Blog posts will likely be sporadic and few, at least until the busy spring segues into summer. In the meantime, here is an interview with Tamara on a local radio show, in which she talks about her work and paleotechnics philosophy type stuff
Posted by Stevene on April 13, 2014
Lampblack is a form of carbon. You can think of it as something like very, very finely divided charcoal. Because it is so incredibly fine, a small amount covers a large area giving an intense black color. It forms the basis of the best traditional black inks and has been used to many other ends from shoe polish to blackening gun sights. Lamblack’s extreme opacity and complete resistance to fading are excellent characteristics for use in the arts
Lampblack can be made from burning oily or resinous materials, while collecting the resulting soot. The pitch of pine trees and other conifers make good lamp blacks, as do oils burned with a wick. It has also traditionally been collected from the inside of oil lamp mantles (the clear glass covering over oil lamps), thus the name. The trick to producing it yourself is to burn the material in such a way that combustion is incomplete. When combustion is complete, the carbon is fully burned, but if the flame is interrupted, or just plain inefficient, some of the carbon remains as soot along with other unburned chemicals. The rising black soot can be collected on a metal plate, bowl or flat stone.
Using a large and lumpy, or long, wick will usually create a lot of soot. Another way to create incomplete combustion is to interrupt the flame. You may have noticed that when an object is held in a candle flame, soot results. When the wick is trimmed or made properly and the flame is burning cleanly, the carbon will be completely burned to up at the tip of the flame and no soot results. The truth is that it is somewhat challenging to make wicks which do NOT soot! The modern candle wick is an exception, not the rule. But for making lampblack, you want a whole LOT of soot, so make that flame as dirty as possible.
A good way to make lamp black under field conditions is to make a small table like arrangement of stones. Pitch or pitch saturated wood from pine or other conifers is burned under the top plate and the soot brushed off with a feather occasionally. I have some picture of that somewhere, but they are like that old kind that are on paper… Any kind of oil lamp arrangement with a plate of some kind on top will also work fine. A tuna can with the lid left partly attached and bent down to form a ramp into the oil is an easy solution.
Lampblack is not at all easily mixed with water. In fact, it is remarkably difficult to get the two together. One time I was tattooing my friend Wylie’s leg (I have pictures of that somewhere too…) with pine soot and figured out that if I spilled beer into the ink, it mixed easier. Yay for beer! It can be mixed with plain water sometimes if a very small amount of water is used, but it can also be almost impossible and a drop of alcohol helps break the surface tension. Lamp black is much used for tattooing around the world, being much finer than charcoal. I have two small tattoo test spots on my leg made by slicing the skin with obsidian and rubbing stuff in. The one with charcoal is uneven, while the one with lampblack is much cleaner. A third made with iron oxide (red ochre, a mineral pigment) is long gone, having faded away completely.
Often lampblack is somewhat oily containing compounds created by the heat destruction of the oil or pitch that are not pure carbon. The lampblack can be purified to an extent by re-burning it in an oxygen free environment. If put in a small sealed tin, it can be burned in a fire to clean it up a little. My results calcining soot this way have been mixed, and I’m unsure whether it is necessary. Another old book (quoted below) recommends packing into an open ended tube for re-burning. I’ll try that next time.
Asian inks are usually made as a solid stick by mixing lampblack with a small amount of collagen glue made from hides, sinew or especially antler. The stick is then rubbed up with a little water on a special stone and the ink used immediately. I hope to do almost all illustrations for paleotechnic’s publications with this type of home made ink, and other home made art materials, from here on out. Carbon ink works great with a feather quill pen (that’ll have to be another post) What is called india Ink is originally a soot based ink as well, but in liquid form. Since I lost the last ink stick that I made (someone probably threw it out, because it looked like a fossilized anteater turd, though it was perfectly functional), and have to make another, yet another future post may just have to cover ink making in detail! For now, you know what lamblack is, and how to make it and you can build from there. If you just want to blacken your gun sights, or whip up some corpse paint, it’s easy to make a small amount of lamp black with a candle or chunk of pitch. Another brick in the wall of self reliance.
I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes from old books scrounged up by using a google books search limited to the 19th century.
