unusable quickly. When given steady wind by wafting this stove worked well and soon the chimney area was alight. It took longest to boil the water but that was because the flame kept dying out as there was no wind and I was too busy with stove 2 to keep it fed with kindling. I wonder if a large dry log (possibly of a harder wood) would be better for this type of stove rather than the small one I used.

Stove 2) As I expected, this stove took longest to get going. Everything was damp (log and twigs) so I used a number of broken pieces of fire lighter to keep it going. When I started to use the dry kindling the stove really took off. This stove was also bigger than stove 1 so the burn area was bigger and I think that helped it to perform better.

Stove 3) Apart from needing to be re-lit at the beginning, this stove was a dream to use as it required no maintenance. The wick that is encased in wax in the well of the stove ensures ample burn time for the log itself to light up.

Summary

There’s a lot of detail here but actually the principle is very simple:

Take one log, drill a couple of holes, add some combustibles and strike a match – you have yourself one Log Rocket Stove.

Cheers

George

Links

Marcels Workshop – ‘How to make a Fire Log 2013′

Wooden rocket stove or alternative swedish fire stick

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – Fire Face Candles – Part 4

Welcome to Part 4 of this series on bushcraft candles.

This type of candle is slightly different to the others I have been building in this series. The main difference is that these Fire Face Candles require the use of power tools for speed of build. (I suppose they could be built with carpenters’ hand tools but that will be for another post.)

In my research on this series I came across a You Tube video on this type of candle from Marcels Workshop called ‘How to make a Fire Log 2013’. I have put a link to the video at the end of the post.

These candles were made for decoration only in my garden (for a party) but they could be used as stoves if you want. My last post in this series I think will be on testing slightly different variations on this method as rocket stoves.

As you can see you can get excellent Fire Faces out of these candles. Here is how you make one.

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Read on to see how to make yourself a Fire Face Candle

I used a long western red cedar log for the candles. After sawing it into 3 smaller logs I marked a hole on the top and drilled a small pilot hole down into the log. I did not place the mark dead centre so as to ensure the faces when they were completed lit up well.

I found it helpful to drill a pilot hole before switching to a larger drill piece (24mm): I did test going directly to the larger piece without a pilot hole and found for this type of wood drilling in through the top with a pilot first worked better.

The drill piece for the pilot I used here was 12mm. As it was shorter than the log I did not need to mark it with tape in case it came out the bottom. I secured the log between my feet as my vice was not big enough. If you are concerned about this drilling method I would advise that you secure the log to a work surface somehow before drilling.

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Drill a Pilot hole

Then with the 24mm drill I used tape to mark out how deep I needed to go and drilled the chimney out.

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Mark your depth and drill out the chimney through the pilot hole

I laid the drill piece beside the log again and using the tape marked off the area where I would drill the mouth. The trick is to make sure that the mouth is above the bottom of the chimney. This will create a ‘well’ that you can fill with the wick and wax.

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Mark the height where the mouth will go

I used an 18mm drill piece to create the mouth. The 24mm drill would have worked just as well I imagine (I will use that for the Rocket Stoves). Here you can see on the right that the mouth connected with the chimney nicely.

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Drill the Mouth until it reaches the chimney

I drilled out some eyes (connecting to the chimney) and using the drill decorated the logs with facial features. I did secure the logs for this but if you have the time and skill a good knife will do the same job.

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Decorate with eyes and facial features

In all it took me about half an hour to get to this stage.

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Three candles decorated with the drill

I filled a pot up with wax and three wicks and heated it til the wax melted.

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Melt candle wax and soak the wick

Using pliers and a stick I pushed the wick into the mouth down towards the base of the chimney. Leave a good 2 or 3cms protruding from the mouth at this stage.

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Insert the wick in through the mouth

I used a stick pushed down the chimney to tamp the wick down into the well. If you do not leave some wick protruding through the mouth it may all get pushed into the well. Then I filled the well with melted wax by pouring it in from the top of the chimney. The wax goes everywhere: I did all this outside.

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Tamp the wick down into the chamber and fill with wax

So after about 45 minutes I had three Fire Face Candles ready to fire up.

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Three Fire Face Candles ready to fire up

I set them out in the garden ready to be lit later.

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Set up as background lighting for the marshmallow fire in the evening

To fire them up just take a match and light the end of the wax-coated wick protruding from the mouth. In no time I had one going well.

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Firing up with the first one going well

This picture was taken through the mouth and you can see the wick is burning well at the base of the chimney.

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Wick burning in the base of the chimney

The other two candles did not fire up initially. That was because I hadn’t trusted the wick alone and had inserted some pig fat impregnated paper into the chimney of each of these two. I thought this would help them along but all it did was cut the airflow and so the wick kept going out. After a bit of faffing about and decision making I stripped everything out apart from the wick and re-lit them.

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First one going well but the other two failed initially

They did not take long to fire up properly. Lesson learnt I think.

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Blockage removed and now going well

I was quite surprised how long they lasted for. This picture was taken 45 minutes into the burn and you can see the face on the first one is starting to burn out. Next time I may place the chimney more centrally in the log.

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45 minutes into the burn and the first one (on the left) is burning through

The kids loved the candles and would come right up to them to peer into the faces. I think that the next time I set them up I will put them in a cordoned off area as I was a little bit concerned that some of the more boistrous kids could knock them over.

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The kids loved them

I brought them all together to get a better picture and also so that they were in one area where I could keep an eye on them. This picture was taken about an hour after I had lit the first one.

