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.
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. Read the full post »
Posted by Stevene on September 18, 2014
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!
Posted by Stevene on June 6, 2014
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.
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.
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Posted by Stevene on February 25, 2014
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. Read the full post »
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.
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 »
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
By 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
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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