Technical Repository, Volume 11 T Cadell, 1827
Black shell-lac varnish.—Shell-lac varnish may be rendered black, by mixing with it with either ivory, or lamp-black. The editor has frequently used, and always preferred the latter. It should not be used as sold in the shops, being then greasy, as the workmen call it, and will neither mix or dry, well. Sometimes the lamp-black contains particles of plaster, from the walls of the chambers in which it is made; this, of course, should be rejected.
To prepare lamp black for use.—Press a portion of it into an earthen or metallic vessel, which may be made red hot in the fire; for small quantities, a tobacco pipe, a piece of a gun-barrel, or any other metallic tube, will answer the purpose perfectly well. It is not necessary to close the vessel, but the powder should be well rammed in; place the whole in an open fire until it is red-hot throughout; this may be known by the lamp-black ceasing to flame at the exposed parts; take it from the fire, and allow it to become quite cool before you remove it from the vessel, otherwise it will burn into ashes. Lamp-black, thus prepared, will mix readily with water, will dry well in paint or varnish, and will be improved in colour.
To mix the colour with the varnish.—Rub the lampblack up with a little alcohol, spirits of turpentine, or weak varnish, taking care to make it perfectly smooth before putting it into the cup with the varnish. To give a good black colour, the quantity of lamp-black must be considerable; this, it is true, will lessen the brilliancy of the varnish in some degree, but a thin coat of seed-lac, will diminish this fault. When only a small quantity of blackvarnish is wanted, it may be made by dissolving black sealing wax in alcohol. Sealing wax being composed principally of shell-lac. But little heat should be employed, or the black colour will be precipitated.
Five Thousand Receipts in All the Useful and Domestic Arts: Constituting a Complete and Universal Practical Library, and Operative Cyclopaedia
A. Small, 1825
Lamp black may be rendered mellower by making it with black which has been kept an hour in a state of redness in a close Crucible. It then loses the matter which accompanies this kind of soot.;
TO MAKE PAINTS FROM LAMP BLACK.
The consumption of lamp black is very extensive in common painting. It serves to modify the brightness of the tones of the other colours, or to facilitate the composition of secondary colours. The oil paint applied to iron grates and railing, and the paint applied to paper snuff boxes, to those made of tin plate, and to other articles with dark grounds, consume a very large quantity of this black. Great solidity may be given to works of this kind, by covering them with several coatings of the fat turpentine, or golden varnish, which has been mixed with lamp black, washed in water, to separate the foreign bodies introduced into it by the negligence of the workmen who prepare it After the varnish is applied, the articles are dried in a stove, by exposing them to a heat somewhat greater than that employed for articles of paper…”
TO MAKE A SUPERIOR LAMP BLACK.
Suspend over a lamp a funnel of tin plate, having above it a pipe, to convey from the apartment the smoke which escapes from the lamp. Large mushrooms, of a very black carbonaceous matter, and exceedingly light, will be formed at the summit of the cone. This carbonaceous part is carried to such a state of division as cannot be given to any other matter, by grinding it on a piece of porphyry. This black goes a great way in every kind of painting. It may be rendered drier by calcination in close vessels.
The funnel Ought to be united to the pipe, which conveys off the smoke; by means of wire, because solder would be Melted by the flame of the lamp.
Posted by Stevene on February 25, 2014
There’s More to Fire Than Heat, Fuel and Oxygen (or, Fire Exists Within a Sphere of Changing and Interdependent Circumstances)
Fire is an interaction between Heat, Fuel and Oxygen completely dependent on proportions, conditions and physical relations. It is not a self controlling, self adjusting system created to serve us; no, that it is not. What fire really is, is a sometimes beautiful, sometimes terrifying expression of physical laws, chemistry and energy which can serve us without intention or harm us without malice. Fire is the product of a universe which we can understand functionally and work with; one which does not judge, reward or punish.
By Steven Edholm
Hey all you pyros! I wrote this a while ago. I was going to take some relevant pictures and make it more of a tutorial, but I think it stands pretty well on it’s own and video might just be a better format to explore some of the details. So here it is in all it’s theoretical, abstracted glory.
