Seasoning Bones: How to avoid cracking in drying bones

bone seasoning header

Bone is a beautiful and useful material, but if you pick up any random bone from the yard, or one that has been buried, it may very well be cracked.  That is because bones contain quite a bit of water and, like wood, when drying bone is subjected to stresses caused by shrinkage.  Something has to give if the stress is high, and the bone will start to come apart along the grain forming “checks”.  Rules similar to those for drying wood without checking can be applied to bone.

Typical cracking along the grain of the bone.  Bone, like wood, has a grain direction.

Typical cracking along the grain of the bone. Bone, like wood, has a grain direction.

Size matters:  Like a large piece of wood, a large bone is more liable to crack than a small one.  Small bones will often dry without cracking regardless of how they are dried.  If I bury a leg and dig it up a year later, none of the small toe bones will be cracked, but most of the larger leg bones will have checks in them.

Speed matters:  Drying things fast causes more stress than drying things slow.  That is because when things dry they shrink.  As the outside, which is drying faster, shrinks, it has to shrink around the plumper, slower drying interior and cracks are liable to form in the outside.  It helps quite a bit that bones are hollow.  One way to decrease checking in wood is to bore a hole through the center.  But, see next…

Bone is very dense:  Dense materials tend to check more easily than less dense materials.  Very heavy dense woods are more liable to cracking in general than light porous woods for instance.  So, even though bones generally have the advantage of being hollow, they still have a strong tendency to check if not dried in a controlled way.  If a bone was at thick as a tree or split piece of wood, I doubt there would be much that you could do to prevent checking, or at least it would take extreme measures.

Control drying:  The best way to avoid checking is to control the speed of drying, and there are several ways to do this.

      *Humid environment:  Drying in a humid environment slows moisture loss, and that’s what it’s all about.  If the moisture loss is gradual, moisture from the interior of the bone has time to redistribute throughout the bone, resulting in more even moisture loss, which translates to less stress on the bone’s structure.

      *Slowing drying of the exterior with a coating:  Coating the bone with something to slow the drying of the exterior will also allow the whole bone to dry at a more even rate, greatly reducing the likelihood of checking.  Using animal fat is easy and effective.  Fat can also seep into the bone replacing some of the water.

This bone was not oiled, but just dried in the shade.  It didn't crack because the oil from inside it, the marrow oil, seeped into the bone, replacing the water.  it was also dried in the shade.

This bone was not oiled, but just dried in the shade. It didn’t crack because the oil from inside the marrow  seeped into the bone during the slow drying, replacing the water that was lost.  Note the translucent look to it from being saturated with oil.  Usually a little bit of boiling in a soap of some kind will strip out some of the excess oil making the bone appear white and opaque.  This approach will often work, but isn’t as reliable as oiling the outside of the bone as well.  Also, when this is cracked open to clean it or make it into something, that oil in there is going to be pretty nasty!  This is just going to be used for scraping skins, so it probably will never be opened.

      *Boiling:  I actually don’t know if this works, but boiling wood can reduce checking.  I think it works by breaking down the cell structure of the plant allowing water to move from the inside of the wood to the outside.  It seems to me that boiled bones have less tendency to check when drying, but that is a very casual observation and one I’m not willing to stand behind!  Boiling a bone definitely removes some of the protein material that cements it together, so I don’t recommend long boiling for the most part, since it may weaken the structure, though I suppose it depends on what you are planning to use it for.  Further experimentation is definitely needed.  I would say that if other methods are used carefully boiling is unnecessary, but could be an alternative and is interesting regardless and who knows how knowledge might be handy.

This bone is heavily checked from repeated wetting and drying as well as baking very dry in the sun.  Also, there is no oil left in the bone after so much time and weathering.  Bone, again like wood, prefers to have a little oil in it.

This bone is heavily checked from repeated wetting and drying as well as baking very dry in the sun. Also, there is no oil left in the bone after so much time and weathering.  Also, bone is not like shell which is dead and made by deposition.  Bone is living in the animal and  contains proteins which bind it all together and make it strong.  Bones contain enough protein that you can make glue from them.  This bone has probably lost a lot of that protein to biodegradation, which leaves a deficit of material.

If you only want a small piece of bone, just go out and find one and break it or cut it up.  Examine it VERY CLOSELY for any checks if you are about to invest any significant amount of effort into making something nice.  I speak from experience :-/   Bones, like wood, have a grain that runs longwise.  If the bone is checked and it is cut across the grain, whatever you make might very well fall apart.

If I want a bone completely unchecked for making tools or jewelry or something like that, here is what I usually do and it seems to work very well.