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One hour into burn time (from the first one) and all three are working well

One hour 15 minutes later and the first one had lost its face but was still going strong. There was a bit of wind on the night I tested them and this really helped maintain the flames. When I tested my first candles there was no wind and I had to continually waft them to keep them going.

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One hour 15 minutes

My favourite picture of the evening. It looks like the front face of a Saxon warriors metal helmet to me.

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Now that is what you call a Fire Face

A view from above .

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View from above

In the end the candles lasted just under 2 hours so I was very pleased with the results.

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One hour 30 minutes (left) and two hours (right)

As there was plenty of wood left on the candles I popped them on the fire and finally sat beside it relaxing with my wife Alison after everyone had gone, the kids were in bed and we’d finished clearing up.
The candles had one last spurt of life and I got a few more Fire Faces to add to my collection.

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Onto the fire for some more Fire Faces – Can you spot them?

A wonderful end to a wonderful day.

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Final Faces

In summary I would say that these were a pretty easy candle to make if you have the tools and they do last for a decent amount of time.

If I do get hold of some bigger logs I will try this again to see if I get the same results.

My last post in this Finnish/Swedish Candle series will be to look at using power tools to create rocket stoves from logs.

Cheers

George

Link

Marcels Workshop – ‘How to make a Fire Log 2013’

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – A Comparison – Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of this series on bushcraft candles.

If you have not seen Parts 1 or 2 of the series you may want to have a read of them first. Follow these links:

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – No Chainsaw – Part 1

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – Wet/Damp Wood – Part 2

I must admit to having taken thousands of pictures of flames over the years – they are very much alive to me

Part 3 is a comparison between two different candle types. I decided to fire up two candles at the same time to see how they fared against each other.

The candle on the left was made by driving a cluster of very dry birch poles into the ground and filling the centre with different tinders and kindling. The candle on the right was made from a single western red cedar log split into segments and again filled with different tinders. (All of the tinders in this test were natural. As the wood in both candles was extremely dry I did not feel the need to use anything man made such as Vaseline or cotton wool.)

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Three little Hot Rockets

Western red cedar log candle set up

I had stored this log in my garage for a number of years and it was bone dry. I like using cedar for a candle as the inner bark makes excellent tinder.

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Western red cedar

I placed the log on top of another log and, using a batton, hammered the axe into the log (picture 1). It’s important to keep the handle of the axe pointed away from you at 90 degrees so that the blade will swing away from you if it slips.
Then keep battoning the log until you get a number of segments (picture 2). I went for 8 segments as there was very little wind and I wanted as many air gaps as possible for a good draft: if there had been a bit more wind I would probably have settled for just four segments.

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Battoned out sections

I used bramble to tie it all together and also to test how long the bramble would last just on its own (picture 3).
In between each segment I placed a folded piece of the bark (picture 4). This acted as extra tinder but also helped open the segments up to create airflow.
Into the centre I placed natural fluffy tinders and lots of birch bark I had collected earlier that day (picture 5).

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Bramble wrap and birch bark filling

Birch logs candle set up

These logs had been cut off a dead standing birch tree that day. They were all bone dry and about 60 to 70 cms long (picture 6). I hammered them into some soft ground in the shape of a circle. They need to be well hammered in, deep enough that they are sufficiently stable to hold a kettle or pot.
Into the centre I added layers of twigs and fluffy tinders filling up the whole candle (picture 7).
I wrapped bramble around the candle just as an experiment to see how long it would last. This type of candle does not normally need a cordage wrap around it if you have secured it properly into the ground.

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Dry Birch logs and a fluffy centre

Comparison

If you were out and about in the woods you would more than likely go for something like the birch log set up as these logs are easier to come across. The cedar log set up though is I think quicker to set up as the splitting out with the axe is faster than the time it takes to saw all the birch logs up.

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Set up  ready to be fired up

I got my son to light the cedar candle first as I thought that this one may take the longest to get going (picture 8). My daughter then lit the birch candle next (picture 9). Both were lit with just one match and from the centre of each candle.

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One match ignition

The cedar was slow to catch but remained steady for about 15 minutes (picture 10). The birch went up like a rocket so I decided this would be the one to put the kettle on (picture 11). Picture 12 shows a good comparison between the two candles. This was about 5 minutes after ignition.

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Cedar = slow start – Birch = fast start

Here you can see the difference between the candles after about ten minutes.

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Brew time again

Makes for good Woodland TV as well.

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A flame wrapped kettle

The bramble wrap was looking a bit toasted at this stage but was just hanging in there.

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The bramble just about hanging in there

The cedar started to produce a good flame after about 15 minutes (picture 15) just as the kettle started to boil (picture 16) on the birch candle. It was at this stage that the bramble fell off the birch candle. The section of the bramble wrapped around the bottom of the cedar candle did not get burnt through,  I noticed (as in the Wet/Damp wood candle in Part 2 of the series).

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Cedar kicks in while the kettle boils

Another fuzzy picture I am afraid but it does show a good comparison of both candles after about 20 minutes (took this after making my brew).

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A fuzzy comparison

This picture was taken at about the 30-minute stage and shows the burn area extending nicely with a good eruption of sparks (common with cedar): notice that the bramble is still holding strong.