We’ve all heard of the three things it takes to make a fire… HEAT, FUEL and OXYGEN. While it’s true that these are essential elements of fire, it is also true that without a fourth and equally important requirement there is no fire! Understanding this fourth requirement is key to effectively starting, controlling, utilizing and maintaining fire. It can be understood both logically, and intuitively through experience. It is the underlying and unifying principal of fire and no more or less dependent on the other three elements than they are on each other. And what is the secret ingredient? Drum roll please: The secret is simply the sphere of circumstances in which the heat fuel and oxygen exist, which allows the chain reaction to continue or vary in quality. Put more simply, we have to put heat, air and fuel together properly to make fire happen and continue. And then, to expand a little further, how heat, fuel and oxygen are put together, the condition each is in, and the quantity of each affects the characteristics of the fire. Simple? Basically yes, but it is still something of a journey from that simple idea to effectively maintaining and managing fires for various uses. When you factor in the many circumstances which contribute to or detract from this chain reaction and consider that we want different types of fires for different purposes it becomes less simple, but then so much more compelling! Join me in exploring a few details of this sphere of circumstances, because it is the details, some of them minute, that make the difference in how (or even whether) a fire burns.
There is a model that is used to explain fire called the tetrahedron of fire. It is a 3 dimensional pyramid with 3 sides and a bottom. The three sides represent one each of heat, fuel and oxygen. The bottom represents an uninhibited chain reaction, or our fourth element. The fire model used to consist of only three parts, fuel, heat and oxygen, represented as a one dimensional triangle, but was modified to represent the fact that fire does not exist without the proper relationship of the three tangible elements. Thus, the tetrahedron roughly represents what I am trying to tell you, which again is that fire exists and varies within a sphere of changing and interdependent circumstances. However, the tetrahedron model is so simple that it begs description and actually communicates nothing without additional information and explanation. I suppose that the series of articles I hope to write, and of which this is the first, will partly be that explanation and information from a practical standpoint, and of use to laypeople like us. I would like to see a fire model communicate some practical details, but my attempts to make a better model or diagram have been a fail. I suppose that the simplicity of the tetrahedron model may sometimes be an asset as it does not describe any one of the many types of fire. On the other hand the model is unable to communicate in any way the manner in which a fire functions and far too little about how it can be modified and controlled toward practical ends. I find that the tetrahedron model has little practical use here beyond what I’ve already discussed.
HEAT, OXYGEN AND FUEL DOES NOT ALWAYS A FIRE MAKE: When I was 20 something I was on top of maintaining fires at public gatherings and such. Now I’m inclined to sit back and let some eager, enthusiastic youngster do the job…. but they often don’t, which kind of sucks. I still often find myself raising my creaking, cold butt from the lukewarm side of some smokey waning fire to go fumble around in the dark for some firewood. If I’m patient or stubborn enough to wait for someone else to get up to add wood to the fire or, often more importantly, make adjustments to the wood that is already in the fire, my patience is not often well rewarded. Frequently, the poorly selected (… if selected isn’t even just too strong a word to use here;) wood is added haphazardly or with an evident lack of understanding. All too often the new wood is somewhat randomly thrown on often creating more problems than there were in the first place. Kids today… sigh… Adding more fuel to the fire or just blowing on it does not fix everything. Fire is an interaction between Heat, Fuel and Oxygen completely dependent on proportions, conditions and physical relations. It is not a self controlling, self adjusting system created to serve us; no, that it is not. What fire really is, is a sometimes beautiful, sometimes terrifying expression of physical laws, chemistry and energy which can serve us without intention or harm us without malice. Fire is the product of a universe which we can understand functionally and work with; one which does not judge, reward or punish. Understanding a little fire theory can go a long way in enabling us to create, control and influence fire.
No, fire is not just Fuel, Heat and Oxygen, but in a very real way it is a product of specific relationships between those three elements which allows them to undergo the continuing chain reaction of combustion. Lets look quickly at some varying conditions:
*If you have the heat of a match a foot away from some well sized and placed fuel, even with oxygen all around in the air, you do not have fire.
*let us say that you have a big round log being heated with a propane torch while surrounded by air. Thats a lot of heat, and plenty of air, but in most circumstances the log on its own will not really flame a whole lot, it will more likely smolder and eventually go out after the heat is removed. If we add another log or some smaller fuel, in the proper spatial relationship, our big round log will burn more quickly, more thoroughly and longer, basically because of the interaction of the burning fuel units with each other. They heat each other and bounce heat back and forth.