Like wood, fresh bone can form checks very quickly in hot dry weather, and I mean within minutes, not hours, so don’t leave them in the sun, and don’t procrastinate too much.  Again, this depends on the bone’s character, size, thickness, the weather etc… but just be warned that it can happen very fast.

Saw off the ends if you don’t need them.  Clean out the marrow with a stick. This allows the interior of the bone to dry along with the outside, which means more even moisture loss and less checking.  Plenty of marrow oil will usually stay inside the hollow portion of the bone.

Scrape the outside of the bone clean with a knife or stone flake.

Oil heavily, preferably with a heavy tallow type of oil such as that from deer, goat, elk, moose, sheep, antelope or cattle.  Put it on really thick.

Deer bone from this year oiled with Deer tallow, which is so thick that it acts almost like a wax, resulting in very slow drying.

Deer bone from this year’s buck oiled with rendered deer tallow.  Deer tallow is so thick that it acts almost like a wax, resulting in very slow drying.

If using a lighter oil, like lard, bear, raccoon etc, or if the bone is very large and thick, you may want to put the bones in a plastic bag for extra insurance.  Don’t seal the bag.  Leave it very slightly open, or poke some holes in it to let moisture escape slowly.  This may not be necessary, but is good insurance and easy enough to do.

Keep out of the sun or very hot areas, to assure slower drying.

That’s it!  I’ve seasoned many bones successfully this way and actually can’t recall any failures.  By contrast, bones left lying about will generally form checks unless they are very small or thin. I have a small collection of seasoned bone that I keep around.  When I run across a really nice thick walled bone that I might want to use for something later, I’ll season it out as above and store it for eventual use.

It’s also good to know that fresh bone is much easier to work that seasoned bone!  If you just keep a little oil on the bone and work in the shade, you can make your item out of fresh green bone and then oil it to season out when you’re done.

A few of my stash of seasoned bones for making stuff.  I wish I had some pictures of all the cool bone stuff I've made over the years, but I don't.

A few of my stash of seasoned bones for making stuff. I wish I had some pictures of all the cool bone stuff I’ve made over the years, but I don’t.

Some very cool films on Acorn and Buckeye Processing

There are lots of ways to process acorns.  These neat old films show traditional processing in enough detail for a person to really learn something.  Processing of the California buckeye is much less common, but this video shows how it is done.  The buckeye nuts are poisonous raw, but they are not hard to process and it shouldn’t be overly intimidating.  It’s also just really great to watch these ladies at work with their deft hands, and listen to the singing, which is,  for lack of a better description, very grounding.   Thanks to the wonders of the information age, these once very hard to get films are now available to see.  Check ‘em out!





Paleotechnics Radio Interview with Tamara Wilder

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

Lampblack, what it is and what it’s good for

lampblack header

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.

Flame interrupted.

Flame interrupted.  Note, the soot on the right as the flame combustion is disrupted.  Either making an inefficient wick or disrupting the flame, or both, will result in the production of lampblack.

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.


A makeshift soot maker that I scrapped together. the ramp is made of a scrap of slate and the wick is a wad of cattail seed fluff.  The oil can be whatever ya got laying around.  This is old rancid sheep or goat fat that has outlived it’s usefulness for much of anything else.


Disrupting the flame with a scrap of slate.  The soot collects in a cake on the top plate and is brushed off occasionally with a feather.  It takes quite a lot of soot to make a decent sized ink stick.  Note the soot curling around the plate.  You can never catch it all.  Nasty stuff too, don’t breathe it!  This is outdoor work.


A 60 year old chunk of pitch from a fir tree stump.  Pitch is great for making lampblack.

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.

asian shit

I’m sure I totally butchered some Japanese characters for persimmon here. The Inkstone is basically for rubbing up the ink with water and the stick with the writing on it at the top is the actual ink made from lampblack and hide, antler or bone glue. For more on glue see these posts… #1…..#2

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.;


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…”


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.

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 OXYGENWhile 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.


This fire is set up to burn fast and hot with no smoke.  Size of the wood and proper placement are critical.

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

*Air temperature

*Air density







*Placement of

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.


About Leg Rolled Cordage, and Why You Should Learn it.

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.


Tamara demonstrating leg rolling cordage and net making at the Oregon Country Fair

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 »

Charcoal production and agave roasting

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.

wood in pit burning before and afterroasted agave leavesagave fibers

How long does it take?

manson bill

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 »

Tetrahedron, Tetrashmeedron: Quest for the ultimate fire model

tetrahedron my butt header, fireBy Steven Edholm

“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.

thanks Catawba Community College

thanks Catawba Community College

Read the full post »

Roasting Bay Nuts in a Popcorn Popper

roast bay nuts header

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 »


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