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Cedar fireworks

Pictures 17 & 18 were taken one after another at different angles about 50 minutes after ignition. The birch candle had burnt out but I was very impressed to see that the cedar was still going strong. The bramble on the cedar candle I am afraid to say had had it by now and was burnt through. Thankfully I had also pushed each segment of cedar slightly into the ground so it stayed upright.

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Death of the Birch – Long live the Cedar

Look closely into the flames – can you see the Fire Face?

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First Fire Face

And another one. I must admit to having taken thousands of pictures of flames over the years – they are very much alive to me.

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Second Fire Face

Still with the cedar candle, picture 19 was taken about 1 hour 30 minutes into the burn and picture 20 after about 2 hours. I did not want to finish with a shot of some embers so it was a simple case of……………

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Is it the end of the Cedar?

pushing the segments into a tipi shape and within seconds we had flame again.

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Final Flame

Conclusion

Set up – I would say it was very close as both were fairly easy to build but the cedar was marginally quicker. I will probably use this method more often in some sort of camp where you have access to these rounds of cedar (or similar wood types) but when out and about I would more often use the birch log method (and I do).

Ignition and initial burn – Both were equally easy to light with dry tinder. For the initial burn the birch log candle wins out for me with that rocket effect at the start and getting me that brew quickly. If all I was after though was a gentle candle effect then the cedar is the one I’d want.

Ongoing flame – For me the winner in this category was the cedar. It lasted twice as long as the birch and gave off some great faces and fireworks to keep me interested. The birch log candle must not be totally discounted even at this stage though, as the hot embers left were of good enough quality that I could have used them to start up a more traditional fire lay.

Overall – My preference goes to the cedar candle as it gave a strong enough flame after 15 minutes to boil water or cook some food on, lasted a long time, was a great Woodland TV and, like the birch log candle, there were enough hot embers at the end to kindle a more traditional fire lay.

Part 4 in this series will look at some Rocket Stove Log candles I came across in my research for this series. They are quite fun to make but I am still looking into them – aka I have not got it quite right yet 😉

A nice video on the cedar type candle is Bushcraft Swedish candle Fire Log

Cheers

George

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – Damp/Wet Wood – Part 2

This is Part 2 of my bushcraft candles experiment, if you have not read Part 1 yet have a look here How To….Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – No chainsaw – Part 1.

Part 2 – Damp/Wet Wood

Never, ever give up on your fire: your life may depend on it

I went for a wander with my children in the woods last weekend to collect some wood and tinder for one of my candles. We had a chat about dead standing wood and how to identify it. Thankfully there are still enough leaves on the trees to make that job easy for them. They selected a birch that had lost the race for light and had no leaves on it. All the small side branches snapped easily off it and, much to my children’s delight, when I pushed the tree it tipped over easily exposing the root.

I trimmed and sawed the tree on site but quickly realised that even though the wood was not rotten in any way it was wet to its centre. Not an ideal situation for a making a quick and easy candle, just a situation that required a bit more preparation.

As you can see from the picture below, even though the wood was wet I still got my coffee.

Read on to see how to put one of these candles together.

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Brew time

This type of candle is ideal for ground conditions where it is very hard (it is self supporting and easy to reposition) or where the ground is waterlogged (the burn area is raised up off the ground). I have used this method on a number of occasions but until now I have always hammered the individual logs into the ground to form a circle. It was on one of my occasional trawls of You Tube that I came across a video from Bushcraftmyway showing this adaptation that is free standing. I have put a link to the video at the bottom of the post.

To begin with I trimmed the small logs to a length of about 50cms and collected a mixture of flexible bramble (scraping the hooks off), willow and birch shoots to use as cordage.

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What you need

I gathered all the logs between my thighs and lashed them together with the bramble at first. I used bramble to begin with as the willow and birch I had gathered was quite thin and I thought might snap too easily. I also wanted to test the bramble out to see how useful it was in its ‘raw’ state, without actually stripping it down and turning it into cordage.

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Form a tube with the logs

It was easy to wrap the birch and willow around the candle for extra support after the bramble was on. I also kept the cordage near the bottom to keep it all away from the flames of the candle.

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Secured with natural cordage

If you are smart you will have cut all the poles to the same size, as you can see I had not (picture 1). However with the bundle tied up you can turn the whole thing on its side and trim them to size (picture 2). It will never be a perfectly flat surface but it’s good enough for a kettle ( picture 3).

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Making a flat surface

I pulled the tops of the logs apart and put a smaller, pointed log in the centre to keep the top slightly open (picture 4). Then I stuffed very fine kindling (broken branch tips) into the centre and placed on top some Vaseline-smeared cotton wool and some resin (picture 5). (When you are lighting up wet wood you need to use the best fire-lighting method to hand). One match and the candle was away (picture 6).

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Lighting up

I had some charcoal ends left from a previous fire so added them on top. These are great for adding that extra heart to the fire.

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Charcoal as an extender

Next I added small twigs in a criss cross pattern on top of the charcoal. This is a good fire lay for the candle as it is stable and you can make a number of layers (picture 7). Once the fire is going properly pop the kettle on (picture 8). I half filled this group kettle which would have made brews for at least six people.

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Ready to boil

I had prepared a mixture of twigs for maintaining the fire. Some had been hung up and some had been found on the ground. As you can see here they did contain a lot of moisture but thankfully the fire was hot enough to boil that moisture off easily.

There were enough gaps at the top of the candle to keep popping twigs in to feed the fire.

NB if you think there is any possibility of the candle falling over, do not let small children feed twigs into the fire: if they push too enthusiastically they could topple it.