*If we have a healthy fire burning away and add a quantity of very green moisture laden wood, the fire will falter and slow down mostly due to the effect of the moisture on the factor of heat.
*Throw a bucket of water on the fire and so much heat will be removed as steam to heat the water that the fire is likely to go out completely.
*Cram the logs in a fire too close together or smother it with dirt and you will not have enough oxygen for a healthy blaze.
*Move the logs too far apart from each other and they will not contribute to a mutual build up of heat between them and are likely to smolder and each may eventually just stop flaming, begin to smolder and eventually just go out.
All of the above examples illuminate the importance of specific relations between the three concrete elements of fire.
Fires have almost living characteristics. Like a living body, fires that we use to our ends often need attention and feeding to achieve certain goals. Maintaining and using fire effectively is all about details and the details that make a very functional fire can be very subtle and minute. No one really taught me to use fire properly. I learned by immersion. The lifestyle I chose demanded that I understand combustion enough to maintain an acceptable level of functionality. If I couldn’t make a fire quickly with damp wood I wasn’t going to finish cooking dinner before dark. If I managed the fire poorly every night I was going to wake up with sore eyes and a woodsmoke hangover. By the time Mors Kochanski introduced me to the tetrahedron of fire model I already understood it functionally, but had never put it all into place with symbology. I ultimately can’t teach anyone either. Understanding fire functionally and not just theoretically is a personal journey. I can maybe start the fire for someone, but their enthusiasm, action, intention and maybe most of all need to keep that fire going, are what will ultimately create a functional understanding. Fire is fascinating to all people on some level, but most modern people do not find enough use for it to manifest a good working knowledge. If you want to understand fire functionally and stay in practice, there is no better way than to place yourself in a position of need on a regular basis. Start fires regularly, and start them from scratch never using paper or accelerants.
The simple but important information I’ve just presented above forms the foundation of a good working relationship with fire. Whether you are starting, managing or putting out fires, you are ultimately balancing or working mostly with the following concepts:
*Conditions (wet, rotten, dry, warm etc…)
*Structure (dense, pithy, liquid, gaseous, etc…)
*Composition (Lignin content, chemistry, growth rate, environment, species etc…)
*Spatial distribution (relation of fuel units to each other and to heat source)
*Access or lack of
*Heat generated drafts
I know that information is rather abstract, but you don’t have to be a total dorkus like me and memorize it all or anything! I’m just using the theory to plant seeds that can lead to a functional and intuitive understanding of fire, because that is really where it’s at. When there is an impetus to learn, and these basic ideas are presented in context, people’s ability to manage a fire rises very rapidly, within minutes actually. I’ve seen this happen over and over when playing fire chess with students and friends. I hope to write more in this realm and put theory into context with either videos or more blog posts, so stay tuned.
One last thought, its easy to get cocky about ones understanding of fire. The truth is though that the factors which contribute to a given fire burning or not burning are complicated and not always easy to predict. However well we think we know it, fire can sometimes surprise us. Considering the often horrific consequences of uncontrolled fire, it is best to follow the precautionary principal when it comes to safety, and err on the side of caution.
Have something to add? Did I miss something important? Leave a comment.
Posted by Stevene on January 26, 2014
By Steven Edholm
For many years, Tamara and I would teach leg rolling at our classes and at various primitive skills events. We were real excited about it and started to see the usual hand twisting taught by most books and instructors at the time, as sort of grade school level cordage making. Leg rolling was slow to catch on for some reason, but it now seems to be more common, as it should be. This short post is about leg rolling as compared to some other methods, and why is it worth learning, even if you don’t use it all the time.
For making cordage without any props or gizmos, leg rolling is the worldwide norm. It may have been slow to catch on in the primitive skills scene, but it seems almost universal among traditional cultures. Leg rolling is common because it’s fast. The cord is rolled on the thigh or calf with the flat palm, usually in an up and then down motion. With a little set up, a push down the thigh with the flat hand, and a pull back up the thigh, you’ll usually have 5 to 6 inches of cordage or so. Read the full post »
Posted by Stevene on January 12, 2014
Some paleotechnics followers will probably be interested in this turkeysong post about making charcoal for biochar in a simple pit, and then using the residual heat for roasting agave leaves to extract the fibers.
