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

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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.

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Bending Wood: what you need to know

By Steven Edholm

Bending wood is a useful, and sometimes necessary skill.  In this post I am going to present a few pieces of information which are key to successful wood bending of any kind, paleo or otherwise.  The most common need for bending wood in paleotechnology is for straightening wildcrafted shafting such as arrow shafts, hand drills and atlatl darts.  There are, however, many other uses for a straight stick.  There are also plenty of uses for curved sticks, such as in the making of hoops and basket rims.  Wood bending can be dropped neatly into the skill set of anyone who can internalize the following ideas.

*Wet (or green) wood bends more easily than dry wood.
Living wood requires a degree of flexibility to adapt to it’s environment, so green or wet wood is naturally flexible.  Also, if the wood is heated to assist in bending, the heat will spread more rapidly into moist wood than it will in dry wood.  Some items can be bent while green, or after soaking, without any heating.

Green wood bends easily as demonstrated in these heart shaped apple tree grafts.

Green wood bends easily as demonstrated in these heart shaped apple tree grafts at Turkeysong.

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Deck the Halls With Beads of Berries: Paleo Holiday Decorating with Madrone!

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The roots of our holiday symbols stretch far back into the past.  Greenery and red berries brought into the house are the primary symbols of the holiday season for western culture.  These symbols once meant more to people in a time when we need to celebrate, life, hope, warmth and renewal.  Madrone berry beads are a beautiful addition when moving towards a sort of holiday vernacular of the west coast region.  They are attractive, free, not only safe, but edible, and can be returned to the earth from whence they came when we are done with them.  They will last for at least several seasons if well made and cared for.

Paleotechnics usually sells madrone berry garlands and necklaces around the holidays.  After years of stringing and drying the berries, we have some tips on making your madrone beads look their best.  You may or may not be able to follow all of these tips on berry quality depending on what berries you have access to, but we all have to use what we are fortunate enough to find.  We are often asked how we get our garlands so uniform and beautiful.  The answer is attention to detail as in so many other pursuits in life.  So, here are those details and a few other tips. (more…)