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Adding twigs

In about 15 minutes I had a boiling kettle and a nice cup of coffee made.

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Coffee ready

By the time I had my coffee the fire had died down as the support logs were so wet (picture 9). I added some more twigs and had to ‘waft’ it for a while (using the white board you can see in picture 10). I happened to build this candle on a day with no wind in a sheltered spot so wafting was a must. If you have a gentle breeze flowing through the logs all you’ll need do is keep adding twigs.

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Back to life

Here you can see how wet the logs were, the moisture is being boiled out of the top.

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Boiling logs

At this stage I fed the candle with some bigger pieces of wood and left it to burn for half an hour.

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Stocking up

This picture was taken after about one hour of burn time. When I came back to it the flames had died down to just dark embers, but after about 30 seconds of gentle wafting the flames were back again. Never, ever give up on your fire: your life may well depend on it.

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Half hour later

I was thinking at this stage about what my friend Rich59 from BCUK had taught me about tinders many years ago. He broke all the rules when he showed me how to get a flame from damp tinders so I thought what the heck and grabbed a load of damp (some quite wet) leaves and pressed them into the candle (picture 11). After a bit of wafting I got the leaves really glowing with a small amount of flame (picture 12).

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Wet tinder

Using the criss cross fire lay method again I built up quite a few layers of twigs for a second time. This method really helps to draw the air up through the twigs and so boost the flames.

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Flames again

Now my candle was quite dry and it produced a great flame for a good two hours. Granted it did need to be maintained but for a pile of unpromising wet logs I was very happy with this candle.

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Dried out

The cordage wrap lasted right until the end so I would be happy to use some old rope if I had to.

This is a good project to try because many bushcraft skills are covered, from knife and saw use, natural cordage-making, fire-lighting and fire lays, and most importantly it’s a reminder to always persevere when it comes to maintaining your fire when the going gets tough.

Part 3 – How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – A Comparison – Part 3

Cheers

George

Bushcraft skills: the Swedish torch/stove – my way

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – No chainsaw – Part 1

Spend time on preparing your candle and the payback will be a beautiful column of flame that will captivate any audience.

Read on to see how…………

A favourite evening activity of mine while in the woods is to build a large torch to light up the area around my campsite, and this version has a dual purpose as a handy self-contained stove too.

This type of log stove is commonly referred to as a Swedish Candle in the bushcraft world, but there’s some debate over its origins. Some history I have come across it is that it was used by Finnish soldiers during the winter war of 1939/40 between Finland and the then Soviet Union as a quick way of cooking in deep snow. Soldiers would just ski up to a dead standing piece of wood, cut it to size, split it and put a wedge in the split. After setting a fire in the split they would place their billy can on top to heat up the contents.

In dry arctic environments, dead standing wood does not contain much moisture so catches light easily. In our more maritime environment in the UK we have more moisture in our dead wood so it takes a bit more work to get a fire going. I use a lot of fluffy stuff (eg cotton-grass heads, thistledown or common reed heads), birch bark, spruce or pine resin and anything else I can find to get it going. When you finally succeed though it makes an excellent alternative woodland TV.

On a number of courses I have attended the instructors used chainsaws to make the vertical cuts. This makes the job very easy and you can set up a number of them around the camp quickly.

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Chainsawed Candle (with Halloween pumpkin!)

I do not have the luxury of owning a chainsaw so I had a trawl around You Tube and came across a good video from Hobbexp on making one of these candles without the use of a chainsaw. A link to that video is at the bottom of this post. I took a number of attempts to get a system that works for me but as you can see from the results it is worth it.

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Axed candle

Some of the pictures you can get are quite stunning. This is from my Fire Face collection and I call it the Seahorse.

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Excellent Fire Faces

I typically use a length of well-seasoned birch as my candle but any wood that’s not too hard would work. As I never seem to find the ideal piece of dead standing wood when I need it I always keep a little stock in my store to bring along to camps.
First, split the wood with an axe and a batton. Be very gentle with the first few taps of the batton to make sure the axe does not slip.

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Axe Battoning

Create the first split to a depth of about 50 or 60cms then create another split at 90 degrees to the first. To make the candle stand up, rest it against something that is not flammable (I sometimes use a cooking tripod) or dig it into the ground.

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Batton a cross

Once the candle is in position, add a green wood wedge down each split to keep the four parts of wood separated, then you’re ready to light your candle.

One of the best aids to lighting a fire is resin. I collect it when out and about in conifer plantations, using a flattened stick to prise it off the tree. It makes it much easier and also you do not need to clean your hands or knife so much. Adding lots of resin to the split keeps the initial flame going for longer, giving the wood time to catch.

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Resin is an ideal fire starter for a candle

Here you can see the green wood wedge keeping the split open and the start of the build-up of tinders. Tapping the green wedge in can make the log split a bit more – as you can see here – so be careful that you don’t allow the split to run all the way to the bottom.

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Green wood wedge and some tinder

Here you can see I have placed some resin in the split along with some paper impregnated with pig fat. Keep building up different layers of tinders.

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Build up layers

I started the fire in this candle with only a small amount of tinder at the bottom of the split to demonstrate how poor the flame would be.

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Poor fire from the bottom

The flame was very slow in building up and when I placed small twigs on the top it dampened the flames down. (Instead of small twigs it is better to use dry pine needles as they are very flammable.) Starting the fire at the bottom will work, but you will need to spend far more time tending it; better to start the flame higher up as shown below.