Posted by Stevene on December 22, 2013
By Steven Edholm
Yay, winter solstice it here! That means we can all work more as days get longer! huh? “That must be a lot of work”. “How long does that take?” These are questions we commonly encounter here at Paleotechnics. They aren’t always irrelevant questions, but they generally hint at something pervasive, and often destructive, in our society. The answer is never simple. The truth is that we usually don’t know, and we usually don’t pay much attention. The society we live in, and the way we do work, are all about quantifying. If we work longer, we get paid more. We walk around constantly judging activity and categorizing it. There is work, and then there is life, and activity is either leisure, or profit motivated. Working for acquisition of the symbol called money is particularly conducive to fracturing our lives into parts and assigning different types and amounts of value to them.*
But there are other ways to think about the things we do. My friend and artist/craftsman/doer/maker Scott McGrath had a bumper sticker made once that said “I’D RATHER BE WORKING”. Almost anyone who has tackled a big project requiring intense concentration, whether it’s a hobby or for money work, knows the feeling of losing perception of time for a while. I experience that feeling quite a bit. Whether I’m cracking walnuts, tying sage bundles, or paring artichokes to make canned artichoke hearts, I look up after a while and realize I was in a mode in which time didn’t matter. As long as you don’t need that time for something else, why keep track at all? And who cares how long it takes? But we are conditioned to constantly judge activities and value some over others. We have come to have a strange relationship with what we call “work” and are also constantly encouraged to relish and enjoy our leisure. But, if you live passionately and work to get things which are important in your larger scheme done, those lines begin to blur.
There are plenty of jobs I don’t totally relish, but I find that if the things I do are generally in line with my overarching passions, interests and goals, and I’m feeling relatively healthy, then labor is a pleasure. And that labor of some kind, big or small, is what I want to be doing with most of my time, and what makes me feel good. Meaningful work is one of the cornerstones of a satisfying existence.
The social and media forces that influence us are very powerful. I don’t want to minimize them, and I don’t want to ignore the fact that we do what we do largely because of who we are and how and where we find ourselves. But in a very real way, no one forces you to take a job you don’t like, or live life in a certain way. You don’t have to live the way other people do, hold their values, or possess the things they possess. You don’t have to spend your leisure time like other people do. You don’t have to “relax”, or “party”, or do “nothing” when you are not working. And you don’t have to divide your life strictly into work and leisure activities. “Work” is life, just like everything else. Some of it is enjoyable and some of it isn’t. But we don’t always necessarily have to judge it and categorize it ahead of our actual experience of it. Read the full post »
Posted by Stevene on December 21, 2013
“Ultimately, I think that where all of this analysis leads to is that…”
When I began writing the post, There’s More to Fire Than Heat, Fuel and Oxygen (or, Fire Exists Within a Sphere of Changing and Interdependent Circumstances), I wanted a basic model to represent fire. There is actually already a model commonly used to represent fire known as the tetrahedron of fire. It consists of a tetrahedron of course, which is a pyramid with 3 sides and a bottom. The three sides represent one each of HEAT, FUEL and OXYGEN. The bottom of the pyramid represents the circumstances under which those three elements interact and is commonly referred to as a chain reaction. The common explanation of the tetrahedron is that if you remove any one of the factors represented by the four sides, the fire ceases, which is true. I have never felt comfortable with this common model, and indeed part of the impetus for writing that first article was to emphasize the importance, to my way of thinking, of the circumstances which allow, inhibit, and shape the character of, a fire; In other words, to draw what I feel is rightful attention to the bottom of the pyramid. What I ended up writing instead, or before I got to my point, was the epic analysis that follows! I decided that I better just cut it out and use it somewhere else. Lucky you.
Posted by Stevene on December 8, 2013
By Steven Edholm
NOTE: Bay nuts must be properly roasted to be edible to humans. In spite of our best efforts to the contrary, we still commonly encounter people who are not roasting their bay nuts properly. Most commonly, the nuts are not dried before roasting. The second most common problem is roasting too cool. The toxicity of unroasted bay nuts is unknown, but they are probably not good for you. A tickling irritation in the back of the throat, almost like a burning sensation, is indicative of inadequate roasting. Please read and follow directions.)
