Simple bench or trestle

My friend Will and I made some benches for students to sit on when attending my courses. Will had seen these made and used as trestles by carpenters in Romania.

Two four inch diameter logs are split in half to form the legs. One end of each leg is reduced to a wedge shape as you can see below.

We marked the shape of the leg tops onto a Wych Elm log with charcoal and then made a series of cuts

then I chiseled out wood with a knife and batton to form the grooves for the legs to go into.

Each leg was then knocked into its groove and if necessary minor adjustments were made to produce a tight fit.

Once all four legs are in, you can cut off the bottoms of the legs to achieve the ideal height.

Pig gut cordage – taught to me by John Lord

Animal intestines make a superb cordage, but first have to be processed. I usually buy a bag of pig intestines from my local butcher. They are salted to help preserve them, so the first job is to rise them in water.

I then take out one intestine (anything from 8ft – 20ft in length) and tie one end to a tree or if processing at home, my garden fence.

To the other end I tie a stick and then use the stick to start twisting up the intestine.
The twisting action squeezes the moisture out of the intestine and the twists in the intestine give it added strength. You may have to twist for up to half and hour, but eventually you will feel the intestine pulling your hand as it is tightly wound. This is the time to stop twisting and stretch the intestine slightly and keeping the tension on, tie the end to a tree or fence.

On a dry day, the intestine should air dry in about two hours and can then be taken down, rolled up and stored ready for use. The slight elasticity of the intestine means you can achieve very tight and secure lashings.

Above I have used a length of intestine to secure a flint blade into a split Hazel handle.

Stripping Spruce roots

Today I’ve been experimenting with different methods of removing the outer sheath of Spruce roots. By far the most affective and simplest method was to find a reasonably strong branch and placing the Spruce root over the base of the branch, pull the root from side to side while applying downward pressure. It is incredibly quick and easy.

Reflector fire

Referring back to my post on making a whistle, the base of the drinks can, can of course be polished to a mirror finish and because of it’s parabolic shape can be used to make fire. Point the can base at the sun and hold a piece of tinder such as fungus, in front of the reflector and adjust the fungus until you find the focal point of the reflected sunlight. The fungus will ignite instantly as you can see below.

Personally I prefer to use the reflector of my torch as it’s something I carry with me all the time, and like the base of the drinks can it is also parabolic shaped. Even a small torch reflector from a Maglite torch, works incredibly well and needs no polishing.

Place a small piece of fungus on the end of a thin twig and hold in front of the reflector and adjust to find the focal point and it will ignite instantly.

Tree identification

Many of the skills and crafts we practice, require us to be able to identify various species of trees. For the majority of tree species that drop their leaves each autumn, this has now been completed and may be seen as a very challenging time to learn to identify trees, but actually it is one of the best times, because if you can identify trees without leaves, it makes identification so much easier once the leaves are again on the trees.

Here is the bud of a Sycamore tree

When teaching tree identification I give each student some blank sheets of paper and a roll of 48mm wide sticky tape. A we walk they collect a piece of twig about 25 -30mm long with at least one bud on. This is placed on a sheet of paper and completely covered with sticky tape. The sticky tape will preserve the bud while any excess moisture can escape through the back of the paper. Once preserved in this way, they will last a life time. Students are then encouraged to make notes about key identification features and can also add leaves and fruits at different times of the year. Gradually a unique and individual field guide is produced by each student which they may refer to whenever they need it.

Here I have stuck down both the leaf and bud of the Sycamore

This method works equally as well for plants and flowers. Below is a picture of a collection made by a class I worked with while in Canada.

The Nature Detectives website here has some fantastic free resources to download to aid identification of leaves, twigs and much more.

Making a whistle out of a drinks can

Cut a strip from the side of the can about 20mm wide and break off one third of this strip as shown below. Bend the short piece into the shape of a hill and place across the longer piece a few millimetres from one end forming the mouth piece.

Fold one end of the long piece and both ends of the short piece to secure in place as shown below.

Now bend the long piece at a ninety degree angle to the mouth piece and then curl it around to form the air chamber and you should have a shape rather like a question mark.

Place your thumb over one side of the air chamber to form a seal and your index finger to seal the other side, just leaving the narrow opening immediately after the mouth piece.Ensure the gap at the front of the mouth piece is wider than that at the back (this will take some adjustment and experimentation to get right), then blow!

The Roycroft Snowshoe

In England it is now rare for us to get sufficient snow fall to use snowshoes, but in Lapland they will prove very useful.While on a Winter Wilderness Survival Course taught by Mors Kochanski in 2006, I learned to make Roycroft Snowshoes.On the course we used young Spruce, but here I am using Willow (Hazel also works well).

Gather five sticks roughly the same length as you’re height.They should be about the same diameter as a pencil at the narrow end.Remove any side branches and then the bark.

Once all five are completed they should be tied together about two fingers width from the end (I use a constrictor knot).

Now cut a piece of wood to roughly the same dimensions as a bow-drill hearth and the span of your hands in length.Balance the snow shoe on your finger to find the mid-point of the shoe, and then place your heel at this point and the piece of wood beneath the ball of your foot.Now lash the piece of wood in this position to all five stick (I used a Jam Knot and cut notches into the piece of wood to help hold the lashings in place.

Tie the thick ends of the sticks (the back of the snowshoe) together, leaving a space the width of your finger between each (I tied four overhand knots to act as spacers). Now secure another block of wood where your heel rests on the shoe (using the same method described above), which should be about two fingers in front of the pivot point.

Now using either a piece of ribbon, cord or elastic lash around the shoe and over your toes, tying the two ends on top of your toes as shown below.

After tying the knot on top of the toes, bring the two ends around the back of the heel and tie off using a reef knot (this knot is obscured by the bottom of my trouser leg in the picture below).This will allow your foot to pivot on the shoe as you walk, but still keep the snowshoe on.

The snowshoe is easier to use if the tip of the shoe curves up at the end, so tie a cord between the tip and the block of wood and leave until the wood has dried out.

Repeat the process for the second snowshoe and hope there is sufficient snowfall to be able to test them.