Just remember the saying about the 7 P’s – Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Pretty Poor Performance. Spend time on preparing your candle and the payback will be a beautiful column of flame that will captivate any audience.

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Slow to build up flame

Here I have built up lots of layers of resin and birch bark and lit the flame from the top. I don’t know the physics of it but if you start your fire at the top and let it burn down through the layers it works much better.

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Lots of layers and start from the top

A well-lit candle now and an ideal place to boil water for a brew.

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Time for a brew

I have gotten some fantastic pictures from these candles.

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Evening flames

Even the embers are beautiful.

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Glowing embers

The beauty of this set up is that if you keep adding tinder, resin and small twigs this candle will last a good couple of hours.

I have been experimenting with a couple of alternative candles today and will post the results of my thoughts on them in Part 2 of this How To…. soon.

Cheers

George

How To…. Build a Finnish/Swedish Candle – Damp/Wet Wood – Part 2

Log Stove video by Fredde (Hobbexp)

How To…. Build a Wood Gas Stove

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Wood Gas Stove

Back in 2010 at the BCUK Bushmoot I saw a wood gas stove that my friend Ian Woodham had built for himself. Needless to say I was very impressed with this stove.

One of the reasons I love it is that it’s so easy to put together: it requires no welding and only the most basic materials and tools. Even with all the testing and photographing I did, this stove took only the better part of an afternoon to make.

Yet despite its simplicity it’s actually very efficient: there’s a primary burning area in the centre and the smoke and gases from this primary burn are channelled to the top of the stove to be re-burned. I found a good image of this in Wikipedia – Wood gas stove – Principle of operation.

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The parts

I used a standard metal paint tin, a large dogfood tin, a Fray Bentos tin, a Jubilee clip, a metal rod and four bolts (with nuts and washers). The tools I used were a power drill, small hammer, metal file and tin snips. If you own a Dremmell (or similar tool) your life will be much easier.

Just click on any picture to see more detail.

In order to allow airflow through the bottom I marked out some ‘arches’ around the base and then cut them out. I used my drill for this and then some pliers (at this stage I did not have my tin snips). I also added some little holes in between each arch. If I had had the tin snips from the start the job would have looked much neater. I did not take a picture of the drilling stage as my hands were full, but I used a rounded piece of wood secured in a vice to support the tin (on the inside) as I drilled into it. I also used the file to smooth off any sharp edges.

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Arches cut out
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Arches marked out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
I then used the dogfood tin to mark a circle on the lid, then made another circle about 1cm inside that. I drilled holes all around the inner circle to make it easier to cut out.

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Drilled lid
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Cut out lid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using my new tin snippers (went out to buy a pair) I cut lots of slits and then folded them back. These folded pieces of tin are needed later.

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Cut slits in the lid
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Fold then down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ensure that the dogfood tin fits snugly.

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Snug fit

Using a drill and my piece of backing wood on the vice I drilled loads of small holes in the base of the (empty) dogfood tin. I then drilled bigger holes on the sides at the top and bottom. I put twice as many holes at the bottom than at the top. If I was to make another stove I would make these holes even bigger. The small holes on the bottom allow air to rise up into the primary burn area and the bigger holes on the side at the bottom allow air in and gases to escape (to rise up to the holes at the top). The holes at the top allow the escaping gases to be sucked back into the top of the stove where they are then re-ignited. A very efficient system when you think about it.

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Lots of holes in the bottom
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Holes on the side (top & bottom)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use your hammer and file to beat flat any sharp areas on the inside.

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Flatten the sharp edges on the inside

After re-inserting the dogfood tin into the lid I secured it with a Jubilee clip.

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Jubilee clip to secure the burner

I also replaced the plastic handle on the paint pot using a metal rod to make a fire-proof one. Now with the burner, air holes and handle finished it was time to construct the hot plate. Thankfully Ian had shown me his secret: a Fray Bentos tin, which fits this size of paint pot perfectly.
So take one Fray Bentos tin (empty – what you do with the contents is your own business), mark a circle roughly the size of the one on the paintpot lid, and drill holes all round the line to make it easy to cut out.

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Drill out the centre

My son Finlay was keen to help hammer all the jagged edges flat.

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Boys and hammers

The next stage is to drill four holes for the bolts and then attach them to the Fray Bentos lid and voila – one hot plate ready. The hot plate fits perfectly into the lid (into the recess) of this type of paintpot.

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Snug fit

I fired up the stove with some small twigs and was able to keep it going for a good while by dropping in just the twigs I found lying around. After testing the stove out I used a blowtorch to burn off a lot of the paint on the outside of the stove to avoid fumes in my brew. Here you can just make out the gases being reignited as they come back in through the top holes of the burner.

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Re- ignition

One stove in action.

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Flamer
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Ready for a brew
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Plenty of hot embers
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At Base Camp doing its job

I had fun building this stove and had the idea of building a better one but to tell you the truth this one works great so I’ve never got round to it.
Have a go and see what you can come up with.

Cheers

George

How To…. Build a Father & Son Bow

A very quickly made bow – It should take anyone competent with a knife and saw about 1 hour to make. The bow is made up of two poles – The larger is the Father and the smaller is the Son. I still have the first Father & Son bow I made about 5 years ago and it still shoots well. I use these bows typically on ranges of less than 20 metres but on a high arc they will shoot an arrow between 60 and 70 metres. Not bad for something made in an hour but only about 20 to 30lbs in draw.