Bay nut season is early this year. I usually find myself harvesting them around thanksgiving, but they’re dropping all over the place and have been for a while. Roasting bay nuts in an oven is tricky. They require very frequent stirring and because it is only practical to stir the nuts every 2 to 3 minutes, they often roast unevenly. It has always been my feeling that the nuts should be kept in more or less continuous motion in order to roast more evenly, just as when roasting coffee. I’ve even thought about approaching a coffee roasting company to see if I could try using their equipment, or maybe building some type of makeshift roaster that would keep the beans moving constantly.
Last year we acquired a popcorn popper here at Turkeysong for roasting coffee beans. This is the type with a crank handle on top and a wire inside that stirs the popcorn. They work really great for popcorn and roasting coffee beans. I’ve used it a number of times now to roast bay nuts, and it seems to work really well. At this point I’m fairly well convinced that it works better than the oven. A reader also contacted us recently saying that he has been using one too and liked the results, so I think we’re all on to something. Read the full post »
Posted by Stevene on November 10, 2013
By Steven Edholm
We like to see things as black and white, good or bad, better and worse. It helps us function in daily life where we need to make fast judgements or live on cruise control without having to over analyze everything. But it is also a trap that can limit us and cause us to do really dumb stuff. It helps to look at things in context. We can pit antler against bone to see which one is better for tools and such, but the victor will be dependent on circumstance and what it is that we are trying to accomplish, rather than on more arbitrary grounds. Both Tamara and I have largely gravitated toward espousing and detailing the qualities of materials as a way to view paleotechnics. While our feeble minds may gravitate toward one or the other as superior, redwood is not oak, soapstone is not jade, antler is not bone, and none is superior to the other except in the context of specific uses. Bury an oak fencepost and it will probably fall over in 5 to 10 years, where redwood may last for 50 or much more. Make a bow out of redwood heartwood, but in spite of your best design efforts, it’s just going to be kind of lame.
Bone and antler are similar materials. The qualities of both can vary quite a bit, but they are still very different. bone can be more or less flexible depending on many factors, like what part of the animal, what species, age etc.. but antler is, by it’s nature, generally tougher and more flexible than bone. Some uses of these two materials will overlap, while for others, one is clearly superior to the other. Keep these thoughts in mind as I’m speaking in generalities here. Read the full post »
Posted by Stevene on October 29, 2013
One night at Glass Buttes Oregon (or day, or something in between), I was sitting by a fire with Tamara, Margaret Mathewson and Jim Riggs. I’m sure there were other people there too, but I remember those guys for sure. The fire, and how it was or wasn’t being managed, was a common topic in those days. All of us were inclined to be geeky about fire, and we all used it enough to have a strong working knowledge. We were observant and critical when someone added wood or adjusted the fire. As fire enthusiasts, that kind of geekery was our idea of fun, but it was also serious to us. Like if you put a bunch of chefs together and they’d be eyeing each other cooking and saying like “dude, that’s too much anchovy” and stuff like that. It was all good humored, but this wasn’t just “lets geek out and be funny and nerdy”, it’s what we did. And if you do something a lot and are good at it, you care, you notice details and you develop opinions. None of us wanted to sit around in the smoke, or be cold, so the fire should be done right. It was the focus of camp life and not to be accepted in just any old state that it happened to be found in. Fire does not tend itself all that well, and tending is a matter in which attention to detail yields great returns in results. Inattention, on the other hand, generally leads to discomfort, annoyance, cold food, burnt food, tearing eyes, cold butts or moving of chairs closer and farther from the fire.
So anyway, we were all sitting around flicking each other crap about where the wood should be put and how, and what about that smoking end there, or Jim with his “upward focus” and me with my parallel fuels, and fire chess was born. Someone was probably like Ok, that’s fine I guess, but If you do it this way that smoking end is dealt with. And someone else was like hey, it’s my turn, and eventually it coalesced into a set of simple rules. Each person gets a turn in rounds to either add a piece of fuel, or make one adjustment. After each move everyone else analyzes the move and makes comments. We thought that was fun for a while and used to play it occasionally when nothing else was going on and we were sitting around the fire, which was fairly often. Read the full post »
Posted by Stevene on October 5, 2013