Archive for December, 2011

Dec 27 2011

Winter preparations

Published by under Expeditions and Experiences

The snow has been carpeting the ground since well over a month. Craftwise, I’ve been mostly doing some minor repairs on my existing gear and tools.

The fur on the sleeves of my coyote parka got worn off in some spots, so I decided to cut out the thin parts and replace them with new fur. Lacking tanned coyote fur, I used racoon instead, which is actually of pretty similar quality.

coyote fur scrap

parka sleeves finished

The picture on the lower left shows a piece of tanned racoon fur and a piece of tanned (and worn-off) coyote fur – both are winter pelts. The hairs are of similar length and insulating properties, and in the end the patching is hardly visible (lower right). Ready for some cold weather!

I’ve posted about the skin boat I made earlier this summer…I appreciated all the feedback and questions about it. I’d sure do a few things differently with the next one, though this one has been quite satisfying so far. This is how it’s currently stored…

skin boat storage

…tied to the ceiling of a crafts shelter to keep it away from ground moisture.

I’m always curious about how the things I craft perform when they’re used on a everyday basis. Here are some pictures from one of my more recent trips in the woods:

The toboggan, finished last spring, seems to work just fine. I actually salvaged my gear lashing cord when I was running short of rawhide for my skin boat so I need to make some more…

The other pictures show some of the landscapes you might encounter here in the northwoods. Whenever possible and practical, I like to camp in hardwood forests such as the maple forest shown above, since they provide excellent firewood. Bogs and swamps can be hard to travel through in the summer time, but in the white season, once the ground is frozen and covered with snow they are easy to cross on snowshoes (and toboggans, if any gear needs to be hauled).

A little while ago I made this crooked knife with my friend and fellow craftsman Jarrod StoneDahl.

After using mass-produced crooked knives for a number of years, I came to appreciate the qualities of a hand-made tool more and more. On some of the more specialized projects that involved a crooked knife, I noticed how my hand and wrist started hurting after a while. Traditional craftsmen used tools that were matched to their needs, including the shape and size of their hand. The handle of this crooked knife has a thumb rest for additional support which greatly reduces the stress put on the wrist (see picture on the right) – and how that thumb rest needs to be shaped depends on who is using the knife – there is no “standard”.

We used his forge to craft the blade and fit the extension of the blade into a notch in the wooden handle, glued a wooden plug on top and wrapped it with linen string. More recently I put a sheath together to protect the blade. Jarrod has been making quite a number of such individually crafted crooked knives and if you have an interest in this subject, I recommend checking out his blog.

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Dec 10 2011

Skins for Water and Warmth

Published by under Expeditions and Experiences

Lately I’ve been experimenting a lot with a more refined way of working skins. Most of it is based on native Siberian tanning, just utilizing stone tools instead. I will not give you all the details of the process as of yet, but briefly show you one of two new tools which removes the need for sandpaper or pumice for removing the membrane.

Reindeer (and deer skins in general) are very sensitive when tanning hair on. The sharpness of the tool is important, otherwise you will put a lot of strain on the grain and produce a spotted piece of fur or in the best case scenario; eskimo tan. Eskimo tan is super soft, but the durability of the clothing is not satisfactory if you don’t shoot enough caribou to make a new set of clothing every year or two.

The scraper is made of flint, but any knappable stone can be used:

They don’t seem to need resharpening very often at all. This small one I use as a dry scraper and as a stretcher on small skins such as leg skins. I also have a big one that acts as a stretcher on bigger skins.

On the veidemann course this year, following the tradition, the students made a moose skin currach. I had to use it when crossing the lake a few times recently. The lake was just starting to freeze over and I had to break my way through at some spots.

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Dec 08 2011

Earth Lodge Finished

Published by under Expeditions and Experiences

The construction of this earth lodge was started in 2009 during the Veidemann course. Birch bark supply ran short two years in a row, but finally, this year I managed to complete the thatching. It would still probably be advantageous to extend the birch bark a bit further up in order to contain more heat. For now I am using some spruce bark slabs as extra covering.

In the lower half of the walls, the three layers of birch bark are covered by turf peeled from rocks. The upper part is spaghnum moss collected in the bog.

The inside of the earth lodge still needs some fixing to be as nice as it can be. I’ll also have to make a door, but for now I’ll use a skin as covering whenever I am using the lodge.