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Two Father & Son Bows (Centre & Right) up against my Holmegaard (left)

I was introduced to this sort of bow from Mark of Kepis Bushcraft when he posted a You Tube video where he made one for his son (I have put a link to the video at the bottom of the article). I realised instantly that this would be an excellent tool to use with my Sea Cadets. Funding is always tight so the thought that I could make bows quickly and that they could shoot well got me going.

I was originally told that there was no historical record for this type of bow apart from being created by some locals in the States during the 1930’s to fool some Anthropologists but since have come across these types of bows being called the Penobscot or Wabanaki bow (I have included a link at the end of the article to the Primitive Archer website to give more detail on the history). So far from my reading this type of bow dates back at least 1500 years and comes in a number of different types.

My cadets like to refer to the bow as the X Wing Fighter Bow. I can kind of see why.

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The X Wing

 

This step by step is to guide you through how I make one of these bows. I have tried to make the steps as clear as possible but please leave a comment if you are unsure about any stage.

I do not make them in a primitive way as my aim is to have a useful tool in limited time that my cadets or my own children can use quickly. After researching this bow more though I will be interested in making one in a primitive way.

 

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Finlay’s choice
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Catherine’s choice

 

 

 

The Limbs

I typically use coppiced shoots of Hazel but I will use young Ash if it is available. I have tried Sycamore before but I found that this wood tended to snap easily.

 

 

 

 

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Cut at the base

 

 

 

 

I cut poles about thumb thickness in diameter (but use what you can find). I always make my cut at the base of the coppice so to stimulate regrowth.

 

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Three Father & Son Bows ready for making

 

 

 

 

I like the Father pole to be as straight as possible but the Son can either be straight or curved. When making one for myself I cut the Father to the height of my chin. With younger children I normally make the bow just bigger than them. I have found if you make the bow too short they can snap quickly. For the Son I normally cut another pole about two thirds of the length of the Father.

 

 

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Finding the Belly

 

 

I work the Father first. I let the pole roll in my hand to determine the Belly and the Back of the Bow. To keep things simple the side of the pole facing the ground will be the Belly, the side facing the sky will be the Back. If you want to play about with recurve shapes feel free to switch things around.

 

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Mark the Belly

 

 

 

I then mark the Belly side with my knife.

 

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Using a string to measure the length of the bow

 

 

 

 

 

I use string to measure the length of the pole

 

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Fold the string

 

 

 

 

Fold the string in half.

 

 

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Find the centre

 

 

 

 

 

 Lay the doubled up string back on (the Belly) the pole).

 

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Mark the centre

 

 

 

 

 

Make another cut on the Belly side to mark the centre of the bow.

 

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Mark out the handle

 

 

 

 

 

 Holding the pole in the middle with the Belly facing me I then make a mark on either side my fist to show where the handle area will be.

 

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Marked out

 

 

 

 

 The marks I have made also help me to see clearly which part of the pole is the Belly at this stage. I want that as I am leaving the bark on this bow and I have found I can lose sight of pen or pencil marks on bark. If you take the bark off then pencil or pen marks will work well.

 

 

 

 

 

Getting that Curve

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Start at the tip
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Work your way to the handle

 

The next stage is to see if you can make both ends of the pole curve evenly. I usually find that the thicker end of your pole needs to be shaved down. I work from the end of the pole backwards to the handle area shaving off small pieces at a time. I will take off more wood from the tip of the pole than I will from the handle area. You want to have a tapered shape on each limb.

 

 

 

 

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Keep testing the curve

 

 

 

 

 

Keep testing the pole until you get a consistent curve on both limbs.

 

 

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Trim the sides if needed

 

 

 

 

I do not like to go past the Pith of the wood as this will cause the limb to form a hinge and snap. If you are getting near the Pith then take some wood of the side of the limb.

 

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Keep checking the curve

 

 

 

 

Trim back the wood on both sides if needs be. If you can get a good curve then stop but it does not need to be perfect (you are not making a Longbow).

 

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Cut the Son to about two thirds of the Father

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cut the Son pole to about two thirds the size of the Father. I have seen though where the Son is very curved that it can be half the size of the Father.

 

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Belly of the Son

 

 

 

 

I find the Belly of the Son as I did with the Father and mark it. Any trimming of the limbs this time is done on the Back of the bow and not the Belly. This is because the Back of the Son will be attached to the Back of the Father.

 

Mark the centre of the Son with string.

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Measure again using the string
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Mark the centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Checking the curve

 

 

 

 

Trim the limbs (on the back) and test for a good curve.

 

 

 

 

Producing the X Wing

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Setting up the join

 

 

It is far easier to join the limbs if you have some help (thanks Roddy). I sometimes join the poles with a common whipping and sometimes just use strong tape. For this bow I am going to use tape and then at the end make a handle with a bit of whipping.

 

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Joining the poles

 

 

 

With one person holding the two poles (make sure the Backs of each poles are touching) the other person can attach tape. I find it best if you roll the poles rather than wrapping the tape. Tape the whole handle area.

 

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Prepping the spacer

 

 

If the Son has a very pronounced curve you do not need to do the next step. Most of the bows I make have poles that are not very curved so I put spacers in near the handle. Take one small branch and trim if necessary.

 

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Battoning in the spacer

 

 

 

Then using a baton hammer the spacer down to the handle.

