Hand Drill Friction Firemaking Video

Check out this fun video of a recent Friction Firemaking Class at
Occidental Arts & Ecology Center in Occidental, CA.

This morning Intro to Paleotechnology program with Tamara Wilder is part of their 2 week long Permaculture Design Course which happens 3 times each year (Spring, Summer & Fall) and which includes an overview discussion, soapstone beadmaking, stringmaking & firemaking hands-on experience.


OAEC PDC Registration Information.

A similar Stringmaking & Firemaking program is also part of the Roots of Herbalism / Foundations in Health Course at California School of Herbal Studies.

Friction firemaking is also a core element in Tamara’s Ancient Living Skills School Programs.

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.


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. (more…)

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

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


Fire Chess: A fire learning game

firechess header 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. (more…)

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.