Jan 31 2011

Mittens and choppers

Published by at 1:51 pm under Animal Materials

The pictures below are from a pair of mittens and choppers I completed a little while ago. I´ve  just recently started to take more pictures of the crafts I´m working on, and will keep in mind to have photos of work-in-progress available in the future.

The choppers are made from grain-on buckskin (with the hide being from a whitetail deer, Odocoileus virginianus, a species common in the area where I currently live), the mittens are tanned hair-on racoon skin, with the hair turned inside. Both are sewn with artificial sinew, though sinew would work just as well.

Choppers and Mittens

The advantage of having separate choppers and mittens is that they can be dried out much faster when wet, which is especially important when you only have a small fire or body wamth to dry out your gear.

The racoon mittens are soft and warm, and I find them to be a good alternative to wool mittens.

Buckskin tends to absorb water fairly fast; leaving the grain on helps a little bit with water repellency. To increase the latter, I applied a mix of beaver oil and pitch to the chopper. I find that I never get the fat-pitch mix quite to the point where they completely mix (some of the pitch settles on the bottom of the container I use for mixing and heating), though it seems to do the job. Below is a picture of the oiled choppers, the color changed to a pleasant reddish-brown.

Oiled choppers

Beaver oil has a very low melting point (around 30F/-1C) and therefor makes an excellent choice for leather work. Beaver fat is also very nutritious and tasty – I prefer to eat it unless I come across some rancid fat (which I then render to be used as utility fat, like in this case).

It´ll be a while till my next post since I´ll be in the woods for the next few weeks. To make it clear, I don´t consider myself as an “expert” in any of these skills and crafts. Like probably most of you who read this, I didn´t grow up in a traditional (hunter-gatherer) culture where those skills are practiced from early age on, though I´ve experimented with and used a variety of them over the years (and the people who know me could probably make a better judgement of that anyways). I say this because following a passion like this may not get you a lot of encouragement and recognition, especially from the dominant culture, and it can sometimes be a challenge to keep going with it. Yet I´d choose this life of richness and connectedness any day over one of comfort and material wealth.

I appreciate questions and discussions, as I think that those can help us all with learning and growing. Have fun on your journey.


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4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Mittens and choppers”

  1. Kyle (Potholes Primitive)on 31 Jan 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Hi Torjus,

    Whitetail deer and racoons! What side of the Atlantic are you on anyway?

    I sometimes like to think about how long it might take for an invasive species, isolated from it’s mother population, to evolve into a unique ‘endemic’ subspecies. Odocoileus virginianus var. nordica? Its only inevitable.

    I faithfully read your blog updates. I admire your efforts in sharing as much as your efforts in the field. I think what you’re doing is tremendously important, because modern people need as many examples of being bold and different that they can get. Ecspecialy young people. The writings of primitive practioners gave me enormous comfort as a youth, letting me know I was not alone, and that I could cary my passions further than I ever dreamed. I would never have dared come as far as I have without the writings of people like Tom Elpel, Jim Riggs, and Brent Ladd to encourage me. You never know who your work is influencing. The extra inspiration might be all somebody needs to tip the scales between a life of mediocrity and a lifelong adventure.

    Email me an address and your USDA hardiness zone, and I will try to send you some of the seed I’ll be collecting for my own forest garden this year. I collect all kinds perrenial and edible seed hardy in Zone 5 or 6, but many of the species I’m planting are much hardier than that. I’ve been suprised at how many species on my list
    (of over two hundred) I’ve been able to find just by keeping my eyes open.

    I appreciate you keeping us posted. I’d realy like to see how that coppiced hazel looks in the seasons after you burn it. I may do the same to my hazels.

    When the alarm goes off in my earth lodge, and I blow out the fat lamp, and I hike through the snow, to my car, to work at the plywood plant- it’s nice to know of a certain SOB in faraway Scandanavia whose at least as crazy me.


  2. Kyle (Potholes Primitive)on 31 Jan 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Waint a minute… I’ve confused Thomas with Tojus. Oops. Thomas, you are also an inspiration. I will repost my comments for Torjus under one of his articles.

  3. Kyle (Potholes Primitive)on 31 Jan 2011 at 10:42 pm

    And Thomas, could you elaborate on how pitch is blended with fat? I’m assuming they are just mixed together over heat?..

  4. Thomason 24 Feb 2011 at 1:54 am

    Hi Kyle,

    good to hear from you. Thomas, Torjus, I guess it can be somewhat confusing 😉
    Yeah I just mix pitch and fat in a container and heat it up. Sometimes I use a depression in a rock for that purpose and heat it by the fire. This time i was cheap and used an old sardine can 😮


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