 

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Trim the spacer

 

 

 

 

Trim the spacer. Be very careful to keep your hands clear of the blade here. Out in the woods I don’t always have a handy makeshift table to work on.

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Last trim

 

 

 

 

 

Repeat on the other side and you will find that the Son pole goes into a more pronounced curve.

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Secure the spacers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tape around each of the spacers to secure them (or whip them).

 

 

 

 

The Nocks

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Mark the X

 

 

I then lay the bow on its side to work on the nocks. The nocks on the Father pole need for this type of bow to be in the shape of an X. This is to accommodate the string to the Son and for the main bow string. I firstly make an X cut.

 

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Carve the X nock

 

 

 

Then cut the knock out until I get this shape. Make the edges of the nock that are closest to the handle as flat as possible so as to catch the bow string when it is strung.

 

 

To make the nock on the opposite side of the pole roll the knife around the pole from the middle of your completed nock and repeat the cuts. Repeat the whole process on the other limb so you have four nocks.

 

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Line up at the middle of the completed nock
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Roll the pole

 

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Make the other X nock on the opposite side of the pole

 

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Cut the Son nock

 

 

The nock on the Son should be pointing towards the nock on the Father. An X nock is not needed but just a single nock on each side. Remember to repeat the nock on the end of the Son.

 

 

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Lined up nocks

 

 

Here you can see the nocks lined up. On some primitive Father & Son bows the Son limbs are tied of to the Father limbs about half way down the Father limb. I do not do that with these quick bows as I find the poles are not wide enough to incorporate a separate set of nocks half way down the limb. Experiment if you can though and let me know if it works for you.

 

Stringing up

Keeping things as cheap as possible I like to use Bailer twine for the string (thanks Phil). Either tie the ends off or use tape to seal the ends to stop it fraying. I like to use tape.  Bailer twine has the benefit that it does not stretch under tension. Use whatever string that comes to hand but try to find something that does not stretch. In a primitive bow the string could have been made up of sinew broken down into fine strands and woven into cordage.

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Tie off the bottom Father & Son limbs

 

 

 

 

I decide firstly which part of the bow will be the top and which will be the bottom. On the bottom I attach the Son to the Father with string. Use knots that you can easily untie. Also the string needs to be taught but not overly tight.

 

 

 

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Make a loop

 

 

To make the main bow string cut a length about one and a half times the length of the bow and make a loop at one end. To make this loop I just made an overhand knot on the bight. The loop needs to be small enough to catch the nock when you string the bow but big enough to be slid down the upper Father limb when unstringing the bow. Try to keep the knot loose until you get the loop the right size.

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Tying off the bow string

 

 

 

 

Get someone to help you measure how long you need to make the bow string (thank you Kate). With the loop attached to the upper Father limb hold it in place about one hand width down from the nock and tie a knot to the bottom nock on the Father pole. This will allow about a brace height of one fist.

 

 

 

 

Again your knot should be able to hold under strain but easy enough to untie to make adjustments. I like to wrap the string around the nock then back on itself (shown in the enlarged example around the tree) then I wrap the remaining string a few times around the nock before finishing with overhand wraps or similar. This makes it easy to untie to make adjustments.

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Knot the bottom nock
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Enlarged example before tying off

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After warming the wood up by bending it from the middle slide the bow string loop up into the top knock. To do this I trap the bottom of the Father bow on my instep, hold the handle in one hand and with the other hand both bend the upper Father limb and slide the loop into place.

Ideally the brace height (handle to the bow string) should be a fist and thumb in height. You may need to adjust the string length to get this.
Then attach a piece of string to the end of the other Son limb and tie it off over the bow string loop on the father limb in a knot that will come undone easily. Try and get the distance of these limbs to match the distance on the other end. This way you can always brace the bow fully.

When unstringing the bow all you need to do then is untie the knot on the top Father limb (the string to the Son) and then slide the loop on the Father limb down towards the handle.

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Bow is strung ready to have the final knot done
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Finally strung up with taped off ends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Bailer twine can be hard on the fingers I roll tape onto the nocking area of the bow string (you may not need to do this if your string does not cut into your fingers).

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Strip of tape ready to be rolled
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Rolled tape. Do not make it to thick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Handle

It is not a requirement but I like to make the handle more comfortable with some Common Whipping.

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Common Whipping start
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Common Whipping end

 

 

 

 

 

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Finished handle

The Finished Bows

 Two happy children looking forward to trying out their new bows. Finlay’s bow developed a hinge so I added some extra tape to support it. It still shoots well.

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Finlay
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Catherine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bows in action.

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Airborne arrow
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Good for all ages

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is just one way of making this type of bow but it has been tried and tested by hundreds of Sea and Marine Cadets over the years.
Good luck and it would be great to hear of anyone making one of these bows.

George

Links 

Kepis Bushcraft video on a quick Father& Son bow

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQIaZCuMzCM

Barry Minditch video on a primitive Father & Son bow

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgIlr5xgC4E

Some history on the Father & Son bow

http://www.primitivearcher.com/smf/index.php?topic=10369.0

 

How To…. Knife Safety Tips

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1: knife in a robust sheath

Welcome to the first of my Bushcraft Step by Steps.

I will be building a range of Step by Steps in the future.