Lessons learnt for next lodge:

  • Go smaller, the amount of raw materials needed for this structure was immense.
  • Make it round, as it will then reflect heat better.
  • Use a different solution for the top, so it is possible to close the top when the lodge is not in use.

This will probably be main camp for the fishing operations I do in the lakes during autumn. However it is too close to “civilisation” for where I want to have my winter camps.

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Dec 02 2011

Burning The Lands

Published by under Expeditions and Experiences

Over the last year I have realised more and more that we humans have a role in most of the ecosystems on the planet. And I think for a very long time we lived in relative balance with it. Balance itself in it’s true form does not exist, neither in nature or in humans, but the interactions can be mutually helpful or marked by single sided destruction. These systems of mutually helpful interactions are the kind of balances I am talking about.

In this area, if nature was left alone at least within a couple of hundred years what would probably happen is that the Norway spruce (Picea abies) would take over and you’d get boom and bust cycles due to forest fires. This is a sustainable system, like any other natural system, but it’s not optimal for biodiversity, animal density and not least human density. In order to get a richer environment, there must be a kept a higher than “naturally occuring” ratio of open spaces,

All over the world, also locally, burning was one of the tools to keep open spaces and forest floors more productive and openly spaced. Whereas I have more or less given up the thought of burning forest floors in this area (would probably be too dangerous and might shift the vegetation too much), open spaces like dry bogs and meadows were burnt here traditionally to improve pasture.

Burning meadows is something I have done since childhood, so it was not a focus this year, although it could be very interesting to see specifically what kind of plants are favoured by burning.

Two kinds of patches were burnt this year. The ground underneath one hazel (Corylus avellana) bush that was coppiced last winter as well as a dry bog with grass, heather (Calluna vulgaris), various berries and spagnum moss. I was a bit concerned with parts of the bog area, which overlaps with a very dry patch with cowberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) and bilberries (Vaccinium uliginosum).

There is a relatively short window in which burning the lands is possible without causing damage to animals. It has to be done before the birds lay eggs and before the fire hazard becomes too great. The best is while there are still large patches of snow, where the fire can be curbed before it gets out of hand.

The burnings were done on two seperate days, in nice weather with almost no wind (although it seems that the fire calls upon the wind when it gets going to a certain size).

The hazel burn was pretty straightforward, and was a very slow burn, mostly grass burned and some leaves. Decideous woods seems rather safe to burn.

The dry bog burn was different… This time I tried not to limb the pines to see the effect. I didn’t remove the junipers (Juniperus communis) either. What happened was of course that the junipers burnt like petrol and flamed up quite a bit up into the smaller pines, killing the smaller ones.

Lesson number one:

Conifer branches must be kept out of reach of the fire if they are to survive the fire. If young trees are ever to develop in such areas one needs to take at least a decade of burning breaks every now and then in a particular spot.

Burning frequency is part of the experiment. With the hazels I plan on burning every year, to promote a rich herbal understory and since the regeneration of the hazels seems less impacted by fire.

If I burn the dry bog, what will happen is that after a few years, the understory will be grass alone, and I’d prefer to keep some of the heather and the berries for variety. I’ll start off with the guideline that when the ling is past it’s prime and is dying off I’ll do another burn. My hope is that this will increase berry production and reduce the amount of spaghnum moss, which very few animals consume.

After the burn everything looks kind of barren, but after relatively short time things regenerated. Especially with the hazel burn there was an explosion of growth after the burn. What was very interesting with the bog burn was that the patch of concern regenerated particularily well and might carry new berries already next year. Whether the species composition has shifted is too early to say. Only thing that is a definite is that a lot of the spaghnum moss was burnt and since they grow very slowly this will be a lasting effect when burnt every few years.

Hazel burn:

After a few weeks:

A month or two:

Showing hazel growth in midsummer:

Dry patch after burning:

After about a month:

At end of growing season:

From further out in the bog:

Same place about a couple of months after burning:

At high summer:

Showing the dead moss being replaced by grass:

It seems that burning promotes the growth of valerian (Valeriana sambucifolia), angelica (Angelica sylvestris), fireweed (Epilobium augustifolium) and wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca). The two first are probably due to their ability to spurt new growth quickly with their big roots. Fireweed probably due to prolific seeding and germination. Strawberry I have absolutely no idea to why, maybe because the burn removes competition. This burn from last year shows valeriana.

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