Like all good Bushcrafters I like to use a knife for much of my work and over the years I have taught many Sea Cadets how to use a knife. The following Step by Step covers some safe knife handling techniques. At the end of the article I have included a link to an excellent article on Knife Law in the UK. The first thing to consider about your knife is the sheath. Ensure your knife sheath is in good repair and is attached securely to you. Here (picture 1) my knife is attached via a dangler to my belt. I also carry a small necker knife on some cord around my neck. This sheath is made of leather but when I use a knife when prepping any food I prefer to use a stainless steel Mora knife (or similar) that has a plastic sheath as plastic is easier than leather to clean after preparing food (I try not to put my knife back in the sheath while prepping food but do forget sometimes).

 

 

 

 

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2: Un-sheathing a knife

 

 

When un -sheathing your knife look at what you are doing (Picture 2). Always be aware of where the knife edge is. This sheath has been wet formed around the knife so when the knife is sheathed it is locked in. I pull on the knife gently so that it unlocks from the sheath then I draw the knife out slowly with the back of the blade touching the leather. When using a knife that is not attached to me I again pull gently on the knife to unlock it but then rather than removing the knife from the sheath I remove the sheath from the knife. This means that the hand holding the knife is still and it is the hand holding the sheath that is being moved. Far safer to teach this method with groups of children.

 

 

 

 

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3: Full grip

 

 

To begin with hold the knife in an all round grip being careful to make sure your forefinger is clear of the edge of the blade (Picture 3). Be aware of who is around you at all times. I was taught to consider the ‘blood bubble’. Your blood bubble is the area around you out to two arm lengths. Anyone coming into that area while you are working with a knife has a good chance becoming a ‘burst blood bubble’. All potentially very messy so if someone comes into your bubble stop work and put the knife in its sheath.

 

 

 

 

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4: Side cut standing

 

A good safe position when trimming some wood is to work to your side (Picture 4). Here I have my knife arm locked with the blade at 90 degrees to my arm. Rather than moving my knife I moved the piece of wood I am working on. When using this position I like to use the part of the knife edge closest to the handle as this causes least movement to the knife. This technique works equally well with the knife held out in front of you while standing up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5: Side cut sitting

 

 

Here the movement can be seen in the wood and not the knife while in a sitting position (picture 5).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6: Shoulder cut

Using a log to rest the work piece on you can get some very powerful and safe cuts.

Place the end of the work piece on a log (to your side or well in front) and with your knife arm kept straight push the knife down on the work piece (Picture 6). If your knife arm is kept straight you will be using your shoulder and back muscles so giving you a much stronger cutting force. Be aware where on the log the end of the work piece is located so that it does not tip the log over or that you end up rapping your knuckles. I like to use this technique working off to my side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7: Knee brace

 

 

A very safe and powerful cut is to use your knee as a brace for the back of your knife (Picture 7). Again the knife is locked and you are moving the work piece to make the cuts. Brace the back of the blade below the front of the knee (if sitting) or against a small tree (move the wood not the knife). Here your main area to keep an eye on is that your forefinger on the hand holding the work piece does not come into contact with the blade tip.

 

 

 

 

 

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8: Elbows on knees

When sitting and you do not want to work to your side then place your elbows on your knees while working with a knife (Picture 8). This ensures that the tip of the knife is well away from your ‘Triangle of Death’ – that is the area from your groin out to your knees. Any cuts in this area are potentially fatal due to the close proximity of the femoral artery in your thighs. In this picture I am making very fine cuts with the knife creating a bevel at the end of the work piece. I like to use my thumbs for fine work to push on the back of the knife as I find this gives me more control. Be careful not to put undue strain on your thumb as this can lead to stress on your lower arm. If more pressure is required then return to a full grip with the arm locked out.

 

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9: Chest lever

 

A very powerful and controlled cut is to use the Chest Lever position (Picture 9). With your arms locked against your chest and pushing your ellbows into you while expanding your chest provides a powerful cut. This is actually a very safe method when done properly as the knife hardly moves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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10: Fine cut

 

 

 

 

For fine cuts, push your thumbs against the back of the handle or blade (or some people prefer one thumb on top of the other) (Picture 10). Remember this is only for fine cuts requiring little pressure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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11: Rosette Cut

 

 

You can make these fine cuts safely all the way around a stick in order to snap it cleanly (Picture 11). When you have made fine cuts all around the stick turn the stick around and make another series of cuts around the stick to produce a V-shaped channel.

 

 

 

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12: Rosette split

 

 

 

 

Keep repeating this until the stick snaps easily (Picture 12).

 

 

 

 

 

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13: Wedge

 

 

 

 

Here I have created a wedge to use when battoning with a knife (Picture 13).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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14: Battoning set up

 

 

When battoning with a knife ensure the work item is on a stable platform well in front of you and the knife is placed in a position 90 degrees from your body (Picture 14). If the knife then slips the follow through line is away from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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15: Splitting with a wedge

 

 

Then use your wedge that you created before to safely split the wood and release the knife (Picture 15). With the wedge you can split the wood far enough apart so that the knife can be removed smoothly or it drops out onto the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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16: Feather stick

 

With your split wood you can make some feather sticks to get your fire started (Picture 16).   Here I am kneeling, my arm is locked out and the work piece is off to one side on a stump.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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17: Sheathing the knife

 

 

 

When you have completed your task, put the knife back in its sheath keeping your fingers away from the blade as you do so (Picture 17). (Take care: this is a common time for cuts).

 

 

 

 

 

 

An excellent article on knife law in the UK can be found on the Bushcraft UK site – UK Knife Law